Parts of Speech (with Examples)

Our Story


Parts of Speech? (with Examples)

A "part of speech" refers to one of the nine word categories. There are nine parts of speech (i.e., word categories):
Part of SpeechVideo

Infographic Showing Parts of Speech

Before we get into the detail, here is an infographic summarizing the functions of the parts of speech:
parts of speech
A Formal Definition

A "part of speech" is a category to which a word is assigned in accordance with its syntactic functions. In English, the main parts of speech are noun, pronoun, adjective, determiner, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection. (Oxford Dictionary)
The categories are often referred to as "The Nine Parts of Speech." (They are sometimes called "word classes.")

The Part of Speech Is Determined by the Word's Function

In a sentence, every word or phrase can be classified as one of the nine parts of speech depending on its function in the sentence. Remember that, in English, a word that performs a particular function in one sentence might perform a different function in another. Let's take the word well for example.
  • You need to dig a well. (noun)
  • You look well. (adjective)
  • You dance well. (adverb)
  • Well, I agree. (interjection)
  • My eyes will well up. (verb)

The Parts of Speech

Below is a brief explanation for each part of speech with an example.
Part of SpeechBasic Function
Adjectivemodifies a noun or a pronoun

happy, red, enormous

Example in a sentence:

That is an enormous fish.
(The adjective enormous modifies the noun fish.)
Adverbmodifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb

happily, loosely, often

Example in a sentence:

They walked smartly to the counter.
(The adverb smartly modifies the verb walked.)
Conjunctionjoins words, phrases, and clauses

and, but, or

Example in a sentence:

A large bass still eluded Mark and Lee.
(The conjunction and joins the nouns Mark and Lee.)
Determinerspecifies a noun or a pronoun or states quantity

my, this, some

Example in a sentence:

My dog is fine with those cats.
(The determiner my specifies the dog. The determiner those specifies the cats.)
There are two dogs but many cats.
(The determiners two and many state the quantity.)
Interjectionexpresses emotion

indeed, well, oops

Example in a sentence:

Ouch, that hurt.
(The interjection Ouch expresses pain.)
Nounnames a person, place, or thing

man, city, dancing

Example in a sentence:

Take me to your leader.
(The noun leader names a person.)
Prepositionshows the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other words in a sentence
Examples: at, in, near, on, with

Example in a sentence:

Sarah sang with Jeremy.
(The preposition with shows the relationship between Jeremy, sang, and Sarah.)
Pronounreplaces a noun

I, me, you, he, she, we, us, they

Example in a sentence:

Joanne is smart. She is also funny.
(The pronoun She replaces the noun Joanne.)
Verbidentifies an action or state of being

work, play, think, guess, write, exist, be

Example in a sentence:

Tony works down the pit now. He was unemployed.
(The verb works expresses an action. The verb was expresses a state of being.)

Are There 8 or 9 Parts of Speech?

Prior to the 1960s, determiners were classified as adjectives, meaning there were 8 parts of speech not 9. Since the 1960s, there has been a gradual acceptance among grammarians that determiners are different to adjectives. This acceptance has grown to the extent that determiners must now be considered a separate part of speech. However, even today, terms like "possessive adjective" and "demonstrative adjective" are far more commonly used than "possessive determiner" and "demonstrative determiner" [evidence].

Also, the equivalents in foreign languages are still described as adjectives in those countries, adding to the confusion. This much is clear: Determiners are similar to adjectives, but there are differences. Nevertheless, there remains a strong argument for claiming there are 8 parts of speech not 9.

Our advice? Go with 9! (You'll get far fewer pedants sending you snotty emails.)

Do you have a view on this? Tell us using this form.

Read more about the differences between determiners and adjectives.

Why Should I Care about the Parts of Speech?

Most native English speakers master English grammar without ever consciously learning the parts of speech. However, when learning a foreign language (particularly in a classroom setting), mastering the grammar is a far less natural process. It must be done systematically. Therefore, it is necessary to learn the parts of speech because the teacher's explanations and the exercise books will be packed with them.

As well as helping with foreign-language study, learning the parts of speech will also help you with analysing other people's writing and with taking your own writing to the next level.

The Top Issues

Below, under each heading, is the top writing issues related to that part of speech. For more issues related to the parts of speech, please follow to the link to the specific page.

The Top Issue Related to Adjectives

When choosing adjectives, try to reduce your word count by selecting the right adjective. Typically, this means avoiding words like very and extremely. Don't use those words. Pick better adjectives.
very happy boy delighted boy
very angry livid
extremely posh hotel luxurious hotel
really serious look stern look
The examples above are not wrong, but they are not succinct. The best writing is precise and concise.

Read about other issues related to adjectives.

The Top Issue Related to Adverbs

Lots of adverbs end -ly and tell us how a verb is performed (e.g., slowly, erratically). As a general rule, professional writers try to avoid using adverbs ending -ly because they consider them as unnecessary clutter. Most professional writers believe that good word choice renders such adverbs as redundant.
  • Extremely annoyed, she stared menacingly at her rival.
  • (Critics would attack this writing style.)
  • Infuriated, she glared at her rival.
  • (This is far sharper.)
NB: We voted this as the top issue for creative writers. There are other serious issues related to adverbs, the most obvious of which is creating ambiguity with a badly placed adverb.

Read about other issues related to adverbs.

The Top Issue Related to Conjunctions

The most commonly asked question related to conjunctions is "Do you put a comma before and?". Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn't short. Here's a summary of the rules:

The Rule for Two Items

When and joins two items, don't use a comma.
  • Mark has eaten all the pies and cakes.
So far so good. However, if you think it helps your reader, you can use a comma.
  • The Bakerloo line runs between Elephant and Castle, and Harrow and Wealdstone.
  • (Here, the comma helps.)
  • I love King Rollo, and Rick and Morty.
  • (With this example, the comma is important because the list items could feasibly be "King Rollo and Rick" and "Morty.")
There's an important exception to this rule though.

The Exception to the Rule for Two Items

When and joins two (or more) independent clauses (i.e., ones that could stand alone as individual sentences), then use a comma.
  • Bonzo eats ants, and he eats honey.
  • (Here, the clauses being joined (shown in bold) could stand alone. They are independent clauses. That's why there is a comma before and.)
The Rule for Three or More Items

When there are three or more list items, it's more complicated because there are two different conventions.

Some people will write this:
  • Burger, Fries, and a shake
  • (The comma before the and is called an Oxford Comma. This is the convention followed by most (but not all) Americans.)
Some people will write this:
  • Fish, chips and peas
  • (This is the convention followed by most (but not all) Brits. The most notable exception is the Oxford University Press, after which the Oxford Comma is named.)
Read about other issues related to conjunctions.

The Top Issue Related to Determiners

Don't confuse a possessive determiner (e.g., its, your, their) with an identical-sounding contraction (e.g., it's, you're, they're).

It's is a contraction of it is or it has. This is a 100% rule. If you can't expand your it's to it is or it has, then it's wrong.
  • A country can be judged by the quality of it's proverbs.
The same is true for you're (a contraction of you are), they're (a contraction of they are), and who's (a contraction of who is or who has). Do not confuse these with your, their or there, or whose.

If you've used an apostrophe, test your apostrophe by expanding your word back into two words. If you can't, the apostrophe version is wrong.

Read more issues related to determiners.

The Top Issue Related to Interjections

The most common question related to interjections is "What punctuation follows an interjection?".

If your interjection is not a question (e.g., Really? is an example of an interjection that is a question), then you have a choice. You can use a comma, a period (full stop), or an exclamation mark. Commas and periods are used for mild interjections, while exclamation marks are used for stronger expressions of emotion.
  • Yes, that's correct.
  • Crikey! Think before you speak!
Read about other issues related to interjections.

The Top Issue Related to Nouns

Don't give a common noun (e.g., dog, brochure, mountain) a capital letter just because it's an important word in your sentence. Only proper nouns (e.g., Dexter, The Summer Brochure, Ben Nevis) get capital letters.
  • We value our Clients' opinions.
  • (Clients is a common noun. It shouldn't have a capital letter.)
Read about other issues related to nouns.

The Top Issue Related to Prepositions

The word or words that follow a preposition are called the object of a preposition. The object of a preposition is always in the objective case. This just means that words like I, she, we, and they change to me, her, us, and them when they follow a preposition (e.g., about me, with her, for us, against them). This is a pretty simple concept for a native English speaker, but it still catches some people out.
  • It is a present from my wife and I.
  • (This is wrong because I cannot be the object of the preposition from.)
  • Between you and I
  • (This is wrong because I cannot be the object of the preposition between.)
  • Between you and me
Read about other issues related to prepositions.

The Top Issue Related to Pronouns

Don't put an apostrophe in yours, hers, ours, or theirs. There are no apostrophes in any possessive pronouns.
  • There are gods above gods. We have ours, and they have theirs. That's what's known as infinity. (French poet Jean Cocteau)
Read about other issues related to pronouns.

The Top Issue Related to Verbs

Writing can be boring, corporate, predictable, and structured abnormally. These bad traits are most often caused by an overuse of nouns. So, opting for verbs over nouns will help you to write better-flowing sentences. Also, using more verbs will also reduce your word count because you will avoid the articles (e.g., an, the) and prepositions (e.g., in, on) needed to make the nouns work.
Unnatural (Overusing Nouns)Natural (Using a Verb)
They are in agreement that he was in violation of several regulations.They agree he violated several regulations.
She will be in attendance to present a demonstration of how the weather will have an effect on our process.She will attend to demonstrate how the weather will affect our process.
Read about other issues related to verbs.
Ready for the Test?
Here is a confirmatory test for this lesson.

This test can also be:
  • Edited (i.e., you can delete questions and play with the order of the questions).
  • Printed to create a handout.
  • Sent electronically to friends or students.

See Also

What are adjectives? What are adverbs? What are conjunctions? What are interjections? What are nouns? What are prepositions? What are pronouns? What are verbs? Glossary of grammatical terms