Do you want to learn about parts of speech? Have you been wondering what they are and how they can help you with your writing? If so, you've come to the right place. In this article, you'll learn the basics about the 12 parts of speech and how to use them.
'Parts of speech' is a term that refers to the classification of words based on their function in sentences. They are also known as 'word classes' and are a foundation of grammar as we know it.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
As mentioned in the introduction, 'parts of speech' is a term used to categorize the different words you can use in your speech (and, of course, your writing). Having a name for each type of word helps us understand its function and where it should be placed in a sentence.
Depending on where you look, you might see eight parts of speech, nine parts of speech, or even more. We've got twelve (we wanted to make sure we covered all bases!):
Depending on the situation, the same word can take on a different function, i.e., belong to a different part of speech. For example, 'exit' can be both a noun and a verb. Watch out because the part of speech a word falls under determines its meaning. The noun 'exit' refers to the spot where you leave a location. 'Exit' as a verb is the act of leaving.
Nouns are naming terms that refer to a person, place, or thing. Although you can build a sentence without one, you'll find a noun in most sentences. They can be a single word or take on the form of a phrase (noun phrase) or a clause (noun clause).
Here are some examples of nouns (underlined) in a sentence:
I'm going to take some notes at the meeting today.
Are giraffes the tallest animal?
I'm moving to New York.
That last example is a proper noun, which means it names a thing and should be capitalized.
There are also compound nouns:
I'm making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
And gerund nouns:
Playing football is my favorite passtime.
As well as possessive nouns:
Look out for the dog's bone.
You might notice that the word 'pronoun' sounds like the word 'noun,' only with the prefix 'pro' in front of it. To which I'd say, well observed! Pronouns are actually the noun's cousins. They step in for them when they need help. Or maybe that makes them their best friend. You decide!
In all seriousness, pronouns serve to avoid repetition. So if you've already used a noun once or shock horror twice, you probably want to avoid repeating it once more. That's where the pronoun comes in.
Allow me to demonstrate with the following sentence.
My sister called me last night and I haven't heard from my sister since.
My sister called me last night and I haven't heard from her since.
Which sentence sounds better to you? I know which one I'd rather hear.
So yes, pronouns are super handy when it comes to making your sentences sound better. And the thing is, there are so many of them that you're sure to find what you're looking for. If you want to find out about the different kinds of pronouns and just learn more about them in general, check out our pronouns article. You'll love it. The pronouns article, that is. But I didn't have to repeat it because you knew that's what I meant when I used the pronoun 'it,' didn't you?
Verbs are the doers in your sentence. Or at least, that's the reputation that precedes them. But that's not always the case. They can also be pretty passive and chilled out. Let's set the record straight about verbs.
They can describe:
In that sense, all verbs fall under dynamic and static categories. Oh, and some verbs can be both.
Verbs are the main part of the predicate, and they tell us what the subject is doing. Or, as I like to say, what the subject is 'verbing,' since that's more inclusive of the different functions verbs perform.
Here are some sentences where I've underlined the verb:
I'll write it in my diary so I don't forget.
She doesn't understand what's it like to be an outcast.
This cake tastes delicious! Do you want to try it?
One of the coolest things about verbs (in my humble opinion) is that they can be conjugated into all sorts of tenses, and the tense tells you when the thing happened. That's right; just from looking at the verb, you can get information about whether it happened in the past, present, or future, whether it's an ongoing thing or if it already ended, and if it's likely to continue into the future, and so on.
I have started writing a book. (you started recently)
I will start writing a book. (you haven't started yet)
I am starting to write a book. (you are starting now)
I had started to write a book. (you were writing a book at some point in the past but have stopped now)
I had been about to start writing a book... (that's what you were doing when something else happened)
To learn more about verbs and tenses, check out this article.
Adjectives are never essential in a sentence, so if you want to check if something is an adjective, try removing it and seeing if the sentence still makes sense. Having said that, you still want to use adjectives in your writing because they provide additional information that might be important for the reader to know.
In its simplest form, an adjective describes a noun. But it's a little more complex than that. Adjectives can describe, show possession, compare, identify, quantify, and so much more. If you want to learn about all the ways adjectives are useful, check out this article.
In the meantime, here are some example sentences with adjectives (underlined):
Is this friend the one you were telling me about?
You're so much taller than everyone else.
I can't find my car keys.
In short, adverbs modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Sometimes even an entire sentence.
Here are the categories you'll most commonly find linked to adverbs that modify verbs:
Click here to learn about adverbs in more depth.
Prepositions are a group of small words placed before the words they relate to.
The different functions of a preposition are:
So as you can see, they have some similarities with adverbs, but adverbs modify verbs, whereas prepositions are more likely to modify nouns or pronouns.
Here are some sentence examples with prepositions:
I've been waiting here since 9am.
My dog likes to sleep under my bed.
We love walking through the snowy fields in winter.
He's heading over with Harry now.
To learn more about prepositions, it's here.
Conjunctions link words together to make sentences flow more seamlessly. There are coordinating conjunctions (connecting two same parts of speech together), subordinating conjunctions (connecting a dependent clause with an independent clause), and correlative conjunctions (they come in pairs).
Here are some examples of conjunctions in a sentence:
I don't get her; she's so hot and cold.
You can't go in unless you present ID.
He is both talented and driven.
This article covers everything you need to know about conjunctions.
You can use interjections to express surprise, excitement, disgust, confusion, or other feelings. Many interjections aren't real words but just sounds (primary interjections); some are actual words (secondary interjections).
They aren't considered complete sentences but can stand alone, especially if you're writing dialogue.
Yikes, that's a steep hill.
Good Lord, you don't look well.
Yippee! Today's D-day!
Here's an article where you can learn everything you need to know about interjections.
There are three articles in the English language:
'A' and 'an' are indefinite articles because you use them with a non-specific noun, while 'the' is a definite article because it makes it clear that you are talking about a specific thing.
Here's an example using each one:
I need a drink.
Could you sign an autograph?
Pass the salt please.
If you'd like to learn all about articles and how to use them properly, check out this article.
Adjuncts are words or groups of words that aren't necessary to the sentence's meaning. Therefore, they could be removed. However, having them in the sentence provides additional information that can be handy to have.
See the adjuncts underlined in the following sentences:
She soon realized she was wrong.
I keep all my receipts in a folder on my desk.
Since it's casual Friday you can wear your civilian clothes.
Numerals indicate a number and talk about amounts. They're basically numbers but spelled out. There are cardinal, ordinal, and nominal numbers as the main categories, but there are others, too.
The store has forty branches in the U.S. alone.
She came in fifth position.
We live at zip code 02116.
Do you want to learn more about numerals? It's here.
Last but not least, we have determiners in our list of parts of speech. These are small but mighty words because they can perform several functions in a sentence, like who something belongs to, how many there are, which specific thing is being referred to, and so on.
There are many types of determiners, which I won't cover here, but if you're interested, you can check out this article, which covers all of that and more. In the meantime, here are a few examples of determiners in a sentence:
What is your favorite movie?
I don't really like either option.
This is my son.
That concludes this article on parts of speech. It's only introductory, so if you want to learn more about each one, head to the dedicated articles.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
If you enjoyed this article, check out our Grammar Book, where we cover lots of grammar concepts in easy-to-understand articles. And it's free!