How Grammar & Word Form Impact Meaning

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the different word forms present in an English language sentence, and how they impact the meaning of other words in the sentence to create a complete thought.

Grammar and Word Form

If you are cooking, it generally doesn't work out to well if you just throw everything into a pan at the same time and cook it all for a random amount of time. Why, that's not cooking, you'd say, that's just heating up random ingredients. And you'd be right, because you know that cooking requires recipes to be followed in order for your dish to come out right.

In the same way, the English language has specific 'recipes' for utilizing the different word forms in sentences so that what we write and say makes sense. After all, if you are asking someone for a pair of scissors, you'd probably get a pretty funny look if you told them: 'Pair of please the give scissors me.' In this lesson, we'll discuss grammar and the different word forms that make up the English language and dictate the way we speak and write.

Word Forms

There are several different forms words can take, and words can change spelling depending on the form they take. How words interact with each other to give a sentence meaning is called syntax. In order to help you pick out each word form, we are going to use one sentence as our example sentence for this entire lesson. Our example sentence:

'The carpenter quickly built his son a large, green treehouse in his backyard for his birthday.

Let's get started.

Subject

Every sentence must have a subject. The subject is the main actor in the sentence and is usually a noun. In our sentence, 'carpenter' is the subject as it is the one performing the action.

Verb

Every sentence must also have a verb. The verb is the action being completed by the subject. In our example, 'built' is the verb, as it is what the subject is doing.

Modifiers

Modifiers are usually adjectives or adverbs and are used to give more detail and description to the subjects and verbs in the sentence. Adjectives are used to modify nouns and are usually placed in front of the noun. Adverbs, on the other hand, are used to modify verbs and can be found either before or after the verb.

The modifiers in our sentence are 'quickly,' 'large,' and 'green.' 'Large' and 'green' are adjectives, as they are both modifying the noun treehouse, by telling us its size and color. 'Quickly' is an adverb as it is modifying the verb built by telling us how the treehouse was built. Adverbs tend to end in '-ly' and can sometimes become an adjective by removing the '-ly' suffix (e.g., the adverb 'quickly' becomes the adjective 'quick').

Direct Object

Direct objects are the receivers of the action. Not all sentences will have a direct object. In order to locate one, find your subject and verb, then ask 'who' or 'what.' In this example, 'The carpenter built' who or what? He built a treehouse, so that is our direct object.

Indirect Object

Indirect objects are the words that receive the direct object. You cannot have an indirect object if you do not have a direct object. The indirect object modifies the verb and will always be found between the verb and the direct object. To find the indirect object (once you have identified a direct object) ask 'to whom' or 'for whom.' In this example, 'The carpenter built...the treehouse' for whom or to whom? He built it for his son, so 'son' is the indirect object.

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