Welcome to the second installment of “Tea and Grammar”! As with Tea and Grammar – Part 1, my goal with this post is to demystify basic grammar terminology for those of you who, as language learners (or prospective language learners), may find it a bit intimidating or confusing.
As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, a surprising number of people get through school without ever encountering grammatical terms (and probably many more forget them as soon as they’re out of school).
It can be a bit unnerving, then, when you set out to learn a new language and the teachers, books, or programs expect you to understand what they mean by such terms as “possessive adjectives.”
Just to recap
In Part 1 we talked about the basic building blocks of language:
- Nouns (people, places, things, ideas)
- Pronouns (short words that can stand in for nouns, such as “I” or “you”)
- Verbs (words that tell you what something is doing)
(If you’d like to go back and review those, go right ahead. I’ll wait.)
With these three building blocks, we can communicate, in a Tarzan-ish fashion:
Dog eat food
I go school
It’s not a very satisfying way to talk, however, so in this post we’re going to talk about some parts of speech that let you flesh these things out a bit. So sit back, grab a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits/cookies/etc. and prepare to meet adjectives and adverbs, or what I call “the two adds.”
Meet the adjective
I remember my high school French teacher describing an adjective as “a word that modifies a noun.” That word “modifies” always puzzled me, because in my mind “modify” meant “changes.”
What an adjective actually does is give you additional information about a noun. Perhaps a better way to say it is “an adjective describes a noun.”
(An easy way to remember this, by the way, is that an “ADD-jective” ”ADDS” information to a noun)
For example, let’s take the noun “dog.” By itself it doesn’t tell you much, other than that you’re talking about a member of the canine species. But “add” adjectives to it, and you know so much more!
You can even pile adjectives on top of one another to tell even more about the noun:
Big ugly dog
Cute little dog
Shaggy matted dog
Sad sick dog
In English, adjectives come before the noun, but in Irish, as in many other languages, the adjective usually follows the noun it describes:
Madra beag – Little dog
Madra tinn - Sick dog
Just as with English, you can pile on additional adjectives in Irish to give more information about the noun you’re describing:
Madra deas beag – Nice little dog
Madra tinn brónach – Sad sick dog
There are all kinds of adjectives, but a couple you’ll want to know about particularly are ”possessive adjectives” and “demonstrative adjectives.”
A possessive adjective tells you something very specific about a noun: It tells you who that noun belongs to.
In English, the possessive adjectives are my/your/his/her/our/their/its:
You don’t want to confuse these with the “possessive pronouns” you met in Part 1. Because a pronoun TAKES THE PLACE OF a noun, a possessive pronoun will always stand alone:
This is mine.
That is yours.
Because an adjective DESCRIBES a noun, a possessive adjective will always be followed by a noun:
Demonstrative adjectives tell you that you’re looking at a very specific noun. In English, the demonstrative adjectives are “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those”:
And then there’s the adverb
Just as an adjective describes a noun, an adverb describes a verb. Or, to put it another way, a verb tells you what something is doing, and an adverb tells you how it is doing it.
(You can remember this by thinking that an adverb “ADDS” something to a “VERB.”)
In English, most adverbs end in -ly. We do have some irregular adverbs, though, for example:
Eat well (not “eat goodly”)
In Irish, most adverbs have “go” in front of them:
Rith an madra go tapaí. The dog ran quickly.
Tá mé go maith. I am well.
And so our language grows!
These two parts of speech add so much to our ability to communicate! In our Tarzan-ish language, think what a big difference there is between “dog bite” and “That big white ugly dog bites hard and often. This little friendly dog bites rarely. He plays gently.”
With nouns, pronouns, and verbs, you can communicate. With the two “adds” (adjectives and adverbs) you can communicate even better!
In our next “Tea and Grammar” post, we’ll take a look at the preposition (if you’re an Irish learner and you want to jump ahead, you may want to have a look at how prepositions work in Irish).
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