The Moving Parts of Speech in English: Verbs and Conjunctions
Many educational programmes drill the parts of speech into the minds of young students, but it is all too common for such details of language to slip right back out of the mind until they are needed in immediate and practical ways. It is therefore far from unusual for an academic or scientist to sit down to draft a paper or chapter or perhaps to deal with feedback on his or her writing offered by a colleague, mentor or editor only to realise that certain key aspects of the English language prove confusing. Perhaps the terminology employed in the comments offered by those helpful readers is not fully understood by the author, or maybe the proper uses of a particular element of language remain unclear despite considerable efforts to perfect the grammar of a text. Such problems are especially likely to arise when a scholar is writing in a language that is not his or her own, and since many scholars who are not native speakers of English now find it necessary to disseminate their research in the English language, some notes on parts of speech and their functions may prove helpful. In this post I am focussing on verbs and conjunctions as elements of scholarly writing that move the action when reporting research procedures and findings and advance the argument of the text when analysing and discussing them.
Verbs and verb phrases are words that convey actions or states of being. In ‘The student wrote an essay,’ the verb is ‘wrote,’ the simple past tense of ‘to write,’ and it describes what the subject of the sentence (the student) did. In ‘The student was worried about the essay,’ the verb phrase is ‘was worried,’ which is made up of a verb and an auxiliary or helping verb, and conveys the state of mind of the subject (again, the student). A sentence might contain only one verb, as my first example does, or many verbs, so the two simple sentences above might be combined into a compound sentence using a number of verbs and verb phrases: ‘The student wrote the essay, proofread it and handed it in, but she was worried about her argument and did not sleep well that night.’ Verbs must be conjugated in appropriate ways to express with accuracy the order of events while observing grammatical rules and conventions. In ‘I was watching the monitor when I exposed participants to the light, but I had prepared them for the intensity before the trial began,’ the different tenses clearly express the chronology, although the events are not mentioned in chronological order: the participants are prepared before the trial begins and the investigator is watching the monitor when participants are exposed to the light. Remember when you use the infinitive form of an English verb such as ‘to write’ that ‘to’ is an integral part of the verb and should not be separated from ‘write.’ If at all possible, placing other words between the two elements of the infinitive should be avoided, which means that ‘to write successfully’ should be preferred to the split infinitive in ‘to successfully write.’
Conjunctions are important little words that do several big jobs in sentences. They often connect independent clauses into compound sentences or simply join two words or phrases as items in a series. The following example shows both uses: ‘The student wrote the essay, proofread it and handed it in, but she was worried about her argument and did not sleep well that night.’ The conjunctions here are ‘and’ and ‘but,’ while the series is ‘wrote the essay, proofread it and handed it in,’ with the conjunction ‘and’ preceding the final item. Conjunctions can be immensely helpful for scholars who wish to move an argument forward, but sentences usually do not start with a conjunction in formal English. Yet they can occasionally for effect, as this sentence does.
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