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English Grammar: Parts of Speech as Sentence Building Blocks

By Curt Smothers

Parts of speech in English are the building blocks of sentences. Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections populate and function as basic elements of the way we communicate. This article will show how sentences integrate parts of speech.

The Basics

For the purposes of this article, we shall assume that the reader has a basic knowledge of the parts of speech in English. As a refresher, take a look at the links to the Bright Hub articles on 8 parts of speech in the final section of this article.

Understanding How Parts of Speech Work Together

Parts of speech work together as a sort of team. Their order and use in the sentence provides what is known as syntax. Syntax is how we arrange our words and phrases to create a well-formed sentence. Syntax is the difference between “The boy walked the dog,” and “The dog walked the boy.” “Boy” and “dog” are two nouns in these sentences that are connected by the verb “walked.” The meaning of the sentence depends on which side of the verb they occupy.

Parts of speech also add complexity to English sentences. They specify, enrich and modify the meaning of what we communicate, and often work together as a single part of speech.

Building a Sentence a Little at a Time

We can build a sentence from scratch and observe how adding parts of speech enrich the sentence’s depth and meaning:

1. Mary prayed.

Mary (the noun) plus prayed (the verb) gives us a simple subject and a simple predicate. This is a complete and syntactically sound sentence.

2. Mary prayed earnestly.

We still have a simple subject (Mary), but by adding the adverb earnestly, we have promoted our predicate to what is known as a complete predicate.

3. Agitated and worried, Mary prayed earnestly in church.

We added two adjectives (agitated, worried) and a conjunction (and), and now our sentence has a complete subject Also, by using the preposition in and the noun church, we have increased the size and enriched the meaning of our complete predicate. Note, too, how our prepositional phrase in the church functions as an adverb modifying the verb prayed by telling us where.

Making the Simple into Complex

4. Agitated and worried, Mary, who was usually self-reliant, prayed earnestly in church.

By adding the dependent clause (who was usually self-reliant), we have changed our simple sentence into complex sentence. The dependent clauses consists of a relative pronoun (who), another verb (was), another adverb (usually, modifying was), and another adjective (self-reliant).

The relative clause (who was normally self-reliant) also demonstrates how individual parts of speech can come together and behave like a single part of speech. The dependent (or relative) clause who was usually self-reliant tells us something about Mary. Because it, in effect, modifies Mary, it is an adjective clause.

Bringing it All Together

So sentences grow in complexity as simple subjects and simple predicates become complete with additional parts of speech but always divide the sentence into actor and action. This growth is through adding parts of speech, which either modify or expand the meaning of our sentence. Groupings of individual parts of speech, in turn, work together as phrases or clauses. In complex sentences these groupings serve as single parts of speech (adjectives and nouns). When phrases or clauses serve as parts of speech they can also become our subject or object.