Are You Smart Enough to Help a 5th-Grader With Their Grammar Homework?

By: Torrance Grey

What exactly is grammar?

Sorry to those of you who chose "all of these" -- that's a common misconception. Spelling, vocabulary and pronunciation are all separate from grammar, which is about the different "parts of speech" (nouns, verbs, etc). and how they are used to structure sentences.

How many parts of speech are there?

There isn't complete agreement on this among grammarians. However, "eight" is a common answer (which is why we avoided making it a choice above, to avoid confusion). The commonly recognized eight parts are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions and interjections.

Which of these is an example of a noun?

Switzerland is what's known as a "proper noun." This means, a specific thing identified by its name, which is capitalized.

A noun is a word representing a person, ______, thing or idea.

If you're of a certain age, you were probably taught that a noun is a "person, place or thing." Later, educational curricula added "idea," evidently deciding that an "idea" was separate from a "thing."

Which of these is an example of a verb?

Nouns and verbs have a close relationship. All that's needed to create a sentence is a noun and a verb: "Jesus wept." They also trade places a lot: "I Xeroxed the documents," "I documented the behavior," and so on.

Which of these is an example of an adjective?

A tipoff here is the suffix "-ish," though maybe you didn't need a tipoff. Adjectives are fairly easy to define and identify compared to some other parts of speech.

The word "and" is a/an _____.

"And," "but" and "or" are perhaps the three most common conjunctions in English (and other languages). They connect things or ideas in a sentence, even when that connection is negative. "Or" is an example of the latter: "You can have strawberry or raspberry" (but not both).

Which of these is an example of a pronoun?

Pronouns are less-specific replacements for a noun. "Woman" might become "she" on a second reference. Or, in this case, someone might use the pronoun "who" when a more specific noun cannot be identified: "Who left the door open?"

The word "covertly" is a/an _____.

We made this one easy for you by using an "-ly" adverb, but not all adverbs end with that suffix. Not by a longshot, actually. Sometimes the way another part of speech is used makes it an adverb, like "tomorrow" in "We'll go to Utah tomorrow."

What is the opposite of a proper noun?

In other words, "city" is a common noun, while "Paramaribo" is a proper noun. If a pronoun is needed to stand in for either "city" or "Paramaribo," it would simply be "it."

The word "Ouch!" is a/an _____.

It's a tipoff that we capitalized it. Interjections are single words that can stand alone as sentences, like no other part of speech (usually) can. Interjections span from the long-used"Hey!" to the more modern "Preach!" and often, but not always, take an exclamation mark.

The word "toward" is a/an _____.

A preposition indicates location, position or direction. Some teachers use "Preposition Mountain" to teach this: toward the mountain, beside the mountain, on the mountain and so on.

Which of these is a possessive pronoun?

"Shen's" is not a possessive pronoun because it's not a pronoun, period. But "Shen's car" could become "his car" once Shen's identity is established. "His" is the possessive equivalent of the pronoun "he."

The thing the sentence is "about" is called its ____.

Every sentence must have a subject. Sometimes, though, it's implied. In "Get out of here!" the subject is the unwritten "you."

What is the opposite of the subject?

Sentences are roughly divided into subject and predicate. Don't be confused, though: you'll also hear the pairings of "subject and object" or "subject and verb."

An object is the "_______" of a verb.

We put this in quotes because it's a loose concept. An object is the thing that's being "done to." Like, "He kicked the ball": "ball" is the recipient of that action.

Objects can be ______ or ______.

In the example of "Joe kicked the ball," "ball" is a direct object. "Joe kicked the ball to Rafael" has an indirect object as well: "Rafael."

Identify the error: "The book, which I hadn't read, was missing it's front cover."

"It's" is short for "It is." "Its" is the plural pronoun. People confuse these because many nouns and pronouns do require an apostrophe to be possessive: e.g., "Barbara's book." However, in this case, "its" is the equivalent of "his" or "hers," neither of which take apostrophes.

In "Running is a great form of exercise," what part of speech is "Running"?

A present-participle verb used as a noun is called a gerund. Depending on the school, students learn this between 4th and 6th grades; it's a bit of a complicated concept.

Which of these is a suffix?

Suffixes are partial words attached to the end of a word to change the meaning. Here, it would change a verb tense, from "complete" to "completed."

The opposite of a suffix is a ______.

Example of a prefix are "sub-" and "non-". Sometimes they require hyphens, but often they do not. We just understand that "nonbinding" uses "non" as a prefix to mean "not."

"The dogs bury two bones last week" has a problem with ...

The phrase "dogs bury" would be correct in the present tense. But if it was last week, the verb should be "buried."

Which of these is a sentence fragment?

A fragment is just what it sounds like: part of a sentence, not a full one. Don't mistake an interjection like "Hey!" for a sentence fragment; it's a special case.

An adverb modifies a verb, adjective or _______.

You see this more often than you might realize. Consider the simple sentence: "The war was not so easily ended." Here, "easily" is the readily recognized adverb, but "so" is an adverb influencing "easily," and "not" an adverb modifying "so." It's like a nesting doll!

What is wrong with "We went to Hong Kong, we'd visited it before."

The simple addition of the word "because" would save this sentence from being a run-on. While it's good to use a noun first, as a referent, then a pronoun like "we," there's no grammatical rule mandating this.

Identify the error: "After landing in Hong Kong, the trip seemed like a dream come true."

The trip didn't land, the travelers did. A phrase like "After landing in Hong Kong" is a dangling modifier when it doesn't match the subject of the clause or sentence.

In the sentence "Thus breaks a mighty heart," what part of speech is "Thus"?

"Thus" means "in this way." That makes it an adverb, even without the telltale "-ly."

Identify the error: "With dogs -- as with people -- dietary indiscretions can lead to stomach upset."

It's true that the dashes aren't necessary; commas would work, and dashes are usually used for more abrupt digressions from the topic of the overall sentence. But there is nothing technically wrong here.

Identify the error: "The team are playing their season opener tonight."

American English uses what's known as the "collective noun." It treats a group, like a team, as a singular noun. British English considers a team as always plural, and so uses plural nouns.

Identify the error: "The best parts of the wedding was the toasts and the first dance."

This is a simple error in subject-verb agreement, made to look more complicated by the reversal of the subject and predicate. That is, we're more used to seeing "The toasts and the first dance were the best parts of the wedding," in which the two nouns coming first makes clearer that a plural verb is needed.

True or false: There are only three adjectives that end in "-ly."

Many people will identify "lovely," "timely" and "homely" as the lone three, but there are more, often meaning "in a ____ way." For example: manly or womanly, kingly or queenly, lordly and so on.

Identify the error: "I tell you, it's hotter in Austin than nearly anywhere else I've lived."

"I tell you" is an introductory phrase, and does not make the sentence a run-on. And, as we learn in a different example, "It's" is short for "It is."

True or false: An interjection can have more than one word.

Interjections often have several words, like "Son of a gun!" Or the favorite of every comic-book writer, "What the --?"

Identify the error: "While using the restroom, I found an expensive woman's purse."

Because of the word placement, it sounds like the woman is expensive, which isn't a possibility. (Or is it? Now we want to listen to "Gold Digger.")

Which of these verbs is an infinitive?

An infinitive is a verb in its "original" or unconjugated state. So when people refer to a verb as the word itself, they'll say, "the verb 'to fly'" instead of any of its other variations.

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About This Quiz

Grammar: the subject that makes strong grown men nervous (and probably strong grown women, too). No matter how much we've learned and how much we've achieved, deep down, a lot of us are worried that our grammar isn't up to par, and that we're being judged on it every day. 

The sad fact is, we probably are! It's OK not to know the "nomenclature" of grammar -- that is, the names for rules. No one will judge you for not knowing what a "phrasal adjective" is. But use one incorrectly in speech -- "While baking in the oven, we all agreed we were looking forward to eating the cake" --  and you'll look dumb in front of people you might want to impress. So where's a good place to start, if you want to check up on your grammar skills? With the basics, of course! That's why we've put together this fifth-grade-level quiz. We'll cover the parts of speech, how they're used, and some common grammar errors. Our quiz is a mix of straight-up questions, fill-in-the-blank, true/false and "identify the error." 

It doesn't matter if you have an actual elementary schooler to tutor or not -- everyone's welcome to take this basic quiz! No number-two pencil required, just a desire to brush up on your language skills!

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