Instructional Systems
Traditional English Grammar

Chapter One
Parts of Speech:

The study of English grammar begins traditionally with an understanding of the parts of speech. Just as reading is based on the alphabet and arithmetic on the simple processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, so is grammar based on the parts of speech. All phrases, clauses, and sentences are a combination of words; and each word can be identified as one of the eight parts of speech: verb, noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.


The verb is the most important word in a clause. It is the simple predicate. It tells something about the subject-what it does, what its condition is. If you can identify the subject and verb together, the sentence begins to make sense. Consider for example, this sentence.

I saw the two pigs lying in the mud.

If I is the subject, the only word that makes sense with I is saw: "I saw." "I pigs," "I lying," "I mud"--these combinations do not logically belong together. When you find the word (or words) that most logically follows the subject, you have found the predicate verb. A verb expresses action, occurrence, or state of being. The following italicized words are verbs:


The wind blew fiercely all night.

You will always be my friend.

The witness to the crime will remain silent.

Most of us had seen the movie before.

Often a predicate verb is made up of two or more verbs. The auxiliary (or helping) verb(s) comes before the main verb. Together they form a verb phrase.

The teacher will explain the problem once more.

That child may have overheard our conversation.

He will be leaving early in the morning.

Common auxiliary verbs are will, may, might, can, could, would, must, am, is, was, have, had, do, does, did.

An adverb often comes between the auxiliary and main verb. Don't call the adverb a part of the verb phrase. Look at the adverbs in the following sentences.

I do not understand your explanation.

The exile will never return to his homeland.

Some verbs even have adverbs following them to form verb-adverb combinations. Look up, give in, and pass out are examples of verb-adverb combinations with unique meanings different from their root verbs.

Voice, Tense, and Mood

Verbs can be classified according to voice (active or passive), tense (variations of past, present, or future time), and mood (indicative, imperative, or subjunctive). Active and passive verbs and the important tense forms are discussed fully later in this chapter. The three moods indicate the nature of the sentence that a verb controls. The indicative mood is applied to statements of fact or opinion: Igor eats flies. The imperative mood is applied to commands: Stop that, Igor! The subjunctive mood is applied to wishes, suppositions, or other statements contrary to fact: I wish Igor were more like his brother Percy.

Note that the imperative mood has an understood subject, you.

[You] Take out the garbage.

[You] Please be seated.

Mugwert, [you] stand at attention!

Note that the subjunctive mood uses the verb were where you might expect was.

If I were chairman of the board, I would fire Snidely.

I wish Tim were here to see this.

Regular and Irregular Verbs

Although a verb has several forms, all forms of a verb are built upon three principal parts: the present, the past, the past participle.

A regular verb is one whose principal parts follow a set pattern. The past and past participle end in -ed. The following verbs are regular:



Past Participle

An irregular verb forms its past tense and past participle by a change in the root vowel. These verbs are troublesome and often misused. Study the principal parts of the following irregular verbs:

am are is

was were

Past Participle

If you are not sure of the three forms of a verb, consult a dictionary. The principal parts are usually named there.

The principal parts of a verb must be learned because the six tenses of the verb are formed from them. Giving all the forms of a verb in its six tenses is called conjugation. Below is a conjugation of the verb see in the active voice.

Present tense
I see
you see
he, she, it sees
we see
you see
they see

Past tense
I saw
you saw
he, she, it saw
we saw
you saw
they saw

Future tense (formed on first principal part-see)
I will (shall) see
you will see he, she, it will see
we will (shall) see
you will see
they will see

Present perfect tense (formed on third principal part-seen)
I have seen
we have seen
you have seen
you have seen
he, she, it has seen
they have seen

Past perfect tense (formed on third principal part-seen)
I had seen
we had seen
you had seen
you had seen
he, she, it had seen
they had seen

Future perfect tense (formed on third principal part-seen)
I will (shall) have seen
you will have seen
he, she, it will have seen
we will (shall) have seen
you will have seen
they will have seen

NOTE: A verb is often used in its progressive form. All six tenses can be conjugated in the progressive form. Each tense is formed on the first principal part plus -ing (the present participle). The auxiliary verb to be is used throughout.

Here is a synopsis of the verb see in the progressive form, first person singular.

	Present:		I am seeing.
	Past:			I was seeing.
	Future:			I will be seeing.
	Present perfect:	I have been seeing.
	Past perfect:		I had been seeing.
	Future perfect: 	I will have been seeing.


Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

1. Transitive Verbs:

A transitive verb has a receiver of the action. That is, the action is directed toward some objective. The objective (receiver) is usually the direct object, but sometimes the subject.

The parents reluctantly punished the naughty child. (The direct object child receives the punishing.)

The naughty child was punished by his reluctant parents. (The subject child receives the punishing.)

Thus, a transitive verb may be either transitive active or transitive passive.

TRANSITIVE ACTIVE VERBS have a direct object as the receiver. The following verbs have a direct object and are transitive active:

After days of deliberation the jury reached a decision.

We enjoy hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The officer realized that the recruit was afraid.

TRANSITIVE PASSIVE VERBS have a subject as the receiver. The following verbs are transitive passive:

A decision was reached after two days of deliberation.

The Appalachian Trail is enjoyed by thousands of hikers.

His fear could not be hidden.

2. Passive Voice:

The passive voice is formed by using the verb to be as the auxiliary plus the third principal part of the verb. Here is the verb see conjugated in the passive voice.

Present tense
I am seen
you are seen
he is seen
we are seen
you are seen
they are seen

Past tense
I was seen
you were seen
he was seen
we were seen
you were seen
they were seen

Future tense
I will be seen
you will be seen
he will be seen
we will be seen
you will be seen
they will be seen

Present perfect tense
I have been seen
you have been seen
he has been seen
we have been seen
you have been seen
they have been seen

Past perfect tense
I had been seen
you had been seen
he had been seen
we had been seen
you had been seen
they had been seen

Future perfect tense
I will have been seen
you will have been seen
he will have been seen
we will have been seen
you will have been seen
They will have been seen

Notice the difference between the form of the main verb in the passive voice and in the progressive form, active voice.

PASSIVE: I am seen; we have been seen; you will be seen.

PROGRESSIVE, ACTIVE: I am seeing; we have been seeing; you will be seeing.

It is clear that the auxiliary verb is the same (forms of to be) but that the main verb form is different (seen for passive and seeing for progressive).

NOTE: There is one problem with active and passive verbs that may be confusing. Usually, when you change a verb from transitive active to transitive passive, you shift the direct object (the active receiver) to the subject position (the passive receiver):

TRANSITIVE ACTIVE: The students finished the report.
TRANSITIVE PASSIVE: The report was finished by the students.

But sometimes a transitive verb has two objects, that is, two receivers.

TRANSITIVE ACTIVE: All my relatives gave me advice.
(Advice is the direct object and me is the indirect object.)
TRANSITIVE PASSIVE: I was given advice by all my relatives.

In the sentence above, one object (me) becomes the subject (I), and the other (advice) is kept or retained. We call this word a retained object. But you will still identify the verb as transitive passive.

3. Intransitive Verbs:

A verb that is not transitive (that has no receiver or objective) is intransitive. Intransitive (meaning not transitive) verbs are linking or complete. Study the following sentences:

LINKING: That book is a famous novel.

In the-sentence above, the verb is links the subject book with the subjective complement novel. (This complement is sometimes called a predicate nominative when it is a noun.) There is no receiver and no action in this sample sentence. The word novel renames the subject book.

LINKING: The audience remained silent throughout the performance.

In this sentence the verb remained links the subject audience with the predicate adjective (or subjective complement) silent. There is no receiver, no action. The word remained is the equivalent of the past tense of the verb to be, as in the sentence, "The audience was silent throughout the performance." The word silent simply modifies the subject audience.

COMPLETE: The plane crashed on the Mountainside.

The verb crashed has no receiver, nor does it link anything to the subject. Thus it is complete.

COMPLETE: This road ends five miles ahead.

The verb ends has no receiver, nor does it link anything with the subject. Thus it is complete.

Helpful Hints for Recognizing a Verb

1. Try putting a subject word (I, you, he, it) before the word.
I finish (makes sense)
We over (makes no sense)
You complete (makes sense)
You completion (makes no sense)

2. Try changing the form of the word by adding -ed or -ing.
cook, cooking (yes)
food, fooding (no)
fool, fooling (yes)
never, nevering (no)

3. Try putting a helping verb before the word.
will follow, (yes)
will road, (no)
can help, (yes)
can desk, (no)

If any of these conditions work, the word may be a verb.

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