How to Break Down a Sentence Into Parts of Speech

Every sentence can be broken down into its parts of speech.
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The part of speech of a word is its function within a sentence. The eight parts of speech are noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection. Breaking a sentence down into its parts of speech requires knowledge of the word's meaning and how it relates to other words in the sentence. For our purposes we will use the following sentence to break down into its parts of speech: " Yikes! That brown fox quickly jumped over the lazy dog, and everyone saw it happen."

1 Find Verbs First

Find the verb first helps in identifying other parts of speech in the sentence. Look for action taking place in the sentence. Here the actions are "jumped" and "happen," so these are verbs. Beware of words that look like verbs but are other parts of speech. For example, in the phrase "a guiding light," "guiding" looks like a verb but is actually an adjective. Verbs show action or state of being and can change tense: "The fox jumps/is jumping/has jumped over the lazy dog."

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2 Find Adverbs Next

Adverbs describe or modify verbs. They answer the questions "How?" "Where?" and "When?" In the example sentence, the adverb describes how the fox jumped --"quickly." Many adverbs end in "-ly," so this is often a clue that a word is acting as an adverb in a sentence. But not all adverbs end in "-ly." Words that describe when something happened usually do not end in "-ly." For example, "The fox jumped over the dog yesterday." "Yesterday" is an adverb telling when the fox jumped.

3 Find Nouns, Pronouns and Adjectives Next

Nouns are persons, places, things or ideas. In the above example, the nouns are "fox" and "dog." These are animals or things. Since adjectives describe or modify nouns, it is logical to look for them after you've found the nouns in the sentence. Adjectives answer the questions "Which one?" "What kind?" "How many?" or "How Much?" In this case ask, "Which fox?" The answer is "brown." Ask, "What kind of dog?" and the answer is "lazy." These are adjectives. Special adjectives called "articles" are "a," "an" and "the." Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns mentioned elsewhere either within the sentence itself or in surrounding sentences. In our example sentence, "everyone" and "it" are pronouns.

4 Prepositions and Conjunctions

Prepositions and conjunctions connect words or groups of words. In the example sentence, the preposition "over" connects "dog" to the rest of the sentence. Notice that prepositions often tell where something is relative to something else. Conjunctions are fairly easily memorized, as there are only about 45, the most common being the coordinating conjunctions "and," "but," "or," "nor," "for" and "yet." The conjunction "and" appears in the example sentence.

5 Interjections

Interjections are among the easiest parts of speech to identify, as they frequently show strong emotion and are often followed by exclamation points. "Yikes! " is the interjection in the example sentence.

Diane Kampf has more than 20 years of teaching experience ranging from middle school to college freshmen. She holds a Master of Arts degree in creative writing and English literature and a New York State Secondary Teacher Certificate. She has written educational materials for Learning Express, LLC, Kaplan and Pearson.