Parts of Speech

What Are the Parts of Speech?

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The 9 parts of speech are adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, determiners, interjections, nouns, prepositions, pronouns, and verbs. (These are also known as "word classes.")

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)

Table of Contents

  • The Part of Speech Is Determined by the Word's Function
  • Are There 8 or 9 Parts of Speech?
  • The Nine Parts of Speech
  • (1) Adjective
  • (2) Adverb
  • (3) Conjunction
  • (4) Determiner
  • (5) Interjection
  • (6) Noun
  • (7) Preposition
  • (8) Pronoun
  • (9) Verb
  • Why the Parts of Speech Are Important
  • Video Lesson
  • Test Time!
parts of speech

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)

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.

The Nine Parts of Speech

Here is an explanation for each part of speech with examples:

(1) Adjective

An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun. Here are some examples of adjectives:
  • red, happy, enormous
Examples of adjectives in sentences:
  • Ask the boy in the red jumper.
  • (The adjective "red" modifies the noun "jumper.")
  • I live in a happy place.
  • (The adjective "happy" modifies the noun "place.")
  • I caught a fish this morning! I mean an enormous one.
  • (The adjective "enormous" modifies the pronoun "one.")

(2) Adverb

An adverb modifies a verb. Here are some examples of adverbs:
  • happily, loosely, often
Examples of adverbs in sentences:
  • They skipped happily to the counter.
  • (The adverb "happily" modifies the verb "skipped.")
  • Tie the knot loosely so they can escape.
  • (The adverb "loosely" modifies the verb "tie.")
  • I often walk to work.
  • (The adverb "often" modifies the verb "walk.")
Be aware that adverbs can also modify adjectives and other adverbs.
  • It is an intriguingly magic setting.
  • (The adverb "intriguingly" modifies the adjective "magic.")
  • He plays the piano extremely well.
  • (The adverb "extremely" modifies the adverb "well.")
Read more about adverbs.

(3) Conjunction

A conjunction joins words, phrases, or clauses. Here are some examples of conjunctions:
  • and, or, but
Examples of conjunctions in sentences:
  • it is a large and important city.
  • (The conjunction "and" joins the words "large" and "important," which are both adjectives.)
  • Shall we run to the hills or hide in the bushes?
  • (The conjunction "or" joins the phrases "run to the hills" and "hide in the bushes.")
  • I know you are lying, but I cannot prove it.
  • (The conjunction "but" joins the clauses "I know you are lying" and "I cannot prove it.")

(4) Determiner

A determiner specifies a noun or a pronoun or states quantity. Here are some examples of determiners:
  • my, those, two, many
Examples of determiners in sentences:
  • My dog is fine with those cats.
  • (The determiner "my" modifies the noun "dog" to specify it. The determiner "those" modifies the noun "cats" to specify them.)
  • There are two dogs but many cats.
  • (The determiner "two" modifies the noun "dogs" to state the quantity, The determiner "many" modifies the noun "cats" to state the quantity.)

(5) Interjection

An interjection expresses emotion. Here are some examples of interjections:
  • ouch, oops, eek
Examples of interjections in sentences:
  • Ouch, that hurt.
  • (The interjection "ouch" expresses pain.)
  • Oops, it's broken.
  • (The interjection "oops" expresses dismay.)
  • Eek! A mouse just ran past my foot!
  • (The interjection "eek" expresses panic.)

(6) Noun

A noun names a person, place, or thing. Here are some examples of nouns:
  • leader, town, apple
Examples of nouns in sentences:
  • Take me to your leader.
  • (The noun "leader" names a person.)
  • I will see you in town later.
  • (The noun "town" names a place.)
  • An apple fell on his head.
  • (The nouns "apple" and "head" name things.)
All nouns are classified as either a common noun (i.e., the words we use like "man," "city," "river") or a proper noun (i.e., the personal names or titles we use like "Peter," "Boston," "The Mississippi").

Nouns are further classified depending on what they name (e.g., something abstract like "bravery" or something concrete like "mud"), their structure (e.g., one word like "pool" or two words like "whirlpool"), or a peculiarity about their grammar (e.g., "oxygen" does not have plural form). Read more about the different types of nouns.

(7) Preposition

A preposition shows the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other words in a sentence. Here are some examples of prepositions:
  • in, near, on, with
Examples of prepositions in sentences:
  • Sarah is hiding in the box.
  • (The preposition "in" shows the relationship between "hiding" and "box.")
  • I live near the train station.
  • (The preposition "near" shows the relationship between "live" and "train station.")
  • Put your hands on your head.
  • (The preposition "on" shows the relationship between "hands" and "head.")
  • She yelled with enthusiasm.
  • (The preposition "with" shows the relationship between "yelled" and "enthusiasm.")

(8) Pronoun

A pronoun replaces a noun (or a noun phrase). Here are some examples of pronouns:
  • she, we, they, that
Examples of pronouns in sentences:
  • Joanne is smart. She is also funny.
  • (The pronoun "she" replaces the noun "Joanne.")
  • Our team has studied the evidence. We know the truth.
  • (The pronoun "we" replaces the noun phrase "our team.")
  • Jack and Jill went up the hill, but they never returned.
  • (The pronoun "they" replaces "Jack and Jill.")
  • That is clever!
  • (The pronoun "that" replaces the noun that names whatever the speaker is pointing at, a machine perhaps.)

(9) Verb

A verb identifies an action or state of being. Here are some examples of verbs:
  • work, be, write, exist
Examples of verbs in sentences:
  • Tony works down the pit now. He was unemployed.
  • (The verb "works" expresses an action. The verb "was" expresses a state of being.)
  • I will write a song for you.
  • (The verb "write" expresses an action.)
  • I think aliens exist.
  • (The verb "think" expresses an action (a mental action in this case). The verb "exist" expresses a state of being.)

Video Lesson

Here is a video summarizing this lesson on the parts of speech. video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

Video for Each Part of Speech

Here is a link to an explainer video (click the icon) and a link to the full lesson for each of 9 parts of speech:

Why the Parts of Speech Are Important

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 Most Important Writing Issues

Here is the most important writing issue for each part of speech. (For other issues, please visit 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.
Don't write...Do write...
very happy boy wrong crossdelighted boy correct tick
very angry wrong crosslivid correct tick
extremely posh hotel wrong crossluxurious hotel correct tick
really serious look wrong crossstern look correct tick
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. correct tick
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. correct tick
  • (Here, the comma helps.)
  • I love King Rollo, and Rick and Morty. correct tick
  • (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. correct tick
  • (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. wrong cross
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. correct tick
  • Crikey! Think before you speak! correct tick
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. wrong cross
  • ("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. wrong cross
  • (This is wrong because "I" cannot be the object of the preposition "from.")
  • Between you and I wrong cross
  • (This is wrong because "I" cannot be the object of the preposition "between.")
  • Between you and me correct tick
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. correct tick (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.

Key Point

Try our drag and drop test on the parts of speech. Take a different test on the parts of speech.
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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