Definitions (page 3)

direct object

A direct object is a noun or pronoun following a transitive verb that answers the question what or whom.

He bought the farm.

What did he buy? Answer: the farm. The word farm is a noun, and it is the direct object of the transitive verb bought.

The speaker riled the audience.

Whom did the speaker rile? Answer: the audience. The word audience is a noun, and it is the direct object of the transitive verb riled.

The grocery store at 7th and Wine sells pawpaws.

What does the store sell? Answer: pawpaws. The word pawpaws is a noun, and it is the direct object of the transitive verb sells.


An expletive is a word that is useful and required for some sentences if the verb occurs before the subject. The expletive is not essential if the sentence is rearranged so that the subject occurs before the verb. Consider the following example.

There are many fish in the sea.

The expletive is the word there. If we rearrange the sentence placing the subject before the verb, it takes the following format.

Many fish are in the sea. (there ?)

The word fish is the subject of the sentence. The word are is the verb. The prepositional phrase in the sea conveys the location of the fish. The word many is an adjective that indicates the quantity of fish in the sea. That leaves the word there. Ordinarily, the word there is an adverb, but in the example sentence the adverbial function is assigned to the prepositional phrase. The word there in the example sentence is an expletive.

Expletive has a second definition. An expletive is an obscene word. Obscene language is unacceptable in most expository writing.


English nouns and pronouns may be neutral gender, feminine gender, or masculine gender. An author or speaker should establish gender agreement within a sentence. Example: The boy threw his cap into the air.

Where a statement could be either masculine or feminine, the English language has traditionally relied on masculine gender. Consider the following situation. A news story is breaking. A radio announcer, having only fragmentary information, makes the following statement. The police officer allegedly fired his weapon at the suspect. Assume the community has both male and female police officers. It has traditionally been acceptable to use the masculine gender if gender is not established. At the outset of the twenty-first century there is a widespread effort to employ the English language in a manner that credits gender accurately, that credits female members of society appropriately, or that relies on neuter gender.

Most English language nouns that represent physical objects are neuter. The computers are still in their original packing boxes. The noun, computer, is neuter gender and is accompanied by the neuter gender pronoun, their. Ships are inanimate objects without gender, but ships have traditionally been assigned feminine names. The luxury liner, Queen Elizabeth, sailed from her berth at 8 am this morning.

independent clause

A sentence has at least one independent clause. An independent clause has a subject and a verb and is a complete thought, therefore a complete sentence. A dependent clause, often called a subordinate clause, contains information and usually contains a subject and a verb, but it is not a sentence. The subordinate clause is dependent on the independent clause in the sentence. Go to sentence in the main directory for further explanation and examples.


An idiom is an expression whose meaning cannot be derived from the words used to compose the expression. Two examples are given below.

Your proposal is a pie in the sky idea.

A pie-in-the-sky idea is an unrealistic idea. We do not expect to see a dessert floating above the planet when we talk about a pie in the sky idea.

Garbage in-garbage out explains your difficulty.

The expression garbage in-garbage out evidently originated in the computer science field. The expression implies that entering erroneous data into a computer program will produce erroneous output from the program. The expression does not refer to waste food products or trash.

If we use erroneous numbers for a mathematical calculation, the result of the calculation will be erroneous.

If we use false assumptions in a decision making process, the decision will be flawed.

Thus, we have evolved the idiom garbage in, garbage out to express the phenomenon.

indirect object

A sentence that contains a direct object may also contain an indirect object. An indirect object is a noun or pronoun that follows a transitive verb and answers the question: for what? or for whom?

MacElbain Racing assigned him the Slick Oil Special.

MacElbain Racing assigned what? Answer: the Slick Oil Special. Slick Oil Special is the direct object. To whom did MacElbain Racing assign the Slick Oil Special? Answer: him. The pronoun him is the indirect object of the verb assigned.

Sam built Jennifer a trophy cabinet.

Sam built what? Answer: cabinet. The cabinet was built for whom? Answer: Jennifer. The word cabinet is the direct object of the verb built. The proper noun Jennifer is the indirect object, the person for whom the trophy cabinet was built.

He bought her a car.

What did he buy? Answer: car. The word car is the direct object of the verb bought. For whom did he buy the car? Answer: her. The pronoun her is the indirect object.


Spelling changes are used to alter the meaning of verbs, adjectives, and nouns. The process is called inflection. Pronoun forms can also be changed to alter meaning.

A verb may be inflected to indicate past tense.

kick (present tense)    kicked (past tense)

write (present tense)    wrote (past tense)

NOTE. Aspect and future tense are expressed with auxiliary verbs.

An adjective may be inflected to indicate degree.

new (positive or base)    newer (comparative)    newest (superlative)

A noun may be inflected to indicate number.

computer (singular)    computers (plural)

Go to adjective, noun, pronoun, or verb in the main directory for additional information.


An interrogative sentence is a question.

Who is the captain of the team?

Where is Easy Street?

Which group do you represent?

Is the coffee ready?

intransitive verb

An intransitive verb may convey a sense of state or a sense of action. However, an intransitive verb does not accept an object, i.e., a direct object or an indirect object. All verbs derived from the verb be are intransitive. Verbs that convey a sense of action are intransitive if the action describes how, when, or where.

I drove safely.

The verb drove is an action verb. The word safely is an adverb that describes how I drove. The verb is intransitive.

I arrived early.

NOTE. Ask the question: What did I drive? The answer, safely, does not make sense. Ask the question: What did I arrive? The answer, early, does not make sense. If the answer to the what question does make sense, the verb is employed in a transitive construction.

The ring is priceless.

The verb is derives from the (be) verb category. This verb category does not accept an object; therefore, the verb cannot be transitive.

Go also to linking verb for further identification of intransitive verbs.


Pronouns are classified as first person, second person, or third person. The verb employed in the sentence must be compatible with the pronoun.

first person pronouns

I, we

second person pronoun


third person pronouns

he, she, they, it

pronoun and verb compatibility examples

I go to school.

You go to school.

She goes to school.


The subject of a sentence is a word that represents a person, a place, or a thing. Nouns are words that represent people, places, or things. Pronouns are substitutes for nouns. The subject of a sentence may be compound; more than one person, place, or thing may be represented. The word thing as used in this explanation, includes both physical things and abstract ideas. Anything we can think of to talk about could be the subject of a sentence: dogs, cats, the Sistine Chapel, entropy, basketball, coffee, Thomas Jefferson.

Americans depend on automobiles.

In the sentence above, the word Americans is the subject of the sentence. The remainder of the sentence, the predicate, conveys some information about the subject.

transitive verb

A transitive verb conveys a sense of action. The transitive verb requires an object to convey a complete thought. Consider the following sentence.

I drove the automobile.

What did I drive? Answer: automobile. The automobile is the object I drove. The word automobile is the object of the verb drove. A transitive verb conveys a sense that the subject acts, and a transitive verb requires an object. The object of the action need not be a physical object.

The committee chose philosophy.

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