Chapter 29: ELL Parts of Speech

Using Nouns

Count Nouns

Some nouns name things that can be counted. Such count nouns can be preceded by numbers or articles (a, an, and the). Count nouns can be singular or plural.

Singular: cherry
Singular: bowl

Plural: cherries
Plural: bowls

I put 35 cherries in a bowl.

Noncount Nouns

Other nouns name things that can’t be counted. Such noncount nouns cannot be preceded by numbers or by a or an (but the is acceptable). Noncount nouns do not have a plural form.

furniture

equipment

luggage

We assembled the furniture, set up the equipment, and unpacked our luggage.

A Closer Look at Noncount Nouns

Materials

wood

wool

glass

cloth

steel

leather

ice

aluminum

porcelain

plastic

metal

 

Foods

water

sugar

cheese

milk

rice

flour

wine

meat

 

Activities

reading

swimming

poetry

boating

soccer

homework

smoking

hockey

 

dancing

photography

 

Science

oxygen

electricity

mathematics

weather

lightning

economics

heat

biology

air

sunshine

history

 

Languages

Spanish

Mandarin

English

Farsi

Abstractions

experience

publicity

happiness

harm

advice

health

Two-Way Nouns

Some nouns can be count or noncount, depending on how they are used. These are two-way nouns.

I cut the grass and then spread new seed with a mix of grasses.

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Using Articles

English uses three types of articles—or short adjectives—before nouns to give more information about them.

Definite Articles

The definite article the comes before a noun, indicating that a specific noun is meant.

Bring me the book. (I want a specific book.)

Note: The can be used with most nouns—count nouns and noncount nouns, alike—but avoid using it with most proper nouns.

Incorrect: The James Thurber wrote the My Life and Hard Times.

Correct: James Thurber wrote My Life and Hard Times.

Indefinite Articles

The indefinite article a or an comes before a noun to indicate that the noun is not specific. Use a before nouns that begin with consonant sounds and an before nouns that begin with vowel sounds.

Bring me a book. (I want any book.)

I'll make you an offer, but it's a one-time offer. (The word offer begins with a vowel sound—o—while the word one-time begins with a consonant sound—w.)

Note: A or an can be used with singular count nouns, but do not use them with plural count nouns or noncount nouns.

Incorrect: I have a health.

Correct: I have my health.

Incorrect: Hand me a flour.

Correct: Hand me the flour.

Using A or An with Words Starting with H

If a word starting in h is pronounced with the h sound, use a.

a home

a hog

a history

a handshake

a helicopter

If a word starting with an h is pronounced without the h sound, use an.

an herb

an hour

an honor

an hors d’oeuvre

an honest person

Using Other Noun Markers

Other words can be used to give more information about nouns.

Possessive Adjectives

Possessive adjectives show ownership of nouns. Possessive adjectives are formed from nouns by adding ’s. If the noun is plural and ends in s, add just .

Carla’s bag was full of books, but none of the books were Juan’s.

Of all of the dogs’ sweaters, Pepper’s was the rattiest.

Special forms of pronouns are also used as possessive adjectives. Note that one form is used if the adjective comes before the noun, and often a different form is used if the adjective follows the noun.

my bike

The bike is mine.

His plan is the same as hers.

Possessive Adjectives from Pronouns

Singular

Plural

Before

After

Before

After

First Person

my

mine

our

ours

Second Person

your

yours

your

yours

Third Person

his

his

their

theirs

her

hers

their

theirs

its

its

their

theirs

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Indefinite Adjectives

Some adjectives show that the noun is not referring to a specific person, place, or thing. These words are indefinite adjectives. Some indefinite adjectives mark count nouns and others mark noncount nouns.

Many students take math.

Much tutoring is needed.

With Count Nouns

all

many

any

more

each

most

either

neither

every

several

few

some

With Noncount Nouns

all

most

any

much

more

some

Quantifiers

Quantifiers tell how many or how much there is of something. Some expressions work with count nouns and others with noncount nouns, and some can work with either.

With Count Nouns

a, an

several

a couple of

many

a few

nine

With Noncount Nouns

a bag of

a little

a bowl of

much

a piece of

a great deal of

With Count or Noncount

no

a lot of

not any

lots of

some

plenty of

most

all

Demonstrative Adjectives

Demonstrative adjectives (this, that, these, those) make a noun very specific: They demonstrate exactly which one is meant and so are stronger than the definite article the.

This card came from that shop.

These kids want those suckers.

Using Present-Tense Singular Verbs

The base form of most present-tense verbs is the plural form: they sit, they see, they say. To create the singular form, you add an s or es to the base form.

Add es when the verb . . .

ends in ch, sh, s, x, or z.

latch—latches

wash—washes

harass—harasses

fix—fixes

buzz—buzzes

is go or do.

go—goes

do—does

Change y to i and add es when the verb . . .

ends in a y after a consonant.

rely—relies

fly—flies

qualify—qualifies

cry—cries

Add s to most other verbs, including those that . . .

end in e or in y after a vowel.

bite—bites

tote—totes

buy—buys

say—says

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Using Past-Tense Verbs

Most verbs form their past tense by adding ed or d. Follow these rules.

Add ed when the verb ends in . . .

two consonants.

latch—latched

thank—thanked

start—started

learn—learned

a consonant after two vowels.

look—looked

reveal—revealed

treat—treated

applaud—applauded

a consonant after one vowel if the last syllable is not stressed.

muster—mustered

budget—budgeted

falter—faltered

fidget —fidgeted

a y after a vowel.

stay—stayed

fray—frayed

destroy—destroyed

enjoy—enjoyed

Double the last consonant and add ed when the verb ends in . . .

a consonant preceded by a vowel in a stressed syllable.

stop—stopped

step—stepped

admit—admitted

confer—conferred

Change y to i and add ed when the verb ends in . . .

a y after a consonant.

satisfy—satisfied

reply—replied

try—tried

marry—married

Add d when the verb ends with . . .

e or ie.

tame—tamed

die—died

love—loved

remove—removed

Note: Irregular verbs form their past tenses by changing the form of the verb: has becomes had, swim becomes swam, eat becomes ate.

Using Progressive Verb Tenses

Progressive verbs express ongoing or continuous action in the past, present, or future. Progressive tenses are created by using helping verbs and the ing form of the verb.

Past Progressive Tense

Form the past progressive tense by using the helping verb was or were before the ing form of the main verb.

In 1913, workers were building the Smith Tower in downtown Seattle.

The city was expanding up as well as out.

Present Progressive Tense

Form the present progressive tense by using the helping verb am, is, or are before the ing form of the main verb.

Many wheelchair athletes are competing in the Boston Marathon this year.

I am cheering them on excitedly.

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Future Progressive Tense

Form the future progressive tense by using the helping verbs will be before the ing form of the main verb.

Someday, people will be living on a terraformed Mars.

They will be riding space elevators to orbiting stations.

Note: The progressive tense is generally not used for the following verbs:

Thought

know

understand

want

prefer

Appearance

seem

resemble

look

appear

Ownership

possess

own

have

belong

Inclusion

contain

hold

comprise

including

Adding ing to Verbs

In English, ongoing action is shown by including a helping verb (is, are, was, were, will be) before the main verb and adding ing to the main verb. Verbs in their ing form can also serve as participles or gerunds. Here are the rules for adding ing.

Add ing when the verb ends in . . .

two consonants.

latch—latching

thank—thanking

start—starting

learn—learning

a consonant after two vowels.

look—looking

reveal—revealing

treat—treating

applaud—applauding

a consonant after one vowel if the last syllable is not stressed.

muster—mustering

budget—budgeting

falter—faltering

fidget—fidgeting

a y after a vowel.

stay—staying

fray—fraying

destroy—destroying

enjoy—enjoying

Drop the e and add ing when the verb ends in e.

live—living

arrive—arriving

tape—taping

describe—describing

Double the final consonant and add ing when the verb ends in . . .

a consonant preceded by a single vowel in a stressed syllable.

pat—patting

hop—hopping

permit—permitting

begin—beginning

Change ie to y and add ing when a verb ends with ie:

die—dying

lie—lying

tie—tying

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Modal auxiliary verbs work with the base form of a verb to express a special meaning. Here is a list of meanings expressed and the modals used to express them.

Meaning

Present-Tense Modal

Past-Tense Modal

possibility

may, might, could

may have, might have, could have

You may work overtime.

You might work overtime.

You could work overtime.

You may have worked overtime.

You might have worked overtime.

You could have worked overtime.

advisability

should

should have

You should register.

You should have registered.

necessity

have to, must

had to

You have to arrive on time.

You must arrive on time.

You had to arrive on time.

request

may, might, would, could, will, can

May I ask a favor?

Might I request one change?

Would you watch my dog?

Could you lend a hand?

Can you help this week?

ability

can

could have

I can see the Big Dipper.

I could have seen the Big Dipper.

intent

shall, will

would have

We shall see who wins.

We will see who wins.

We would have seen who won.

expectation

should

should have

I should arrive soon.

I should have arrived by now.

assumption

must

must have

I must be lost.

I must have been lost.

repeated action

would

I would walk by the lake.

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Using Phrasal Verbs

A phrasal verb looks like a verb joined with a preposition (or adverb), but it has a different meaning than the verb and preposition alone would have. Here is a list of phrasal verbs and their meanings, along with example sentences.

Phrasal Verb

Meaning

Example

break down

stop working, fall apart, examine

The car may break down in this heat.

Let’s break down the expenses.

call off

cancel

The police called off the manhunt.

call up

bring forward

Call up the main menu.

catch up with*

reach, pull alongside

We soon caught up with Charlie.

clear out

vacate, evacuate

Clear out your locker.

cross out

delete

Cross out the error and correct it.

figure out

decipher, solve

Can you figure out this remote?

fill in/out

complete

Please fill out the application.

find out*

discover

I will find out who called.

get over*

recover from

I can’t wait to get over this cold.

give back

return, repay

I like to give back to my community.

give in/up

quit, surrender

We gave up the house hunt.

hang up

end a phone call

I hung up when the machine answered.

leave out

omit, exclude

The recipe left out the shortening.

look up

find information

Let’s look up the street address.

look down on*

despise, disparage

The neighbors look down on us.

look forward to*

anticipate

I look forward to Thanksgiving.

look up to*

appreciate, admire

I look up to my father.

mix up

confuse, switch

You’ve mixed up the students.

pick out

select, choose

She picked out her favorite blouse.

point out

indicate, show

He pointed out his apartment building.

put off

delay, postpone

He put off filing his taxes.

put up with*

endure

We put up with the racket all day.

run out of

deplete, use up

The team ran out of pencils.

take after*

resemble

You take after your mother.

take part*

participate

Let’s take part in the protest.

try on

put on to test-fit

Try on the pants before buying them.

turn down

refuse

I turned down his proposal.

turn up

appear, raise volume

The lost comb turned up yesterday.

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Using Objects—Infinitives and Gerunds

In English, some verbs take direct objects, which are nouns or noun forms. Some verbs are particular about what noun forms can follow them:

Verbs That Take Infinitives

Most verbs take infinitives (to plus a verb) as objects.

I appear to be next in line. [Not appear being]

He decided to buy the torque wrench. [Not decided buying]

The weld failed to hold the plates together. [Not failed holding]

Note: Some verbs must include an indirect object.

I authorize you to sign the check. [Not authorize to sign]

Use an Infinitive After . . .

agree

deserve

pretend

appear

endeavor

promise

ask

expect

refuse

attempt

fail

seem

beg

hesitate

tend

bother

hope

venture

choose

intend

volunteer

claim

need

want

consent

offer

wish

decide

plan

demand

prepare

Verbs That Take Gerunds

A few verbs take gerunds (ing form of verb) as objects.

He imagines owning his own business. [Not imagines to own]

That idea would be worth writing down. [Not would be worth to write]

I can’t help thinking I am special. [Not can’t help to think]

Use Gerunds After . . .

admit

dislike

recall

appreciate

enjoy

recommend

avoid

finish

regret

be worth

imagine

resist

can’t help

keep

risk

consider

miss

suggest

delay

postpone

tolerate

deny

practice

discuss

quit

Verbs That Take Infinitives or Gerunds

A few verbs take gerunds or infinitives as objects.

I love to walk in the rain.

I love walking in the rain.

Sometimes a gerund creates a different meaning from the infinitive.

I stopped eating.

I stopped to eat.

Use Infinitives or Gerunds After . . .

begin

love

stop

continue

prefer

try

hate

remember

like

start

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Placing Adjectives

In English, adjectives often appear before the noun they modify. When more than one adjective is used, however, they need to appear in a specific order. Here is the accepted order of adjective placement:

First, start with . . .

  1. articles

a, an, the

demonstrative adjectives

that, this, these, those

possessives

my, our, her, their, Bill's

Next, place adjectives that tell . . .

  1. time

first, second, next, last

  1. how many

some, few, many

  1. value

lovely, find, distinguished

  1. size

huge, tiny, towering

  1. shape

blocky, round, cubic

  1. condition

ratty, tidy, bright

  1. age

new, old, vintage, antique

  1. color

brown, purple, green

  1. nationality

Cuban, Kenyan, Japanese

  1. religion

Jewish, Catholic, Islamic

  1. material

steel, canvas, wooden

Finally, place . . .

  1. nouns used as adjectives

pencil [case], car [seat]

Example: those multicolored plastic beach chairs (1 + 9 + 12 + 13 + noun)

Note: It is best not to use too many adjectives before a noun. An article and one or two adjectives is usually plenty. More adjectives become difficult to keep track of, and difficult to include in the correct order:

Awkward: My first few lovely small cubic bright new green Kenyan steel pencil cases arrived.

Effective: My lovely green pencil cases arrived.

Using Participles as Adjectives

Participles as Modifiers

When a present participle (a verb ending in ing) is used as an adjective, it describes the cause of a certain feeling or situation:

The blinding sparks require eye protection.

When a past participle (a verb ending in ed) is used as an adjective, it describes the effect of a certain feeling or situation.

A blinded welder would be a tragedy.

Example Participles

Here are more participles that change meaning:

Present (Cause)

annoying

boring

confusing

depressing

exciting

fascinating

surprising

Past (Effect)

annoyed

bored

confused

depressed

excited

fascinated

surprised

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Using Nouns as Adjectives

Nouns as Modifiers

Nouns sometimes modify other nouns, becoming adjectives. Only singular noun forms can be used as adjectives.

Mom works as a nurse coordinator.

She oversees the third-shift team.

Avoid piling up nouns as adjectives. Such groupings become difficult to read. Use prepositional phrases to add some of the information.

Difficult: Mom is the third-shift hospital pediatrics nurse coordinator.

Clear: Mom is the pediatrics nurse coordinator on third shift at the hospital.

Placing Adverbs

Unlike adjectives, adverbs appear in many different places in a sentence.

Adverbs That Modify a Whole Sentence

Adverbs that modify a whole sentence also can go anywhere (except between the verb and direct object), though most often they go at the beginning.

Fortunately, we correctly packed every shipment and completed the order.

We correctly packed every shipment and, fortunately, completed the order.

We correctly packed every shipment and completed the order, fortunately.

Adverbs That Modify Other Modifiers

Adverbs that modify adjectives or adverbs should go right before the words they modify.

It was a very important order for one of our most loyal customers.

Adverbs That Tell How

Adverbs that tell how can appear just about anywhere in a sentence. The only place such an adverb cannot go is between a verb and a direct object.

Correct: Quickly we loaded the trucks.

Correct: We quickly loaded the trucks.

Correct: We loaded the trucks quickly.

Incorrect: We loaded quickly the trucks.

Adverbs That Tell When

Adverbs that tell when should go at the end of the sentence.

We should have another rush order like that tomorrow.

Adverbs That Tell Where

Adverbs that tell where should follow the verbs they modify. Often, prepositional phrases function as where adverbs. However, do not place the prepositional phrase between the verb and the direct object.

All orders are packed downstairs. Workers will load them in the trucks.

Adverbs That Tell How Often

Adverbs that tell how often should go before an action verb or between a helping verb and an action verb.

Our packers seldom make an error.

The department has been frequently praised for consistency.

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Using Prepositions

Common Prepositions

Four little prepositions do a lot of work in English: by, at, on, and in.

By means “next to” or “up to a certain place or time.”

by the statue, by the river

by 10:00 p.m., by November 2

At refers to a specific place or time.

at the police station, at the corner

at 3:30 a.m., at midnight

On refers to a surface, an electronic medium, or a day or date.

on the table, on the counter

on the Web site, on the DVD

on July 22, on Wednesday

In refers to an enclosed place; a geographical location, a print medium; or an hour, month, or year.

in the room, in the bathtub

in Chicago, in the United States

in the magazine, in the book

in half an hour, in September

Phrasal Prepositions

Some prepositions are made up of more than one word. They function the same as single-word prepositions.

Phrasal Preposition Examples:

according to

across from

along with

apart from

aside from

away from

because of

by means of

by way of

down from

except for

from among

from between

from under

in addition to

in back of

in behalf of

in case of

in front of

in place of

in spite of

instead of

on account of

on behalf of

on the side of

on top of

outside of

owing to

prior to

round about

subsequent to

together with

up to

with respect to

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