Mr. Roden, why do we have to learn grammar?

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Parts of Speech
Quick Hops:

Adjective and Adverbs

Prepositional Phrases

Direct and Indirect Objects

Predicate Words

Object Complements




Subordinate Clauses:

A Process for Identifying Clauses

Sentence Structure Table

The Noun Slots

Word Decoder Page

Grammar Flow Chart

Good Interactive Grammar Site

Writing Mr. Roden's Way

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Mr. Roden, why do we have to learn grammar?
     The simple answer is you don't.....if you have a dead-end, low-paying job in mind that requires little or no language skills.  However, for jobs that allow advancement and will pay the bills and then some, good communication is a must. That means good writing and speaking skills play an important part in your success. Grammar is the terminology that allows us to fix what is broken and to improve what is dull. Plus, it's with an understanding of grammar that real style enters your speech and writing and separates your fifth grade and high school writing skills. In addition to being one of the most misspelled words in our language, it's useful. It makes powerful writing possible.
     For a variety of sentence beginnings and sentence structure, correct pronoun choices (when to use I and me, he and him, etc.), powerful parallelism, and where/when to punctuate, grammar skills are a must.  These skills are measured on tests like the ACT.  Knowing grammar makes those wonderful ACT scholarships possible.  Plus, knowledge of grammar is part of the bare minimum American high school graduates are expected to know regardless of whether they take the ACT or not.

Now that you have a reason for learning grammar besides "the teacher made me," it's time for some good news:  
What you need to learn about grammar involves less memorization than for one chapter test in history or science.  Plus, you use it
, not just for one chapter test only to forget it the minute after the test.  

(Frankly, this applies not only to grammar, but also to literature.  You learn some terms that you can apply to all literature, and consequently, you get to use the info forever.  Learn it once and ace every test.  What a deal!)

Now for some bad news:  If you have had problems with grammar in the past, it's because you couldn't find the motivation to memorize some definitions for a short list of terms.  Shame on you, I say!  Get motivated, make some flash cards, learn it all, and reap the benefits, my young friends!

It's very important that you learn the basic parts of speech because the rest are based on them.  If you don't learn what an adjective is, for example, you can't begin to understand what a participle is.

The Basics

Subjects and Verbs

Every complete idea has two parts, a subject and a verb. If a sentence is missing one or the other, then it's not a sentence, but it is a fragment, a very, very bad thing.

  • The Subject
Here's where the useful terminology begins and ends when discussing the major types of grammar. Whether it's grammar or small talk, the subject is that "person, place, or thing" that is doing or being in the sentence.
You probably recognize the definition for a noun.  All subjects serve a noun function, but all nouns are not subjects. The noun family is a large one, and the subject is one of many nouns.

  • The Verb
The word verb doesn't mean much outside the grammatical world. Two important categories of verbs help shape sentences.
  1. The action verb that relates an action that the subject is doing, did, has done, etc.  Etc. includes all tense and number variations.  When you spot a verb ending, -ed, -ing, etc., you have usually spotted a verb.  More on the exceptions later in the verbals section.
  2. The linking verb that earns its name by linking the subject to a word or words in the predicate.
Nifty examples
I ran down the street. In this sentence I is the subject of the verb ran. I is obviously a person while running is something this subject did, an action. Consequently, this is an action verb.

I am the teacher. I is again the subject but am is the verb, a linking verb since it links or connects the words I and teacher. Linking verbs are harder to detect than action verbs because aside from their linking function, they just don't do much. While action verbs are too numerous to list, here are the potential linking verbs:

You can memorize all the potential linking verbs in the English language.

All the forms of be--am, is, are, was, were, be, being,and been can be linking verbs, but they can be used as helping verbs in action verb phrases, too.  

The list doesn't end with the be verbs: appear, become, feel, grow, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, taste and turn are part-time linking verbs.

Use this test to determine their action or linking function: substitute the appropriate form of be (plural vs. singular and past vs. present or other tense) in its place. If the be form doesn't change the meaning of the sentence, the original verb is a linking verb.

For example, consider I feel sick versus I feel the sandpaper. In both sentences I and feel are the subject and verb. However, in the first sentence the be form am can be substituted without changing the meaning of the sentence (a linking verb). However, in the second sentence, unless the person in question is made of sandpaper, no form of be can be substituted, and feel is an action verb.

When it takes more than one word to describe the action or being a subject is carrying out, the term verb phrase is used.  In a verb phrase you have the main verb and its helping or "auxillary" verbs.  Typically, the main verb needs help to change its tense (think time frame, not nervous state). Take a look at these examples:  I stand, I stood, I was standing, I will have been standing, I should (could, would) have been standing, etc.  The action remains the same, but the time frame changes, and the main verb needs help in most cases to change tense.  When it takes a helping verb to do the job, it's a verb phrase, and the action verb phrase or linking verb phrase distinction is made.

(Now, just to make life interesting and momentarily confusing, an -ing verb in a verb phrase is also called a participle. I was running down the road. Running is the main verb and a present participle because of the -ing ending.  I have painted my folks' house a few times in my life.  Painted is a past participle.  Both are still the main verb in a verb phrase.  Don't think too long about it now; I only included this information so you'd know what appears in grammar books.  When we get to participles, we won't be looking in verb phrases for them.)

To Predicate Words

The exception to the mandatory subject and verb combo occurs in commands and requests.  In these circumstances, the understood subject of you doesn't even appear in the sentence, but it is understood by the audience and is strongly implied.  If I say, "Open your books,"  you understand that I am talking to you (or you all).  Language Arts teachers typically have you put a you in parentheses to show it is the understood subject, especially understood by you.

Adjectives and Adverbs

The "A-Team" of the grammar world, these two parts of speech are modifiers. They modify or describe all the live-long day.

  • Adjectives modify nouns, nouns of all varieties. Notice the -ject root, which I told you many members of the noun family have in their name--subject, object--working in tandem with the prefix ad- that allows the word to mean "adds to nouns." (Of course, I never took the time to find the origin of adjective and confirm this, but, hey, it works for me. Consequently, I recommend it!)
Adjectives answer these questions about nouns: what kind, which ones, how many, and how much?

  • Adverbs earn their name by adding to verbs, but they work overtime to modify adjectives, other adverbs, and verbals as well.
Adverbs answer the questions how, when, where, to what extent, and to what degree?

While there may be more than one adjective and adverb describing a word, each one serves its function without depending on other words. When it requires two or more words to answer one of the adjective or adverb questions, a compound adjective (hyphenated combo) or a prepositional phrase is at work.

  • Those five wooden horses go also. When you look for adjectives, look for nouns and see if any words answer adjective questions about them. Those tells "which ones?" about horses. The number five tells "how many?", and wooden tells "what kind?"
  • He had very little money in his wallet. Little tells "how much?" about money. Note, too, that very answers the adverb question "to what extent?" about little, an adverb modifying an adjective.
  • Yesterday, he ran inside quite quickly and repeatedly. These adverbs with the exception of quite, which modifies a fellow adverb, modify the verb ran. Yesterday tells "when?", inside tells "where?", quite tells "to what extent?" about quickly which tells "how?", and repeatedly tells "to what extent?" about the verb ran.
Don't tell your English teacher, but...adjectives get categorized in many ways just as nouns do, and it's good to know those categories just to sound smart, but I always admitted to my students that a lot of information in a grammar book only put labels on word types and didn't have much utilitarian value, meaning it was useless. I only taught the information that was necessary to affect and improve writing.  Knowing the difference between an adjective and an adverb allows you to choose the correct word, a useful skill.  For example, I did well on my English test.  Well is the correct choice because it is an adverb and the question it answers is an adverb question--how?  Putting good in well's place is incorrect because good is an adjective and no adjective question is answered here. Yes, in some circumstances, you can say/write that you did good, but in this circumstance, good is a noun and you have helped a little old lady across the street or another positive action.

Prepositional Phrases   The might bunny

The bare basics of prepositional phrases are a preposition and its object, which is a noun that gets the lengthier name of the object of the preposition. The preposition gets its name because it is positioned or placed before (pre-) this noun. A phrase just means two or more words.

  • Prepositional phrases answer the same questions as adjectives, adverbs, and sometimes nouns, but they take two or more words to do it: a preposition and its object (and any modifiers for the object).  Consequently, they are categorized as adjective phrases, adverb phrases, or rarely noun phrases.
  • The preposition is often a word that does nothing on its own and has to depend on an object in order to have any meaning. Consider of. Of is always a preposition. This little word can't add meaning to a sentence on its own. It's a wimp! It has to have help. It typically begins an adjective phrase.
  • To make life more complicated, some prepositions, like down, along, and over, can also be ordinary adverbs in other circumstances. Consequently, look for a partnership between such prepositions and a noun. If they are working together to answer an adjective or adverb question, these sometime prepositions are prepositions indeed.
  • Some common prepositions include of,to, for, from, near, on, under, among, like (when it means "similar to"), toward, and at.
One way to remember what information a prepositional phrase provides in a sentence are found in a few phrases my friend Bugs Bunny would love:  "A rabbit can go where?"  Ask where can a rabbit go?  A rabbit  can go the barn, under the fence, through the house, etc. Ask how can a rabbit go?  A rabbit can go in a hurry, under its own power, by its choosing, etc.  When can a rabbit go? A rabbit can go in a minute, after its nap, before lunch, etc.  Those were the adverb questions that a prepositional phrase can answer.  The phrase approach doesn't work as well with the adjective phrase questions.  Ask what kind of rabbit?  A rabbit with no tail.  Which rabbit was it?  The rabbit under the table is the one I mean.  When a prepositional phrase acts like a noun, it's a noun phrase, and no rabbit phrase works.  In a private jet is my favorite mode of travel.  In a private jet is renamed by mode in a sentence with a linking verb, so it is either the subject or a predicate nominative since predicate nominatives and subjects are by nature interchangeable.  Most would say this noun phrase is the subject.

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The Objects of Your Affection

Objects come in several varieties, but all of them are nouns. In fact, every part of speech that ends in -ject is a noun. The first and easiest type of object is the direct object. It gets its name by receiving the "direct" attention of an action verb. I remember that a direct object comes after a subject and an action verb by remembering that I would like to be rich, and for that to happen, I will have to save my money:  SAVDO  (Save dough.)

A workable formula for finding a direct object consists of
subject + action verb + what? (or) whom?

For example, consider the sentence The car struck me. This sentence has a subject, car; an action verb, struck; and a direct object, me. To use our formula requires knowing what the subject and verb are and asking whom? or what?

The car struck what? The answer has to be me.

A sentence can have more than one direct object, so don't stop with the first noun that answers your question/formula. Look for direct objects after every action verb.

The next type of object is the indirect object. It won't be found unless there is a direct object. Furthermore, it can always be found in the same place--between the action verb and the direct object. Grammarians who are carelessly looking for direct objects might try to make an indirect object into a direct one. They too have their question:

To whom (or what) or for whom (or what) is the action occurring? The answer is the indirect object.

What's the deal with what and whom? We have to include both whom (which covers people) and what (which covers things) to have a functional question.

No direct or indirect objects will be found in prepositional phrases.  If the to or for is actually in the sentence, you have a prepositonal phrase, not an indirect object.  

  • For example, He gave a dollar to me.  Me is the object of the preposition to.  
  • He gave me a dollar.  To whom did he give the dollar?  To me--indirect object.

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I never really stressed pronouns too early in my grammar units.  To understand the real importance of pronouns, you need to know what type of noun the pronoun is acting as--subject, direct object, etc. Once you know all those nouns, then it's easy to pick the right pronouns to replace some other noun.  Just saying pronoun cheats you out of the chance to learn all the nouns.

Pronouns have three cases--nominative, objective, and possessive.  Why they are called cases, I don't know.  I never encountered a kid that had trouble with possessive pronouns.  My book, his book, our book...if you want to show possession of someone or something, these pronouns come out naturally.  Consequently, I am done with possessive pronouns except to say that they act like adjectives since they do tell which one about a noun...his book, not her book. During my grammar unit, I accepted either term for them since I am a kind-hearted man.

The real focus has to be on nominative case and objective case pronouns.

Singular (refers to one person or thing)
Plural (refers to two or more)
Used for:
Nominative I, you, he, she, it we, you, and they Subjects, predicate nouns (nominatives)
Objective me, you , them
us, you, them
direct objects, indirect objects, objects of prepositions

Nominative case pronouns get used as subjects and predicate nouns.   Since subjects and predicate nouns are interchangeable, their pronouns have to be interchangeable.  Now the funny part here is that often being grammatically correct sounds wrong and being grammatically incorrect sounds right.

Objective case pronouns get used as objects: direct objects, indirect objects,  and objects of prepositions.

For example, if someone asks me, "Who is the teacher that juggles cats in his spare time?"  The correct answer would be "I am he."  I have a nominative case pronoun as both subject and predicate noun.  If I said, "I am him" or "I'm him,"  the him would be incorrect, trying to use an objective case pronoun in a nominative case slot. 

Look at this sentence:  I brought home caviar for Muffy and I.  Whoever said or wrote sounds very haughty and pretentious, but we know that for is a preposition and our pronoun choice will be the object of a prepositon.  Consequently, we must choose me instead of I.  It may not sound as pretentious or haughty, but it's correct, and it's funny that someone who is trying to put on airs is so ignorant and silly, the opposite of what they hoped.

I always use the term "predicate noun" instead of nominative even though nominative is the formal, correct term because it saves time, one syllable versus four, and kids know what a noun is.  Nominative basically means noun in Latin, so I think I am on safe ground.  However, pronouns are the one example of when saying nominative would be helpful because you would remember the connection to nominative case pronouns.

The steps for choosing the correct pronoun...

1.  Determine which part of speech the pronoun will be in the sentence.
2.  Pick from the correct case of pronouns.

In order to do step two, you can get by with just knowing a subject and predicate noun get the nominative case and that all rest get the objective case pronouns.  The most common mistakes are the ones I illustrated above: in prepositional phrase and for predicate nouns. 

Another popular one is found in ellipitcal clauses (a subordinate clause where something is missing).  For example, I run faster than he.  You might find yourself wanted to write him, but this eliptical clause has a missing does at the end.  Your pronoun choice will be a subject, so you have to choose the nominative case he even though does is missing in action.  Sometimes the confusion stems from understanding what the sentence is trying to say.  I like peanut butter more than (he/him).   Since the sentence has more than one possible meaning, you might not know which to choose on a test or worksheet.  However, if you were writing the sentence, which happens in the real world, you would know.  I like peanut butter more than he [does].   I like peanut butter more than him [I prefer the food more than hanging out with him.]

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Predicate Words

While objects come after action verbs, predicate words come after linking verbs. Consequently, they relate to their subjects in two ways.

Predicate nouns are linked to the subject(s)and rename them. To use a mathematical formula:
Subject = predicate noun (because they refer to the same person, place, thing, or idea).

The linking verb serves the same purpose as an equals sign and earns its name by "linking" the subject to its predicate word.

Predicate adjectives don't rename their subjects, but merely describe them.

  1. In the sentence I am the king of the world!, I is the subject and am is the linking verb. I and king are the same person and are linked to each other in an equals sign sort of way by the linking verb am. King renames I, so it's a predicate noun.
  2. In the sentence I was happy., I is the subject and was is the linking verb that allows happy to describe I, so it's a predicate adjective.
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Object Complements

Complements are elements that add to something else.  (Compliments are what you should give your English teacher for teaching this concept.)  Object complements come after action verbs that mean make or consider.  They either rename the direct object by being a noun or describe it as an adjective.

  1. I consider him a friend.  The direct object is him, and it is being renamed or added by friend.  
  2. We elected her president.  The object complement is, of course, president.  Here elected and made are about the same concept.
  3. I called her beautiful.  Beautiful describes the direct object her.
  4. The dress made her sick.  Sick is the object complement since it describes her again.


Appositives are noun echoes. Yes, I am using figurative language, a metaphor, when I should be discussing grammar, but "noun echo" sums it up with typical Roden clarity.  I own the rights to that phrase, by the way.  You heard it here first.  Send me ten cents per use.

Appositives are nouns that echo another noun.  (In grammar books writers talk about two nouns being in "apposition" to each other, and until I write the book on grammar, people will just have to suffer with bogus terms and descriptions like that in texts.)

Mr. Roden, my goofiest teacher, likes to use metaphors.  
Can you spot the echo in that sentence?  Yup, teacher echoes Mr. Roden.

He didn't like my flavor of ice cream:  Rocky Road.  
This one is tougher because of the prepositional phrase, but yes, Rocky Road echoes flavor.

My dog Sparky has a hobby--squirrel torture.
This one has two:  Sparky echoes dog, and torture echoes hobby.

Of course, these echoing nouns aren't always simple nouns:  they can also be some heretofore unmentioned nouns like gerunds or gerund phrases, infinitives or infinitive phrases, noun clauses, and rarely noun phrases.  This will make more sense once you have studied those parts of speech.

(Like the verbals you will study later, appositives can have phrases and be essential or nonessential.  Return here after studying them and apply the same knowledge.)

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Beyond the Basics


These are the parts of speech that lend new meaning to the phrase "suffering from verbal abuse." It's been my experience that students who are going to have trouble with the parts of speech have trouble with verbals, mostly because they didn't learn the basic parts of speech as well as they should have. However, don't let that statement stop you from rising to the verbals challenge. Refresh your memory on the basics as needed.

The three verbals have one trait in common--they look like verbs, but aren't. To wax metaphorical, verbals and verbs may dress alike, but they do different jobs. They look like verbs primarily because they wear some verb-like clothing.

Things to remember about verbals: 

  1. Verbals don't have subjects.
  2. Participles and gerunds share one common ending: -ing.
  3. If an -ing word looks like a verb, has a helper, and has a subject, it's not a verbal.
  • Participles use the common verb endings of -ing (for present participles), -ed, -en, -n, and -t (for past participles). Some participles have irregular endings like made does. Participles are used as adjectives only.
  • Gerunds act only as nouns and always end in -ing.
  • Infinitives are an easy verbal to identify. They most usually have the same construction: to + a verb = an infinitive. (However, after a small group of verbs, dare, feel, hear, help, let, make, need, see, and watch, they can appear without the usual to.) Infinitives can act as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

Verbals act on their own or with a phrase.  Some of what can be in the phrase is determined by what kind of verb, action or linking, the verbal was made from:

Verbals made from action verbs can have direct and indirect objects. 
Verbals made from linking verbs can have predicate nouns or predicate adjectives or both. Both types can have adverbs and prepositional phrases.

  1. Reading his book quietly in a corner, Johnny improved his skills and lived a long, happy life. In this sentence Johnny is the subject and improved and lived are the action verbs. Reading is the participle. In another sentence it could be the verb if it had a helper and the subject was doing it. For example "Johnny was reading his book." However, this sentence doesn't say was reading. Obviously, "Johnny reading" isn't a subject and verb, so it's clear that reading is not the verb of the sentence. Reading does describe Johnny by telling what kind of person he is or, less likely, in a room with two Johnny's, reading would tell which one. Reading has its own phrase: a direct object, book; an adverb, quietly; and a prepositional phrase, in a corner. The whole phrase, Reading his book quietly in a corner, is followed by a comma since it's an introductory element.
  2. To live a long life requires frequent exercise and good eating. In this sentence To live is an infinitive made up of the word to and a verb live. It acts as a noun, the subject to the verb requires. The noun life is the direct object of the infinitive. For verbals, the direct object formula is modified to state verbal + what? or whom?. The word long is an adjective.
  3. The crippling disease muscular dystrophy must be stopped. Here crippling looks like a verb but is actually describing disease. Consequently, it looks like a verb, but it acts like an adjective, making it a participle with no phrase.
  4. Lebanon is the place to be. Here, to be is describing the noun place and is acting as an adjective by itself without a phrase.
  5. His brakes were adjusted by a professional. The past participle adjusted is part of the verb phrase and is not a verbal in this instance.
  6. Learning is why we're here. Learning is acting as the subject, a noun, and is therefore a gerund. A gerund phrase like "Learning about the wonders of grammar" would beef up the sentence.
The trick to knowing the difference between gerund and participial phrases is knowing the power of it.

Students often get participial phrases and gerund phrases confused because they share the -ing ending. However, they are easily identified if you use...

the "it test."

Since pronouns like it just live for taking the place of nouns and since gerunds are nouns, the pronoun it can take the place of gerunds and gerund phrases, but not participial phrases. Consider this sentence: Running in the field is fun. Since you can replace the italicized phrase with it, the phrase is a gerund phrase. It is fun. Try doing the same for this sentence: The dog running in the field is tired. Since you can't say "The dog it is tired," without having an improper double subject and a change in meaning, you know the phrase is a participle. Most students know the usual slots that nouns fill and can tell when a phrase is fulfilling the same role a single-word noun can and when the phrase does not.  

The same test works to show when an infinitive (and subordinate clauses) are acting as a noun.

Participial and infinitive phrases can be nonessential or unneeded  for pinpointing the noun they are describing.  It determines the use of commas.

If the phrase helps lower the possibilites, it's essential and has no commas around it.  
If it's nonessestial, it is separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.

  • The man wearing a plaid shirt is a recluse.  The participial phrase helps pinpoint which man is being discussed. It is essential--no commas.
  • Pete Rose, wearing a blue blazer, was the guest speaker.  Pete Rose does the pinpointing here.  The phrase is nonessential and separated with commas.

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Clauses are pretty easy because they only require that you can find subjects and verbs, can count, and know what a complete idea is. These three basic skills make clauses a breeze. All clauses have at least one subject and verb. Every complete sentence you have written has at least one clause in it. There are two major types of clauses.

  • Independent clauses are so named because they stand on their own and form a complete idea without help. Every sentence has at least one independent clause.
  • Subordinate or dependent clauses are a little more complex. I will use both terms in discussing these clauses, but they both refer to the same thing. They are "dependent" on an independent clause since they don't form a complete idea on their own even though they have a subject and a verb. (In the armed forces, a soldier of less authority or importance is called a subordinate.) Dependent clauses are often called "subordinate" clauses because ideas which are less important and are consequently "subordinate" are naturally placed in the clause that can't stand alone while the most important ideas fill independent clauses. It's strange but adding a word to an independent clause can make it dependent. I saw the elephant is a sentence that can stand on its own because it has a subject and a verb. Therefore, it is an independent clause. However, if we add a word, then When I saw the elephant is no longer a complete idea. What happened when the elephant was seen? The word when makes this a subordinate or dependent clause. To make this a sentence once again, an independent clause has to be added. When I saw the elephant, I marveled at its wrinkles. Now it's a sentence with both a subordinate clause and the required independent clause. 
Subordinate clauses come in three varieties.

Adjective clauses function like a single word adjective despite consisting of many words. They have their subject and verb combination, any additional words needed to give the "big picture," and a word that turns what could have been an independent clause into a dependent clause.

The words that begin an adjective clause include the relative pronouns who, whom, whose, which, and, that, the relative adjective whose, and the relative adverbs where and when.  Relative pronouns can serve three purposes in a subordinate clause:  they can precede a separate subject and verb and simply begin the clause,  they can begin the clause and be the subject of the clause, or they (in the case of whom) can be an object of some kind and begin the clause.
  • Examples of adjective clauses are found in the italicized portions of these sentences: The man whom I saved from drowning never even thanked me.  You should never eat in a cafeteria where they throw mashed potatoes. He liked the painting that had only two colors. You can deduce the nouns they modify: man,  cafeteria, and painting.
  • Both who, which, and that can act as the subject of their clause.  The man who hates fish will often like trout.  That can also just simply introduce the clause.
  • Whom gets used as an object in a subordinate clause just like in an independent clause, but it's out of its usual position.  I know whom you mean.  Here it's a direct object of mean. 
  • Which can be both the subject of its subordinate clause or just introducing it.

Noun clauses live up to their name by serving a noun function.
  • The words that begin noun clauses include the indefinite relative pronouns that, what, whatever, who, whom, whomever, which, whoever, whichever, the indefinite relative adjectives whose, which, and whatever, and indefinite relative adverbs like where, when, why, if, whether, how, etc.
  • Examples of noun clauses are italicized in these sentences: Whatever you want is fine with me. Who I see is none of her business. The nurse wanted to know how I felt. Note that they all serve as nouns--two subjects and a direct object of an infinitive.
Remember the it test that spotlights gerund phrases and infinitive phrases acting as nouns?  It works for noun clauses as well.  However,  unlike gerund and infinitive phrases, noun clauses can target people and consequently we have to add to the list.  To confirm you have a noun clause, try to substitute it for non-people clauses and he, she, or they for the people clauses. This works because noun clauses, like all nouns, can be replaced by a pronoun.

What is a "people clause?"  Whoever loves ice cream should come to the picnic.  The red clause targets people. Can it be replaced by it?  No, it works for  everything besides people.  Can it be replaced by he, she, or theyThey should come to the picnic.  Yes, it can; therefore, since the clause can be replaced by a pronoun, it's a noun clause. Looking at they in the sentence makes it easy to see that the noun clause is acting as the subject, and this shows the usefulness of the "noun slots" discussion found elsewhere. 
The Noun Slots If you know where to find nouns, finding them is easier.

Where does my helpful hint break down?  When you're dealing with a noun clause that is acting as an appositive.

Determining what kind of noun the noun clause is acting as can be important for punctuation purposes.  Substituting it for the clauses that don't refer to people and he/she/they for the people clauses makes seeing the rest of the sentence easier and determining the noun function simpler.
  • That he is short does not matter.  With substitution this becomes It does not matter and it is obviously the subject.
  • Whoever stole the book should give it back.  With substitution this is He should give it back.  

Adverb clauses serve an adverb function and the adverb questions list gets longer with why? and under what circumstances?
The words they begin with include the subordinating conjunctions after, although, as, as if, as long as, as though, because, before, if, in order that, provided that, since, so that, than, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, wherever, whether, and while.

Examples are italicized in the sentences: Since we came to town, I've seen seventeen tattoes. I want to get one before we leave for vacation. Because it hurts, I plan to knock myself out with a ball peen hammer.

You're probably thinking that it's impossible to memorize all those words that begin subordinate clauses and their meaningless names. Painful would be a better description. However, I never bothered to memorize those words. I probably couldn't sit down and write half the words that begin subordinate clauses. What I can do is recognize them by their function. I can see the word(s) that make an independent clause become a subordinate clause. There are some that appear on all three lists like that, and a few text exercises will add to their familiarity, but just being able to recognize them for what they do is the key since sometimes they act as other parts of speech. In my classes, I don't ask my students to memorize the words or names like "indefinite relative adverb." I throw all these words into a new category not found in textbooks. I call them "subordinate clause introductory words." That's what they do, and knowing their function is more important than knowing the arcane, frivolous name someone gave them.  Of course, I might be just trying to rationalize my own inability to memorize so much.  However, long story coming, Mrs. Williams, former LHS teacher, asked me years ago what part of speech a particular subordinate clause introductory word was on her worksheet, and I didn't know, but I told her it began an adverb clause because the clause answered an adverb question.  I knew what I needed to know: what kind of clause and, consequently, how to punctuate it.  Knowing the word that began it was a "subordinating conjunction" was not useful.  Knowing it began an adverb clause was.

The truth about all these words that introduce clauses is that, with rare exceptions, you don't need to know that they are relative pronouns, subordinating conjunctions, etc.  I included the names here so if some teacher mentions the term, you will know what they are discussing.  If you can spot one in a sentence, that's all you need to know.  Your English teacher may disagree, and saying, "But Mr. Roden says..." won't do you a bit of good, so memorize the terms if they ask.

What you do need to know about them (besides the fact that they begin subordinate clauses) is...
  • Whom and whomever are always an object in the clause.  They are not interchangeable with who and whoever. I know who you are talking about is an incorrect, but commonly heard phrase.  Inside the subordinate clause, the introductory word in this sentence will be the object of the preposition about. Therefore, the sentence must read I know about whom you are talking.  Does it sound rather haughty and arrogant to phrase it that way?  Or just wrong?  Maybe, but it is the correct form and the one you should use in writing your papers.  Say it in the formal way in a conversation, and someone will look at you and ask, "What in the world is wrong with you, boy?"  One situation is formal and the other informal.  
  • How to punctuate them. Which is used at the beginning of nonessential subordinate clauses also called nonrestrictive clauses.  Adjective clauses that don't help to narrow the possibilities about the nouns they modify are said to be nonessential; they are not needed to pinpoint which person, place, or thing is being discussed.  Nonessential adjective clauses are surrounded by commas.  For examples, I offer...
  1. My '08 Corvette, which has green stripes, is odd looking.  The subordinate clause does not help pinpoint which car is being discussed.  The subject does that all by itself.
  2. The car, which has green stripes, is odd looking.  This sentence has an essential clause that should not be in commas and should not begin with which.  Because it does help pinpoint which car is being discussed, the sentence must read The car that [not which] has green stripes is odd looking.
Noun clauses that act as appositives get punctuated like appositives.  Consequently, you have to determine their essential or nonessential nature as well using the same process/criteria used for clauses.  Do they help pinpoint or not?

New!  Subordinate Clause Practice   (Posted 1-9-2015)

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Sentence Structure

If you can count clauses, you can determine sentence structure. One of the more worthwhile parts of grammar is the ability to mix things up, to add some variety to your writing. In my classes when I ask students to write what they feel to be a good sentence, they write one wherein the subject comes early in the sentence (if it's not the first word) and there's just one clause. It's the natural product of a brain that thinks in terms of someone or something doing or being something, and it's a perfectly good way to write a sentence. However, writing a whole paper in sentences with one clause and the same beginning is boring! Knowledge of sentence structure is one of several ways to add a little variety to writing.

Sentences are classified by four structures based on the number of clauses. When you're counting clauses, it's easy to get confused by sentences that have more than one subject doing the action of the verb. However, in a sentence like Jimmy and Sue sent us a letter, both Jimmy and Sue are doing the action of the verb. This counts as one subject-verb combination or clause. If the sentence were Jimmy and Sue sent us a letter and arrived early, Jimmy and Sue both sent and arrived. Consequently, this too is one clause. As a rule, if all the subjects are doing or being all the verbs, that is one clause. That's why Jimmy sent the letter, and Sue arrived early has two clauses--Jimmy sent but did not arrive while Sue arrived and did not send. In short, not all the subjects are doing or being all the verbs.

Sentence Structures Table
Number of Independent Clauses
Number of Subordinate (Dependent) Clauses
Simple sentences one independent clause no subordinate clauses I ran from the angry bear.
Compound sentences two or more independent clauses joined by these coordination conjunctions:
and, or, but, for, so, yet, and, nor
no subordinate clauses It chased me for a mile,
and I feared for my life.
Complex sentences one independent clause one or more subordinate clauses When I stopped, it stared at me.
Compound-complex sentences two or more independent clauses one or more subordinate clauses After I sang a song, it turned
away from me, but it growled all the way.

The Noun Slots

No, I am not talking Las Vegas here, nor am I using a term from a published grammar book.   I am using "the noun slots" as I discuss typical grammatical patterns and especially to target noun roles in the sentence.  By now, you have probably taken a look at my Grammar Flow Chart handout and have completed a few worksheets in your regular class.  Consequently, you have noticed, consciously or not, some common basic patterns:

Whole Sentence Patterns Showing the Noun Slots:
Subject, Action Verb, Direct Object.
Subject, Action Verb, Indirect Object, Direct Object
Subject, Linking Verb, Prediate Nominative (Noun)
Subject, Action Verb (meaning to make or consider) Direct Object, Object Complement

Patterns in Subordinate Noun Clauses:
Introductory word (subordinating conjunction or relative adverb), and then a pattern from above with the same noun slots
Relative Pronoun as subject/introductory word of its clause, which fills the noun slot from a pattern from above

Pattern in Phrases:
Preposition, Modifiers, Object of the Preposition
Participle (or Gerund or Infinitive), modifiers, Direct Object (or Predicate Noun) of a verbal made from an action verb (or linking verb) of the Participle

An Appositive or Appositive Phrase echoing any of the nouns filling the slots.

What is important to remember here is that the noun slots in these patterns don't have to be filled by just a one word noun.  

They often are, but just as often they are filled with other parts of speech.  The subject slot can be filled by a gerund or gerund phrase, an infinitive or infinitive phrase, a noun clause, and sometimes by a noun phrase (prepositional phrase used as a noun).  If you don't immediately see a sentence's pattern, it's probably because the noun slot(s) in yellow is (are) filled by a verbal (gerund or infinitive) or a noun phrase or a noun clause with a few non-noun phrases and modifiers thrown in.

Some examples:

First the subject slot filled by a one-word noun...

Pizza is her favorite after-school food.

Then the subject slot filled by a gerund phrase in a similar sentence...

Eating pizza covered with pepperoni is her favorite after-school activity.

The direct object slot filled with a one-word noun...

I knew her reason.

Then the direct object slot filled with a subordinate noun clause...

I knew that she was born with eight toes.

Frankly, the basic pattern, the sentence's backbone, is limited to a few simple patterns.  Much of a sentence's variety comes from filling the noun slots with something more than a single-word noun and its modifiers:  noun phrases, gerunds and infinitives, noun clauses.

Sentences can also look dramatically different becaused of added phrases of all kinds.

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