When naming things, you have to use a noun;
A verb shows action or a state of being.
An adjective describes—that is, marks down
The qualities of objects that you’re seeing.

An adverb tells you how, or else how soon
A deed is done—say, “painfully” or “fast.”
When placed with adjectives they help fine-tune
Descriptive force, like “absolutely gassed.”

A pronoun takes the place of proper names
Or else alludes to antecedent things.
A preposition points, and always frames
The noun or noun-linked phrase to which it clings.

A participle emanates from verbs
And functions as a hybrid in good diction.
It can take past or present form, and serves
To add a tense-based nuance to depiction.

Conjunctions tie together words and clauses;
They also can disjoin by act of scission.
Like plus and minus signs, they marshal forces
For union, separation, or division.

An article is just an honorific
You put before some nouns so we’ll discern
Whether your focus on them is specific
Or just a passing glance of unconcern.

An interjection is a mere effusion—
A word you blurt out from your guts or heart
In rage, joy, spite, emotional confusion…
It stands alone, syntactically apart.

These are the parts of speech that make up discourse,
At least for folks in literacy’s fold.
So if you’re hoping to get by in this course
Don’t give me any backtalk—learn them cold.


Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

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13 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    Fantastic, delightful, clever, witty, and many other adjectives to mark “down
    the qualities of objects” I just saw! I hope you are making your students memorize this, or that, at least, you are posting it in your classroom!

    “Don’t give me any backtalk—learn them cold.”– Perfect!

  2. Fr. Richard Libby

    I enjoyed this very much, Mr. Salemi, and I agree with Mrs. Foreman: students should have to learn this poem. If a student memorizes and understands this poem, there’s no reason for him not to do well in English class!

    • James A. Tweedie

      How I wish I had been fortunate to have had a teacher like Dr. Salemi. I am sorely tempted to move to the east coast and register for one of his classes at Hunter College. I learned more of grammar from this poem than I learned in all my years of education combined. A poem able to teach something as mundane as English grammar while managing to be entertaining is quite an accomplishment. The poem led me to consider how a student might respond to such instruction:

      What Came Next

      “Wow!” declared the student, interjecting.
      “Grammar has so many dots that need connecting.”
      “You mention dots,” replied the course professor.
      “Like diamonds on the crown of Edward the Confessor
      Iotas, jots and tittles frame the text
      And keep the reader from being overly perplexed.
      The smallest dots when properly employed
      Re-frame and shape the words so they can be enjoyed.
      They steer the reader to that sacred spot
      Where he or she can comprehend the author’s thought.
      Periods, commas, colons, and the rest
      Can give prosaic phrases literary zest.
      But if misused, one dot most miniscule
      Can earn an author well-deserved ridicule.
      A dash, quotation marks, parentheses
      Ellipsis, hyphens, and (of course) apostrophes
      Are often used, and useful when used fairly
      But exclamation marks should only be used rarely.
      So, if you want a world-class education,
      You first must learn to master proper punctuation.”

  3. C.B. Anderson

    I was going to ask for a follow-up poem about punctuation, but Mr. Tweedie anticipated me. Far too much poetry is infected with wrenched diction and improper punctuation, two things that should have been left behind in grammar school composition assignments. One thing that I admire about you, Joe, is that you always practice what you preach. And it’s pretty clear that you don’t believe in participation trophies.

    • Amy Foreman

      No participation trophies, but I’ll bet he gives out an occasional participle trophy! 😉

  4. David Watt

    I wish we had instruction this entertaining when I learnt English grammar!
    Deserving of a permanent place in the curriculum.

  5. James Sale

    There always seems to be with Joseph Salemi a certain clarity of thought that arises from his poetical disquisitions; which is impressive, as poetry can too easily (though sometimes, rightly) be ambiguous, and worse, incoherent. Here, truly, is someone who says what they mean and means what they say. Very good indeed.

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    Thank you all for your kind comments. They are deeply appreciated.


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