The Big Four Parts of Speech Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 30, 2011

The Big Four Parts of Speech

Good writing takes more than just time; it wants your best moments and the best of you. - REAL LIVE PREACHER, WEBLOG, 10-09-04

This lesson is the first of six lessons that provide a review of the rules of English grammar. In this lesson, you will review nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs.

This book assumes that you have studied grammar already and that you are an efficient communicator orally, but that you just might need reminding about some of the parts of speech and how they work together to form complete and effective sentences.

Remember, you need good grammar if you're going to communicate successfully—both orally and in written form. So now you can begin with this review of the big four parts of speech.


Every sentence must include, at the very least, a noun and a verb; sometimes these are referred to as the subject and the predicate. They're easy to spot. The noun is the person, place, or thing doing the action in the sentence. Nouns can be common nouns, such as boy, girl, dog, cat, or they can be proper nouns, which describe a specific person, place, or thing.

The Big Four Parts of Speech

Be careful to follow the rules of capitalization. Being accurate about these rules can often make the difference between clarity and confusion in a sentence. Note the difference here:

      John visited the White House.
      John visited the white house.

The White House, when capitalized, clarifies for the reader that the writer is referring to the home of the president. Without capitalization, the writer can be describing any house that is painted white.

Common nouns are usually not capitalized, except when they are the first word in a sentence. Proper nouns are always capitalized, except when companies (or persons) have made a point of distinguishing themselves by violating the rules. For example, a famous American poet spelled his name e.e. cummings. And eBay and iPod are familiar words in our culture today.


Adjectives are words that describe, modify, specify, or qualify a noun. For example, identify the adjectives in these phrases:

      cool group
      boring lesson
      nice teacher
      interesting book


Verbs are the words that describe the action in a sentence, or that define the relationship between two things. When a verb is doing the action in a sentence, it is called the predicate. Verbs also define the time of the action: the present, the past, or the future.

Often verbs are accompanied by helping verbs that serve to define further the time or nature of the action. Here are some common helping verbs:

has have had
should would could

Can you think of others? Or find others in Practice 3?


Adverbs are words that modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. For example, identify the adverbs in these phrases:

    singing badly
    carefully picking blackberries
    sleeping soundly
    write easily
    vigorously competing to win
    gratefully counting blessings

Verb-Noun Agreement

One of the most common writing errors is the failure to make the subject and the predicate (the noun and the verb) in a sentence agree in number. If the subject of the sentence is singular (a boy), then the verb must be a singular verb. (The boy walks around the block. The girls walk around the block.) Most often, the error of not matching the subject and predicate correctly is made in haste. There is really no excuse for making this error, especially since it is so easy to correct.


Before you finalize any piece of writing, go through it one last time to make sure that each verb matches its subject in number, and matches the meaning of the sentence in tense.

Exercises for this concept can be found at The Big Four Parts of Speech Practice Exercises

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