Grammar Guide : The Parts of Speech (Words and what they do)

Updated: Jan 12

Articles / Determiners / Nouns / Pronouns / Verbs / Adjectives / Adverbs / Comparatives / Superlatives / Conjunctions / Prepositions / Interjections


Introduction


Language is made of words, so far so good. It is vital to understand what these different words do, so here is a handy guide to the fundamental parts of English speech, the words.


It is widely understood that English words can be divided into eight distinct types:


nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections.


There is a poem that used to be very popular in helping school children remember these different types:


Every name is called a noun,

As field and fountain, street and town;


In place of noun the pronoun stands,

As he and she can clap their hands;


The adjective describes a thing,

As magic wand or bridal ring;


Most verbs mean action, something done,

To read and write, to jump, to run;


How things are done the adverbs tell,

As quickly, slowly, badly, well;


The preposition shows relation,

As in the street or at the station;


Conjunctions join, in many ways,

Sentences, words, or phrase and phrase;


The interjection cries out, “Hark!

I need an exclamation mark!”


Through poetry, we learn how each

of these make up the parts of speech.


This does not include "the little words" such as a, an and the called articles or determiners.


Words in action


Young Ben cried loudly, “Ouch! I stubbed my toe and scuffed my knee.”


The sentence above contains all the different types of words in English.


Articles


An article is one thing in a group of things. The words known as articles are a, an and the.


A and an are called indefinite articles because they describe nouns in general. The refers to a specific noun and is known as the definite article.


Determiners


Articles are in fact a subdivision of a class of words referred to as Determiners, which covers possessive adjectives, quantifiers & demonstratives.


Possessive adjectives - my, his, her, its, our, your, their these words are used to clarify what belongs to, or is related to, someone or something else.


Quantifiers - much, many, most, no, none of, either, neither, any, both, few, little, half, etc. Some of these words can be used as other parts of speech but in this case they are used in front of a noun to tell us the quantity of something.


Demonstratives - this/that, these/those (can also be used as demonstrative pronouns) when placed in front of the noun and are used to clarify whether items are near (this, these) or far (that, those). This may refer to space or time.


Nouns


There are different types of nouns, but they are all basically the same thing, names we give things, ideas and people. Nouns can be countable or uncountable.


Common nouns can be divided into Physical things, people, places and animals and Abstract concepts such as ideas, emotions and philosophies.


Proper nouns are the specific name given to individuals, animals, places or things. They are usually written with a capital letter.


Compound nouns are made of more than word, usually (but not always) two nouns or a noun and an adjective to give a new meaning that is different to the words when separate.


Collective nouns refer to groups of individuals or a number of individuals and some wonderful and enjoyable collective nouns are used to describe groups of animals and this habit extends to some imaginative and evocative collective nouns for groups of people.


Pronouns


Pronouns are the words we use to avoid repeating nouns. There are different types depending on the function they perform.


Pronouns can be classified in various ways:


Subject pronouns - I, you, he, she, it, we, they : personal pronouns used as the subject of a verb.


Object pronouns - me, you, him, her, it, us, them: personal pronouns used as the object of a verb.


Relative pronouns - who, what, whom, that, whose, which are used to introduce a relative clauses.


Reflexive pronouns - myself, oneself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves : These are used when the subject and object of the verb are the same noun.


Possessive pronouns - mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs: these indicate possession or ownership.


Reciprocal pronouns - each other and one another: used when two or more people are in a mutual activity of benefit together.


Demonstrative pronouns - this, that, these, those: These words replace a noun or noun phrase, activity or situation. Their meaning is specific to context.


Indefinite pronouns - another, any, everybody, everyone, nobody, nothing, someone, somebody : when we do not want or are unable to specify who or what we are talking about


Interrogative pronouns - take the place of a noun in a question


Verbs


Verbs are often described as doing words, but there are also verbs that describe a state of being. These two types of verbs are often described as Dynamic (doing) and Stative (feeling) verbs.


Verbs are the engine of the grammar car and understanding how these words work is vital to developing your grammar.


Adjectives


These words are widely understood as "describing" words. They provide more information on the colour, material, size, quantity and so on of a noun or pronoun.


Adverbs


Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs, they answer questions such as how, where, when, how much and how often?


Comparatives


Words that we use to compare two ideas, things or people. These maybe adjectives or adverbs.


Superlatives


These are adjectives or adverbs that are used to describe the most extreme quality or standard. The best, the worst, the smallest or largest of a series of things.


Conjunctions


These words join two words, phrases, clauses or sentences together.


There are four types:


Co-ordinating conjunctions : join clauses or sentences of equal importance. They can be remembered by using the mnemonic FANBOYS -


For

And

Nor

But

Or

Yet

So


I like Tottenham. He likes Arsenal - I like Tottenham and he likes Arsenal


Subordinating conjunctions : link a main clause to a subordinate clause


I feel refreshed because I had a cold shower this morning


Correlative conjunctions : are used in combination with other conjunctions


My daughter likes not only dancing but also singing.


Compound conjunctions : Conjunctions that are phrases themselves


I will be happy to go to the party as long as I can wear my kilt

Prepositions


These words are placed in front of nouns and pronouns. They show where things are in relation to each other.


There are different ways to categorise prepositions, but most language learners will be familiar with them described in the following way:


Prepositions of place - in, on, at


Prepositions of time - in, on, at


Prepositions of direction - towards, to, through, into


Prepositions of agent or instrument - by, with, on


Interjections


Interjections are used to express emotion and are followed by an exclamation mark! They are not linked to the rest of a sentence in a grammar sense.


Damn! Bah! Good Lord! Heavens above! D'oh! Fuck Sake!




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