Adjectives are words that modify or describe nouns.
Adjectives can describe the qualities of nouns. For example:
The dog is big.
The word “big” describes a quality of the dog.
Adjectives can also describe the quantity of nouns. For example:
There were many dogs.
The word “many” describes the quantity of dogs.
Adjectives only modify nouns – they do not modify verbs, adverbs, or other adjectives.
Types of Adjectives
Adjectives come in three forms: absolute, comparative, and superlative.
Absolute adjectives describe something that either cannot be or is not being compared. For example:
My brother is cool.
The absolute adjective “cool” describes the subject, “my brother.” My brother is cool in his own right – he’s not being compared to anything else.
Comparative adjectives do just what it sounds like they do – compare two or more things. For example:
My brother is cooler than me.
The comparative adjective “cooler” is used to compare my brother’s cool factor to my own. Unsurprisingly, he comes out on top.
You can turn most one-syllable adjectives into their comparative forms by adding the suffix “-er” to them; if you’ve got a two-syllable adjective that ends with “-y” (e.g. happy), drop the “-y” and add “-ier” (happier). For other multi-syllabic adjectives, add the word “more” as a modifier.
This is the English language though, so there are always exceptions!
Superlative adjectives are adjectives that show that something has the highest degree of the mentioned quality. Let’s return to our example:
My brother is the coolest person in the world.
See? The superlative adjective “the coolest” shows that my brother has achieved peak levels of cool. You simply can’t be any cooler than he is!
Adverbs are modifiers. They alter the me
aning of words ‒ verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and even whole sentences. Writers use adverbs to add color and refine meaning.
Examples of Adverbs
Helen walked quickly to her next meeting. “Quickly” modifies the verb “walked.”
She looked very comfortable in her knit dress. “Very” modifies the adjective “comfortable.”
Unfortunately, we can’t make it to your wedding. “Unfortunately” modifies the entire sentence.
Most (but not all) adverbs end in -ly. Examples include quickly, helpfully, apprehensively, grumpily. The adverb adds more nuanced information to the verb.
He gave her a ride home.
He helpfully gave her a ride home.
He apprehensively gave her a ride home.
He grumpily gave her a ride home.
Each of those sentences paints a different picture because of the adverbs.
ADVERBS IN THE WRONG PLACE
As you check your adverbs, you may decide that some will stay. Make sure those adverbs are in the right place in the sentence.
An adverb in a sentence with two verbs may be placed incorrectly.
He watched as she ran meditatively.
Readers will connect the adverb with the closest verb, so you want to make clear to your reader who is meditating.
He watched meditatively as she ran.
One adverb that needs careful attention for placement is only. Use it after the verb and place it as close to the word it modifies as possible.
Grammar Girl uses grammarian James Kilpatrick’s example of how placing only changes the meaning of a sentence.
Only John hit Peter in the nose.
John hit only Peter in the nose.
John hit Peter only in the nose.
John only hit Peter in the nose.
The first sentence means John was the only person who hit Peter in the nose. In the second sentence, Peter is the sole recipient of the blow. In the third, Peter was hit in the nose but received no other blows or actions. And the fourth is open to interpretation. It could mean that John hit Peter in the nose but didn’t take any other actions or John hit Peter in the nose but did nothing else to it like pinch it.
When using only, make sure you know what you want to emphasize, then use the correct placement so that it’s clear to your reader.
When to Use Adverbs
Adverbs aren’t inherently good or bad: it’s all in how you use them. Let’s unpack when you should—and shouldn’t—use adverbs.
Use an adverb when…
1. It adds context or new information. For example, adverbs help you show time and place.
They went early to the nearby cinema to get tickets to the premiere.
The teacher rarely gives an “A” to anyone in her class.
A well-placed adverb can give emphasis to your meaning. Consider how a woman being late to her wedding differs from one who is intentionally late.
2. It can replace clunky phrasing.
CLUNKY: He patted her cheek in a rough manner.
SMOOTHER: He patted her cheek roughly.
3. Other words won’t work. Sometimes an adverb is exactly what you need. As smart as algorithms and machine learning code are, they cannot pick the right word every time. Only a writer or her editor can do that. That’s why writing is an art and not a science. Make sure you use adverbs sparingly and thoughtfully.
Replace an adverb when… 1. It restates part of the word it modifies or is redundant.
She whispered quietly to herself. Whispering is a quiet activity, so this adverb is redundant.
Tom gently caressed Sara’s shoulders. Caressing is always gentle, never rough.
2. It modifies a vague or weak verb.
WEAK: Joshua called loudly for help as the water level rose quickly.
You can easily replace “called loudly” and “rose quickly” with stronger verbs that are more emotive.
STRONGER: Joshua screamed for help as the water gushed in.
3. You use “very” or “really.” What does “very” mean? Nothing solid, right? So whenever you feel obliged to drop in a “very” or a “really,” find a stronger word than these weak amplifiers.
instead of very large, try humongous or titanic
in place of really small, use minuscule or microscopic
replace very soft with faint or whispered
rather than really loud, replace with piercing or cacophonous
Anaphora is the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause to achieve an artist effect. Anaphora has a long history, dating all the way back to Biblical Psalms, where phrases like “O Lord” were repeated at the beginning of each line of a prayer.
Anaphora is a popular rhetorical device because it adds emphasis. The repetition gives your writing a powerful cadence and rhyme so it’s easier to read (no getting tripped up on changes at the beginning) and remember.
Using anaphora in your work helps you appeal to the emotions of your readers. The repetition sharpens your words and creates more urgency. Consider how the examples in the next section use anaphora to increase the power of the message.
Examples of Anaphora in Literature, Speech and Music
Writers, poets, and speakers have used anaphora for centuries to add emphasis to their work. Here are some of the most famous examples of anaphora from history.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “I Have a Dream” Speech
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state, sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Winston Churchill: “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” Speech
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
The Police: Every Breath You Take Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you
Anaphora: Final Thoughts
Anaphora is a powerful way to make your work resonate with readers. If you want them to remember your words, consider using repetition to add consequence to your work.
Bad adverbs modify weak verbs and adjectives. They say in many words what a strong adjective or verb can say in one word. For instance:
The dog ran quickly to its owner.
The dog raced to its owner.
“Raced” is a stronger, more emotive verb than “ran.” It also says in one word what “ran quickly” says in two.
We recommend using less than 15 bad adverbs in your writing. You can fix bad adverbs by replacing them with stronger verbs, nouns, or adjectives.
Why Bad Adverbs Hurt Your Writing
Adverbs are a part of speech, just like any other. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using an adverb. They are grammatically correct. However, overusing adverbs is a sign of lazy writing.
Adverbs are often used in instances when a stronger verb would do a better job of conveying meaning:
He walked swiftly towards the window.
He dashed towards the window.
“Dashed” is a stronger, more evocative verb. “Dashed” also says the same thing in one word that “walked swiftly” says in two. Since published writing is concerned with conciseness, stronger verbs are better for your work than adverbs and weak verbs.
The same goes for adjectives: a strong noun or single adjective is better than a string of adverb descriptors.
EXAMPLES OF BAD ADVERBS
There are three main categories to watch out for:
#1: When the adverb is redundant with the verb it modifies
Amy whispered quietly to her mom.
In this example, “quietly” is a bad adverb because it’s redundant when used with “whispered.” Whispering is already quiet. No need to say so again.
Here are some more examples of redundant adverbs:
When she pressed “undo,” the document reverted back to its original state.
The baseball fans screamed loudly when their star shortstop hit a home run.
#2: When the adverb modifies a weak verb or adjective
Not all adverbs are created equal. Neither are all verbs. For example:
When Joshua saw his sister fall, he called loudly for help.
You can replace “called loudly” with a stronger, more emotive verb:
When Joshua saw his sister fall, he screamed for help.
Here are some more examples of weak verbs:
Daniel drove quickly to his mother’s house.
Martha walked slowly to the store after practice.
#3: When the adverb doesn’t add any solid information
Certain adverbs don’t provide any value to your text. These include adverbs like extremely, definitely, truly, very, and really.
Think about it: what does “very” mean, anyway? Nothing solid! So if you’re tempted to use “very” (or another of these adverbs), it’s better to replace it with a stronger verb or adjective.
NOT ALL ADVERBS ARE CREATED EQUAL: WHAT MAKES A GOOD ADVERB
Some adverbs add needed clarity and meaning to your writing. Here are some examples of good adverbs:
#1: Adverbs that add context or new information
Adverbs of time, for instance, give context to when something happened:
They went early to the game to get better seats.
The adverb “early” helps the reader understand when the subjects of the sentence left.
#2: Adverbs that replace clunky phrasing
Sometimes, adverbs can fix phrasing that feels strange or clunky. Consider:
He threw the bags into the corner in a rough manner.
He threw the bags into the corner roughly.
The second option is clearer and easier to read.
Not all adverbs are bad. Not all adverbs are good. As the author, you have the power to decide whether or not to include adverbs in your writing.
A clause is a group of words containing both a subject and a verb. Examples of clauses are:
The bells are ringing
She ran away
What are the Types of Clauses?
An independent clause can actually stand alone as a complete sentence with appropriate punctuation.
The bells are ringing.
She ran away!
A dependent clause can’t stand on its own as a complete sentence. It’s a clause that supplies an independent clause with more information.
Since the bells are ringing.
Because she ran away.
It needs an independent clause to make it a complete sentence. Dependent clauses are joined to independent clauses with a subordinate conjunction (e.g., although, since, if, when, because, etc.).
Since the bells are ringing, we must be late for church.
We’re searching for Audrey because she ran away.
USING CLAUSES IN A SENTENCE
Clauses can also act as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.
I can’t remember what I did yesterday.
The clause “what I did yesterday” acts like a noun. Compare this example to “I can’t remember my actions.”
My daughter, who is afraid of heights, is flying across the country today.
The clause “who is afraid of heights” describes “my daughter.”
I dropped my bag when the dog lunged at me.
The clause “when the dog lunged at me” tells us when I dropped my bag.
Now that you know the difference between a dependent and independent clause and how to use clauses as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, you can structure better sentences for your reader’s enjoyment.
Articles are determiners that help show if a noun is general or specific.
Some common articles are a and anwhich are indefinite articles. They are used with a singular noun when that noun is non-specific.
Cara bought a car.
In this example, Cara bought a car. But we don’t have any further information to tell us about which car Cara bought. Thus, the noun is non-specific.
The is a definitearticle. Theshows a specific reference point. It can be used with both plural and singular nouns, as well as both countable and uncountable nouns.
They went to thepark.
In this example, the word “the” indicates that the author is talking about a specific park.
Conjunctions are words that link other words, phrases, and clauses together.
There are three main kinds of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and subordinating conjunctions.
Coordinating conjunctions are words like but, and, or, yet, and so. They join together two parts of a sentence that have equal grammatical rank.
I would eat pizza and mozzarella sticks for lunch.
Correlative conjunctions are pairs of conjunctions like either/or, neither/nor, and not only/but also.
I would like to eat either pizza or Chinese food for lunch.
Subordinating conjunctions join independent and dependent clauses. Subordinating conjunctions can show a cause and effect or a contrasting relationship.
Although I wanted to go out for dinner, I stayed home and cooked.
Coordinating conjunctions connect words, phrases, and clauses that are of equal value to the sentence. The clauses that are connected by coordinating conjunctions are called independent clauses.
Subordinating conjunctions connect clauses and phrases that have a relationship. These clauses somehow depend on one another; they are dependent clauses. Subordinating conjunctions include words like because, while, as, and since, to name a few.
The 7 Coordinating Conjunctions
The good news about coordinating conjunctions is that there are only seven you need to remember. They are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Together, they spell the acronym FANBOYS. Let’s look at each of them and how to use them.
For can be used as either a preposition or a conjunction. When used as a conjunction, it loosely means because or seeing as. For is typically used in more formal writing.
I will overcome this obstacle, for I am not weak.
Do not walk through the neighborhood alone, for it is not safe after dark.
And is a conjunction with multiple purposes. It shows addition or quantity when listing items. It can also be used much like the subordinating conjunction then or also, but only when the phrases or clauses are equally important.
I ate eggs and bacon at brunch.
We went to the store and the flea market.
Nor is used in negative phrases. It can show subtraction or exception in a series of words or phrases. In these cases, it is often accompanied by the word neither. It can also continue the emphasis of a preceding negative phrase. If the preceding clause or phrase includes a negative word like not or never, nor can make the sentence more poignant.
He is neither hungry nor thirsty.
I will not support the proposed measure, nor will the rest of my community.
But is a common little word that means many things. As a conjunction, it can mean yet or on the contrary. It can mean except, unless, and if not. Again, it replaces these words by emphasizing parts of sentences equally instead of conditionally. That’s what makes it a coordinating conjunction.
Mary loved her little lamb, but she couldn’t take it to school.
The little boy loves swimming but hates taking baths.
While several of the coordinating conjunctions have a myriad of uses, yet is a lot simplers. It means though, still, or nevertheless. However, if you are using yet to talk about time or an amount (e.g. yet another hour), that’s not a coordinating conjunction. In those cases, yet is an adverb.
The play had a great beginning, yet it fell flat in Act Three.
My terrier fears other dogs yet loves my sister’s poodle.
So is a special conjunction because it can be both coordinating and subordinating. To know which role so is playing, you must determine the types of clauses it’s connecting. If the two clauses are equal, as in two independent clauses, so is acting as a coordinating conjunction. In this case, so can often be replaced by therefore. If so connects an independent and dependent clause, it is a subordinating conjunction.
My cat was hungry, so I fed her.
I am allergic to wheat, so I can’t eat that sandwich.
Using Coordinating Conjunctions
The way you structure your sentence affects how you use coordinating conjunctions. The rules regarding punctuation vary, and sentence structure is the main determiner.
You can use coordinating conjunctions to connect two words, whether they are nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. You do not need commas in this case.
Nouns: Would you like brownies or cupcakes for dessert?
Verbs: The dolphins chirped and dove into the water.
Adjectives: It was small but deadly.
Adverbs: We will walk quickly yet quietly to exit the building.
When connecting two phrases of equal value, a comma is also unnecessary before the coordinating conjunction. For example:
I picked up my son from gymnastics and my daughter from soccer.
Commas are necessary when coordinating conjunctions connect two independent clauses. The comma will always go before the coordinating conjunction, not after.
I love to eat ice cream, yet I am lactose intolerant.
My sister told me about almond milk ice cream, so I went to the store to find some.
I was surprised to find it tasted great, and it was very affordable.
The sentence structure for these types of sentences will always be independent clause + comma + coordinating conjunction + independent clause. Remember, this is only for coordinating conjunctions. The rules for subordinating conjunctions and commas are different.
THE OXFORD COMMA DEBATE
There are few grammar issues more divisive than the Oxford comma or serial comma. This is the comma that comes before a coordinating conjunction in a list of three or more items. Here is an example:
I ate eggs, bacon, and orange juice for breakfast.
See that little comma after bacon? That’s an Oxford comma. It is not required to be there. It’s more commonly used in American English than British English, and it is considered more of a modern trend. Depending on when you went to school, you might have learned that you don’t need the comma before and.
I will wear blue, black, or purple tomorrow.
I will wear blue, black or purple tomorrow.
Both are correct! This is a stylistic choice for writers or editors. If you’re writing for work or school, be sure to check your style guide for its preference on the Oxford comma.
Coordinating Conjunctions: Not Just for the Middle of the Sentence
Your grade-school teachers might have told you to never start a sentence with and or but. But you can start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction! Just make sure that everything that follows the conjunction makes a complete sentence instead of being a sentence fragment.
Now that you know all about coordinating conjunctions, go forth and write with plenty of sentence variety!
A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that gives you more information about a subject or concept.
Examples of dangling modifiers
Take a look at the following sentence:
Genuinely mortified, Janie smoothed down her skirt, which had blown up in a gust of wind to expose her Spanx.
There are a couple modifiers in this sentence: one at the beginning to let the reader know about Janie’s emotions (Genuinely mortified), and the second at the end to let us know what happened with her skirt (it had blown up).
A modifier needs to be placed directly before or after its intended target. In the above case, we know who was mortified and what the wind blew.
Sometimes an inexperienced writer will dangle those modifiers and change the meaning of the sentence. Consider the following:
Genuinely mortified, a gust of wind had blown up Janie’s skirt, exposing her Spanx.
In that version, it reads as though the wind was mortified rather than Janie.
Genuinely mortified, the skirt was smoothed down by Janie, which had blown up in a gust of wind
In that version, the skirt was mortified and Janie was blown up by the wind.
In both examples, there is a lack of clarity and your reader will probably need to go back and try decipher the sentence.
SO HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOUR MODIFIER IS NOT DANGLING?
When you use a phrase or clause at the beginning of a sentence, identify the subject of your main clause. Does your phrase or clause describe it? If not, it’s dangling. Use the same test for any clause or phrase that comes after your subject. Another example:
To get his free pizza, a coupon was used when ordering.
Rewriting this sentence to combine the phrase and the main clause makes it much more accessible and easy to read:
He got a free pizza by using a coupon when ordering.
A final example:
Having finished their homework, video games were the next item on the agenda.
Video games don’t do homework. At least, not yet. The following rewrite helps you clarify whose homework was finished.
Having finished their homework, the boys turned to video games, the next item on their agenda.
Now that you understand dangling modifiers, you’ll be able to catch those danglers and make them clearer. Good luck!
Exaggeration is any statement that creates a worse, or better, image or situation than it really is. It’s used to highlight points and add emphasis to a feeling, an idea, an action, or a feature. Using exaggeration in your writing lets you describe something in a heightened way to make it more remarkable. Poets use exaggeration through similes and metaphors.
And often, exaggeration is paired with sarcasm and irony to create a humorous narrative.
Types of exaggeration
There are two types of exaggeration that writers use to create effect.
A writer crafts a statement that slightly exaggerates something to make his or her meaning more prominent. For example, a poet could overstate the actual truth of his beloved’s beauty and charisma by comparing her to famous people, works of art, or even opulent locations.
Hyperbole takes it over the top. It’s an extreme and extravagant exaggeration that’s impossible to believe. When you say your grandmother is as old as the hills or a bag of groceries weighs a ton, you’re using hyperbole.
Exaggerations are common
We use exaggerations every single day such as:
His brain is the size of a peanut.
My dog is the only one I talk to anymore.
She would rather die than wear thrift store clothes.
That baby will drown in his own tears.
This car is older than Methuselah.
EXAMPLES OF EXAGGERATIONS IN LITERATURE
If you haven’t read it yet, check out Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. He uses his writing talent to make quite the social and political statement. This amusing read exaggerates a political solution to save Ireland from poverty: kill the children of poor Irish families and feed them as a delicacy to Ireland’s nobles. He even explains how their skin could make wonderful handbags and gloves.
The poem Song by John Donne is a list of impossible to achieve tasks. The opening line tells the reader to Go and catch a falling star which, if possible, children all over the world would already have done. He also says it takes a journey of ten thousand days and nights to find a faithful woman. Beyond being an obvious exaggeration, this is an example of misogyny in literature.
Finally, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace was adapted into a film by Tim Burton. In this story, Edward Bloom is dying of cancer. His son Will hasn’t spoken to him for years because he finally got sick of his father’s exaggerated stories as nothing more than lies. It’s on Edward’s deathbed that he relives the stories he told and Will finally comes to understand the truth in them. Surprise ending (read the book or watch the movie).
Consider how you can use exaggeration in your next story. For example, a character may use exaggeration as manipulation, much like a child uses big eyes, tears, and sobs to get attention. Another character could use exaggeration to deliberately skew the facts about someone’s reputation as character assassination. There are as many ways to use exaggeration in your WIP as your imagination can think them up.
Infinitives are verbs preceded by the word “to” that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in a sentence. Examples include:
An infinitive does not function as a verb. This means you can never add s, es, ed, or ing to the end.
Examples of Infinitives in English Grammar
Infinitives as Nouns
How can an infinitive function as a noun?
To walk to work is a requirement for her in locating a suitable apartment.
In this sentence, “To walk” functions as the noun because it’s the subject of the sentence.
She refuses to cater to his every whim.
“To cater” in this sentence functions as the object of “refuses.”
Infinitives as Adjectives
How can an infinitive function as an adjective?
Whenever Sandra goes to the book store, she always finds a book to purchase.
The infinitive “to purchase” is an adjective that modifies the noun “book.”
INFINITIVES AS ADVERBS
How can an infinitive function as an adverb?
She agreed to travel with the group on holiday.
The infinitive “to travel” tells us what was “agreed,” functioning as an adverb modifying a verb.
When can you split an infinitive?
According to a strict grammarian, never. It’s been written in stone for decades that “thou shalt not” split infinitives.
Incorrect: Robert tries to quickly finish his English paper so he can spend more time gaming.
Correct: Robert tries to finish his English paper quickly so he can spend more time gaming.
That said, sometimes a sentence reads better with a split infinitive, especially in informal writing. Consider the impact of the following sentences:
To boldly go where no man has gone before. (Thank you, Star Trek.)
It wouldn’t have the same impact if they’d said:
To go boldly where no man has gone before.
Consider it your literary license to boldly titillate your audience with carefully placed split infinitives. Just not too many, eh?
You most likely know several interjections, but did you know the word comes from the Latin inter, which means “between”, and jacere, which means “to throw”? So you’re literally throwing a word or phrase in between sentences or thoughts to signify your feelings. It’s a word bomb to get someone’s attention.
More often than not, you’ll use an interjection to express surprise or excitement.
Examples of interjections:
“Wow! I can’t believe you found it.”
“Ouch! Stop pinching; you’re hurting me.”
“Terrific! I’ll be right there.”
When should you use an interjection?
Most people use interjections today in the form of emojis. For example, you might type:
The burrito is vegan 🙁
The burrito is vegan 🙂
Your emoji signifies how you feel about that vegan burrito.
Your character in your manuscript, however, won’t communicate in emojis unless you’re writing an entire story in text messages. (Let’s hope not.)
Instead, your character might say:
“Ew, the burrito is vegan.”
“The burrito is vegan. Yum!”
While most conversations between human beings include interjections, you don’t want to pepper your dialogue or narrative with them. Why? Because more careful word choice leads to a better mental picture in your readers’ minds than an interjection.
My eyes took in the vegan burrito, and all saliva instantly dried up. How could they present that hideous concoction as a meal entrée? Don’t these people know their customers need meat to survive?
HOW TO PUNCTUATE INTERJECTIONS
If you’re writing interjections, know how to punctuate them correctly. When using an interjection to relay a strong emotion, set the interjection off as a separate sentence with an exclamation point.
“Ugh! They’re serving reheated vegan burritos today.”
“Yes! Vegan burritos again today for lunch.”
If you want to capture your character’s alarm or surprise, follow your interjection with a question mark.
“Huh? You want to go out on a date with me?”
“Really? You want to eat vegan burritos again?”
When you’re not expressing intense emotions, a comma will suffice.
“Hey, what’s the answer to the second question?”
“Meh, I couldn’t care less about vegan burritos.”
Writers use interjections because people use them in speech all the time.
“Um, so, like, would you maybe, um, want to, like, go out sometime?”
How many times have you read in a book or watched on film as the nervous, shy guy stumbles over his own words when trying to ask out the gorgeous supermodel? But if you’d rather not be cliché, you can still use interjections to define certain characters. One character might start all of his sentences with, “Okay, then.” Or some other interjection because real-life people have these little idiosyncrasies that show up in their speech, right? (Mine is dropping in “right?” at the end of sentences.)
What Is a Noun?
A noun is a person, place, or thing. The first two are clear—the last one’s a bit nebulous. A “thing” can be a feeling, or a concept, or an object, or a unit of measurement. If you’re not sure, consult your dictionary (or better yet, your ProWritingAid app).
What Is a Noun’s Function in a Sentence?
Every sentence needs a subject and a verb. A noun is most often the subject of a sentence. For example:
Wilson ruled his kingdom so well they wrote a song about him.
“Wilson” is the subject of this sentence, and also a noun. The verb is “ruled,” and it tells you what Wilson is doing. Let’s try another example.
The astronaut moonwalked across the surface of the planet.
We’ve got three nouns here: astronaut, surface, and planet. However, only “astronaut” is the subject, since she’s the one doing the moonwalking. (By the way, surface is one of the “things” covered by our definition.)
TYPES OF NOUNS
These are any old regular noun. They refer to people, places, or things in general.
These refer to a specific person, place, or thing. To signify their importance, proper nouns are always written with initial capital letters.
This type of noun refers only to things that interact with our senses. That is, they can be touched, seen, smelled, tasted, or heard.
Abstract nouns refer to things which cannot be observed by the senses. For example:
Yes, you can look at someone’s face and see that they’re happy. However, happiness is still considered abstract because happiness itself is not an observable object.
Collective nouns refer to a particular group of people, places, or things.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
These are self-explanatory. Countable nouns are those that can be counted:
Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, have an indefinite or undefinable value, and therefore cannot be counted:
You’ll notice that many abstract nouns end up being uncountable as well.
Singular and Plural Nouns
Many nouns have multiple forms: singular and plural. Singular nouns refer to one person, place, or thing, while plural nouns refer to multiple people, places or things.
Some examples of singular nouns:
Now here are the plural forms of these same verbs:
We can often turn a singular noun into a plural simply by adding an “s” on the end. Others, like “oxen”, are a bit trickier. As always, if you’re unsure, check your dictionary.
Participles, both past and present, are verb forms that can be used as an adjective or a noun.
Take a common verb like jump. It can be used as a noun as in:
Jumping over the hedgerows is exhausting.
It can also be used as an adjective:
The jumping bean held the children’s attention far longer than the teacher expected.
Examples of present participles
An easy way to distinguish is present participles always end in ‘ing’.
Enjoying a good ice cream cone with my best friend is excellent therapy.
EXAMPLES OF PAST PARTICIPLES
Most common verbs ending in ‘ed’ form the past participle, such as:
The boiled potato was rather mushy and dank.
Examples of irregular past participles
Some past participles are a little trickier. Thanks to irregular verbs, you have words like:
Brought (from the verb bring)
Rung (from the verb ring)
Risen (from the verb rise)
Built (from the verb build)
Broken (from the verb break)
Swollen (from the verb swell)
Jeff’s two swollen eyes and broken nose looked even more ghastly the next day.
Brought by Claire, the hummus was an instant hit at the party.
So there isn’t a hard and fast rule that you can use to form past participles from irregular verbs. That’s why it’s so hard to teach young children to say “brought” instead of “brung.”
You probably don’t need our help with these. For most words, simply add an “s” to the end of the singular form to make a plural. For instance:
Singular: paper / Plural: papers
Singular: cat / Plural: cats
Singular: tree / Plural: trees
Easy enough. Things are slightly complicated when the word already ends with an “s,” or with a “ch,” “sh,” “x,” or “z.” In this case, it’s often correct to add “es” instead.
Singular: grass / Plural: grasses
Singular: bench / Plural: benches
Singular: radish / Plural: radishes
What about words like “memory”? To pluralize a word ending in a consonant and the letter “y,” replace the “y” with “ies.”
Singular: memory / Plural: memories
Singular: baby / Plural: babies
Singular: glory / Plural: glories
Now let’s advance to the truly tricky stuff.
As the name implies, irregular plurals don’t follow the rules of their regular counterparts. The best way to learn these is to memorize them. Here are a few examples:
Calf and Calves
One might think calfs is the right words, but it’s actually calves. There are a few others with a similar construction, including leaf and leaves, knife and knives, and life and lives.
Hoof and Hoofs (or Hooves)
Some irregular plurals are actually acceptable in multiple forms, as in the case of the word hoof. The logical plural hoofsactually works here. Yet using hooves is also valid. As the writer, it’s your choice which you use, so long as you’re consistent.
Just don’t get tripped up with words that sound similar. For example, hooves is an acceptable plural of hoof. However, prooves is not the plural of proof. The correct plural is proofs. It’s just one of those things you have to remember.
Person and People
This is certainly one of the stranger ones on this list. The preferred plural of person is not persons. It’s people.
However, you’ve probably heard the word persons used before, such as in the phrase “Missing Persons Case.” That’s because persons is a formal version of the plural and therefore used almost exclusively in legal settings. So unless you’re a law enforcement official, you should opt for people.
What about peoples? In the words of Jane Mairs, Director of English Language Learning Publishing, “the only time you will want to use the word ‘peoples’ is when you are referring to groups of people from multiple ethnic, cultural, racial, or national backgrounds.” For example:
“The American people.” (We use people because we’re referring only to Americans.)
“The American, Chinese, Mexican, and English peoples.” (We use peoples because we’re referring to many folks from many countries.)
A prepositional phrase is a group of words including a preposition, an object and any modifiers.
Most prepositional phrases modify a noun or verb, often called adjectival or adverbial phrases, respectively.
Examples of prepositions
A prepositional phrase contains a preposition and an object. The object can be a noun, a gerund (a verb ending in -ingthat acts like a noun), or a clause.
Here are a few examples, with each prepositional phrase in bold:
She caught the bus on time.
Mary plays the girl in the middle.
Before going shopping, get out cash.
John is really going steady with that silly girl.
After the play is the perfect time to congratulate Annie.
Notice how prepositions can modify nouns or verbs.
ENDING SENTENCES WITH A PREPOSITION
Some of us learned that ending a sentence with a dangling preposition was bad form. The Oxford Dictionary states that’s no longer the case: what used to hold true in years past for Latin isn’t how we use English today.
It’s perfectly acceptable to end some sentences with a preposition:
Did you turn the TV off?
Her car had not even been paid for.
Joe must understand the responsibility he is taking on.
If you tried to rewrite the above sentences to avoid ending with a preposition, they would be awkward at best:
Did you turn off the TV?
For which her car had not even been paid.
Joe must understand the responsibility upon which he is taking.
Per OxfordDictionaries.com, “There is no necessity to ban prepositions from the end of sentences. Ending a sentence with a preposition is a perfectly natural part of the structure of modern English.”
AVOID USING TOO MANY PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES
When you use too many prepositional phrases in a single sentence, it becomes ungainly and inelegant:
You must learn to move with caution when sailing on a sailboat in the middle of the stormy ocean.
When you use ProWritingAid to check your work, too many prepositional phrases will show up in the Sticky Sentences Report. You can then reword to express yourself better:
On stormy seas, move cautiously on sailboats.
This sentence is far clearer. Notice that we still have two prepositions, but the structure is now straightforward and every word carries weight.
Want more information on prepositional phrases? Our friend Daniel over at Daily Writing Tips has written a useful articleabout what they are and how to identify them in your writing.
Prepositions connect phrases, nouns, and pronouns with other words in a sentence. They’re words that show location, placement, or orientation. A convenient way to remember what prepositions are is to remember the word “position” within “preposition”: they can tell you an object’s position.
Common prepositions include:
Here’s a sentence with a common preposition:
“The cookies are inside the cookie jar.”
In this sentence, “inside” is our preposition because it tells us where the cookies are.
Here are a few more examples, with the prepositions in bold:
I’m buried beneath a pile of homework.
Somewhere over the rainbow.
Get behind me!
TYPES OF PREPOSITIONS
Since prepositions refer to location, placement, and orientation, there are several types.
If you’re describing use of an implement, machine, or device, you’ll need a preposition. For example:
I traveled here by airplane.
I wrote this article with a keyboard.
These prepositions indicate an object’s direction, or the way it’s facing.
The shape lumbered towards me.
The fly buzzed away from me.
Prepositions of time indicate how objects relate to one another in terms of when they happen.
On Sunday, I usually watch football.
I’ll call you when the game’s over.
In 1965, The Who released their first album.
These prepositions correspond to a person or agent performing an action.
Some of my favorite books were written by Stephen King.
I played fetch with my dog all day. Good dog!
Prepositions of place define an object’s position.
The cat is on the table again.
I’ll meet you at Applebee’s.
Seems clear enough, doesn’t it? Well the English language is never that straightforward! You should also know about particles.
In some sentences, words that normally act as prepositions appear instead of parts of verbs. These words are known as particles. You’ve probably heard many of these phrasal verbs:
In these phrasal verbs, “up”, “down”, and “back” would normally be treated as prepositions. Here, however, since they’re essentially part of the verb, they’re particles instead. Here they are in full sentences:
Penny has a tendency to act up at night.
Tone down the excitement, okay?
I need you to give back that book, please.
A good way to differentiate them is to shift the word in question to the beginning of the sentence. If this new sentence makes sense, you’ve got a preposition. If not, you’ve got a particle. Let’s try one of our sentences above.
Up act Penny has a tendency at night.
That makes no sense. Therefore, “up” is indeed a particle. Now let’s try this sentence:
We climbed up the slope.
Now let’s try our trick.
Up the slope we climbed.
That makes sense, so “up” in this sentence is a preposition, not a particle.
Pronouns are words that stand in for nouns. We use them every day, so you’ll recognize most, such as these personal pronouns:
I, you, she, he, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, them
Pronouns prevent needless repetition. In a world without them, our sentences might look like this:
Lucielle started Lucille’s car. Lucielle switched on Lucielle’s navigation app, knowing that Lucille would get lost without it. Finally, Lucielle switched on the radio. Lucielle didn’t go anywhere without music.
That’s a terrible reading experience. We know we’re reading about Lucielle the entire time, so there’s no need to remind us who she is in every sentence. Let’s read it with the appropriate pronouns:
Lucielle started her car. She switched on her navigation app, knowing that she would get lost without it. Finally, she switch on the radio. Lucielle didn’t go anywhere without music.
Notice how in that last sentence, we opted to use the character’s name again rather than the pronoun. Every time a writer uses a pronoun, it’s a choice. I decided not to use the pronoun there because I felt it was an important character moment, and therefore worthy of emphasis. Using the character’s name instead of a pronoun accomplishes this objective.
Types of Pronouns
As in the above example, personal pronouns stand in for someone’s name. If that person’s name is the subject of the sentence, the corresponding pronoun is known as a subjective pronoun. If it’s the object of the sentence, the corresponding pronoun is known as an objective pronoun.
Subjective Pronouns: I, you, she, he, it, we, they
Objective Pronouns: me, you, her, him, us, them
No, that’s not a typo. “You” can be either a subjective or objective pronoun depending on the sentence’s context.
As the name implies, these pronouns are general. They don’t correspond to any specific noun. For example:
my, mine, your, yours, her, hers, his, its, our, ours, their, theirs
Demonstrative pronouns are sort of like indicators. They stand in for nouns that have been previously mentioned.
these, those, that, this
Intensive pronouns amplify nouns. Therefore, they’re usually paired with the noun being amplified. For example, in the sentence, “I myself prefer eggs for breakfast,” myself is the intensive pronoun and it’s paired with I. Notice that intensive pronouns aren’t an essential element of the sentence.
myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, themselves
In different contexts, these same pronouns can become reflexive pronouns. Unlike intensive pronouns, reflexive pronouns are an essential element of the sentence. For example:
“Sometimes I confuse myself.”
If we remove myself from this sentence, we lose all meaning. In this case, myself is an essential element, and therefore a reflexive pronoun.
The name says it all here. Interrogative pronouns are used when seeking more information:
what, which, who, whom, whose
A classic example of a sentence with an interrogative pronoun is: “Who else knows about this?”
Interrogative pronouns can become relative pronouns based on the sentence’s context. An interrogative becomes reflexive when it’s used to combine clauses in a sentence. For example:
“I’m wondering which of you knows about this.”
WHAT ABOUT “THEY”?
“They” is a plural pronoun, which means it stands in for two or more people. However, some writers use they to express indefinite gender in a subject.
For example, let’s say your main character Lucille is driving down the road. Lucielle’s cut off by another driver, though she can’t see that person and therefore can’t tell their gender. So she might exclaim, “I can’t believe they just did that!”, even though she is talking about a single person.
Furthermore, if a person prefers not to identify as either male or female, they might prefer the pronoun they. Many other non-binary pronouns have been introduced, such as ze, but few have stuck. Therefore, many non-binary people prefer they.
Is it proper to use the traditional plural they when referring to a single person? As is often the case, usage drives acceptance. Many grammar experts will tell you that it’s not technically correct to use they as a singular pronoun, yet they’ll also admit that it’s becoming more common, and therefore more acceptable.