KISS Level 1.2. -
Adding Nouns, Pronouns, Adjectives,
Adverbs, and Phrases
In KISS Level 1.1, students learned to identify
the basic subjects and verbs that are the core of every sentence. In KISS
Level 1.2 exercises one (a ? b), two, three, and four enable students
identify nouns and pronouns and to see that the words that function
as subjects are called nouns or pronouns. These are basic identification
exercises. More advanced questions about pronouns are explored in Level
Once students can identify nouns and pronouns
(as well as verbs), Exercise five turns to the identification
of adjectives and adverbs. Most textbooks include the KISS functional
approach to teaching adjectives and adverbs — "adjectives modify nouns
and pronouns"; "adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs." But
the textbooks then focus on adverbs ending in "-ly," and/or explanations
that adjectives and adverbs have comparative ("better") and superlative
("best") forms. The textbooks then drop adjectives and adverbs and move
on to something else. In essence, students are taught the definitions,
but they are never taught how to identify adjectives and adverbs in real
texts. Thus the definitions are never used, and students forget them.
KISS reverses the typical textbook descriptions.
Instead of "adjectives modify nouns and pronouns," KISS phrases the idea
as "A word (or construction) that describes a noun or pronoun functions
as (and therefore is) an adjective." This may not seem to be a major difference,
but the normal textbook definition actually assumes that one knows what
an adjective is, and then it tells one what it does. The
KISS explanation, on the other hand, enables a person to look at a word
in a sentence and then determine that it is an adjective because it modifies
a noun or pronoun. Getting students to look at the question in this way
prepares them to be able to identify all the constructions that they will
learn that also function as adjectives -- prepositional phrases, clauses,
gerundives, and infinitives.
In learning to identify adjectives and adverbs,
students should learn the two basic rules and then do a few exercises based
on them, exercises in which they draw an arrow from the adjective or adverb
to the word modified. It will, however, become extremely boring and repetitive
if you have students continue to identify all the adjectives and adverbs
in everything they analyze. Once students become comfortable with the concepts,
you should probably stop requiring them to identify every adjective and
adverb in the texts they are analyzing. Obviously, students’ questions
about the function of a particular word should be addressed, but otherwise
the only exceptions to the preceding suggestion are 1.) exercises that
focus on the logic or style of adjectives and adverbs, and 2.) assessment
Exercise six introduces the concept
of phrases and explains that a noun phrase consists of a noun plus
the adjectives that modify it and a verb phrase consists of a verb plus
the adverbs that modify it. The instructional material for this exercise
also explains the related concepts of "modification" and "chunking."
The seventh exercise concerns the adjectival
function of possessive nouns and pronouns. (In part, this exercise shows
students that words like "its" and "their" function as adjectives, as opposed
to the subject/verb function of "it's" and "they're.") Textbooks disagree
on whether possessive nouns (Bill's) are nouns or adjectives and whether
possessives such as "his" and "her" are pronouns or adjectives. Some textbooks
do explain that grammarians disagree here, but the underlying problem is
the assumption that a word has to fit into one part of speech or another.
Many nouns, for example, also function as adjectives, and grammarians rarely
discuss them (town hall, garden tools, weather report).
There is, therefore, no reason why possessive nouns (Bill’s) cannot be
considered as possessive nouns and/or as adjectives.
The problem about ”his” and “her” is caused
in part by the misperception that there must be one (and only one) explanation
in any particular case. A look at why grammarians disagree may clarify
the problem and explain why students should be allowed to give alternative
explanations. In a sentence such as “That book is his,” some grammarians
will see “his” as a pronoun that functions as a predicate noun. Other grammarians
will see “his” as an adjective modifying an ellipsed “book.” Still others
will explain “his” as a predicate adjective. All three of these explanations
make sense, so by what right do teachers (or grammarians) claim that only
the one that they prefer is correct?
The next three exercises have a double function:
1.) reinforcing the identification of adjectives and adverbs, and 2.) extending
students' vocabulary, and thus writing style. They are most effective if
students share their answers in class. The eighth exercise asks
students to fill in the blanks with adjectives and/or adverbs. The
ninth and tenth exercises, which explain synonyms and antonyms, ask
students to think of synonyms (or antonyms) for a short list of adjectives,
and then to use the words in a short sentence.
A Note about Style
Some teachers instruct students to use
more adjectives and adverbs; others tell students to use fewer, and instead
to use nouns and verbs that are more descriptive. Stylistic exercises on
adjectives and adverbs are important, but they should be based on real
texts. Descriptive nouns and verbs are usually better than non-descriptive,
but the opposing “instruction” suggests that some teachers are attempting
to impose their own stylistics prejudices upon their students. A better
approach is to have students analyze short paragraphs in which writers
use numerous (or no) adjectives and/or adverbs. Discussion can focus on
the effects of the use (or lack of use) of adjectives and adverbs. By actually
teaching students how to identify adjectives and adverbs in real texts,
KISS enables students to make their own decisions about the use of adjectives
Exercises eleven (a and b) can be used
as simple identification exercises, but they are intended to be used as
exercises in the logic of adjectives and adverbs. If you use them as such,
and if you have used other texts that deal with the kinds of adjectives
and adverbs, you will probably note a problem. Many texts treat the kinds
(classes) of adjectives and adverbs as boxes into which an adjective or
an adverb can be dropped. For example, they present adverbs of time and
adverbs of degree, as if an adverb has to be one or the other. But in a
sentence such as "They never eat chocolate," "never" denotes degree in
time. Thus it can be seen as both an adverb of time and as an adverb of
degree. The more you study the logic of adjectives and adverbs, the more
you will probably agree that it is an extremely complex question.
That is, however, no reason for ignoring the
question, even with very young students. The foundation of the KISS Grammar
approach to logic is David Hume's argument that thought is a matter of
perception plus three categories of logical relationships -- identity,
extension in time or space, and cause/effect. (For more on this, see "An
Introduction to Syntax and the Logic of David Hume" in the Background
Essays.) Put somewhat differently, we can say that words denote
Hume's "perceptions," and the logical relationships denote the ways in
which adjectives and adverbs modify words. Thus, in "They searched everywhere,"
"everywhere" modifies "searched" in respect to space.
The logical relationships in KISS Level One
are limited basically to identity, extension in time or space, and adverbs
of manner. (For Hume, who uses an Aristotelian concept of "cause," "manner"
is a cause.) The reason for focusing on these is that weak young writers
often fail to include details of time, space, and manner. Bringing these
logical relationships to the students' attention may improve their writing.
The exercises on logic have a double function. For
one, they foreshadow (and thus prepare students for) the KISS exercises
on the logic of prepositional phrases, subordinate clauses, etc. (You will
probably find that logical details of time, space, cause/effect are more
frequently expressed in prepositional phrases than they are in simple adjectives
These exercises are also intended to apply
directly to the students' writing. Most textbooks tell students, for example,
that adjectives "add information" about the words they modify, but these
texts usually fail to point out that many adjectives "add information"
by limiting other possible interpretations. "They went to the brown house"
means that they did not go to the white house, the yellow house, or the
pink house with purple polka-dots. In other words, many adjectives restrict
the meaning of the nouns they modify -- they make the sentence more specific,
The preceding may seem too simplistic to need
teaching, but as a college writing instructor, I'll note that many college
Freshmen fail to notice the differences among:
Lawyers are greedy.
"Lawyers" implies "all," and the failure of many students to make these
distinctions may reflect a much more significant problem with current political
discourse. We have, for example, conservatives complaining about "liberals"
and liberals complaining about "conservatives" as if our political discourse
is a war between two monolithic sides. It is not, and to treat it as such
severely hampers rational political debate.
A few lawyers are greedy.
Some lawyers are greedy.
Many lawyers are greedy.
Most lawyers are greedy.
All lawyers are greedy.
On a less political note, some students frequently
write a topic sentence such as "The symbols in 'The Lost Phoebe' emphasize
the conflict of appearance vs. reality." That statement is simply not true.
"Some," "many," perhaps "most" may do so, but the implied "all" do not.
For many college instructors, a student's failure to make such distinctions
automatically results in a grade below "A."
The twelfth exercise is a "Passage for
Analysis." This should be as much an exercise in style as it is in analysis.
You can supplement this exercise in numerous ways. Select a short passage
from what your students are reading. Have your students select passages
(so that they know that you are not cooking the books). Perhaps best of
all, have your students analyze and discuss a short selection from something
that they themselves have written.
The preceding discussion assumes that the students
are beginning the KISS approach in primary or middle grades. In working
with college students, I may spend five minutes, in class, explaining what
adjectives and adverbs are, and then tell students that I will not expect
them to identify any of them. There simply is not sufficient instructional
and homework time to cover everything, and these students know that in
“the old man,” for example, “the” and “old” form a phrase with “man.” And
they know that in “He ran quickly,” “quickly” goes with “ran.” The concepts
("adjective" and "adverb"), however, appear when the students add prepositional
phrases, clauses and verbals to their analytical toolboxes. Basic work
on adjectives and adverbs makes the understanding of clauses and verbals
much easier for students, but until our schools adopt a systematic sequence
for the study of grammar, middle and high school teachers can only do so
The workbooks originally included additional
exercises. Among them were separate exercises on descriptive adjectives,
on adjectives of quantity, on comparative adjectives (and adverbs), on
sentence-combining, on sentence de-combining with adjectives, on sentence-building
with adjectives, and on sentence-building with adverbs. These can be found
in the on-line collection for KISS Level 1.2. In the
primary grades, spending three to six weeks (at two or three exercises
per week) on adjectives and adverbs may not be much of a problem. But if
you are starting in later grades, do you really want to devote that much
time to adjectives and adverbs? Do students really need exercises that
name the types of adjectives? Do they need to be taught how to create comparatives?
A Note about "A," "An," and "The"
Some textbooks use the term "articles" for
"a," "an," and "the," and consider them a separate part of speech. Some
modern linguists also consider these three words as a separate part of
speech and call them "determiners." A focus on these three words is important
for non-native speakers, but few if any native speakers have problems with
them. Traditional grammars make the distinction between the "definite article"
(the) and the "indefinite articles" (a and an.) I'm
not sure that these different labels add anything to native speakers'
understanding of English, so KISS simply considers them as adjectives.
in KISS Level 1.2
1 (a and b) - Identifying Nouns and Pronouns
| Because antecedents of pronouns are often
in a previous sentence, it may be a good idea to have exercises based on
texts rather than on individual sentences, but finding relatively simple
texts that include a variety of pronouns within a short passage is difficult.
Therefore, the (a) exericse is based on ten random sentences. The (b) exercise
is based on a short text.
# 4 - Replacing Nouns with Pronouns
# 6 (a and b) - Identifying Phrases
(Chunking and Modification)
|"a" is 10 numbered sentences; "b" is a short text
# 7 -
Possessive Nouns and Pronouns
Function as Adjectives
# 8 - Fill in the Blanks with Adjectives or Adverbs
# 9 - Adjectives (Synonyms)
# 10 - Adjectives (Antonyms)
# 12- A Passage for Analysis
Suggestions for Teaching
| In the KISS Analysis Keys, adjectives are
color-coded green; adverbs are blue. I received the following from Jessica,
a member of the KISS List:
I asked my 13-year-old, who had recently finished
the 2nd grade workbook, to explain the relationship among adjectives, adverbs,
subjects, verbs, and prepositional phrases. He explained it like a military
"In grammar, there are two sides: the green
guys - subjects - and the blue guys - verbs. Adjectives are loyal to the
green, adverbs are loyal to the blue. But some of them are double agents.
The complements are on the green side, since the subject's little dudes
– adjectives - are always with them. The prepositional phrases can go either
This really helped my other son who was struggling
with his grammar lesson, so I thought it might help someone else too.
with Adjectives and Adverbs
Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies
by Beatrix Potter