Parts of Speech
Like all teachers, you can use parts of speech perfectly in speaking. But do you sometimes come unstuck in trying to explain them to your students? Learners need to understand parts of speech, and they will certainly ask you lots of tricky questions about them. Prepare yourself with this short primer.
What are parts of speech?
Words can be classified by the grammatical function they perform in a sentence (the job they do). For example, and very simply, verbs are actions, nouns are things. Verbs are one part of speech, nouns are another. There are nine parts of speech and each one has its own job.
In the table below notice that the words in each column are interchangeable. If you change them you will change the meaning but you will still have a grammatical sentence.
Another term for part of speech is word class.
You will often read that “An adjective qualifies a noun” or “An adverb modifies a verb”. To qualify or to modify just means to add more information (to a part of speech in this case). For example, car is a noun and red is an adjective. If we say red car we have qualified the noun with an adjective. Now we know more about the car.
How many parts of speech are there?
Depending on the exact classification used, grammarians may consider there to be 8, 9 or even 10 parts of speech. Generally speaking, most textbooks and websites today work on the basis of 9 parts of speech, as shown below.
A verb expresses action or state:
- action – do, go, run, look after, rain, stop
- state or changing state – be, have, seem, become, develop
A noun is a person, place or thing:
- person – boy, woman, teacher, Donald, Mary
- place – home, office, city, jungle, Europe
- thing – desk, car, apple, money, music, love, monkey
A pronoun stands for (pro-) a noun. It takes the place of a noun so that we don’t have to endlessly repeat the noun. There are several types of pronoun, for example:
- personal pronoun – I, me, you, he, him, she…
- demonstrative pronoun – this, that, these, those
- possessive pronoun – mine, yours, his…
An adjective qualifies, modifies or tells us more about a noun or pronoun:
- adjective modifying noun before noun – a big dog, a dark sky, a boring film
- adjective modifying noun after verb – Your dog looks big. The sky became dark. Their film seemed boring.
- adjective modifying pronoun after verb – They were full. It seemed believable. Those are not cheap.
Most but not all adverbs end in -ly. An adverb can:
- qualify a verb – usually sleep, run quickly, work hard
- qualify an adjective – a very big dog, be strangely quiet
- qualify another adverb – very quickly, probably soon
A determiner is a word that introduces a noun. There are several kinds of determiner, for example:
- article determiner – a cup, an egg, the music
- demonstrative determiner – this idea, those animals
- possessive determiner – my house, your sister, its outcome…
A preposition usually come before (pre-) a noun or pronoun and relates that noun or pronoun to other words in the sentence. It typically describes something’s place in space or time, or the manner in which something is done, for example:
- preposition of place – inside the box, under it, over the shop
- preposition of time – in July, after Monday, at 10am
- preposition of manner – by email, without speaking, on foot
A conjunction joins words, phrases and clauses. There are two main types of conjunction:
coordinating conjunction – They ate bread and butter. The water was cold so she didn’t go swimming.
subordinating conjunction – Ram went swimming although it was cold. When he got home he had a shower.
An interjection or exclamation is a small word with no grammatical value that expresses emotion such as surprise, pleasure or anger. It is often followed by an exclamation mark (point) and may stand alone or be written into the sentence:
- interjection examples – Hey! Don’t be so lazy! Well, let’s think about it. Ouch! That hurts!
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