English in Use/Parts of Speech

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The Parts of Speech

Most grammar textbooks will consider eight basic parts of speech. These are summarized below:

  • Nouns--naming words for a person, place, thing, or idea. These are declined into singular or plural forms and/or modified by prepositions.
  • Pronouns--words which may replace a proper noun. All pronouns (other than "I") require an antecedent. Antecedents may be added, as an apposition to a pronoun (e.g. You, Dennis Nedry; He, Johnny Appleseed; We, the jury; They, the developers; etc.). There are four kinds of pronoun--personal, demonstrative, reflexive, and relative. Personal pronouns replace the proper nouns by which something is called: "I", "you", "he", "she", "it", "we", "y'all" (informally), and "they" are such pronouns. Demonstrative pronouns replace something to which someone or something has been referring: "this" and "that" are such pronouns. Reflexive pronouns allow a noun to be the direct object of the sentence in which it is already the subject. Reflexive pronouns are also placed alongside a pronoun to form the emphatic form of a pronoun. "Myself", "yourself", "himself", "herself", "itself", "ourselves", "yourselves", and "themselves" are reflexive pronouns. (Emphatic pronouns are "I myself", "you yourself", "he himself", "she herself", "it itself", "we ourselves", "you yourselves", and "they themselves".). Relative pronouns are used to further describe a noun without the use of adjectives, participles, or a separate sentence: "who", "that", and "which" are relative pronouns.
  • Adjectives--words which specify or further describe the nouns which they modify. Since English is a left-branching language, adjectives generally precede the nouns which they modify. However, appositions may be used to place adjectives after the nouns which they modify. Many participles are adjectives.
  • Verbs--words which, in the active voice, describe an action performed by the grammatical subject of the sentence and which, in the passive voice, describe an action which is imposed upon the grammatical subject. Verbs are frequently combined with other verbs--especially the copulative verb BE--or with participles in the creation of certain tenses.
  • Adverbs-- indeclinable words which primarily modify verbs but which may modify adjectives, other adverbs, or substantives (but only when it modifies an entire prepositional phrase or when it is an adverbial phrase). Adverbs describe the manner in which an action was done.
  • Conjunctions--indeclinable words which link certain words to other words. Conjunctions may be coordinating (in which the words involved are of equal grammatical rank) or subordinating (in which the words involved in the prepositional phrase may not necessarily be of equal grammatical rank). Common conjunctions: and, or, but, nor, both...and, not only...but also, either...or, neither...nor, whether, whether or no, whether...or not, than, etc.]
  • Prepositions--words which describe the location at which or in which an action is performed or takes place. Prepositions may be used to create adverbial phrases. Common prepositions: in, on, onto, into, unto, within, without, by, through, throughout, than (when combined with a relative pronoun; otherwise, this is an informal usage.), etc.
  • Interjections--indeclinable words which primarily act independently of sentences. These words are used to express the feeling of something at a point in time. Depending upon the emphasis delegated by the speaker to the interjection, these may feature an exclamation point or a period; however, when acting within a sentence (such as responsive structure ["No, I did not work today."]), it may feature a comma unless exceptional stress is delegated to it by the speaker (No! I did not work today, in which the first word of the succeeding sentence need not be capitalized. Common interjections: oh, ah, well, ahem, ha, etc.