Although we might not fully appreciate all the rules and exceptions, we still expect words to appear in a certain order in a sentence for its message to be meaningful. We have a good instinct for what is and what is not acceptable. If you are developing your understanding of word classes and conventions of English language, this exercise will help you focus on words and their function.
This task is also useful for improving your ability to dissect images in an unseen poetry examination because we are looking at how meaning is created through the syntagmatic relationship of words. Put simply, you can focus on how the writer’s message is conveyed through key words rather the entire sentence.
We are going to analyse a sequence of words in terms of their word classes, such as nouns, verbs and adjectives, by simply writing the category underneath each word. The following diagram is a good example of the process:
Although this approach to understanding communication might seem unusual at first, it is quite straightforward with some practice. The procedure is often called parsing or syntactical analysis. However, picking out the nouns and verbs is much easier than determining if a word is an adverb or a preposition. Even verbs and adjectives can look very similar so it is vital you consider the function of the word in the sentence.
Download our pupil worksheet and let’s get started.
Step One – Definitions
Before we begin, it might be useful to revise some key terms. Of course, you can ask your class for their definitions of the various word classes and they can share them on the board.
A noun is broadly defined as the name of a person, place or thing, and a verb is the action performed by that noun. An adjective helps to describe the noun and an adverb modifies verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. These are useful definitions because they reliably explain most sentences so we will use them as guides for this exercise.
Less well known are prepositions, conjunctions and articles, which we also need to consider. Prepositions help clarify the relationship between different people, places or things by defining the space and time, conjunctions are used to link different parts of the sentence, and articles help identify the noun.
Finally, auxiliary verbs help shape the meaning of the main verb by modifying his tense and modality.
These are the abbreviations you can use in this task:
|Part of Speech||Code||Part of Speech||Code|
Step Three – Analysis
You are going to identity the parts of speech used in the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill”. Of course, if you are not too sure about a word’s function, you can leave it blank and go on to the next one. Knowing the relationship between words can help you decide their word class. The first line of this exercise is done for you:
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Up Jack got and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper;
And went to bed and bound his head
With vinegar and brown paper.
Extension Activity (1)
Demonstrate your syntactical analysis skills by labeling the following nursery rhyme:
Incy wincy spider
climbed up the water spout,
Down came the rain
and washed poor Incy out,
Out came the sunshine
and dried up all the rain,
and Incy Wincy spider
climbed up the spout again.
Extension Activity (2)
If you think you have mastered parsing and you have a detailed understanding of word class, especially if you are an older student, try analysing the opening verse to Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est”:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Step Four – Check Your Answers
You can check the accuracy of your responses by downloading our suggested answer sheet.