Advanced writing skills are valuable in any industry. Not sounding like a moron is the bare minimum. I’m here to help you with that second half, so let’s get back to basics.
When I write posts on writing mechanics, I use words that talk about words. Mastering these fundamentals by knowing what a word does in a sentence is critical to improving your business writing and learning new rules independently.
PART OF SPEECH
The part of speech is the role a word plays in a particular sentence. Most words function in different sentences as different parts of speech, but more on that later.
NOUN: person, place, thing, or idea
Examples: The coroner’s secret desire was finding a way to bring back dead people. She had difficulty sharing this dream with her friends.
Pro Tip: Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not a noun. Courage, childhood, and laughter cannot be seen or touched, but they can take on verbs to do things. They’re basically the stars of the show, sentence-wise.
PRONOUN: generic word replacing or emphasizing a noun
Examples: The government forced her to do her research in private. She was not going to let them forget it.
Pro Tip: There are different types of pronouns. They replace specific nouns (he, they) and unknown nouns (somewhere, anything), identify specific nouns (this, that), and emphasize (I did it myself). The latest language trend is verbing a noun.
VERB: describes what a subject is doing
Examples: The coroner dropped a vial in the morgue. She was clumsy, because she worked late in her secret zombie-developing lab.
Pro Tip: Don’t mistake “action” word for physical behavior. Mental acts (thinking, wondering), ownership (have, had, has), and states of being (is, was) are all verbs even though they aren’t actions. A verb is the ONLY obligatory part of a sentence; everything else is just decoration.
ADVERB: describes a verb
Examples: Instead of cleaning, the coroner lazily kicked the vial under a cabinet. She was blissfully unaware of the consequences.
Pro Tip: The adverb gives more information about the verb – how (beautifully), where (here), when (now), how often (daily), and to what extent (completely) the verb is doing its thing. Many adverbs end in –ly (quickly, daily), but many don’t (there, quite). They’re pretty useless in business writing anyway. Plus, Stephen King hates them.
PREPOSITION: describes the relationship of the object of the sentence to the rest of the sentence
Examples: The serum drifted through the room and seeped into the drawers.
CONJUNCTION: ties two words, phrases, or sentences together
Examples: She figured she’d better go home, or she’d get too tired to drive. The drawer crept open, and three decaying fingers slipped out.
Pro Tip: Conjunctions create relationships between items by putting them together (and), creating a choice (or), establishing cause and effect (because), conditions (unless), or a timeline (then).
ADJECTIVE: describes a noun
Examples: The anguished moaning echoed through the empty hallways. The half-frozen corpse staggered to his bony feet, putrid flesh dropping off in large chunks.
Pro Tip: Like adverbs, these words can generally be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning. They simply add extra information about the nouns. Describing how something looks, smells, tastes, feels, and sounds are all great ways to add adjectives to your writing. Verbs like to slum it up as adjectives every once in a while (e.g. “The dancing corpse was freaky.”). Don’t go overboard with adjectives in your business writing, or you’ll sound like an Iron Gym commercial.
INTERJECTION: an exclamation used to convey emotion
Examples: Yikes, it’s a zombie! Yum, those brains were delicious.
Pro Tip: If you yell it when you’re excited or scared, there’s a good chance it’s an interjection. And, depending on how you use them, most expletives are interjections.
WHY NOT JUST GIVE US A WORD LIST?
You can use the same word in a number of different ways; a word is not ALWAYS a noun or an adjective. In fact, most words play multiple roles.
The decaying flesh fell off in clumps.
The flesh was decaying off the zombie in clumps.
In the first sentence, decaying is an adjective; it describes the noun (flesh) while fell is the verb, describing what the noun (flesh) is doing. In the second sentence, decaying is the verb, an action word describing what the flesh is doing.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
When you’re looking up whether to use elicit or illicit and you read that elicit is a verb while illicit is an adjective, wouldn’t it be nice if that meant something? Your sentence may be unique in that it does not resemble the example sentences provided on the grammar website. Business writing is rarely represented as examples anyway. Figuring out which word to use on your own based on what you already know about it is a more efficient long-term strategy for good business writing.
Plus, language is awesome.
When you look for commonly confused words or grammar mistakes, will these definitions help you understand the explanations and apply the rules in order to improve your business writing? What part of writing mechanics most stumps you? Sound off in the comments below!
Until next time, keep expanding your brand!