12 Module 3: The Ways We Explain, The Examples We Choose

Module Introduction

This module focuses on the examples we use to explain our positions. In our previous modules, you practiced both using specific sensory details to convey an impression and selecting specific events to tell a story. In both cases you were using examples to illustrate a point and guide your reader to a conclusion. As we further explore academic writing, you will find that harnessing the power of such examples is the key to persuading audiences of the legitimacy of your perspective. Examples may be descriptions, narrations of short events, or facts from observation or research.

As we proceed, you will learn about writing essays that use examples to support a thesis, the statement that clearly expresses your perspective on a topic. You will see how writing clear, focused examples to support general statements helps interest or persuade readers. You will also evaluate the examples included in both professional and student writing. Finally, you will use these skills to write an example essay. (1)

Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • Identify the characteristics of effective writing using examples
  • Identify general and specific information and explain how these levels interrelate
  • Identify emphatic order as an effective organization strategy for example writing
  • Describe how authors use examples to make a point, given a model essay
  • Compose an example essay using the steps of the writing process (1)

Readings

  • Online Learning Units

Lecture Content

ENC1101 Learning Unit 3

The Basics of Writing with Examples

Just as we all use narratives to tell stories about who we are and what we are doing, we routinely use examples in conversation to make ideas clear to others. In both your academic and professional life you will be expected to provide such examples in writing to clarify and support your respective points of view. As we saw in the last module, given the complexity of language and its connection to the world (by its nature our words are never an exact replication of the universe we inhabit), every time we communicate we are establishing a perspective that we are asking others to believe. In writing, examples illustrate general observations and thesis statements in a more interesting, persuasive way. Good writers use many examples that relate to a reader’s experiences, hoping to convince them that the points they are making are believable.

  • Examples can be used throughout the essay: in the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion . They are usually most prominently discussed in the body paragraphs which make up the majority of a paper.
  • Examples are used in all essays to help support general statements
  • Examples describe or illustrate major points
  • Examples may be facts, descriptions, or narratives (events)
  • Examples should be specific and relevant to the general statement that they illustrate (1)

Building a Better Wordhouse: General and Specific Information

In order to truly understand how examples can help persuade an audience to believe a persuasive point, it is necessary to understand the difference between general and specificinformation. Indeed, an example essay can be thought of as a collection of these kinds of information: general claims are the large points a writer makes, while specific examples and details explain those points.

The largest general statement a writer will make is his or her thesis statement , the main idea that a whole paper is trying to get across. This is the statement that expresses thepersuasive perspective that ties everything together. We can liken a thesis to the foundation of a house: everything rests on it and is connected to it in some way. Because it is making a general claim about something, such as “The Funjammer Playcore is the best video game console in its price range” or “Tennessee is a surprisingly fun and affordable place for a winter vacation,” it is not itself an example but is the statement to which all the other information in a paper must relate.

The purpose of the more specific information that populates the rest of an essay is to shed light on this thesis statement; to go back to our house construction analogy, the examples make up the framing that sits on the thesis’s foundation and provides structure. If we want to carry this comparison even further, we could say that the specific details that explain the examples are the interior decorating that makes a house a home. (1)

My Dinner with Allison: Making a Case for your Cousin’s Cooking Using General and Specific Information

For example, let’s say you want to write a simple piece explaining how well your cousin Allison cooks. Your thesis, then, could be something like, “My cousin Allison is a masterful cook.” One way to explain that someone is a great cook is by including an example to illustrate this general statement, so you could offer the following: “One reason Allison is a great cook is because she always adds something new to old recipes.”

Which of the three following more specific details supports the general statement?

  • Allison is a great caterer.
  • Allison’s macaroni and cheese casserole is one of her specialties.
  • Allison adds asiago cheese to her macaroni and cheese casserole.

The last statement is the correct answer because it is most relevant to the general example statement. Now you would need to explain why this recipe is such a stunning creative choice and perhaps couple it with some other specific details about Allison’s surprising additives to persuade your reader that she is indeed so gifted in the culinary arts!

Let’s break down what we’ve just come up with in simple outline form to get a handle on what it looks like to plan a persuasive example paper.

Example Outline

I. Thesis Statement: “My cousin Allison is a masterful cook.”

ii. General Example #1: “One reason Allison is a great cook is because she always adds something new to old recipes.”

a. Specific Detail: “Allison adds asiago cheese to her macaroni and cheese casserole.”

Thesis Statement

Remember the thesis statement (Roman Numeral I on the outline) is the most general statement in the entire paper. In typical academic and professional writing the thesis appears early on in the paper to give the reader a very clear understanding of what the main point of the entire piece is supposed to be, so you see it listed first here. On the outline its importance is also visually suggested by being at the left-most margin; everything else “hangs” off of it, thus suggesting how very important it is and how interconnected everything else in the outline must be.

Topic Sentence

The next line of the outline (Roman Numeral ii) is the first general example statement explaining what makes Allison awesome; this statement is also called a topic sentence because it announces the topic that this whole section of the paper is going to discuss. In this case, the general idea that Allison’s greatness in the kitchen stems in part from her ability to spice up old recipes is what is under discussion. Note that this general example directly relates to the thesis statement: it is a reason that Allison is a masterful cook. It is thus hanging from the outline, and its secondary position is visually indicated by its indention from the left margin.

Specific Detail

The third position on the outline (lower case letter “a”) is indented the furthest over from the left to show just how specific it is ; it hangs from the general example statement and occupies the least horizontal space in order to show its relative size in terms of specificity. This is the specific detail about the casserole that explains the assertion that Allison is skilled at sprucing up old recipes.

Descriptive Details

Now, if you were actually going to turn this basic outline into a paper, one of the things you would need to do is more fully explain your point here. In other words, though the reader can now understand a reason that Allison is a great cook and has access to a particular detail about that cooking (the casserole), it’s up to you as a writer to flesh out what you mean. In this case, what you might do is spend a little time narrating the time in March when Allison made this dish, focusing on the difference between what you expected to eat and what you actually experienced and describing the succulent taste of the dish. This narration and description would thus flesh out your details and make your point truly persuasive. Your outline might then look like this:

I. Thesis Statement: “My cousin Allison is a masterful cook.”

ii. General Example #1: “One reason Allison is a great cook is because she always adds something new to old recipes.”

a. Specific Detail: “Allison adds asiago cheese to her macaroni and cheese casserole.” (add narrative and descriptive details about meal in March)

Note that we’ve added the further specific details in parentheses after our specific detail to remind us to add that information.

In writing with examples, choose to write a paragraph with many short examples to support a topic sentence, or decide to use only one or two examples that are thoroughly explained. For our example about Allison, we could develop an entire paper that builds up examples about her fabulous cooking skills:

Short Examples

I. Thesis Statement: “My cousin Allison is a masterful cook.”

ii. General Example #1: “One reason Allison is a great cook is because she always adds something new to old recipes.”

a. Specific Detail: “Allison adds asiago cheese to her macaroni and cheese casserole.” (add narrative and descriptive details about meal in March)

b. Specific Detail: “She also uses whiskey instead of rum to her holiday fruitcake.” (add narrative about the cake she made this year and describe its succulent taste)

iii. General Example #2: “Another reason Allison is such a wonderful culinary

a. Specific Detail: “Allison can pick up fruits and vegetables and somehow know which is freshest and perfectly aged.” (add narrative about time we went shopping for supplies in August)

b. Specific Detail: “She is also incredibly well-read about food companies and constantly researches online and by networking to learn what products are best.” (Describe the process Allison has for researching a new dish)

If you are just writing a short paper, this already might be enough information to fill out the essay’s body , which is what we call all of the paragraphs that house the general examples and the specific details that go with them. Basically, everything that comes after the thesis statement, which comes near the end of the introduction of the paper (its first part, which we’ll discuss in a minute), and before the paper’s conclusion (the very last section, which we’ll come back to, as well), is considered the paper’s body . This is the longest part of an essay and could be any number of paragraphs. The paper based on the above outline might have two body paragraphs, one for each one of the general examples that are listed, but those general examples might themselves get broken up into separate paragraphs if they start getting long.

You might be wondering in what order you should present the examples you have come up with for an example paper. Perhaps the most effective way to organize your examples isemphatic order; this is when you discuss your examples based on their importance, moving from your least important or convincing point to your most important or impactful one. Emphatic order is effective because it helps you build a case for your main point; just as a lawyer builds up evidence in a jury trial and ends with the most convincing piece so that the jurors have this final point on their minds when they deliberate, a writer using emphatic order leaves his or her readers with the major example that best supports the essay’s thesis.

This means that you need to carefully consider the audience that you are trying to reach. By what do you think your readers will be most affected? When you are using personal experiences as examples, often the example you have the most to say about, the one that has the most specific details attached to it, is the one that is most emotionally important to you and is the one that will translate as most important to your readers.

Another way to develop an example paper involves using one long example to illustrate the thesis statement; this particular technique is referred to as an extended example . For instance, sometimes a writer may use a single, heavily detailed narrative to persuade readers of a point, making sure to focus on those moments of the story that best illustrate his or her perspective. Unlike the narratives we discussed in the last module, though, this kind of narrative/example writing hybrid usually has a more traditional introduction and an overt thesis statement instead of an implied narrative purpose. If you choose to just use one example to illustrate your point, make sure that all of the specific details you present relate specifically back to your thesis statement. If not, you might get off topic, and your paper will lack focus. (1)

Beginnings and Endings: What Introductions and Conclusions Need to Do

In the last section we discussed the different levels of information that a writer must manage when organizing an example essay. In order to understand how general and specific information fit together, we took a look at two essential parts of example essays that will be of the upmost importance moving forward in this course: thesis statements and body paragraphs . To recap, a thesis statement is the most general statement in an entire essay: it states the writer’s main idea and is the foundation for everything else that is written. On the other hand, an essay’s body is where all of the examples that explain the thesis are housed. Another way to say this is that the body paragraphs are where a writer puts the reasonshe or she has for believing his or her thesis, reasons that must then be explained with specific details to convince an audience to believe, as well.

We briefly touched on two other essential parts of an example essay, as well: the introduction and the conclusion . Much like the first paragraph of a narrative essay, the introduction for an example essay needs to get the reader’s attention and start a conversation with the audience. Because stories are so appealing to readers, many writers will use a short narrative as a hook; the catch is that this story needs to relate specifically to the thesis statement that will eventually appear at the end of the introduction . For example, thinking back to the essay we were developing about cousin Allison and her cooking, we might offer the following tale as a hook.

Hook

hen I first started college, I had just moved to Birmingham, Alabama and was very lonely; it was the first time I had ever lived alone, and I had trouble making friends. Luckily, my cousin Allison lived there, too, and would often visit me during the week and would cook me dinner (she insisted). Besides being a wonderful friend and conversationalist, Allison also literally brought something else to the table: her superb cooking. I had never been much of a “foodie” before, but that was because I never had truly been exposed to an artist in the kitchen. Allison’s incredible dishes lifted my spirits and enraptured my taste buds. I was in awe of her talents, and in short order I learned that brilliant cooking involves not only a creative flare and passion for trying new things but must also an intense understanding of recipes and their fundamental ingredients. Indeed, my cousin Allison is a masterful cook.

Another primary function that introductions can serve is to provide important background information on a topic. For example, the above paragraph deftly lists the standards by which cooks can be judged: “a creative flare and passion for trying new things” and “an intense understanding of recipes and their fundamental ingredients.” These standards set the stage for proving that Allison herself is a masterful cook (as we have seen, the body paragraphs will provide examples of exactly these two qualities as they are exhibited by Allison!)

Remember that you should avoid blurting out your thesis at the very beginning of the introduction, as that will make for an abrupt opening and will blindside your readers with a main point before they are prepared for your perspective. A good introduction serves as both a lead-in to the essay’s main idea as well as provides viable information related to the topic itself so that the audience is fully vested in the subject and is eager to proceed.

Shockingly, the conclusion is . . . the final part of the essay. Many students have been taught to end a short writing assignment by summing up everything that they already have explained, but this is a bad idea because your reader just has read all of your examples in your body paragraphs, so if you just repeat this information, your audience will be bored and possibly even insulted that you think so little of their reading comprehension. Instead, your conclusion should tell your audience why the essay you just wrote matters. Just ask yourself these kinds of questions:

  • why is my take important?
  • what do I want my reader to understand?
  • do I want the audience to go and do something now?

Your answers to these questions should be enough to generate a few compelling sentences that will put a satisfying spin on your essay. Consider this concluding paragraph below.

Paragraph Example

ver since Allison’s visits in college my mind and palette have broadened significantly when it comes to everyday dining. I now can appreciate not only the artistry behind the meals I eat but the way those meals can serve as dedicated expressions of love and companionship as well as vehicles for nutrition. For many of us, taste is our least developed sense, but I urge you to learn more about cooking, if only to better appreciate those around you who have mastered the art. (1)

Directions: Select each topic below to reveal more information on each topic.

Prewriting Strategy: Mapping

In our previous modules we discussed listing, questioning, and freewriting as possible prewriting strategies for developing ideas. As we now prepare to tackle our example essay, let’s consider another such strategy, this time one that works very well for visual learners who like to represent their thoughts graphically. Mapping is an excellent visual approach to writing an essay. When mapping, students select a topic and place it in a circle in the middle of a sheet of paper. Then they draw lines radiating out from the center to other circles to represent subcategories. Finally, they select the best ideas from the map to plan the essay. This kind of exercise can help you not only to find a good thesis statement but also to discover the examples that will help you persuade your audience that your thesis is true. (1)

Attribution

(1) Content by Florida State College at Jacksonville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License .

ENC1101 Learning Unit 3.2

Readings: the Ways We Explain, the Examples We Choose

Introduction

In this module we discussed how to explain our positions with examples. Before you begin writing your own example paper, it will be useful to examine some essays that use examples to make a point. Thus, in the following sections you will find both a professional essay and a student essay that are kinds of critiques , judgments based on standards. This is the kind of example essay you will write for this module, so seeing how such an essay works will likely help you imagine how to proceed. (1)

Professional Essay

It’s important to remember that professional essays don’t always look like the kinds of essays you are asked to produce in college. However, they share many of the same traits, even if they aren’t necessarily organized in as straightforward a manner as student pieces. Moreover, because professional writers are talented communicators, we can learn lessons from their work.

The first essay we are going to examine is a critique of a book. Remember, a critique is basically a review; its purpose is to be critical of a subject and to ultimately persuade the reader of its value. In some cases, critiques warn readers to avoid something entirely. In other cases, critiques urge readers to experience something because of its excellence. In some other cases, especially in professional reviews, critiques point out both the successes and the flaws of something and have an ambivalent message; in other words, they may not definitively rule for or against their subjects but instead seek to provide a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to each reader to decide whether the “thing” under discussion is worth encountering.

As you read, ask yourself the following active reading questions to make sure you are engaging thoughtfully with the essay:

  1. Does the essay have a thesis statement ? If so, where is it?
  2. Does the essay provide a summary of the book it is discussing? If so, where is it?
  3. What points does the author make about the book to support her main idea?
  4. Is the article ambivalent? In other words, does it have mixed emotions about its subject matter? If it is, where does it present those mixed emotions?
  5. How does the essay’s conclusion reinforce its main idea? (1)

Select and read this essay, “Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma ” (28)

Reading Reflections: Professional Essay

Now that you’ve read it over, let’s return to the active reading questions we asked at the beginning in order to get a better sense of how this essay works.

Question 1. Does the essay have a thesis statement ? If so, where is it?

Although some professional essays lack an overt thesis and make their case by articulating many excellent examples and implying a main point, this one makes a fairly direct central claim.

Look back at the first two paragraphs:

The first impression of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is that of a car spluttering on starting up. The first two chapters are descriptive to the point of fastidiousness, and the characters and incidents, although ordinary, are presented almost with affectation.

This doesn’t change. Obioma’s language aims to be as elaborate as possible. But as the ingenious plot unfolds, reading does become pleasant, interesting, and eventually engaging. Yet it’s difficult to shed that first impression.

The first sentence compares the first impression the book The Fisherman makes on readers to “a car spluttering on starting up.” The rest of the first paragraph continues lamenting aspects of the novel, saying that its first chapters are “descriptive to the point of fastidiousness” (which means they are overdone) and that the “ordinary” characters and incidents in the book “are presented almost with affectation.” Affectation means a kind of pretentious artificiality; in other words, the author of the essay is saying that the writer of The Fishermen overdoes his descriptions to the point that his art seems forced and unnatural.

Then, in the second paragraph the book is presented in a slightly better light, as the essay writer calls the book’s plot “ingenious” and says that reading the book becomes “engaging” as it goes on. However, the last sentence of the second paragraph says that “it’s difficult to shed that first impression” of the novel (that it is like “a car spluttering on starting up”). Thus, this last sentence, taken with the rest of the essay’s introduction, acts as the essay’s thesis: Morosetti (the essay’s writer) is saying that the book never completely recovers from its shortcomings. (1)

Reading Reflections: Professional Essay (Continued)

Question 2. Does the essay provide a summary of the book it is discussing? If so, where is it?

This essay’s third paragraph provides an overall summary of the book it is discussing. Summaries are very important when you write a critique of a narrative, be it a novel, a TV show, a movie, or even a story-driven video game like a role playing game, because they help readers understand the basic gist of what is being discussed. Notice, however, that the summary here is short and to the point; most of the essay is comprised of specific points the author is making about the novel she is discussing that explain why it succeeds or fails.(1)

Professional Essay (Continued)

Question 3. What points does the author make about the book to support her main idea?

Paragraphs four through ten all make points that contribute to the author’s main idea. Briefly speaking, we could break them down like this:

Click each tab to reveal the content under each one.

Paragraph four

Paragraph 4 argues that The Fishermen tries and fails to establish a connection between its antagonist Abulu and the “white man” who opposes the main character Okonkwo in the classic book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. This paragraph thus offers a negative point about the book.

Paragraph five

Paragraph 5 compliments the novel and says that the “impending doom” in the book is “compellingly conveyed” with impressive language. Remember that in the second paragraph of the essay, the author says that The Fishermen ultimately becomes “engaging,” so this paragraph helps to prove this point.

Paragraph six

Paragraph 6 says that “the novel is marred by improbability,” meaning that some of its integral moments are hard to believe. It then provides examples of this improbability, which is very important to make the case to the reader. This is another knock against the work.

Paragraph seven

Paragraph 7 says that the “weaknesses” of the novel are “most evident” in its second half. It goes on to explain some of those weaknesses and provides examples to back up the claim, which, again, is always important in an example essay.

Paragraph eight

Paragraph 8 takes issue with the portrayal of the younger siblings in the novel and thus makes another negative point about the book.

Paragraph nine

Paragraph 9 criticizes The Fishermen’s “general search for the symbolic” and says that this tendency is “particularly damaging.” When Morosetti (the essay’s author) says that the book features “scenes designed to create climaxes at the expense of credibility,” it reminds us of when she said much of the book was “presented almost with affectation” in the very first paragraph.

Paragraph ten

Paragraph 10 makes a complicated point; it argues that the audience for the book does not line up with the audience the author claims he is addressing (the nation of Nigeria) in some interviews about the book. Morosetti argues here that the book seems written for an international audience instead of for a uniquely African one, and she provides an example to help make her point. This again is presented as a failing of the book and lines up with the essay’s main point that it never is able to shed its negative first impression. (1)

Reading Reflections: Professional Essay (Continued)

Question 4. Is the article ambivalent? In other words, does it have mixed emotions about its subject matter? If it is, where does it present those mixed emotions?

As we have seen, most of the essay is a negative review of The Fishermen . However, paragraph five has nice things to say about the book, and the second paragraph says that over time it becomes “engaging” for the reader. Also, the concluding paragraph says that it is “highly ambitious and makes for interesting reading” and that it has “some of the ingredients of a remarkable work.” Thus, even though it leans to the negative, the review also suggests that the book has its positive points, so we could make a case that it is an ambivalent critique. (1)

Reading Reflections: Professional Essay (Continued)

Question 5 . How does the essay’s conclusion reinforce its main idea?

The last paragraph of the essay says that though the book is “remarkable” in some ways, it “suffers, heavily, from its very own cleverness.” That “cleverness” is what Morosetti alluded to early in the first paragraph when she said the book was “presented almost with affectation;” she thinks it overreaches and can be too artificial or hung up on its clever wordplay and intellectual ideas when it needs to be believable and relatable. This all hearkens back to the last sentence of the second paragraph, which argues that “it’s difficult to shed that first impression” of the book, the negative impression she discusses at the very beginning of the whole essay. Thus, the conclusion ties everything together. (1)

Student Essay

Now let’s take a look at a student critique. As you read, notice the annotations that we’ve provided pointing out the essay’s important parts, like its thesis statement and topic sentences. You’ll notice that this essay isn’t ambivalent; it provides a glowing review of an ex-pro football player, Lester Hayes. It proceeds in a clear and logical way, providing a hook at the beginning, a thesis statement at the end of the introduction, several body paragraphs full of examples and details to help prove its various points, and a conclusion that urges readers to appreciate the player in question.

Select and read this essay, “Lester Hayes: My Favorite Raider” (1)

Attributions

(1) Content by Florida State College at Jacksonville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License .

(28) ” Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma ” by Tiziana Morosetti is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0 .

ENC1101 Learning Unit 3.3

Verbs

verb is a word that conveys an action (bring, read, walk, run, learn) , an occurrence (happen, become) , or a state of being (be, exist, stand) .

  • washed the car yesterday.
  • The robot is self-aware.
  • John studies English and French.
  • Lucy enjoys listening to music.

Verb Types

There are three basic types of verbs: active verbs, linking verbs, and helping verbs. Each type is determined by the kinds of words that accompany it and the relationship those words have with the verb itself.

Verb Type #1: Active Verbs

Active verbs are the simplest type of verb: they simply express some sort of action: e.g., contain, roars, runs, sleeps . Active verbs can be broken up into two categories: intransitive verbs and transitive verbs. (15)

Intransitive Verb

An intransitive verb is an active verb that does not have a direct object. In other words, these verbs never directly affect anything in the sentence; they just tell us what the subject of the sentence is doing. Consider the sentence “The sun rises.” Here we learn what the sun does, but the action is not affecting something else. If we try to put another thing right after the word “rises,” we end up with a nonsensical group of words (“The sun rises the town” is incorrect). Intransitive verbs may be followed by an adverb (a word that addresses how, where, when, and how often) or a prepositional phrase, or they may end a sentence. For example: “The woman spoke softly.” “The athlete ran faster than the official.” “The sun rose over the mountain.” “The boy wept.” (16)

Transitive Verbs

Unlike intransitive verbs, transitive verbs directly affect objects or people. A transitive verb is followed by a noun or noun phrase. These noun phrases are not called predicate nouns but are instead called direct objects because they refer to the object or person that is being acted upon. If you can put a noun right after an active verb, it is a transitive verb. For example: “My friend read the newspaper.” “The teenager earned a speeding ticket.”

One way to identify a transitive verb is to invert the sentence, making it passive. If the resulting sentence makes sense, you know you are dealing with a transitive verb. For example: “The newspaper was read by my friend.” “A speeding ticket was earned by the teenager.” (17)

Verb Type #2: Linking Verbs

A linking verb is a verb that links a subject to the rest of the sentence. There isn’t any “real” action happening in the sentence. Sentences with linking verbs are similar to math equations because the verb acts as an equal sign between the items it links.

While to be verbs are the most common linking verbs (is, was, were, etc.) , there are other linking verbs as well.

Here are some illustrations of other common linking verbs:

  • Since the oil spill, the beach has smelled bad.
    • Similarly, one could also read this as “Since the oil spill, the beach = smelled bad.” If you can replace the verb with an equal sign and the logic of the sentence makes sense, you know you are dealing with a linking verb.
  • That word processing program seems adequate for our needs.
    • Here, the linking verb is slightly more nuanced, though the sentence construction overall is similar. (This is why we write in words, rather than math symbols, after all!) Still, it basically makes sense that what is meant here is that the program=adequate! (17)

Verb Type #3: Helping Verbs

Helping verbs (sometimes called auxiliary verbs ) are, as the name suggests, verbs that help other verbs. They provide support and add additional meaning. Here are some examples of helping verbs in sentences:

  • Mariah is looking for her keys still.
  • Kai has checked the weather three times already.

As you just saw, helping verbs include words like is and has . Let’s look at some more examples to examine exactly what these verbs do. Take a look at the sentence “I have finished my dinner.” Here, the main verb is finish , and the helping verb have helps to express tense. Let’s look at two more examples:

  • By 1967, about 500 U.S. citizens had received heart transplants.
    • While received could function on its own as a complete thought, the helping verb had emphasizes the distance in time of the date in the opening phrase.
  • Do you want tea?
    • Do is a helping verb accompanying the main verb want , used here to form a question. (18)

Verb Tenses and Agreement

Tenses

There are three standard tenses in English: past, present, and future. All three of these tenses have simple and more complex forms. For now we’ll just focus on the simple present (things happening now), the simple past (things that happened before), and the simple future (things that will happen later).

  • Simple Present: work(s)
  • Simple Past: worked
  • Simple Future: will work (19)

Tense Agreement

The basic idea behind sentence agreement is pretty simple: all the parts of your sentence should match (or agree ). Verbs need to agree with their subjects in number (singular or plural) and in person (first, second, or third). In order to check agreement, you simply need to find the verb and ask who or what is doing the action of that verb. For example:

  • really am (first-person singular) vs. We really are (first-person plural)
  • The boy sings (third-person singular) vs. The boys sing (third-person plural)

Compound subjects are plural, and their verbs should agree. Look at the following sentence for an example:

  • A pencil, a backpack, and a notebook were issued to each student.

Verbs will never agree with nouns that are in phrases. To make verbs agree with their subjects, follow this example:

The direction of the three plays is the topic of my talk.

NOT

The direction of the three plays are the topic of my talk.

The subject of the sentence is the direction , not plays , which is part of the prepositional phrase “of the three plays” that just provides extra information about the subject. Thus, the verb should be singular (is) instead of plural (are). (20)

Consistency

One of the most common mistakes in writing is a lack of tense consistency. Writers often start a sentence in one tense but ended up in another. In fact, if you look back at the sentence you just read, you will notice an error in verb tense consistency:

Writers often start a sentence in one tense but ended up in another.

The first verb start is in the present tense, but ended is in the past tense. The second verb needs to match up in tense with the first one. The correct version of the sentence would be“Writers often start a sentence in one tense but end up in another.”

These mistakes often occur when writers change their minds halfway through writing a sentence or when they come back and make changes but only end up changing half the sentence. It is very important to maintain a consistent tense, not just in a sentence but across paragraphs and pages. Decide if something happened is happening , or will happen and then stick with that choice. (21)

Non-Finite Verbs

Non-finite verbs are words that look similar to verbs we’ve already been talking about, but they act quite different from those other verbs.

By definition, a non-finite verb cannot serve as the main verb in an independent clause. In practical terms, this means that they don’t serve as the action of a sentence. They also don’t have a tense. While the sentence around them may be past, present, or future tense, the non-finite verbs themselves are neutral. There are three types of non-finite verbs: gerunds, participles, and infinitives. (22)

Gerunds

Gerunds all end in -ing: skiing, reading, dancing, singing, etc. Gerunds act like nouns and can serve as subjects or objects of sentences. They can be created using active or helping verbs:

  • I like swimming.
  • Being loved can make someone feel safe.
  • Do you fancy going out?
  • Having read the book once before makes me more prepared.

Often the “doer” of the gerund is clearly signaled:

  • We enjoyed singing yesterday (we ourselves did the singing)
  • Tom likes eating apricots (Tom himself eats apricots)

However, sometimes the “doer” must be overtly specified, typically in a position immediately before the non-finite verb:

  • We enjoyed their singing. (they did the singing)
  • We were delighted at Bianca being awarded the prize. (Bianca was being awarded) (23)

Participles

A participle is a form of a verb that is used in a sentence to modify a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase, and then plays a role similar to an adjective or adverb. It another nonfinite verb form.

The two types of participle in English are traditionally called the present participle (forms such as writing, singing and raising ) and the past participle (forms such as written, sung and raised).

The Present Participle

Even though they look exactly the same, gerunds and present participles do different things. As we just learned, the gerund acts as a noun: e.g., “I like sleeping “; “ Sleeping is not allowed.” Present participles, on the other hand, act similarly to an adjective or adverb: e.g., “The sleeping girl over there is my sister”; “ Breathing heavily, she finished the race in first place.”

The Past Participle

Past participles often look very similar to the simple past tense of a verb: finished, danced, etc.

Past participles are used in a couple of different ways:

  • as an adjective phrase: The chicken eaten by the children was contaminated. (“eaten by the children” describes the chicken)
  • adverb: Seen from this perspective, the problem presents no easy solution. (“seen” is describing how the problem can appear so difficult to solve)
  • in construction with a subject: The task finished , we returned home. (“finished” here is defining the state of the task)

The past participle can also be used with the helping verb to have to form a type of past tense. The chicken has eaten It is also used to form the passive voice: Tianna was voted as most likely to succeed.

When the passive voice is used following a relative pronoun (like that or which ) we sometimes leave out parts of the phrase:

  • He had three things that were taken away from him
  • He had three things taken away from him

In the second sentence, we removed the words that were . However, we still use the past participle taken . The removal of these words is called elision . Elision is used with a lot of different constructions in English; we use it shorten sentences when things are understood. However, we can only use elision in certain situations, so be careful when removing words! (24)

Nature vs. Nurture

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

—Hamlet

The infinitive is the basic dictionary form of a verb, usually preceded by to (when it’s not, it’s called the bare infinitive , which we’ll discuss more later). Thus to go is an infinitive. There are several different uses of the infinitive. They can be used alongside verbs, as a noun phrase, as a modifier, or in a question.

With Other Verbs

The to -infinitive is used with other verbs (we’ll discuss exceptions when we talk about the bare infinitive):

  • I aim to convince him of our plan’s ingenuity.
  • You already know that he’ll fail to complete the task.

You can also use multiple infinitives in a single sentence: “Today, I plan to run three miles, to clean my room, and to update my budget.” All three of these infinitives follow the verbplan . Other verbs that often come before infinitives include want, convince, try, able, and like .

As a Noun Phrase

The infinitive can also be used to express an action in an abstract, general way: “ To err is human”; “ To know me is to love me .” No one in particular is completing these actions. The infinitives act as the subjects of these sentences.

Infinitives can also serve as the object of a sentence. One common construction involves a dummy subject ( it ): “It was nice to meet you.” (25)

As a Modifier

An infinitive can be used as an adjective (e.g., “A request to see someone” or “The man to save us”) or as an adverb (e.g., “Keen to get on,” “Nice to listen to,” or “In order to win“).

Split Infinitives

One of the biggest controversies among grammarians and style writers has been the appropriateness of separating the two words of the to -infinitive as in “to boldly go.” Despite what a lot of people have declared over the years, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this construction. It is 100 percent grammatically sound.

Part of the reason so many authorities have been against this construction is likely the fact that in languages such as Latin, the infinitive is a single word, and cannot be split. However, in English the infinitive (or at least the to -infinitive) is two words, and a split infinitive is a perfectly natural construction. (25)

Try To Versus Try And

One common error people make is saying “try and” instead of “try to,” as in “I’ll try and be there by 10:00 tomorrow.” However, try requires a to-infinitive after it, so using “and” is incorrect. While this construction is acceptable in casual conversation, it is not grammatically correct and should not be used in formal situations. (25)

Adjectives and Adverbs

Now that we’ve learned about the most common parts of speech– nouns, pronouns, and verbs we’re ready to move onto the other parts of speech.

Next, we have adjectives and adverbs, which are different types of modifiers (i.e., they modify other words). For example, compare the phrase “the bear” to “the harmless bear” or the phrase “run” to “run slowly.” In both of these cases, the adjective (harmless) or adverb (slowly) changes how we understand the phrase. (26) (27)

Comparing Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives and adverbs act in similar but different roles. A lot of the time this difference can be seen in the structure of the words. Clever is an adjective, and cleverly is an adverb.

Although recognizing the –ly ending is helpful, not all words that end in –ly are adverbs: lovely, costly, friendly, etc. Additionally, not all adverbs end in -ly: here, there, together, yesterday, aboard, very, almost, etc.

Some words can function both as an adjective and as and adverb:

  • Fast is an adjective in “a fast car” (where it modifies the noun car), but an adverb in “he drove fast” (where it modifies the verb drove).
  • Likely is an adjective in “a likely outcome” (where it modifies the noun outcome ) but an adverb in “we will likely go” (where it modifies the verb go). (26) (27)

Confusing Adjectives and Adverbs

One common mistake with adjectives and adverbs is substituting one in place of the other. For example, in the sentence “I wish I could write as neat as he can,” neat should be replaced with neatly , an adverb, since it is modifying the verb “write.’ (“That’s real nice of you” is also incorrect; it should be “That’s really nice of you.”)

Remember, if you’re modifying a noun or pronoun, you should use an adjective. If you’re modifying anything else, you should use an adverb. (26) (27)

Adjectives

An adjective modifies a noun; that is, it provides more detail about a noun. Adjectives can provide information about anything from color to size to temperature to personality. Adjectives usually occur just before the nouns they modify, but they can also follow a linking verb (in these instances, adjectives can modify pronouns as well).

  • The generator is used to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy .
  • The kids’ schoolhouse was red . (here the linking verb “was” links “red” to the schoolhouse). (26)

Adverbs

Adverbs can perform a wide range of functions: they can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They can come either before or after the word they modify. An adverb may provide information about the manner, place, time, frequency, certainty, or other circumstances of the activity indicated by the verb. In the following sentences, the adverbs are in bold, while the words they modify are in italics.

  • Suzanne sang loudly loudly modifies the verb sang , indicating the manner of singing)
  • We left it here . ( here modifies the verb phrase left it , indicating place)
  • I worked yesterday yesterday modifies the verb worked , indicating time)
  • You often make mistakes ( often modifies the verb phrase make mistakes , indicating frequency)
  • He undoubtedly did it ( undoubtedly modifies the verb phrase did it , indicating certainty)

Adverbs can also modify noun phrases, prepositional phrases, or whole clauses and sentences, as in the following examples. Once again the adverbs are in bold, while the words they modify are in italics.

  • I bought only the fruit ( only modifies the noun phrase the fruit )
  • Roberto drove us almost to the station ( almost modifies the prepositional phrase to the station )
  • Certainly we need to act ( certainly modifies the sentence as a whole)

Adverbs may also undergo comparison, taking comparative and superlative forms. This is usually done by adding more . and most before the adverb ( more slowly, most slowly ). However, there are a few adverbs that take non-standard forms, such as well , for which better and best are used (i.e., “He did well , she did better , and I did best “). (27)

Attributions

(15) Verbs. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verb . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(16) Intransitive verb. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intransitive_verb . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(17) Transitive verb. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitive_verb . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(18) Revision and Adaptation of Wikipedia Content . Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(19) Verb Tenses . Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution

(20) Agreement (linguistics). Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreement_(linguistics) . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(21) Text: Verb Tense Consistency . Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution

(22) Nonfinite verb . Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonfinite_verb . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(23) Gerund . Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerund . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(24) Participle . Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participle . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(25) Infinitive . Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinitive . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(26) Adjective . Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjective . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

(27) Adverb . Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverb . License: CC BY-SA: Attribution- ShareAlike

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