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The Parts of Speech


A noun is a word used to name a person, place, thing, or idea.

Nouns may be classified in three ways: proper or common; abstract or concrete; and collective.
A proper noun is the name of particular person, place, or thing. Proper nouns are capitalised: Tom, Miami, White House.
A common noun is a noun that does not name a particular person, place, or thing. Common nouns are not capitalised: man, city, building.
An abstract noun names a quality, a characteristic, an idea: beauty, strength, love courage.
A concrete noun names an object that can be perceived by the senses: hat, desk, book, box.
A collective noun names a group: crowd, team, class.

• NOTE A compound noun is a noun of more than one word: Chase Manhattan Bank, Ringling Brothers Circus, high school.


A pronoun is a word used in place of one or more nouns.

Fishermen complained about the weather forecast. They said it had not warned them of the storm.[The pronouns they and them take the place of the noun fishermen. The pronoun it takes the place of the noun forecast.]
A car and truck collided near the school. They ran over the lawn. [The pronoun they takes the place of two nouns, car and truck.]

Sometimes a pronoun takes the place of another pronoun.
One of our planes is missing. It was last heard from over four hours ago. [The pronoun it takes the place of the pronoun one.]

The words to which a pronoun refers (whose place it takes) is the antecedent of the pronoun.

In the preceding example one is the antecedent of it.
There are several kinds of pronouns: personal, relative, interrogative, demonstrative, and indefinite.


I, me he, him it they, them
you she, her we, us


my, mine his its their, theirs
your, yours her, hers our, ours

Some of the possessive forms-my, your, his, its, our, their- are used before a noun in the same way adjectives are used to limit the meaning of a noun: my parents, your home, his coat, etc. They are possessive pronounce functioning as adjectives. Some people prefer to call these pronouns possessive adjectives.


myself ourselves
yourself yourselves
himself, herself, itself themselves

Personal pronouns combined with –self, -selves may be used in two ways:
1. They may be used reflexively.
Barry hurt himself.

They may be used intensively for emphasis.
Barry himself was not hurt.


who which whose
whom that

Relative pronouns are used to introduce subordinate clauses.
The people who live there are on vacation.
The copy that I read was from the library.
Do you know that man whose car was stolen?


who which whose
whom what

Interrogative pronouns are used in questions.
Who lives in that house now?
What was the name of the book?


this these that those

Demonstrative pronouns are used to point out persons or things.
That is the one.
This seems to be my lucky day.


all each most other
another either neither several
any everybody nobody some
anybody everyone none somebody
anyone few no one someone
both many one such

Pronouns that do not fall into classifications above are called indefinite pronouns. Most indefinite pronouns express the idea of quantity: all, few, none.

All of us are here.
Few of the cars were new.


An adjective is a word used to modify a noun or pronoun.

To modify means “to limit,” or to make more definite the meaning of a word. Adjectives may modify nouns or pronouns in any one of three different ways.

1. By telling what kind:
blue eyes, large city, strong wind
2. By pointing out which one:
this man, that suggestion
3. By telling how many:
several reasons, ten players

As the preceding examples show, the normal position of an adjective is directly before the word it modifies. Occasionally, for stylistic reasons, a writer may use adjectives after the word they modify.

EXAMPLE: The night, cold and foggy, drove us indoors.

A predicate adjective1 is separated from the word it modifies by a verb.

EXAMPLES: Stephen is capable.
He looks tall.
The food tasted good.
His hand felt cold.

The Same Word as Adjective and Pronoun

A word may be used as more then one part of speech. This is especially true of the words in the list bellow, which may be used both as pronouns and as adjectives.

all either one these
another few other this
any many several those
each neither that which

ADJECTIVE Which pen do you want? [Which modifies the noun pen.]
PRONOUN Which do you want? [Which takes the place of a noun previously mentioned.]
ADJECTIVE I like this picture. [This modifies the noun picture.]
PRONOUN I like this. [This takes the place of a noun previously mentioned.]

Nouns Used as Adjectives

Nouns are sometimes used as adjectives.
barn dance dog house
house paint table tennis

When you are identifying parts of speech and you encounter a noun used as an adjective, label it an adjective.


A verb is a word that expresses action or otherwise helps to make a statement.

All verbs help to make a statement. Some help to make a statement by expressing action.

The action expressed may be physical, as in the case of such verbs as hit, play, blow and run, or it may be mental, as in think, know, imagine, believe.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Action verbs may or may not take an object-a noun or pronoun that completes the action by showing who or what is affected by the action. Verbs in the following examples are transitive:

The catcher dropped the ball. [Ball is the object of dropped.]
The people believed the politician. [Politician is the object.]
The waiter ignored the customers. [Customers is the object.]

Verbs that can express action without objects are called intransitive.

The catcher shrugged.
The people chuckled.
The waiter quit.

Although some verbs are transitive only (ignore, complete) and some intransitive only (arrive, sleep), most verbs in English can be either.

EXAMPLES: The judges explained the contest rules. [transitive]
Patiently, the judges explained. [intransitive]
The contestants still misunderstood them. [transitive]
The contestants still misunderstood. [intransitive]

• NOTE Most dictionaries group the meanings of verbs according to whether they are transitive (v.t. in most dictionaries) or intransitive (v.i.). Remembering the difference will help you to find readily the meaning you want.

Linking Verbs

Some intransitive verbs help to make a statement not by expressing action, but by expressing a state or condition. These verbs link to the subject a noun, pronoun, or adjective that describes or identifies it. They are called linking verbs. The word that is linked to the subject is called a subject complement.

The butler is the main suspect. [The subject complement suspect refers to the subject butler.]
This is he. [He refers to the subject this.]
He looks guilty. [Guilty refers to the subject he.]

The subject complement always refers to the subject of the linking verb. It may identify the subject, as in the first two examples, or describe the subject, as in the third one.
The most common linking verb is the verb be2, which has the following forms: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been (and all verb phrases ending in be, being, or been, such as can be, is being, and could have been).

Other common linking verbs are listed bellow.


appear grow seem stay
become look smell taste
feel remain sound

Many of the verbs in the preceding list can also be used as action verbs-that is, without a subject complement.

LINKING The detectives looked puzzled.
ACTION The detectives looked for clues.

In general, a verb is a linking verb if you can substitute for it some form of the verb seem.

EXAMPLES: The detectives looked [seemed] puzzled.
Everyone in the stadium felt [seemed] cold.
All of the passengers remained [seemed] calm.

The Helping Verb and the Verb Phrase

A verb phrase is made up of a main verb and one more helping verbs. 3 Helping verbs are so called because they help the main verb to express action or make a statement. The helping verbs in the following phrases are printed in bold-faced type:

has played will be coming
should have paid must have been injured

In other words, a verb phrase is a verb of more than one word.


am has can (may) have
are had could (would, should) be
is can could (would, should) have
was may will (shall) have been
were will (shall) be might have
do will (shall)have might have been
did has (had) been must have
have can (may) be must have been

The parts of a verb phrase may be separated from one another by other words; i.e., the helping verb may be separated from the main verb.

EXAMPLES: Did you hear me call?
I am not going with you.
We had finally completed our work.


An adverb is a word used to modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

The adverb is used most commonly as the modifier of a verb. It may tell how, when, where, or to what extent (how often or how much) the action of the verb is done.

EXAMPLES: He drives carefully. [Carefully tells how he drives.]
He drives early and late. [Early and late tell when he drives.]
He drives everywhere. [Everywhere tells where he drives.]
She can almost drive. [Almost tells to what extent she can drive.]
She drives daily. [Daily tells how often she drives.]

An adverb may modify an adjective.

He is an unusually good driver. [Unusually modifies the adjective good, telling how good or to what extent he is good at driving.]

An adverb may modify another adverb.

He behaved very well.

[The adverb very modifies the adverb well, telling how well.]

• NOTE To avoid possible confusion, you should know that not is classified as an adverb.

Nouns Used as Adverbs

Some nouns may be used adverbially.

I called him yesterday.
He is leaving tomorrow.
We expect them Monday.

In identifying parts of speech, label nouns used in this way as adverbs.


A preposition is a word used to show the relation of a noun or pronoun to some other word in the sentence.

In the following sentences the prepositions are shown in bold-faced type. The words between which the prepositions show relationship are underscored.

I enjoy working in the laboratory more than listening to lectures.
The oriental rug in the hall is a Sarouk.
Grass will not grow under these trees.
Put your paper on my desk.
Both of us bought the same gift for you.

Object of a Preposition

A preposition always appears in a phrase, usually at the beginning.

The noun or pronoun at the end of a prepositional phrase is the object of the preposition that begins the phrase.

EXAMPLES: before lunch
In the hall


about between over
above beyond past
across but (meaning “except”) since
after by through
against concerning throughout
along down to
amid during toward
among except under
around for underneath
at from until
before in unto
behind into up
below like upon
beneath of with
beside off within
besides on without

A group of words may act as a preposition: on account of, in spite of.


A conjunction is a word that joins words or group of words.

In the following sentences the conjunctions are printed in bold-faced type; the words or groups of words that the conjunctions join are underscored.

Bring your lunch and one dollar.
You must pass every subject and maintain a good average.
We placed an ad, but no one responded.
I can use the truck or the jeep.
You can either stay here or come with us.
She invited both Martin and me.
I will let you know when I hear from him.
He succeeds because he works hard.

There are three kinds of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and subordinating conjunctions.


and but or nor for

Correlative conjunctions are always used in pairs.

The work is not only profitable but also pleasant.
Do you know whether he is coming alone or with his parents?


either .. or not only .. but (also)
neither .. nor whether .. or
both .. and

Subordinating conjunctions are used to begin subordinate clauses, usually adverb clauses.
In the following sentences the subordinate clauses are printed in bold-faced type, and the subordinating conjunctions that introduce them are underscored.

There is no use arguing, since you have already made your decision.
We stayed indoors until the storm abated.
You may stay where you are.

A subordinating conjunction need not come between the sentence parts that it joins. It may come at the beginning of the sentence.

Although speed is important, accuracy is more important.
When I take an examination, I become frightened.


after before provided unless
although how since until
as if than when
as much as in order that that where
because inasmuch as though while


An interjection is a word that express emotion and has no grammatical relation to other words in the sentence.

EXAMPLES: Oh! My goodness! Hurry! Ah! Ouch! Alas!


You have already learned that there are many words in English which can be used as more than one part of speech. For example, these may be an adjective (these books) or a pronoun (I want these); blue may be an adjective (the blue car) or a noun (Blue is my favourite colour); Tuesday can be a noun (Tuesday is my birthday) or an adverb (Come Tuesday). There are thousands of words like these which can be classified by part of speech only when you see them in sentences.

The toy soldier was really made of iron. [Iron names a metal; it is a noun.]
We usually iron clothes on Tuesday. [Iron expresses action; it is a verb.]
The iron gate clanged shut. [Iron modifies gate; it is an adjective.]

1 A predicate adjective is one kind of subject complement.

The other kind is the predicate nominative.
2 The verb be can also be followed by certain adverbs and adverb phrases: We were there; the men were at work. In this situation, be is not considered a linking verb.
3 The helping verb is sometimes called an auxiliary verb.
4 Some of these words may be used as prepositions: after, before, since, until; others may be used as adverbs: how, when, where. That is often used as a relative pronoun.

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