What is a Paragraph?

What is a Paragraph?

What is a paragraph? When is a paragraph too long? When is it too short? How should one paragraph link to the others in a piece of writing? These are all good questions because, when writing a research paper, an essay, a letter, or any other prose composition, utilizing correct paragraphing skills is important.

Briefly stated, a paragraph is a group of sentences that are all about one specific idea. This paragraph, for instance, deals with the definition of a paragraph. There is no set length for a paragraph, but, generally, three full sentences is considered the minimum, and half a page is considered the maximum.

A paragraph should begin with a topic sentence, that is, a sentence which addresses the subject of the paragraph. It may, as in the first paragraph in this essay, begin with a question. The other sentences in the paragraph should supply information that helps to explain the topic.

Sometimes it is easy to determine when to end a pargraph and when to start a new one—because you have moved from one topic to another. At other times, it may not be clear. You may have, for instance, written a large number of sentences (let’s say more than twelve, or more than 200 words) about a specific topic. At that point, you may need to ask the question Is this paragraph too long? As has been stated, there is no limit in terms of the number of sentences in a paragraph, but, when a paragraph takes up about half of a page or when it looks like it is too long, then it may be too long. Of course, if, upon reading the paragraph, you find that the topic has shifted slightly, that is a good place at which to divide it. For instance, if the topic sentence is about how popular cell phones have become in the last decade, and, after a number of sentences in which you explain that many people use them now and how they are seen and heard everywhere, you realize that the topic has shifted to how people can use them as cameras and for text messaging, that may the point at which to begin a new paragraph. The new paragraph will be about alternate uses of cell phones.

Besides knowing when to end a paragraph and when to start a new one, you should also develop smooth transitions between paragraphs. Sometimes this is easy. Phrases such as “In addition to…” or “Conversely….” or “Despite….” are obvious transitional phrases. However, it is not necessary to use a transitional phrase to link a new paragraph to the previous one. Simply repeating a key word that had been used in the previous paragraph works just as well. In this essay, using the word “paragraph” or the phrase “good writing skill” helps in terms of linking paragraphs. Besides that, simply writing a topic sentence which spells out that the new paragraph is about an issue that relates to the previous one is an efficient way of creating a transition. An example of that, in that same essay about cell phones, would be the following topic sentence: “One of the problems that is associated with this electronic phenomenon is the sound of phones ringing during a movie or concert or other entertainment event.”

Good paragraphing is not a science, but it is a skill that is important in terms of good writing. To sum up, a paragraph is a group of sentences that all refer to the topic sentence. A paragraph is generally at least three sentences long, and should not, if at all possible, exceed half of a page. Transitions between paragraphs lend a fluid smoothness to the finished essay.

Like many other writing skills, understanding the basics is the first step in terms of mastery. Writing with care and then proofreading what you have written is a fine way in which to improve all writing skills, including paragraphing. After a period of time, you will find that writing solid paragraphs which link to the others in a piece of writing has become routine.

Which Part Are You?

Which Part Are You?

One of the basics in terms of English skills involves recognizing parts of speech. There are four major parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and three less important ones: prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Understanding these parts of speech will help you to write better sentences and, consequently, better essays, academic papers, letters, and other types of formal writing.

Nouns: Nouns name persons, places, things, or ideas. Before I explain more about what nouns are, it is important to distinguish between proper nouns and common nouns. Proper nouns name specific persons, places, and things. Some people denote a fourth category of nouns, ideas, such as love, happiness, thoughts, and peace, but, for the sake of simplicity, in this essay, ideas are included in the thing category. Common nouns name non-specific persons, places, and things. The chart below illustrates that:

Proper Nouns Common Nouns
Person nouns Person nouns
President Bush president
Mrs. Abbot woman
Dr. Thomas doctor
Lucille girl
Place nouns Place nouns
Chicago city
Madison Avenue street
Central Park park
The Empire State Building building
Thing nouns Thing nouns
Pacific Ocean ocean
Chevrolet car
Communism political philosophy
January month

Notice that all proper nouns begin with capital letters; common nouns do not, unless, of course, they are at the beginnings of sentences or are parts of titles.

There is a type of common noun called the pronoun. Pronouns are used instead of repeating a noun in a sentence or a paragraph. The following are pronouns: I, he, she, it, you, they, we, who, my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, whose, me, him, her, us, them. Pronouns are separated into categories, and are used for different purposes in sentences, but that concept will be explained at another time. For the time being, let us concentrate on what pronouns are and when they are used. Pronouns are, as stated above, all common, meaning that, even though they might be used as substitutes for proper nouns, they are not capitalized. The following rule is essential: Use a pronoun only after the noun that it is to be used in place of has been used. Look at the examples below:

  • When we saw Donald Trump walking down the street, we ran to him.
  • Ralph, Larry, and Dean walked back to their office.

In each of those sentences, the meaning of the pronoun is clear because the noun that each of them replaced had been used first.

The next sentence is one in which a pronoun is used without the noun which it is replacing having been used first:

All of the students applauded when he announced that they had all passed the test.

The use of the pronoun he is confusing because it is used without a regular noun having been used first. In that sentence, he could mean the teacher, the principal, the football coach, Mr. Smith, or any other male person. On the other hand, the pronoun they clearly refers to the students.

Verbs: Verbs are words that indicate an action or a state of being. Some action verbs are run, jump, write, fly, think, and sleep. Even though you might not think of sleeping as an action, it is still an action verb. Some of the verbs that express a state of being are is, be, am, and become.

You may have noticed that many words can be expressed as nouns and as verbs. Here are some examples:

  • I don’t want to fight with you. (verb)
  • We saw a great fight last night. (noun)
  • I love to watch my dog jump. (verb)
  • Did you see that fantastic jump? (noun)

The following are examples of sentences which contain state of being verbs;

  • My boss is a real tyrant.
  • I am very happy.
  • She became my best friend.

Adjectives: Adjectives are words that describe nouns. The best way of understanding how to identify and use adjectives is to look at the examples below. The italicized words are adjectives:

  • That is a beautiful flower.
  • We saw a funny, exciting, movie last night.
  • A cute, small brown dog ran down the street.

Adverbs: Adverbs are words that are used to describe or modify the meanings of verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

Look at these sentences in which adverbs are used:

  • Put the towels outside to dry. Outside is used to modify the verb put.
  • She is always hungry. Always is used to modify the adjective hungry.
  • The mayor is very suspicious of everyone else. Very is used to modify the adjective suspicious.
  • The boy ran quickly. Quickly is used to modify the verb ran.

Prepositions: They are words that link nouns, pronouns, or phrases to some other part of the sentence. Here are some examples of prepositions in sentences:

  • The boy walked into the room.
  • He is a friend of mine.
  • We all ran to her.
  • We grabbed the popcorn with our fingers.

Conjunctions: Conjunctions join words, phrases, or clauses. Look at the following examples:

  • My favorite meal is scrambled eggs and toast.
  • Would you like to go to the movies or would you like to stay home and watch television?
  • We would have been late, but we caught the bus on time.

Interjections: Interjections are words that express emotion. Look at the examples below:

  • Oh, I didn’t buy anything for your birthday!
  • Hey, let go of my leg!
  • Ouch, that stove is hot!

Those are the basics of parts of speech. Try to notice parts of speech as you read. After a while, you will easily be able to identify nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.