Most common errors made in students' written work often involve incorrect word formation.
As we know, words can function as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, pronouns, prepositions or interjections. Students often confuse between noun, adjective, adverb and verb forms and information about these have been categorised below.
As many English words can have several forms, it is important to know the function of words in a sentence in order to use them correctly. A good quality dictionary will clearly show the various forms of a word and give examples of their use.
Common misunderstandings in parts of speech
Below are listed 7 of the most common mistakes that students display in their academic work related to word forms/parts of speech.
1. Noun/verb confusion
A noun defines or names something. A verb expresses an action, something that happens or occurs, or a mode of being. Some nouns and verbs share the same form (e.g. project, record), but usually they are different. Many nouns end in 'tion' or 'cion', 'ment' or 'ing'. Verb forms vary according mainly to person, number and tense; they can also be active or passive.
Q: Is the word in your writing talking about something/someone (a noun), or is it outlining an action of some sort (a verb)? This may help you decide whether the word form you need is a noun or verb.
2. Noun/adjective confusion
A noun defines or names something. An adjective qualifies or tells us more about a noun or pronoun: it can be regular, comparative or superlative. In a sentence, the qualifying adjective usually comes directly before the noun or noun phrase.
Q: Is the word in your writing talking about something/someone (a noun), or is it describing something or someone (an adjective)? This may help you decide whether the word form you need is a noun or an adjective.
3. Adjective/adverb confusion
An adjective is a word that qualifies or tells us more about a noun or pronoun. An adverb is a word that qualifies or tells us more about a verb (he studies diligently), or sometimes an adjective (an extremely expensive suit) or another adverb (she walked very slowly). Many adverbs end in 'ly'.
Q: Is the word in your writing describing something/someone (an adjective), or is it describing how something or someone is doing something (an adverb)? This may help you decide whether the word form you need is an adjective or an adverb.
4. Confusion with gerund or other noun forms
Nouns based on verbs can end in either 'ing' (the gerund) or another ending such as 'tion' or 'ment'. If there is an object in the sentence, the gerund form is usually correct.
Q: Is the word in your writing ending in '...ing' acting as a verb or a noun form? This may help you decide whether the word form you need is a gerund or a type of noun.
5. Confusion with different forms of the same root noun
Nouns may have different forms, usually with slightly different meanings, which can be confusing.
Q: Is the noun use in your writing correct or not? If you are not sure - perhaps ask a native speaker to see if the word in context is correct.
6. Confusion with the pronoun form
A pronoun is an identifying word used instead of a noun. Personal pronouns, in English, are ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he/she/it’, ‘we’, ‘you’ (plural), and ‘they’. Possessive pronouns are ‘my’, ‘your, ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘its’, ‘our’, ‘their’. Personal and possessive pronouns are sometimes confused. If a pronoun refers to a noun used previously, singular/plural agreement may be incorrect.
Q: Is the pronoun use in your writing correct or not? Is the pronoun possessive or simply identifying? If you are not sure - perhaps ask a native speaker to see if the word in context is correct.
7. Confusion with adjective form
adjectives ending in ‘-ed’ and ‘-ing’ can be confusing for students. Some adjectives are actually participles (verb forms with ‘-ing’ and ‘-ed’ endings).
Generally, the ‘-ed’ ending means that the noun so described has a passive role: you are confused by something (the subject matter, the way it is presented, etc.), whereas the 'ing' adjectives generally describe the quality of something.
The ‘-ed’ ending modifiers are often accompanied by prepositions and describe the human reaction to something e.g. I was excited by the lecture on human ethics last week..
The ‘-ing’ ending means that the noun described has a more active role.
Q: Is the adjective use in your writing correct or not? Ask yourself- what am I trying to describe? Should I be using an 'ed' or 'ing' ending? If you are not sure - perhaps ask a native speaker to see if the word in context is correct.
Adapted from: English Language Centre n.d., Parts of speech confusion (opens an external site), Hong Kong Polytechnic University, accessed 20 September 2012.