Parent Primer: Grammar

Get a grip on grammar so you can help your child parse the parts of speech.



Parent Primer: Grammar

Find out what distinguishes a sentence from a fragment and reacquaint yourself with grammar terminology. Understanding the rules of grammar is an important step to becoming a clear communicator and strong writer — skills that will benefit your child for the rest of his life.

Review the Basics of Grammar:

The Basic Parts of Speech

  • Adjective - A word that modifies a noun. Adjectives describes a quality of a person, place, or thing. For example, in the sentence "The tiny red book is on the table," red and tiny are both adjectives.
  • Adverb - A word that describes a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs often ends in "ly." In the sentence "The girl speedily climbed the stairs," the word speedily is an adverb.
  • Conjunction - A word that joins together phrases, clauses, and sentences like "but" or "and."
  • Interjection - An exclamation or utterance like "wow," "oh," or "huh."
  • Noun - A word that names a person, place, thing, feeling, idea, or act.These are the three varieties of nouns:
    • Proper nouns name a particular person (someone's name), place, or thing and begin with a capital letter. 
    • Singular nouns refer to one person, place, or thing. 
    • Plural nouns refer to two or more people, places, or things.
  • Verb - A word that describes action.There are three kinds of verbs:
    • Transitive verbs require an object to complete their meaning. For example, in the sentence, Joe found a pear, the verb found isn't enough to give the sentence meaning. We need to know what was found. 
    • Intransitive verbs do not require an object. For example, Joe jumped, or Joe sneezes. Both of these are complete thoughts. 
    • Verb tenses - The "tense" of a verb tells you when the action happened. The main forms are present (I sing.), past (I sung.), future (I will sing.), present participle (I am singing.), and past participle (I have sung).
  • Preposition - A word that shows the relationship between one noun and a different noun, verb, or adverb, like "in" or "through."
  • Pronoun - A word that replaces a noun, such as "he," "they," or "it."

Sentence Fundamentals
For a group of words to be defined as a sentence it requires three things:

  1. The words make sense and express a complete thought:
    NO: Cookies car deliver Julie.
    YES: Julie delivers cookies by car.
  2. It begins with a capital letter and ends with a period, exclamation point, or question mark:
    NO: a mouse likes cheese
    YES: A mouse likes cheese.
  3. It contains a predicate and a subject. The predicate, or verb, tells what the subject, or noun, is doing.
    NO: A great story of a boy.
    YES: Charlie reads a great story of a boy.

Sentences can be any length, as long as they follow the above rules.

Parts of Sentences:

  • Direct Object - A noun or pronoun that is having an action done to it.
  • Indirect Object - A noun or pronoun that tells you for what or whom the action of the verb (predicate) is being done.
  • Predicate - The verb that describes what the noun (subject) of the sentence is doing or being.
  • Subject - A noun or pronoun that is performing the verb; the "do-er" of a sentence.


  1. Barry flies a kite.Barry is the subject; flies is the predicate; kite is the direct object. There is no indirect object.
  2. Edward gave Leah two roses.Edward is the subject; gave is the predicate; Leah is the indirect object; roses is the direct object.

Compound Sentences
A compound sentence is when you join two sentences together using a conjunction.

The most common conjunctions are: and, although, as, because, but, if, or, though, where, whether. Conjunctions that indicate time are: before, after, until, since, when, whenever, while.

Amanda wore the red dress and it was dirty.
Amanda wore the red dress because it was dirty.
Amanda wore the red dress before it was dirty.

Notice how the conjunctions change the meaning of the sentence, so choosing the right one is important!

Clauses, Phrases, and Fragments
clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. A main or independent clause can stand alone as a sentence. A subordinate or dependent clause has a subject and verb, but relies on an independent clause to make the sentence whole and give the dependent clause meaning. To check what kind of clause a part of a sentence is, see if it makes sense on its own.

  1. Peter shopped at the store before he had a job. Peter shopped at the store is an independent clause; before he had a job is the dependent clause. Before he had a job is a dependent clause because without more to the sentence, we don't know what happened "before."
  2. Brian owned a restaurant and he loved cooking. Brian owned a restaurant and he loved cooking could stand alone as sentences; therefore they are both independent clauses.
  3. Erin went to college where she took classes but she didn't like them. Erin went to college and she didn't like them are independent clauses; where she took classes is a dependent clause.

phrase is a group of words that lack a subject and/or predicate. Even if you capitalize the first letter and end with a period (or question mark/exclamation point) it will not be a sentence, but instead a sentence fragment.

fragment may contain a subject and predicate, but for one reason or another, it's not an independent clause.

  1. Running fast and hard While it has a verb, the sentence has no predicate. We don't know who or what is doing the running in this phrase.
  2. Maria's big red car, parked behind the house. Even though this looks like a sentence, since you can find many nouns and a verb (parked), the verb in this case isn't causing any action — it's used as an adjective, to describe where the car is. But neither Maria nor her car are doing or feeling anything.
  3. Because the girl was sad. This is a sentence fragment because it is a dependent clause — without the word "because" it would be fine, but with it, this sentence isn't complete. What happened because the girl was sad? We don't know.

Common Mistakes
Review these common grammatical errors so that you -- and your child -- can avoid making them in speech and writing.

1. I versus Me -- To make sure you use the right pronoun, ask if "I" am doing something or is something being done to "me."

For example, in these two sentences:

Laura and __ go to see a concert.

Laura gave the concert tickets to ___.

The first sentence should use "I" while the second one is "me" because in the first case, "I" am doing something: going to see a concert. While in the second sentence, Laura is doing something to "me": giving tickets.

A good way to check is to take the other person out of the sentence and see how it sounds with both pronouns. It wouldn't be "Me go," it would be "I go."

2. Fewer versus Less -- Did you know that sign in the supermarket that says, "10 items or less" is grammatically incorrect? It is! It should read, "10 items or fewer" and here's why:

  • Fewer is used when describing countable things.
  • Less is used when describing more abstract amounts — amounts that can't be measured exactly but can be compared.

Rachel had fewer classes this year than last year.

Kate cried less than Henry did.

3. Good versus Well and Bad versus Badly -- Good and bad are adjectives, which modify nouns, while well and badly are adverbs and should never modify nouns. But when you are talking about the five senses (feel, taste, smell, hear, see) you should use the adjective instead of the adverb.

Karen felt bad. (not badly, because that would imply she is bad at feeling)

Flowers smell good. (not well, because it would imply the flowers can smell, and do it well)

Diagramming Sentences
Though mostly out of vogue, your child may have to diagram a sentence as part of her grammar curriculum. If she is a visual learner, it may help her to understand the relationships between elements of a sentence.

The first part of diagramming a sentence is to separate the subject and predicate with a vertical line:

Daniel | ate (Daniel ate.)

If there is a direct object following, another vertical line would separate it like so:

Daniel | ate | oatmeal (Daniel ate oatmeal.)

But if a word following is a subject/object complement (meaning it renames or describes the subject), it would be separated out by a diagonal line leaning towards the word it refers to:

Daniel | ate | it \ all (Daniel ate it all.)

If there are adjectives, articles, or other modifiers in the sentence, they go under the word they modify:

Daniel | ate | oatmeal (Silly Daniel ate the oatmeal.)
 \                       \
  \Silly                \the
   \                        \

Prepositions are placed on a diagonal under the word they modify, and the object of the preposition is put on a horizontal line like so:

Daniel | ate | oatmeal (Silly Daniel ate oatmeal on vacation.)
 \                       \
  \Silly                \on
   \                        \ vacation

Adverbs connect to the word they modify:

Daniel | ate | oatmeal (Silly Daniel messily ate oatmeal.)
 \                       \
  \Silly                \messily
   \                        \


Daniel | ate | oatmeal (Extremely silly Daniel ate oatmeal.)
/  \

Conjunctions are indicated by a dotted line:

Daniel | ate | oatmeal (Extremely silly Daniel ate oatmeal on vacation and he was happy.)
 \                       \
  \Silly                \on
   \                        \ vacation
                                  | and
                                  |he | was \ happy

You can see the basics and how it starts to get complicated with more complicated sentences!

Subject Refreshers
Age 10
Age 9
Age 11
Parts of Speech
Grammar and Mechanics