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Using Analogy to Understand Parts of Speech

Writing students troubled by the “fussiness” of grammar and parts of speech typically overcome their anxiety about these if they reinvent their relationship with them.  It starts with “reconceptualizing” the eight basic parts of speech as things and concepts they can relate to.  After all, speech communication needs sentences, and a sentence is made up of parts of speech that come together as a system of expression.   “Systems” are not unique to sentences, obviously, but many of the relationships among parts of speech can be found among the relationships in other sorts of systems.   In other words, the same science of expression can be found in the expressive nature of other things we enjoy.   

Hobbies are a good example of an expressive system of activities, because people find self-expression, meditation, and intellectual stimulation in a hobby they enjoy.  They can "speak" through their hobbies, even if that means only speaking to themselves.  For example, one of my hobbies is collecting antique and vintage pottery.  The slide show below demonstrates how the intricacies pottery collecting are expressive just like the eight basic parts of speech:

  • Nouns
    Nouns

    Nouns are like the pottery pieces, themselves: you can name* them and their features; the basic shape of a manufactured piece of pottery is called, “a blank.” [*The word “noun” comes from the Latin word, nomen, meaning “name”; it’s also related to the nominative case in grammar.]

  • Adjectives
    Adjectives

    Adjectives are the glazes and embellishments on pottery; when you want to describe what makes a piece of pottery different from (or the same as) another, these are the some of traits that give them personality.

  • Adverbs
    Adverbs

    Adverbs are analogous to how different lighting changes the way pottery looks: when the lighting changes, textures can become more defined, glazes can have more depth and mood, and colors can even seem more vibrant. Adverbs, like lighting, don't change what we observe, but rather how we perceive it.

  • Pronouns
    Pronouns

    Pronouns are like the pictures of pottery I'm interested in, on eBay, in pottery books, etc. They're not real until they're in my hands, but they stand in for the real thing.

  • Verbs
    Verbs

    Verbs are the making of the actual vessels, but each kind of “making” is a process. For example, hand-thrown clay pieces are spun in place on the pottery wheel, kind of like the “action” of intransitive verbs.

  • Prepositions
    Prepositions

    Sometimes it's best to keep certain pottery pieces together: one piece may be made to rest atop, fit inside, or sit beside another; or, the design of one piece may complement that of another. Keeping certain pieces together on display gives a better idea of what makes a connection among them, be it aesthetic, intellectual or practical (such as a lid to a teapot). That’s just what prepositions do: they place (or posit) an object noun in a way that enhances our understanding of what another object is, does, or experiences.

  • Conjunctions
    Conjunctions

    Conjunctions are like grouping two or more pieces of pottery that work well together in style, maker, era, design, etc. It’s all about coordinating, which can sometimes be a matter of taste. I like to leave people wondering, though, about why I've grouped specific pieces the way I do. Conjunctions are parts of speech that do just the same thing.

  • Interjections
    Interjections

    Interjections are like that sick and surprised feeling that goes through me when I see someone mishandle one of my pottery pieces, or if I find an unexpected crack when I unpack it. (Usually, it makes me shout an interjection, too!)

EXERCISE

PART 1: SELECT A HOBBY

... or an activity you enjoy. It doesn't specifically have to be a collecting hobby, but it's okay if it is.

  • Then, on a page in your notebook, list the 8 basic parts of speech, plus verbals, in the left margin:

noun
pronoun
adjective
verb
adverb
verbal
preposition
conjunction
interjection

 

  • In about ten minutes, select one or more aspect of your hobby you consider analogous to each part of speech listed at left. "Analogous" means a figurative comparison, not a literal one. So, whatever you choose for an analogy doesn't have to be that part of speech; it just has to represent what that part of speech does. For example, in baseball collecting, a special box or case to contain the cards is like a noun because it is, both, a concrete "real" thing, and because it is proof of the hobbyist's skills at organizing, an abstract representation of the collector's love and interest in the sport, and a source of pride. Nouns can be things, ideas, or representations of these. So, a special baseball card box is like a noun.

  • Follow this immediately by writing down a couple of related words from your hobby that actually are that part of speech (e.g., card, statistics, baseball player).

  • Do this for each of the parts of speech in the list at left.

 

PART 2: COMPARE YOUR NOTES

In groups of three or four, share your different analogies and discuss what they have in common. (You'll be assigned to focus on one of the nine parts of speech.) Most importantly, talk about WHY these are commonalities. Using your discussion, select a basic part of speech other than "noun" or "verb" and work together to write your own definition of it. Don't simply quote the handbooks. Put the definition in your own words and ideas. Use details and examples from all the members of your group to illustrate. Be ready to present this to the class afterward.

Last Updated: 02/03/2016
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