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Grammar 101.1

This will be the first in a series of posts that will cover the basics of English grammar, usage, mechanics, and idiom. The idea is to give you a foundation to build on as well as the vocabulary you need to understand more complex ideas. For example,  if you don’t know the difference between a participial phrase and a prepositional phrase, how are you supposed to know when they are used correctly?

All of the posts in this series will focus on what you need to know for the sentence correct questions on the  GMAT – only what you need for the GMAT. Let’s start with parts of speech.

Traditionally, there are nine parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, articles  and interjections. We only need the first seven of these. In contemporary usage interjections boil down to everybody’s favorite four letter word – F%$K! The correct use of that word certainly won’t be a concept tested on the GMAT. Articles (a and the) are such common and basic parts of English that they don’t need explanation.

Step by step:

1. Nouns: A noun names a person, a place, a thing, or an idea For example:

  • A person such Abraham Lincoln or Justin Bieber.
  • A place such a Philadelphia or play ground.
  • A thing such as river, mountain, or cat.
  • An idea such as capitalismcommunism, or materialism.

You may remember something about proper nouns vs. common nouns, John vs. test prep ninja, but that won’t be an issue on the GMAT.

2. Pronouns: Pronouns come in four flavors – personal, reflexive, indefinite, and demonstrative (AKA definite).

  • Personal Pronouns are used in place of another noun or nouns: John said he would never eat haggis; When John and Andrew got home from school they decided to do more math for fun.
  • Reflexive Pronouns refer to a specific noun (or pronoun) in the same sentence: If you want something done right, do it yourself; He, himself, took control of the whole thing; I don’t trust myself to refrain from eating two servings of poutine.
  • Indefinite refer to undefined persons, things, or groups: I want some; Few applied and none were selected.
  • Demonstrative (definite) pronouns: There are only four – this, that, these, and those. Think of them as the opposite of indefinite pronouns, there is never any doubt about what they stand for. I want that piece of cake; Those pens are better than these;

3. Verbs: Verbs come in two varieties and many tenses. We’ll get to the tenses later. For now we’ll look the two basic types of verbs:

  • Action verbs such as laugh, jump, crash, or burn.
  • Linking verbs describe the subject. For example John is funny; John’s cats are annoying.

4. Adjectives: Adjectives come in two flavors – noun modifiers which always precede the noun that they modify, and predicate adjectives which following linking verbs and describe the subject of the sentence.

  • Noun modifiers: the orange cat is larger than the black cat. The adjectives orange and black both modify the noun cat.
  • Predicate adjectives: the orange cat is hungry. The adjective hungry follows the linking verb is and modifies the noun cat.

5. Adverbs: An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective or another adverb. They often end in –ly

  • Modifying a verb (adverbs are in bold and verbs are underlined: John quickly double checked his calculations; He drove his new car carefully; They served soup yesterday.
  • Modifying a adjective (adverbs are in bold and adjectives are underlined): A completely correct solution; A rather unusual approach.
  • Modifying another adverb (the modified adverb is underlined): Bill always solves data sufficiency questions very quickly; A rather unusual solution.

6. Conjunctions: School House Rock has the best description of conjunctions. The most common conjunctions are For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. FANBOYS. The FANBOYS Mnemonic is helpful, but the most important thing to remember is that these “coordinating conjunctions” allow us to connect words (or groups of words), phrases or clauses. Phrases and clauses are not parts of speech. We’ll address those in a later post.

  • Words: We stopped studying, for we were tired; I like bananas and apples; I don’t like estimation problems, nor do my students; I like salmon, but not squid; In the morning I drink coffee or tea; Stacy was exhausted. yet she continued working; I was restless, so I went for a walk.

7. Prepositions: Prepositions indicate where something is or when something happens.

  • Where: The soda is in the refrigerator; There is a lot of dust under the radiator.
  • When: By the time we arrived, the party was nearly over; During the movie you should turn off your cell phone.