GMAT Grammar: Parts of Speech


Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - GMAT Grammar: Parts of Speech by Elaine Loh

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I promise you this will not be a diatribe directed towards the American school system, but I have to say that many of us were not taught proper grammar when we were in—ahem—grammar school. Many of us were also not taught how to make funny puns on blog posts. 😊

So, if you feel like you don’t know some GMAT grammar fundamentals, never fear! You are actually in the great majority of people. That being said, you will only be doing yourself a favor on the GMAT if you learn that grammar now. Plus, you can impress all your nerd friends. Today’s lesson is on parts of speech.

What are the main parts of speech?

There is actually a website dedicated solely to parts of speech. They say that there are eight parts of speech. For this blog, I only care about three of them. It is incredibly important to be able to identify nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Why is it important to be able to differentiate them? Well, it will come into play when you’re trying to do subject-verb agreement or parallel structure or core-vs-modifier… Knowing these parts of speech will help you in virtually all Sentence Correction strategies.


Nouns: person, place, or thing. That’s how most people define nouns. I would add that a “thing” can also be something intangible, like an idea or a concept.

Simple example: My cat is funny.

Here, the noun is cat. Done.

Harder example: My cat’s favorite pastime is meowing and to play with string.

Here, we have several nouns. The easier ones are cat, pastime, and string. But there’s one more. The word meowing is also being used as a noun!! What?? I thought meowing was a verb (more on verbs in a second). Remember when we said that a “thing” could also be something intangible? Well, that’s how I would define meowing. It’s not a “thing” we can touch, but it’s a concept or an idea. The grammatical term is that meowing is a gerund. A gerund is when a verb is used as a noun.

So, now we have to decide if this sentence is okay. I would argue that it’s not. Because if we think of parallel structure, then my cat has to have pastimes that are logically and grammatically comparable. Here, my cat likes to play (which is an infinitive verb) and meowing (which, as we just said, is a noun). That’s not okay!! So, just by knowing our parts of speech, we can eliminate this as a proper answer choice.


Verbs: action words or words that tell us a state of being.

Simple example: My cat is funny.

The word is is the verb here. This is an example of a state of being, what my cat “is”.

Harder example: My cat likes to play with string.

The main verb of the sentence is likes. Likes is an example of an action word. It is paired with the main subject of the sentence, cat. But, as mentioned earlier, to play is also a verb. We call this an infinitive. It’s a verb before it’s been conjugated. “To ______” is always the infinitive form. To run, to climb, to eat

Another quick rule to learn: -ing words (like fighting) can only be considered verbs if they are paired with a helping verb. For example, “My cat is fighting with the dog.” Now, is fighting is the action of the sentence, and so it is a verb.


Adjectives: provide extra information about nouns. We put adjectives under the general category of modifiers. Many things provide extra information, but adjectives only describe nouns.

Let’s stick with my hilarious cat.

Simple example: My cat is funny.

Funny is a descriptive word that gives us extra information about my cat. Therefore, it’s an adjective.

Harder example: My cat is funny, angry, and a monster.

What do you think? Is this sentence okay? Again, I would argue that it isn’t, based on parts of speech. Funny and angry both describe my cat. But a monster is a noun. While my cat might indeed be a monster, we can’t join two adjectives with a noun. It’s not parallel.

Other Parts of Speech

So, those are the three big parts of speech that I want you to know backwards and forwards for GMAT grammar. Of the other five listed on the parts of speech website I mentioned earlier, you should also be able to identify pronouns (particularly the Deadly 5), prepositions (those small words: in, on, of, to…), and conjunctions (the FANBOYS).

Will the GMAT actually ever ask you to identify these parts of speech? Of course not. But if you can speak about them knowledgeably and be able to identify them easily, then that means you have a greater chance of answering Sentence Correction questions correctly—and, you can come hang out with me and my comedic cat. 📝

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - Elaine Loh Bio ImageElaine Loh is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Brown University with a degree in psychology and a desire to teach others. She can’t get enough of standardized tests and has been a test prep tutor and teacher for over half her life. Check out Elaine’s upcoming GMAT courses here.

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