Parts of Speech in English Overview

A diagram of parts of speech behind a woman

When you start learning a language as a child, you learn the parts of speech likely without even knowing it. You learn the functions and meaning of words in English–children first learn the names of things or people, like “mom” and “dad.”

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Then, they move on to descriptive words like “hungry” or “sleepy.”

Finally, they’ll figure out how to really express themselves with action words like “want” or “go.”

Thus, even if you learn them without realizing it, knowing the parts of speech is a necessary part of speaking and understanding English.

Prefer to watch this lesson on video? Here’s our full length tutorial on the “Parts of Speech in English”:

Parts of Speech in English:

What are Parts of Speech?

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We categorize the types of words in English with parts of speech.

There are a total of 9 parts of speech (also known as “word classes”) in the English language. Each part of speech serves a specific function. So, let’s take a closer look at the 9 parts of speech:

What are the 9 Parts of Speech?

The table below provides you with the name and function of each part of speech. Additionally, you can find example words for each part of speech and two example sentences:

Function Example Words Sentence 1 Sentence 2
Noun A person, place, thing, or idea Woman, planet, dogs, freedom I saw a woman at the supermarket. Democracy requires freedom.
Pronoun Replaces a noun I, you, he, she, they, we, it Do you want to see a movie? She didn’t know that we were there.
Verb An action or state of being Go, swim, touch, run, talk, feel, be I like to swim in the ocean. I am overwhelmed at the moment.
Adjective Describes a noun Tired, happy, large, beautiful The little boy was tired after lunch. The mountains were majestic and beautiful.
Adverb Describes a verb or adjective Quickly, quite, roughly, sadly, well He ran quickly. I did very well on my midterm exams.
Preposition Links a noun to another word On, in, at, over, across, between The book is on the table. The meeting is at noon.
Conjunction Connects two words, clauses, or sentences But, and, yet, or, since, while I want fish and chips. I’d like to be there, but I am very busy.
Determiner Sets limits on a noun Some, one, many, a/an, the I’d like some ice cream, please. I can’t even do one pushup!
Interjection An exclamation Oh! Wow! Ew! Wow! That is expensive! Ew! I hate broccoli.

We realize that this table is a lot to take in. At the same time, it doesn’t give you a complete picture of these “word classes.” So, let’s go a little deeper with each part of speech:

Noun

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A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. As you can imagine, there are a lot of nouns in English! If you just look around the room, there’s a noun for pretty much everything you might see: table, chair, wall, lamp — these are all nouns.

However, nouns are a little more complex than you might think. You can divide most nouns into two groups: singular nouns and plural nouns. Singular nouns refer to just one thing, while plural nouns refer to more than one thing. You can often make a singular noun into a plural noun by adding ‘s’ onto the end of the word.

Additionally, there are 4 primary types of nouns:

  • Common Nouns – As the name implies, common nouns refer to non-specific people, places, or things. It might be easier to think of common nouns as broad categories of things.
    • For example: country, house, tea, man, fish
  • Proper Nouns – Proper nouns refer to specific people, places, or things. They always start with a capital letter.
    • For example: Matthew, Earth, Canada, Mcdonalds
  • Abstract Nouns – Abstract nouns refer to things that you cannot touch. These are often ideas or concepts.
    • For example: love, anger, faith, courage
  • Collective Nouns – Collective nouns refer to groups of things.
    • For example: class, pack, team, family

Pronoun

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A pronoun stands in place for a noun. In a way, pronouns save time and allow you to refer to a person, place, thing, or idea without repeating the same word over and over again.

Let’s look at an example paragraph without pronouns:

Sarah likes going to the gym. When Sarah goes to the gym, Sarah likes to use the treadmill. Sarah always runs for at least 30 minutes when Sarah is exercising. Afterward, Sarah feels exhausted.

Now, let’s look at the same paragraph with a few pronouns sprinkled in:

Sarah likes going to the gym. When she goes to the gym, Sarah likes to use the treadmill. Sarah always runs for at least 30 minutes when she is exercising. Afterward, she feels exhausted.

It sounds a lot better with pronouns, doesn’t it? However, just like nouns and many other parts of speech, pronouns can be divided into different categories. There are 7 primary types of pronouns.

The 7 Types of Pronouns

  • Personal Pronouns – Personal pronouns replace people and things. They can be subdivided into subject pronouns and object pronouns.
    • Subject Examples: I, you, we, they, he, she, it
    • Object Examples: me, you, us, them, him, her, it
  • Possessive Pronouns – Possessive pronouns show ownership of something.
    • For example: mine, yours, ours, theirs, his, hers, its
  • Reflexive Pronouns – Reflexive pronouns are used when a subject performs an action on itself.
    • For example: myself, yourself, ourselves, themselves, himself, herself, itself
  • Relative Pronouns – Relative pronouns start a clause. A clause with a relative pronoun usually provides additional information about a noun.
    • For example: who, whom, which, that, whose
  • Demonstrative Pronouns – Demonstrative pronouns modify a noun. There are only 4 demonstrative pronouns in English.
    • For example: this, that, these, those
  • Interrogative Pronouns – Interrogative pronouns replace nouns in a question.
    • For example: who, which, what, whom, whose
  • Indefinite Pronouns – Indefinite pronouns refer to non-specific things in a general way.
    • For example: anyone, anything, everything

Verb

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A verb is an action performed in a sentence.

There are several different kinds of verbs, though the exact number varies based on how you choose to categorize them. To keep things simple, we will look at 3 different kinds of verbs:

  • Action Verbs – As the name implies, action verbs refer to the action performed in a sentence. There are two types of action verbs: transitive and intransitive. A transitive verb always has a direct object on which the action is performed, while an intransitive verb does not have a direct object.
    • Transitive Example: I gave the book to my friend.
    • Intransitive Example: The tree grew.
  • Linking Verbs – Linking verbs connect the subject to a noun or adjective that describes or refers back to the subject. The most common linking verbs are to be verbs, as well as to become and to seem.
    • For example: I am worried about the interview.
  • Auxiliary Verbs – Auxiliary verbs are also known as “helping verbs.” These verbs are used before action and linking verbs to show aspects of possibility or time.
    • For example: can, could, might, will, should, would

Adjective

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An Adjective modifies a noun. Adjectives can describe, demonstrate possession, or demonstrate quantity.

  • Descriptive Examples: good, ugly, square, interesting, tall
  • Possessive Examples: my, your, our, their, his, her, its
  • Quantitative Examples: four, some, few, many

Adverb

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Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, and even other adverbs. A lot of adverbs end in ‘-ly,’ which makes them easier to identify in a sentence. However, there are plenty of exceptions!

Like most other parts of speech, there are also different kinds of adverbs — 5 to be exact:

  • Degree – Adverbs of degree answer the questions “How much?” or “To what degree?” in relation to verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
    • For example: very, somewhat, extremely, more, less
  • Frequency – Adverbs of frequency answer the question “How often?”
    • For example: never, rarely, sometimes, often, usually, always
  • Manner – Adverbs of manner describe how an action occurs. Adverbs of manner always modify verbs and often end in ‘-ly.’
    • For example: fast, well, swiftly, slowly, intelligently
  • Place – Adverbs of place describe where an action verb takes place.
    • For example: upstairs, inside, outdoors
  • Time – Adverbs of time describe when an action takes place.
    • For example: yesterday, today, tomorrow, afterward

Preposition

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A preposition is a part of speech that links a noun or pronoun to another word.

Prepositions often describe the spatial or temporal relationship between two words. For instance:

  • He is preparing dinner in the kitchen.
  • I’ll meet her at 4 o’clock.
  • Peter saw the movie on Tuesday.
  • They walked to school yesterday.

Conjunction

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A conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, clauses, or sentences.

There are 3 primary types of conjunctions in English:

  • Coordinating Conjunctions – These conjunctions link two words or clauses of equal importance. There are only 7 coordinating conjunctions. If you have trouble remembering them all, just memorize this mnemonic device: FANBOYS.
    • For example: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so
  • Subordinating Conjunctions – These conjunctions join an independent clause with a dependent clause.
    • For example: before, although, until, whether, because, while
  • Correlative Conjunctions – These conjunctions require two or more words that work together to join multiple words, clauses, or sentences.
    • For example: either/or, neither/nor, not only/but also, whether/or

Determiner

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A determiner introduces a noun and provides information about the quantity or distinction of the noun.

All singular nouns require a determiner, but they are optional with plural nouns (depending on the context). Let’s look at a few examples:

  • I see an apple.
  • I see apples. (optional: I see the apples, I see some apples, etc.)
  • The tree is beautiful.
  • Trees are beautiful. (optional: The trees are beautiful, these trees are beautiful, etc.)

As you can see, the presence or lack of a determiner can change the meaning or tone of a sentence. It’s also important to note that determiners can be divided into 3 categories:

  • Articlesa, an, the
  • Possessivesmy, your, our, their, his, her, its
  • Demonstrativesthis, that, these, those

Interjection

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Interjections are exclamations that can function as stand-alone words or additions to an independent clause.

Since they are more related to tone than grammar, interjections are one of the most peculiar parts of speech. In any case, let’s look at a few examples:

  • Wow! Your house looks amazing!
  • Huh! I didn’t know you were here.
  • Ugh, I don’t want to go to the party.
  • Phew, that was a close one.

As you can see, interjections can be complete words or “sounds” that have meaning in English. Usually, they include an exclamation point, though they can also join an independent clause with a comma.

Finally, interjections can just be stand-alone exclamations, in which case they always require an exclamation point. For example:

  • Thanks!
  • Congratulations!
  • No!
  • Yes!
  • Bingo!

Can Words Function as Multiple Parts of Speech?

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You might have noticed that some words fall into multiple categories. For example, the word “that” can be a determiner, conjunction, adverb, pronoun, or adjective.

As you can imagine, this can make it difficult to figure out the correct part of speech!

This also begs the question: can words function as more than one part of speech at the same time? In short, no. A word can only function as a single part of speech in a given sentence. Nonetheless, the same word can function as many different parts of speech in different sentences and contexts. For example :

  • Time flies when you’re having fun.
  • Fruit flies are really annoying.

In the first sentence, “flies” acts as a verb. In the second sentence, “flies” is a plural noun. However, it can only serve one function (i.e. it can only be one part of speech) at the same time.

Conclusion

In conclusion, parts of speech in English seem pretty straightforward on the surface, but even native English speakers get confused about how to categorize and use certain words. In any case, learning the parts of speech can help you understand English grammar. Additionally, it can help you figure out different ways to use words in English.

Most importantly, we hope you found this overview of the English parts of speech useful! As always, for all things English conversation, grammar, or job-related, visit Magoosh Speaking today!

4 Responses to Parts of Speech in English Overview

  1. G.vishnu vardhan December 5, 2020 at 8:13 pm #

    Very good experience

    • Sam Ju December 16, 2020 at 7:20 pm #

      Thanks!

  2. Smrity December 14, 2020 at 7:23 am #

    Amazing discription of parts of speech, easy and interesting. Could I please apply all these on my classes?

    • Sam Ju December 16, 2020 at 7:14 pm #

      Of course. Go ahead!


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