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Parts of Speech (Part I)

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One of my annoyances in school was the teacher's use of some word very familiar to him/her (e.g. "write an essay on...") and yet the teacher nor the text book defined what that key word (e.g. "essay") meant.

Asking different teachers always resulted in different answers. Still, on examination day, we students were expected to write an "essay" in the way it should be. This pattern did not change in my Orthopaedic surgery practice, particularly in matters that became court cases.

Typically, no attorney or psychologist seemed to know the meaning of a given word or condition. Yet, in the court room, the meaning of a hazy word would be laid out very definitely. So it is with most subjects related to the Humanities (those liberal arts branches of knowledge, such as literature and art, that are concerned with human thought in realms of the intellect and the spirituality). The confusion comes as "branches" of thoughts and feelings develop away from the basic tools or "roots."

All of these comments apply to parts of speech. Thus, to best understand them requires a return to basics.

It is generally agreed that there are eight parts, classes, or groups of speech; (1) nouns; (2) pronouns; (3) adjectives; (4) adverbs; (5) prepositions; (6) conjunctives; (7) interjections; and (8) verbs. Since words are classified by use, the same word can belong to more than one class.

For example, the word "essay" is a verb as well as a noun. A Verb ("relating action or occurrence") is a word that expresses physical or mental action (run, jump, went, remember). Verbs also help make a statement (is, be, will) about being (something that exists).

Or it says something about a state of being (e.g. appearance, thinking). Nouns ("name") are words used to name persons, places, and things (including ideas). The noun term "essayist" means "a writer of essays."

It formerly meant any person "trying out any kind of experiment or new venture.” For experimenters, the verb sense was used – “to essay” being a synonym for “to attempt,” “to test,” or “to try out.” This older meaning gives a clue to the essay’s most important quality – being personal. An essay is the work of one person testing his/her thoughts or trying out some idea in order to express his/her own point of view.

That is why many essays are written in the first person – which means the writer uses the pronoun “I.” Pronouns are words used in place of a noun and can be Demonstrative (this, that – pointing to something related to our five senses, like a rock you can touch or something you can see, smell, taste, or hear); Indefinite words (e.g. all, each, few, neither, some) are those which do not necessarily indicate a specific limit that can be used for precision; interrogative (who and whom relate to the asking of questions, as parties to a lawsuit have to do before the court trial), and personal.

A personal pronoun stands for a person or thing: I, me, we, us, my. Pronouns which indicate the speaker are called first person – e.g. “I am,” “we are;” those spoken to, second person – e.g. “you are;” and those spoken about, third person – e.g. “he, she, it is, they are.” An interrogative pronoun introduces a question: who, which, what, whom – e.g. “who is going to the party?”

Indefinite pronouns refer to persons or things in general, not to specific individuals – some being singular (anyone, everyone, one); some plural (both, many, several). A demonstrative pronoun points to a particular thing or group of things: these, those, this, that – e.g. who was that masked man? Possessive pronouns are my, his, hers, while the reflexive (“directed back on itself,” as in looking in a mirror) and intensive forms (implying strength or concentration is imposed from without the self) are myself, yourself, herself.

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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