Give me an Adjective

by Cherie Tucker

In case someone asks you to play Mad Libs, we’d better review the eight parts of speech.  Remember, words can act as many different parts of speech.  The designation depends on the function a word plays in a sentence.  You can watch a play, or play ball, or have a play day.  So get out your memories from sixth grade:

NOUNS are the names of people, places, and things:  Mr. Rogers, Norway, grammar.  Intangibles also have names:  hunger, skepticism, foolishness.

PRONOUNS stand in for nouns. If you don’t want to repeat someone’s name, for example, use a pronoun.  Jim will be late, but he (not Jim again) called and is on his (not Jim’s) way.  

ADJECTIVES, a Mad Libs favorite, are words that describenouns and pronouns, fetching, obstreperous, orange, to refine your image precisely for the reader.

ADVERBS modify verbs by telling the howwhenwhywhere.  He walked slowly.  He then drove home.  They also refine the adjectives further.  If you say it’s a big dog, but you want to modify the concept of big, you would add extremely. (Mark Twain says to avoid very and suggests you use damn instead. After all, how big is very big?)  They also modify other adverbs:  He walked fast for an old guy.  How fast?  Amazingly fast

PREPOSITIONS show the relationship of nouns or pronouns to one another.  Think of an airplane and a cloud.  Anywhere that plane can be in relation to the cloud is a preposition:  It can be over, under, beside, below. (By the way, you can end a sentence with a preposition as long as it isn’t redundant.  For example, we say, “What’s this for?” all the time, not “For what is this?”  It’s the where’s it at that must be avoided.  Where is doing its adverbial best to tell you you’re looking for location.  You don’t need a preposition of location to do the same thing.  That would be like saying he killed him dead.)

CONJUNCTIONS join words or phrases or clauses, and here’s a trick for remembering them.  Think FANBOYS.  That’s F(or), A(nd), N(or), B(ut), Y(et), and S(o).  If they are joining two clauses that can stand alone as sentences, they need commas before them.
(He went to the store, but he didn’t buy anything.)  No comma if they merely join two things (He walked to the store but rodethe bus home.)

INTERJECTIONS are things you blurt when you stub your toe, for example, and usually have exclamation points after them. Ouch! or OMG! 

OK, now you can play Mad Libs without fear.  That game may even help your writing.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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