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Are You Smarter Than a 5th-Grader on Parts of Speech?

Here’s a grammar question for you: How many parts of speech are there?

I’ll even put myself on the spot and admit I always want to say seven. (Which, if that's your answer too, is incorrect.)

Without looking them up, here’s my recollection of third-grade grammar, or whenever I learned such things:

  1. Noun

  2. Pronoun

  3. Verb

  4. Adjective

  5. Adverb

  6. Conjunction

  7. Preposition

  8. Article

Funny enough, while I always think there are seven and can easily list off eight… there are actually nine parts of speech. The one I forgot to add above is “interjection.”

I’m sure I’ll leave it off of every future list as well. Because I just don’t think of interjections as a general rule.


The reason I don’t think of interjections as a general rule is because I don’t think of parts of speech as a general rule. I use them all the time. Obviously. We all do. But we tend to do so without thinking.

Why should we bother after third grade (or whenever we learned such things)?

I’ll probably lose my editorial card for admitting this, but overall, I’d agree with that dismissive question.

The reason I’m returning us to our elementary school years anyway is because I recently suggested to a client that she should start off more sentences with parts of speech other than nouns, pronouns and articles. Specifically, I mentioned “verbs, conjunctions and even prepositions.”

As she told me later, that made her feel like an abject idiot. Because, off the top of her head, she couldn’t say what a conjunction was.

But again, that mistake is entirely understandable. There’s absolutely nothing to mock there.

It’s like that Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader? show that asked adults questions they hadn’t had to think about in three decades or more.

Hardly a fair match-up, if you ask me.

All the same, if you’re planning on working with an editor, maybe it’s best to review the basics ahead of time.

Taking the off-the-top-of-my-head list from the first segment, let’s address them all. Plus interjections, of course.

Noun: A word that describes a person, place, thing or idea. This could be a specific entity, or proper noun, such as the Indian Ocean or President Lincoln. Or it could be a common noun such as girl, town, turtle or concept.

Pronoun: A noun substitution that points back to a specific person, place, thing or idea. Examples include she, he, their, it and ours.

Verb: A word that expresses some kind of action, even if it’s simply the action of existence. Verbs – such as grow, stumble, parry and be – come in various tenses, with the main ones being past, present or future.

Adjective: A noun or pronoun modifier or clarifier. It gives a better understanding of the person, place, thing or idea in question by adding a detail, such as short, tattered, green or cylindrical.

Adverb: A verb modifier or clarifier that says how an action is executed. For instance, something might happen quickly, touchingly, accordingly or painfully.

Conjunction: A word that connects two concepts together, such as and, but or yet.

Preposition: A word placed before a noun or pronoun to form a particularly connected string of words known as a phrase. Examples would include from, around, between and until. And example phrases could be “between his fingers” or “through the woods.”

Article: A word that specifies or generalizes a common noun in order to make the sentence flow appropriately. A, an, and the are all articles.

Interjection: An expression that summarizes a feeling or understanding in a single-word sentence. Examples include ouch, oh, and yeah.

As for the aforementioned phrases, clauses and the like, perhaps we’ll cover that next week. For now, you’ve probably got a good enough refresher course that should help you decipher what in the world your editor is trying to tell you.

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