Many questions on standardized tests home in on English grammar. This is especially true on the SAT Writing’s Sentence and Paragraph Improvement, and on the ACT English section. Grammar is a broad topic with many rules. Grammar includes: punctuation, mechanics, syntax, usage, and others. Many of the basics of grammar, and ones that will serve you well on the SAT Writing or on the ACT English test, are illustrated below.
Parts of speech
Nouns are people, places, things or ideas and make up the subject of a sentence. Proper nouns name something and are always capitalized, such as Abe Lincoln or the Brooklyn Bridge. Common nouns name groups, such as athletes or musicians. They’re not capitalized.Pronouns are words used in the place of nouns. Consider this chart of pronouns:
|First person||I, me, mine, my||we, our, ours, us|
|Second person||you, your, yours||you, your, yours|
|Third person||he, him, his / she, her, hers / it, its||they, their, theirs, them|
Other pronouns include (1) what are called “reflexive pronouns.” These are the -self or –selves forms of personal pronouns such as yourself; (2) “Relative pronouns” such as who, whom, whose, which, and that; (3) “Interrogative pronouns” such as Who…?, Whose…?, What…?; and (4) “Indefinite pronouns” which don’t refer to a definite person or thing. These frequently don’t have an antecedent. Examples of indefinite pronouns are:
It is always very important that a pronoun agrees with its antecedent. The antecedent is the noun to which the pronoun refers. Our Latin root, prefix, and suffix list shows that “ante” means “before.” Antecedents almost always come before the pronoun. Or put another way, pronouns point to the noun that came earlier.
Consider this example: “The Jamestown colonists came looking for gold. They didn’t find any, but did make money growing tobacco.” In these two sentences, there is one pronoun (they). It refers back to “colonists.” Therefore, “they” is the pronoun and “colonists” is the antecedent.
Adjectives (modifiers) describe a noun or pronoun. They modify nouns, such as the blue dress, or the expensive dinner.
Sometimes nouns and adjectives criss-cross and nouns can become adjectives. For example, dinner is usually a noun. However, if referring to the dinner table, it becomes an adjective because it modifies table. Proper nouns can also be used as adjectives. Maine is a proper noun, but when referring to Maine lobster, it’s an adjective since it modifies lobster.
The most frequent adjectives are a, an, and the. A and an are called "indefinite articles" because they refer to a general group. A comes before words that start with a consonant, whereas an comes before words that start with vowels. [It’s sure a hot day. It’s going to be an absolute scorcher.] The word the is the "definite article" because it refers to a specific thing.
Verbs are actions words and make up the predicate of the sentence. There must be a subject and predicate, or simply a noun and a verb to make a complete sentence.
"Action verbs" are doing verbs like jump, go, believe, think, write.
"Linking verbs" are “state-of-being" verbs. Examples of linking verbs include:
|be||shall be||should be|
|being||will be||would be|
|am||has been||can be|
|is||have been||could be|
|are||had been||should have been|
|was||shall have been||would have been|
|were||will have been||could have been|
Adverbs are also called “helping verbs.” Just as adjectives modify nouns, adverbs modify verbs. Adverbs often are easily identifiable because they end with "–ly", such as lazily or excitedly. This is not always true though, since many adjectives also end in –ly, so be careful.
Other common adverbs answer the question where? [such as, “I drove there.”]; or when? [such as, “Come home now.”]; or how? [such as, “I finished hastily.”]; or to what extent? [such as, “She completely forgot.”].
Adverbs can also modify adjectives, such as, “The Yankees are an unusually good team.” (The adverb unusually modifies the adjective good.) Common adverbs that modify adjectives include:
|Adverbs that modify adjectives|
Adverbs can modify other adverbs too, such as, “The movie ended rather suddenly.” (The adverb rather modifies the adverb suddenly.)
To identify adverbs, ask yourself, “Does the word modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb? Or, does it describe when, where, how, or to what extent?"
Prepositions relate nouns or pronouns to other words. Examples of prepositions would be, “She ran through the garden,” or “I’m going to the store.”
Many words used as prepositions can also be used as adverbs. To nail down a preposition, the word must relate a noun or pronoun that comes later in the sentence. For example:
- “Look under.” (under is an adverb because it modifies look)
- “Look under the picture.” (under is a preposition because it’s is related to picture, a noun)
|among||but (meaning except)||like||till|
|according to||in addition to||on account of||by means of||instead of|
|as of||in front of||out of|
|aside from||in place of||owing to|
|because of||in spite of||prior to|
Conjunctions join words or groups of words. Examples of common conjunctions follow:
|or||not only…, but also…|
Interjections show sudden surprise or emotion. They’re exclamatory words and have no grammatical relation to the rest of the sentence. For example, “Hurray! No test today!” or “Yikes! That’s hot.”
Summary for parts of speech
Use the chart below as a summary to identify parts of speech:
|Part of speech||Use||Examples|
|noun||person, place, thing||Tom likes fish.|
|pronoun||replaces a noun||You look cold. I am.|
|adjective||modifies a noun/pronoun||That's a great shirt.|
|verb||shows action||She swam there.|
|adverb||modifies verb/adjective/adverb||He left soon. I hazily recall.|
|preposition||relates noun/pronoun to words||Pick one of the bikes under the tree.|
|conjunction||joins words||Fred or Mary should win.|
|interjection||shows strong emotion||Wow! He runs fast.|