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Learning about the Parts of Speech: English and Spanish

By Eric W. Vogt

If your eyes glass over when confronted by grammar, this introduction will prepare you to be enthusiastic about the subject. Starting with the parts of speech, you'll then be more prepared to talk about language. Come explore this foundation -- the language for talking about language.

I hated grammar in fifth grade. I didn't know what the teacher was talking about when she talked about adverbs modifying adverbs or adjectives... In junior high school, it seemed like something only the girls were good at and so it went, until high school. But this isn't about me, except to show that if grammar is tough for you, you are not alone. I too was once a 99-lb. grammatical weakling.

After thirty years of teaching Spanish, I am convinced that most students need a class in English grammar before they should be allowed to study Spanish. As a Spanish professor, I get a bit annoyed when I hear people justify taking a foreign language on the grounds that it will improve one's knowledge of English. After all, the Spanish language is not an auxiliary to the English language, and certainly not to an English department.

For almost all of the past 30 years, I've begun with a quick overview of the parts of speech, so that when speaking of nouns, for instance, I don't have to use long circumlocutions as if the four-letter word noun were as dirty as a few other four-letter words. By learning some basic terminology about how to talk about language, teacher and student will be on the same page. Students will ask intelligent questions and be able to identify their own areas of difficulty if they at least know how to identify the types of words they don't understand.

Let's start with an analogy from science. There are many types of orchids (around 25,000 so I understand), and each has a name. There are far more words in most languages than there are types of orchids -- but they each can be put in one of nine boxes, for the sake of classification. Some words may wear two hats, and function as a noun and a verb; for instance book, the noun, is something you read, but "to book" is a verb, meaning what police do when they arrest someone -- "Book 'em, Dano!" -- or, according to a slang expression somewhat out of date, to run off very quickly, either in flight from or in haste toward -- "When we heard they were gunna bust us, we booked it!"

Nine Parts Of Speech

The nine Parts of Speech are:

1. articles (art.)

2. nouns (n.)

3. adjectives (adj.)

4. verbs (v.)

5. adverbs (adv.)

6. pronouns (pr. or pron.)

7. prepositions (prep.)

8. conjunctions (conj.)

9. interjections (inter.)

The part of speech of a word is usually indicated immediately after the dictionary entry of a word, often abbreviated as shown above.

Each of the parts of speech can be further refined, such as the fact that there are definite and indefinite articles, and that verbs can be transitive, intransitive or ditransitive... more on all that in other articles. Beginners should take some comfort in the fact that these nine categories serve as umbrellas to cover them all, such as a genus stands in relation to species in the scientific names used to classify living things.

For more detail, see each article, or cluster of articles, on each part of speech. Flex your grammatical muscles! You just grew a little, knowing what you've just read here.