Friday, November 7, 2008

*Borrowed from

Principal Parts of a Verb

Verbs are usually identified by their four principal parts: the infinitive, the present participle, the past tense form, and the past participle. The infinitive is considered the "base form" of the verb because it serves as the stem for other forms of the verb. In English, the infinitive is constructed with the preposition "to" followed by the base form of the verb (a verb without the "to" is sometimes called the "bare infinitive"). If a verb is a phrasal verb, which means it takes a preposition afterwards, the preposition is also included in the infinitive.

infinitives: to make, to be, to speak out

The present participle is created by adding "-ing" to the stem or base form. The present participle is also sometimes called the "active" or "progressive" participle. Because the present participle is almost always formed in the same way, by adding "-ing" to the base form, some manuals will omit the present participle as a principal part.

present participles: making, being, speaking out

The past tense form is the form the verb takes in the third person singular. Some verbs follow a pattern in the past tense by adding "-ed" to the base form; these are called weak verbs. Other verbs do not follow a pattern and actually change by modifying the spelling of the base form; these are called strong verbs.

past tense forms: made, was, spoke out

The past participle is usually the same as the past tense form, except with some strong verbs. In contrast to the present participle, which only has active uses, the past participle has both active and passive uses. It has a variety of functions in English, but the most familiar uses are in forming the passive voice and in modifying a noun.

past participles: made, been, spoken

Passive voice: The document was signed yesterday.

Modifier: The signed document appeared on my desk yesterday.


So why should you learn the four principal parts? The principal parts can help you with particularly tricky verbs like "lay" and "lie." They can also aid in the reivising process. If, for example, your instructor remarks that you overuse the passive voice in your writing, a little knowledge about past participles and their functions may help you to recognize problem areas in your paper.

Open Questions

  • What are some noteworthy exceptions to the four principal parts schema?

  • Are there verbs that do not quite fit this pattern? Why? (of course there are, but that is for another post!)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Paired Conjunctions and Transitional Phrases

Dear Purdue or UniSA Grammar staff or students,

Can you explain what 'paired conjunctions' and 'transitional phrases' are for a teaching colleague in Singapore, please?

We are looking for an explanation, examples and resources.

Many thanks


Transitional devices connect bits of information (large or small) in different ways. To borrow from Purdue's OWL, transitional devices work like bridges, linking together various objects, ideas, paragraphs, or even whole parts of a paper. I use the phrase "linking together" quite loosely, because some transitional devices, such as "whereas" or "in contrast," highlight the fact that the items are completely different from or even opposed to each other. The OWL has an excellent list of transitional devices, which are categorized according to function.

There is one note of caution: it is possible to overuse transitional devices. If every sentence of a paragraph begins with a transitional device, it will become a distraction for the reader. Reading a paper with too many transitional devices is sort of like trying to fall asleep while a buzzer goes off intermittently. Eventually you stop focusing on sleeping and instead just wait for the next sound. As with many grammar principles, moderation is key. Use transitional devices to strengthen your argument or increase the paper's flow rather than to show off or take up space.

It is also worth noting that sometimes the lack of a transitional device can actually strengthen the link between the items. Here is an example.

With transitional device
Global warming is a worldwide problem, but although this may be true,
few communities seek to address it collectively.

Without transitional device
Global warming is a worldwide problem; few communities seek to address it collectively.

Paired conjunctions show equality between two items, which again is not necessarily positive (a=b). Like the name implies, paired conjunctions are specific groupings of words that generally frame an entire sentence. Our anonymous poster gave an excellent list in the comments section, so I will reproduce his/her list on the main blog (many thanks!).

both ..... and
not only.... but also
either ... or
neither ... nor
just as ... so (do)

When using a paired conjunction, the main grammatical principle to keep in mind is parallel structure. Parallel structure basically means that all items in a series (2 items make a series!) must be grammatically similar. This is especially true with paired conjunctions. For example, if a subject and a verb follow "not only," they should also follow "but also."

Not only does he write his papers at 3:00 am, but he also studies for exams at that time.

The OWL has a more in-depth discussion of parallel structure at the following link: