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Knowing the terms of your sentence

If you have studied computers, automotive electronics or medical transcription, you know the need for understanding terminology. These expressions in the English language often facilitate proper use of our speech.

If you look up words in a dictionary or online, you will normally be given one or more parts of speech. For a verb, it may say v.i., verb intransitive, meaning it has no object — "The dog is sleeping in his bed" or "She cried hard and long." There is additional information in the form of a prepositional phrase or adjectives and adverbs, but no object.

If it is a verb transitive, v.t., that means action is carried to an object: "He grieved the loss of his friend."

Some verbs can also become nouns. One type of these is called a gerund — "Fighting is not allowed;" "I enjoy walking in the woods."

A word formed from a verb may be used as an adjective, such as, "She is a working woman." These adjective forms are known as participles. These last two are called verbals.

If one looks carefully at the parts of speech and the way they are put together, you may be studying syntax. This refers to the way in which all elements are arranged to create a well-formed sentence.

The term antecedent means literally "to go before." The antecedent of a pronoun is the noun or pronoun that goes before it and to which it refers. Pronouns and their antecedents need to match in number (singular or plural) and gender (male or female): "The boys showed off their projects, and one will present his to the board," or "Each of the swans is preening his feathers."

Agreement is a really important element of usage. A subject, as well as a pronoun that may follow it, must have the same number as its verb: "My favorite of the desserts is ice cream," or "Everybody in the club reads his own poem." If you are uncomfortable with the male pronoun or wish to show both genders, the last example could be adjusted to, "All members of the club read their own poems."

Many of these terms can be and are mixed and matched; word order is vital, however. A sentence consists not of a string of words in free relationship, but of groups of words in specific patterns. Sometimes it just takes real effort to make sure the pattern fits!

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net.