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Parts of Speech

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Some of the parts of speech in English can be pretty confusing, so here we’ll be thorough and spell out the function of all of them, with lots of examples to light the way.

The term “part of speech” refers simply to the various types of words that can be used in a sentence: noun, verb, adjective, that sort of thing.

Sometimes a single part of speech can serve more than one function. For example, a verb can be used as a noun, as in this example: “Running is my favorite pastime.” Here, the verb “running” is not revealing the action in the sentence; instead it’s serving as a noun.

A verb can also be used as an adjective, as in this example: “Do you hear running water?”

A verb used as a noun is called a gerund. A verb used as an adjective is called a participle. Both gerunds and participles are called verbals.

Hover over any word in the sentence below to see its part of speech. Click on any word to jump to that topic.

Charlie will now suck that really large piano up his nose.


© 2014 Keith W. Sessions. All rights reserved.






















An adjective is a word that modifies a noun or pronoun.

The list of adjectives in English is indeed long and we certainly won’t attempt to list them all here, especially since they’re easy enough to spot. If the word is modifying a noun (as “beautiful” modifies the noun “car” in the above example), it’s an adjective.

Adjectives themselves can be modified by adverbs, or phrases or clauses functioning as adverbs:

Pronouns Turned Adjectives

Many pronouns have an adjective counterpart, as in the examples in the following table.



Adjective Counterpart

Adjective Example


mine, yours, his, hers, its, theirs, ours

my, your, his, her, its, their, our

That guy stole my car!


this, these, that, those

this, these, that, those, what

That guy stole my car.


which, what

which, what

Which guy stole my car?


many, any, all, few

many, any, all, few

Many cars were stolen that day.

Pronouns are pretty easy to distinguish from adjectives—even if they look the same—because of what they’re doing in the sentence. A pronoun stands alone, as in this example:

Comparative vs. Superlative: Big, Bigger, Biggest

We use comparative and superlative adjectives all the time, but when a specific name is assigned to a grammatical structure, suddenly grammar seems complex. It really isn’t.

The comparative form is most typically formed by adding ‘-er’ to the adjective; however, some are formed by adding the word “more,” like this:

The superlative form is most typically formed by adding ‘-est’ to the adjective; however, some are formed by adding the word “most,” like this:


An adverb is a word that modifies a verb or an adjective. Adverbs are easy to spot because most of them end in ‘ly’.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs are used to join two clauses. In doing so, they are always preceded by a semicolon.

Conjunctive adverbs include such words as:

  • also

  • consequently

  • finally

  • furthermore

  • hence

  • however

  • incidentally

  • indeed

  • instead

  • meanwhile

  • nevertheless

  • nonetheless

  • otherwise

  • still

  • therefore

  • thus

Some Examples:


English has three articles: “a”, “an” if the word that follows begins with a vowel, and “the.”

Now, the term “article” itself is pretty intimidating. We all know an article generally is something that appears in a publication. But, in the world of English grammar, the term “article“ refers to “a”, “an,” or “the.”

Definite & Indefinite Articles

“A” (or “an”) is an indefinite article, which makes perfect sense if you think about it. Consider this sentence:

The above example says nothing about which car drove by. It’s indefinite in that regard. Now consider this example:

This example singles out a specific car; it’s definite about which car drove by.


A conjunction is used to links words, phrases and clauses. This is easy to remember because the word “conjunction” itself reveals its function. A “junction” is a “joining,” and the prefix “con” means “together.” “Conjunction” then quite literally means “join together.”

Coordinating Conjunctions

A coordinating conjunction links individual words, phrases, or independent clauses (independent because the clause could stand alone as a sentence in its own right; it has a subject and predicate).

Subordinating Conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction introduces a dependent clause—dependent because its meaning is not completed without the other clause; it cannot stand alone as a sentence in its own right:

In the first example, the conjunction “since” introduces the dependent clause “she was going to be late anyway.” In the second example, “because“ introduces the independent clause “they don't like heavy traffic.“

Here are some common subordinating conjunctions:

  • after

  • although

  • as

  • because

  • before

  • how

  • if

  • once

  • than

  • that

  • though

  • until

  • when

  • where

  • whether

  • while

Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are always used in pairs, as in these examples:


An interjection is a word added to lend emphasis to something, and is usually followed by an exclamation point. Strictly speaking, it isn’t really a part of speech because it doesn’t serve any grammatical purpose in writing.


A noun is a name of a thing. Now, most of us were taught that a noun is a “person, place or thing.” This is not correct. A noun can’t be a person. Only a person can be a person. A noun is a name of a thing, pure and simple, whether that thing is a person, a city, a tree, a feeling, or anything else.

Proper Noun: A proper noun is the name of a noun: Keith, Carla, Ford, Casio, Robert. Proper nouns always use initial caps (the first letter is capitalized) to denote their proper-noun status.

Pronoun: A pronoun takes the place of a noun, as in “you,” “we,” “they,” “them,” “I,” “he,” “she,” “it,” etc.


A preposition is grammatical glue; it’s placed before nouns, pronouns and phrases as a link to other words in the sentence. The word “preposition” reveals its meaning quite literally. The prefix “pre” means “before,” and “position” means “place,” so the word “preposition” literally means “place before.”

Prepositions are numerous in English. Here are a few:

  • in

  • on

  • off

  • around

  • over

  • above

  • along

  • against

  • among

  • beside

  • between

  • by

  • below

  • near

  • onto

  • past

  • through

  • toward



A pronoun is a noun that takes the place of a noun or other pronoun, as in “you,” “we,” “they,” “them,” “I,” “he,” “she,” “it,” etc.

Note that pronouns can also be used as adjectives.

Personal Pronouns






















He, She, It


Him, Her, It


His, Hers, Its


Demonstrative Pronouns

A demonstrative pronoun points to something, either near or far, singular or plural:

Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun is used to introduce a relative clause—in other words, a group of words that relate to the subject of the sentence.


In the first example, who relates to person and introduces the relative clause who mugged me last night.The second example demonstrates the fact that the relative pronoun that is used for things and the relative pronoun who is used for people.

Reflexive vs. Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns reflect back on the subject of the sentence. Reflexive pronouns are easy to spot because they all include the word “self” or "selves.”


Intensive pronouns lend emphasis to the subject of the sentence.


If you can remove the “-self” or “-selves” pronoun and the sentence still makes sense, it’s an intensive pronoun. If it doesn’t, it’s a reflexive pronoun.


Another test is to move the “-self” pronoun right next to the subject. If it still makes sense, it’s an intensive pronoun:

Interrogative Pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are used to ask a question—in other words, to “interrogate.”


Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns don't refer to any specific person or thing; they are vague or indefinite in this regard.



A verb is a word that denotes action (as opposed to a noun, which denotes a thing).

Linking Verbs

Linking verbs, also called auxiliary or helping verbs, are very common in English. Linking verbs connect a subject to its complement, as in this example:

Linking verbs convey either sensation or existence:

Auxiliary verbs are used extensively in English—for example, to form the various tenses (will drive, was driving, etc.). When an auxiliary verb is used with a regular verb in this way, it’s called a compound verb.

Other Examples:

Compound Verbs

A compound verb is simply a linking verb used with a regular verb, like this:


A verbal is a verb modified for use as a noun or adjective. English includes two types of verbals: gerunds and participles.

GERUND: Add ‘ing’ to a verb for use as a noun and you have a gerund. All gerunds end in ‘ing’, as in this example:

PARTICIPLE: Add ‘ing’ to a verb for use as an adjective and you have a participle, as in this example:

Participles come in two flavors: present and past. In the example above, “running” is a present participle. Add ‘en’ or ‘ed’ to a verb, however, and you have past participle, as in these examples:

Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs

Waxing technical for a moment, transitive verbs require an object; intransitive verbs do not. For example you can paint a house, but you can’t learn a house. You can drive a car, but you can’t thrive a car. You can visit a city, but you can’t arrive a city. In these examples, “learn,” “thrive” and “arrive” are intransitive.

Incidentally, this transitive vs. intransitive issue goes to the heart of why so many are so confused about “lay” and “lie.” You can lay brick, lay tile, etc., but you can’t lie tile, or lie brick because “lie” is intransitive; in other words, it does not take an object. That’s why you “lie down,” you don’t “lay down” (unless, of course, you lay down your weapons, which, again, is a transitive use).

Verb Voices

English uses two verb voices: active and passive. If the verb is performing its action on the subject, it’s in the passive voice (because the subject is passively accepting the action of the verb.

If the subject is performing the action, the verb is in the active voice because the subject is actively involved in the action.

ACTIVE: “My car shakes and rattles whenever I exceed 50 miles per hour.”

PASSIVE: “I was shaken to learn that my car is on its last legs.”

Writing typically is more interesting if the verbs are kept in the active voice rather than the passive voice. Better to write “I dodged a bullet” than “a bullet was dodged by me.”

Verb Moods

We use verb moods every time we tell someone to do something (imperative mood) or just indicate something is done (indicative). A third verb mood, the subjunctive, expresses something that is not factual or isn’t likely—a condition contrary to fact.

WRONG: “I’d get out of town if I was you.”

RIGHT: “I’d get out of town if I were you.”

Split Infinitives

An infinitive is a form of a verb that includes “to.” Every verb has an infinitive form: to run, to go, to cook, to write, to . . . any verb. To split an infinitive is to insert words between “to” and its corresponding verb.

Most of us learned as kids to never split an infinitive (as I just did). I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to do it. Go ahead, try it. The world will still be here in the morning.

Consider my first sentence: “Most of us learned as kids to never split an infinitive . . .”

Some grammar purists would insist that the sentence should read: “Most of us learned as kids never to split an infinitive . . .” However, placing “never” next to “split” as I did places the emphasis squarely on the word “split,” where it belongs. That, coupled with the original (and rather silly) motivation for the split-infinitive rule in the first place demands that common sense override this popular bit of grammar wisdom. For those who are interested, here’s why the origin of the rule is silly.

English arose originally as a language spoken by the peasant class. All educated persons of the day spoke either Latin or French. For years, in fact, speaking English was seen as a mark of ignorance. However, English eventually became so widely spoken that the scholars of the day decided it was time to retrofit it with grammar rules. When they did so, they looked to Latin as their model.

In Latin, the infinitive is always one word. Portare, for example, means “to carry” (the re added to the stem porta forms the infinitive of the verb). Now, obviously you can’t split a word apart and still call it a word (re standing alone does not mean “to”), so the scholars defined the rule, for English, that the infinitive must not be split.

One tiny point that seemed to escape them is that in English the infinitive is two words! Splitting it is no problem at all; you just stick a word in between “to” and the verb. “To quickly carry” makes perfect sense and sounds just fine, whereas “quickly to carry” just sounds weird. Those scholars weren’t bothered by that, though, so the rule against splitting the infinitive has been handed down generation after generation ever since.