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Parts of Speech
Adjective and Adverbs
Direct and Indirect Objects
A Process for Identifying
Sentence Structure Table
The Noun Slots
Word Decoder Page
Good Interactive Grammar
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|Mr. Roden, why do we
have to learn grammar?
simple answer is you don't.....if you have a dead-end, low-paying job
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
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
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:
you need to learn about grammar involves less memorization than for one
chapter test in history or science. Plus, you use it forever, not just for one chapter test
only to forget it the minute after the test.
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
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.
Subjects and Verbs
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.
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.
probably recognize the definition for a noun. All subjects serve
function, but all nouns are not subjects. The noun family is a large
one, and the subject is one of many nouns.
The word verb
doesn't mean much outside the grammatical world. Two important
categories of verbs help shape sentences.
- 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.
- The linking verb that
earns its name by linking the subject to a word or words in the
I ran down the street.
In this sentence I is the
subject of the verb ran. I is
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
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
You can memorize all the potential linking verbs in the
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
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
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
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
"A-Team" of the grammar world, these two parts of speech are modifiers.
They modify or describe all the
Adjectives answer these questions about
nouns: what kind,
which ones, how many, and how much?
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
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!)
Adverbs answer the questions how, when, where, to what
extent, and to what degree?
- Adverbs earn their name by adding to verbs, but they work
overtime to modify adjectives,
other adverbs, and verbals as well.
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.
Don't tell your
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.
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
- He had
very little money in his wallet. Little tells "how much?" about
money. Note, too, that very
adverb question "to what extent?" about little, an adverb modifying an
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
"how?", and repeatedly tells
"to what extent?" about the verb ran.
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 gets its name because it is positioned or placed before
(pre-) this noun. A phrase just means two or more words.
way to remember what information a prepositional phrase provides
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 ...in 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
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.
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
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
- 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.
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.
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Objects of Your Affection
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
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
finding a direct object consists of
+ 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
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.
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
it can always be found in the same place--between the action verb and
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.
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
- He gave
me a dollar. To whom did he give the dollar? To me--indirect object.
Back to the top
I never really stressed pronouns too early in my grammar
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
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
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
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
||I, you, he, she, it
||we, you, and they
||me, you , them
|us, you, them
indirect objects, objects of prepositions
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
"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
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
The steps for choosing the
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
illustrated above: in prepositional phrase and for predicate
Another popular one is found in ellipitcal clauses (a subordinate
clause where something is missing). For example, I run faster
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
what the sentence is trying to say. I like peanut butter more
(he/him). Since the sentence has more than one possible
might not know which to choose on a test or worksheet. However,
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.]
Back to the top
objects come after action verbs, predicate
words come after linking
verbs. Consequently, they relate to their subjects in two
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.
Back to the top
- 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
- 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.
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
- I consider him a friend. The direct
object is him, and it is being
renamed or added by friend.
- We elected her president. The object
complement is, of course, president.
Here elected and made are about the same concept.
- I called her beautiful. Beautiful describes the direct
- The dress made her sick. Sick is the object complement since
it describes her again.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Back to the
Beyond the Basics
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
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
Things to remember about verbals:
- Verbals don't
- Participles and gerunds share one common
- If an -ing word looks like a verb, has a
helper, and has a subject, it's not a verbal.
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.
only as nouns and always end in -ing.
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.
trick to knowing the difference between
gerund and participial phrases is knowing the power of it.
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
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
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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
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.
man wearing a plaid shirt is a recluse. The participial phrase
helps pinpoint which man is being discussed. It is essential--no commas.
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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are pretty easy because they only require that you can find subjects
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.
clauses come in three varieties.
are so named because they stand on their
own and form a complete idea
without help. Every sentence has at least one independent
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
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
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
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
function like a single word adjective despite consisting of many words.
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,
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.
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.
can be both the subject of its subordinate clause or just introducing
clauses live up to their name by serving a noun function.
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.
- 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.
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 they? They
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.
stole the book should give it back. With substitution this
is He should give it back.
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.
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
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
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
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?
just wrong? Maybe, but it is the correct form and the one you
use in writing your papers. Say it in the formal way in a
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...
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?
'08 Corvette, which has green stripes, is odd looking. The
clause does not help pinpoint which car is being discussed. The
subject does that all by itself.
car, which has green stripes, is odd looking. This sentence has
essential clause that should not be in commas and should not begin with
it does help pinpoint which
car is being discussed, the sentence must read The car that
[not which] has green stripes is odd looking.
Clause Practice (Posted 1-9-2015)
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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.
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
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
of Independent Clauses
of Subordinate (Dependent)
||one independent clause
||no subordinate clauses
||I ran from the
||two or more independent
clauses joined by these coordination conjunctions:
and, or, but, for, so, yet, and, nor
|no subordinate clauses
me for a mile,
and I feared for my life.
||one independent clause
||one or more subordinate clauses
I stopped, it stared at me.
||two or more independent
||one or more subordinate
I sang a song, it turned
away from me, but it
growled all the way.
The Noun Slots
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
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:
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.
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.
First the subject slot
filled by a one-word noun...
is her favorite after-school food.
Then the subject slot
filled by a gerund
phrase in a similar
Eating pizza covered with
her favorite after-school activity.
The direct object slot filled with a one-word
I knew her reason.
Then the direct object
slot filled with a subordinate noun
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
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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