Do You Write Like You Talk?

“Ma, do you know where my favorite shoes are at,” was a common question I’d ask my mother when I was growing up and leaving my shoes and books and clothes all over the house instead of putting things in my room where they were supposed to go.

“Behind that preposition ‘at’,” she’d say to me.

Of course, at nine years of age I had no idea what she was talking about. My mother, the high school teacher, was trying to give me an English lesson, and I just wanted to find out where I’d left my shoes.

“Why do you always say that when I ask you something?!?!” I finally wanted to know one day, after hearing her say this over and over and over again, and being no closer to finding my shoes or favorite hat or library book.

“NAPPIVAC,” she said to me with a smile. At first, I thought she was talking about my hair.

“What?” I asked as I patted my head.

After she stopped laughing at me, she finally introduced me to the eight parts of speech.

“NAPPIVAC is a way to remember the eight parts of speech. Words come in eight flavors: nouns, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, interjections, verbs, adverbs and conjunctions,” she told me.

“Uh, OK,” I said standing there in my socks and wondering if I needed to do something to my hair.

“Come here, girl,” she said and motioned me over to the kitchen table. She put a piece of paper in front of me.

“If you talk like that, you’ll write like that. If you write like that, you’ll probably get poor grades in English. If you get poor grades in English, you’ll definitely get grounded.” She wasn’t smiling when she said the last part. She then made me write the same sentence eight times: Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them.

Momma started with nouns. “Nouns are people, places or things,” she told me. She underlined the word shoes in the first sentence on the page: Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them. “Shoes are things. The noun in this sentence is shoes.”

She then moved on to adjectives. “Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns,” she said. She underlined the word favorite in the second sentence: Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them. “Favorite describes the kind of shoes they are to you, so the adjective is favorite.”

Pronouns were next on my mother’s list. “Pronouns replace nouns,” Momma said. She underlined the word them in the third sentence: Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them. “Them is used in place of the word shoes. The pronoun in this sentence is them.”

She finally got to prepositions; the reason this whole discussion started in the first place. “Prepositions show a relationship between two nouns,” she said. She underlined the word at in the fourth sentence: Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them. “At is used to show a relationship between shoes and door. The preposition in this sentence is at.”

Interjections were next. “Interjections are words that show emotion or exclamation, but they don’t have any real connection to other words in your sentence,” Momma told me. She underlined the word oh in the fifth sentence: Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them. “Oh doesn’t have any real connection to the other words in the sentence, but it’s used to show a little emotion. The interjection in this sentence is oh.

Verbs came next. “Verbs are action words,” Momma said. She underlined the word left in the sixth sentence: Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them. “Left is the action you did when you took off your shoes. The verb in this sentence is left.”

Adverbs were on the list after verbs. “Adverbs describe or modify verbs,” I was told by my mother. She underlined the word hastily in the seventh sentence: Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them. “Hastily describes how you left your shoes. The adverb in this sentence is hastily.

Conjunctions were the last thing on the list. “Conjunctions connect words, phrases, clauses and sentences,” Momma told me. She underlined the word and in the eighth sentence. Oh, you hastily left your favorite shoes at the back door when you came in from playing, and that’s why you can’t find them. “And joins the first part of the sentence to the second part of the sentence. The conjunction in this sentence is and.”

“NAPPIVAC. I get it,” I told my mother. She had me sit there for another 20 minutes and go over each part of speech two more times. Once I was done, she wrote more sentences and asked me to pick out the different parts of speech as she pointed to different words. I felt like a big girl, learning such an important lesson at the age of nine, and my mother was full of praise over my ability to catch on so quickly.

“This is information I teach my high school students,” she told me. “You’re going to do great in English if you remember and practice the eight parts of speech. Just remember NAPPIVAC.”

“I’ll remember,” I told her with pride. However, I still had one question.

“Ma?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Now that I know the correct way to ask, will you please tell me where I can find my shoes?”

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