Grade school grammar lessons drill the parts of speech into students’ brains, but once you’re out of the classroom it can be hard to remember all the details. You may be a skilled public speaker, but not know the difference between a subordinating conjunction and a reflexive pronoun. Never fear — we’re going to break down the eight parts of speech and how you use them.


Nouns are one of the first parts of speech children learn to identify. They’re pretty straightforward: they name people, places and things. They’re also the workhorses of a sentence and play many roles. They can be subject, direct object, indirect object, subject complement, object complement, appositive, or adjective.

Proper nouns designate a specific name or title: President Obama, Mount Everest, Buckingham Palace. Proper nouns are always capitalized.

Common nouns are regular, everyday people, places and things. When talking about things, it can also be an idea, or intangible concept. Common nouns could be mother, playground, apple and magic.

You can further identify nouns as concrete or abstract, plural or singular.


A pronoun is used in place of a noun, which is called its antecedent. The most commonly-used pronouns are personal pronouns: she, her, he, him, I, me, you, it, we, us, they and them.

Possessive pronouns indicate ownership: my, your, its, his, her, our, their and whose.

If you want to emphasize another noun or pronoun you would use a reflexive pronoun: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.

Relative pronouns introduce a subordinate clause: that, what, which, who and whom.

And demonstrative pronouns are identifying or referring to nouns: that, this, these and those. They take the place of a noun that has already been mentioned.


Quite simply, a verb expresses an action or state of being. To form a complete sentence you must have a subject and a verb. The verb must agree with its subject, so make sure both are either singular or plural. You can also conjugate a verb to form different tenses. The verb “to be” breaks down into I am, you are, he/she/it is, they are, we are, they are. If you want to express “to run,” it can be “I run,” or you can include a helping verb and say “I am running” or “I can run.”


An adjective is what adds color and description to your sentence. An adjective describes a noun or pronoun. If you’re answering the questions of which one, what kind, or how many, that’s an adjective. The RED apple...the OLD man...the GLASS building. The short words, or articles, “a, an and the” are usually classified as adjectives.


Adverbs are similar to adjectives, but they modify or describe verbs, adjectives or another adverb. They usually answer questions of when, where, how, why and to what degree. The boy ran QUICKLY...the teacher shouted LOUDLY...the dog SNEAKILY stole the treats. You can usually tell its an adverb if it ends in -ly.


A preposition is a word placed before a noun or pronoun to form a prepositional phrase that modifies another word in the sentence.

The mouse ran UNDER the bookcase. In this case, “under” is the preposition within the prepositional phrase “under the bookcase,” modifying how the mouse ran.

The most common prepositions are up, over, down, under, to and from, but that is by no means complete. The English language contains hundreds of prepositions.


If you remember your Schoolhouse Rock (Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?) you know that a conjunction joins words, phrases and clauses. Coordinating conjunctions link equal elements: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet. Subordinating conjunctions are for comparing things or linking unequal clauses: because, although, while, since.


Interjections add spice and excitement to your language. They are used to express emotion and are often used with exclamation points. Oh my! Wow! Yay!