Pronouns and Prepositions

Pronouns and Prepositions

We come now to pronouns and prepositions – important parts of speech when you’re learning how to write good English.

PRONOUNS, as the name suggests, are used instead of nouns – they are pro-nouns. They help us simplify sentences by avoiding repetition.

It would be clumsy to write “John sat down at John’s desk. John got out John’s pen, and John started to write.”

How much simpler and neater to use the pronouns “he” and “his” to produce something like “John sat down at his desk. He got out his pen and started to write.”

Examples of pronouns are: “he, she, it, you, me, I, they, them” though there are many more. They can perform a number of functions, but in every case they replace a noun in order to simplify what is being said.

PREPOSITIONS describe something or someone’s position in space or time. “Under” the table; “beside” the tree; “above” the water line; “inside” the house; “after” breakfast.

This part of speech can become quite complicated if you delve into grammatical text books, but as long as you remember the point about position in space or time, you won’t go far wrong.

The purpose of these blog posts is to help you write good English, not to become a Professor.

Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives and adverbs

We saw in the last blog post – Parts of Speech (1) – that parts of speech are the names we use to describe the role played by the different types of words in a language; the job that each word performs in a sentence.

After looking at Nouns and Verbs, we now come to ADJECTIVES and ADVERBS.

ADJECTIVES describe nouns.

For example, we can take a noun like ‘car’. How can we describe this car? It might be red, fast, comfortable, sporty, large, or new. These are all adjectives which we are using to describe the car. It’s a red car, a fast car, a comfortable car, a sporty car, a large car, or a new car.

So adjectives are words that describe: they tell you more about a noun. A car isn’t just a car; it’s a red car, a fast car, and so on.

ADVERBS can describe HOW you perform an action when attached to a VERB.

Take a verb like ‘walk’. How you walk is explained by an adverb, such as quickly, slowly, confidently, and so on. In more cases than not, an adverb is formed by adding ‘ly’ to an adjective. So, a confident person might walk confidently, a quiet person might speak quietly, and a noisy car might drive along noisily.

ADVERBS can also qualify, or add information to an ADJECTIVE.

A car can be surprisingly fast, extremely large, remarkably comfortable. There are adverbs that don’t end in ‘ly’, however, especially very, too, and so. The same car could be very fast, too large or so comfortable.

As with nouns and verbs, there is a lot more to be said about adjectives and adverbs. But for this initial introduction we’ll stick to the basics. The aim is to provide you with the building blocks, so you can construct a simple English sentence by understanding the roles performed by the different types of word (known as Parts of Speech).

Parts of Speech – Nouns and Verbs

Nouns and Verbs

Parts of speech are the names that describe the role or purpose of the different types of words in a language; the job that each word performs in a sentence.

First are NOUNS, which are names of things.

PROPER NOUNS normally begin with a capital letter (sometimes known as ‘upper case’) and are things like place names, people’s names, company names, addresses, and so on. Examples are: London, Paris, England, France, John, Frank, Jaguar, Toyota, Acacia Avenue, and so on.

COMMON NOUNS are simply things. Dog, cat, computer, shoe, telephone, chair, car and house are all examples: do you get the idea?

“John is a man who lives in London, drives a Jaguar car and has a daughter called Kate.”

Next we should look at VERBS. These are ‘doing’ words. Examples are write, eat, walk, run, drive, speak. In every case the word describes an action – something that is being done.

Just as there are two types of noun (proper nouns and common nouns), there are two types of verb – known as transitive and intransitive.

A transitive verb is where the doer is doing something to a person or an object. Hit the ball; drive a car; manage a business; cut your hair, and so on.

An intransitive verb is where something is being done, but not to another person or thing. Examples are walk, talk, think, live.

Some verbs have both transitive and intransitive uses. You can either eat (intransitive; something I’m doing) or eat an apple (transitive; I’m doing something to an apple).

That’s a start.

Nouns and verbs are the two most important parts of speech. Strictly speaking, every sentence must have a verb.

In the next post we will look at adjectives and adverbs.

Grammatically correct writing

Plenty of people will tell you that grammar, spelling and punctuation are unimportant; that the only thing that matters is the fact you communicate.

But that’s a contradiction, or at least very close to one.

If grammar, spelling and punctuation are incorrect, it makes it very hard for the reader to understand what it is you’re trying to say. At best it’s ambiguous, at worst unintelligible. So where’s the communication?

Ok, let’s take a look at the basic building blocks of the English language. This should help you construct a sentence that everyone can understand.

They are Nouns, Verbs, Pronouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, Conjunctions, Prepositions and Interjections.

In the next post we will look at what each one means and, more particularly, what each one does.

English is a worldwide language

If you are reading this comfortably, you could be one of the 375 million people worldwide who speak English as their first or main language. Just think of the countries that includes –

United Kingdom
Ireland
USA
much of Canada
Australia
New Zealand
South Africa

There are many other smaller countries and I apologise to those I have unintentionally excluded. Add in those people who speak some English and you are well over the 1,000 million mark. That’s close to one in every five people on the planet who can speak some English.

Good English uses short, simple words not long or obscure ones; simple sentences, not convoluted paragraphs. Good English means plain English: a way to communicate an opinion clearly so the reader understands exactly what we are trying to say. It’s not just for the people who speak English as their first language; it’s for everyone who aspires to read, write and speak our mother tongue.

The English language is rich in vocabulary, yet new words are invented every day. Consider this:

French has 35,000 words;
Latin has 45,000;
German boasts more than 140,000;

So how many words do you think there are in the English language? Go on – have a guess!

You’re miles out. It’s more than 700,000 words.

That’s why there’s so much beautiful literature. Once you have even a basic command of the language, you find your vocabulary expanding daily. It’s rich in synonym and metaphor.

The English and Americans are constantly chiding each other for their spelling and pronunciation. Think of labor, color, apologize and analyze, then labour, colour, apologise and analyse … two countries separated by a common language.

But the important thing is communication, getting our ideas simply and accurately into other people’s minds.

Language is the medium and communication the goal.

Good English – why bother?

The purpose of words

Words are just raw materials; but what a difference the hand of the craftsman can make!

Just as the skilful carpenter creates a work of art by his craftsmanship and selection of tools, so the trained writer turns simple words into magnificent sentences by a careful choice of shape, rhythm, weight and balance.

And just as the beautiful furniture has a practical use – whether as a table you eat off or a chair you sit on – so too have the sentences, in conveying their creator’s meaning.

Communication

Whenever we write, we do so for a purpose. Whether to inform or entertain, to instruct or request, our mission is to get an idea as exactly as possible out of our mind and into someone else’s.

Consider this sentence (a real-life example):

“You, as a driver, due to the ongoing petrol shortage situation, are requested not to travel more than is absolutely necessary, in order to reduce the amount of petrol consumed by yourself”

then compare it with this:

“Petrol is in short supply so please use it sparingly.”

Or of course there is the famous wartime advertising slogan:

“Is your journey really necessary?”

Keep it simple: use short familiar words and obey common grammatical rules. Your reader will be far more impressed by your ability to send a plain message unambiguously than by a stream of long, obscure, Latin-root words, some of which you don’t understand and may, therefore, have used incorrectly.

Style

Apologists for the decline in present-day educational standards, especially in the field of literacy, claim that as long as the reader understands exactly what the writer intends, then poor spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure count for nothing.

Whilst this claim has its appeal, at least in so far as it recognises that the ultimate goal is communication, it loses all attraction when any test of style is applied. It’s all about focus, balance and aesthetics.

In literary style, less is usually more.