For many, these two words may have been the most troublesome four-letter words of their entire academic careers.
A noun, we are informed by our friends at Webster’s, is “a word used as a name of a person, quality, or thing….” Perhaps our teachers said that a noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. Some authorities add events or concepts to the list.
In general, there are three categories of nouns that name things: common, proper, or collective. Common nouns name people, places, and things. Examples might be, for people, “teacher,” or “physicist”; for places, “garden,” or “classroom”; for a thing, “computer,” or ” leash.”
Proper nouns are generally names of specific people, places, or things and are capitalized. Collective nouns refer to a single unit made up of various components – for example, “family,” or “majority.” If you are referring to a collective noun as a single entity, use a singular verb, e.g., “The family is….” If you are discussing members of the group acting individually, use a plural verb, e.g., “The majority were….”
There is of course always that quirky little thing about nouns. For example, is Harry a small businessman? Or is he a small business man? Oh well.
Let’s move on to the weightlifters of the English language: verbs. Verbs do the heavy lifting in a sentence. Without a verb, you cannot make a sentence. You may choose a verb that shows action, or one that does not. Perhaps your teacher said, “A verb is a word that shows either action, or state of being.”
Verbs can make a sentence come to life! Let’s choose wisely. For example, how many ways can you think of to say “went”? For starters, how about jogged, walked, ran, shuffled, stumbled, drove, flew, limped, cantered, hopped, climbed, perambulated? Does each one put a different picture in your mind?
Next time you sit down to read an exciting piece of fiction, notice the strong verbs, and how they move the story along, create excitement, and keep you reading – long after bedtime! Look for them, and notice how your favorite writer uses them.
If you’re a word lover too, think of an action word – a verb (there’s that four-letter word again!) and let your mind wander. How many ways can you think of to say that word, or express that meaning?
Finally, how about those “other” four-letter words: Think about the tone of your email or other business communication. Consider waiting a bit before emailing a “sensitive” message. Generally it’s best to avoid “venting,” vulgarity, or profanity in the business situation. Neither is business email the place for sarcasm, hostility, cynicism, or whining.