Word classes and phrase classes

Eight major word classes are described here. These are: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and determiner. The first seven are traditionally referred to as “parts of speech”. There are minor word classes, such as interjections, but these do not fit into the clause and sentence structure of English.


Nouns form the largest word class. According to Carter and McCarthy, they denote “classes and categories of things in the world, including people, animals, inanimate things, places, events, qualities and states.”


Pronouns are a small class of words which function as noun phrases. They include personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns and relative pronouns.


Main article: English verbs

Verbs form the second largest word class after nouns. According to Carter and McCarthy, verbs denote “actions, events, processes, and states.” Consequently, “smile,” “stab,” “climb,” “confront,” “liquefy,” “wake,” “reflect” are all verbs.

Verbs have the following features which aid in their recognition:

  • They usually follow the (grammatical) subject noun phrase (in italics): “The real raw-knuckle boys who know what fighting means enter the arena without fanfare.”
  • They agree with the subject noun phrase in number: “The real raw-knuckle boy / boys who knows / know what fighting means enters / enter the arena without fanfare.”
  • They agree with the subject noun phrase in person: “I / He, the real raw-knuckle boy who knows what fighting means, enter / enters the arena without fanfare”, and
  • They can express tense:”The boys entered the arena without fanfare.”
  • Adjectives
  • According to Carter and McCarthy, “Adjectives describe properties, qualities, and states attributed to a noun or a pronoun.” As was the case with nouns and verbs, the class of adjectives cannot be identified by the forms of its constituents. However, adjectives are commonly formed by the addition of a suffix to a noun. Examples: “-al” (“habitual,” “multidimensional,” “visceral”), “-ful” (“blissful,” “pitiful,” “woeful”), “-ic” (“atomic,” “gigantic,” “pedantic”), “-ish” (“impish,” “peckish,” “youngish”), “-ous” (“fabulous,” “hazardous”). As with nouns and verbs, there are exceptions: “homosexual” can be a noun, “earful” is a noun, “anesthetic” can be a noun, “brandish” is a verb. Adjectives can also be formed from other adjectives through the addition of a suffix or more commonly a prefix: weakish, implacable, disloyal, irredeemable, unforeseen. A number of adjectives are formed by adding “a” as a prefix to a verb: “adrift,” “astride,” “awry.”



Main article: English adverbs

Adverbs typically modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They perform a wide range of functions and are especially important for indicating “time, manner, place, degree, and frequency of an event, action, or process.” Adjectives and adverbs are often derived from the same word, the majority being formed by adding the “-ly” ending to the corresponding adjective form. Recall the adjectives, “habitual”, “pitiful”, “impish”, We can use them to form the adverbs:

  • “habitually”: “… shining out of the New England reserve with which Holgrave habitually masked whatever lay near his heart.”
  • “pitifully”: “The lamb tottered along far behind, near exhaustion, bleating pitifully.”
  • “impishly”: “Well,” and he grinned impishly, “it was one doggone good party while it lasted!”



Prepositions relate two events in time or two people or things in space. They form a closed class. They also represent abstract relations between two entities: Examples:

  1. (“after”:) “We came home from Mr. Boythorn’s after six pleasant weeks.”
  2. (“after”:) “‘That was done with a bamboo,’ said the boy, after one glance.”
  3. (“to”:) “I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, …”
  4. (“between” and “through”:) “Between two golden tufts of summer grass, I see the world through hot air as through glass, …”
  5. (“during”:) “During these years at Florence, Leonardo’s history is the history of his art; he himself is lost in the bright cloud of it.”
  6. (“of”:) “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrances of things past.”


According to Carter and McCarthy, “Conjunctions express a variety of logical relations between phrases, clauses and sentences.” There are two kinds of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.


Coordinating conjunctions link “elements of equal grammatical status.” The elements in questions may vary from a prefix to an entire sentence. Examples:

  • (prefixes): “The doctor must provide facilities for pre- and post test counselling and have his own strict procedures for the storing of that confidential information.”




Determiners can be divided into three subclasses according to their position with respect to each other:

  • predeteminers
  • central determiners
  • postdeterminers

Predeterminers may precede central determiners but may not follow central determiners. Postdeterminers follow central determiners but may not precede them. Central determiners must occur after predeterminers and before postdeterminers. Thus, a central determiner e.g. the as in

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