Basic English parts of speech

When learning English grammar, it’s important to know about the different parts of speech that make up the language so you can understand how to communicate clearly and effectively. Below you’ll find a list of the different parts of speech, an explanation of what each part does, and some examples and helpful tips.


Parts of speech

English uses nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions.


Nouns

Nouns are used for a person, place, thing, quality, activity, idea, or feeling. There are different types of nouns:

  1. A proper noun is the name of a specific person (e.g., John) or a place (e.g., New York). These nouns are always capitalized.
  2. A common noun is not capitalized. These nouns are used to describe general places, things, etc. (e.g., “house” or “mom”), and they have singular and plural forms (e.g., “house” and “houses”).
  3. A concrete noun describes something that we can see, hear, touch, feel, or taste (e.g., “rain” or “grass”). These nouns can also have singular and plural forms.
  4. An abstract noun describes something that we can’t perceive with our senses (e.g., “happiness” or “freedom”).
  5. A countable noun describes something that you can count. These nouns also have singular and plural forms (e.g., “truck” and “trucks”).
  6. A non-collective noun is something that can’t be counted (e.g., “water” and “air”).
  7. A collective noun describes a group of people or things (e.g., “herd” and “flock”).

Note that there are special rules governing the formation of plural nouns. Most of the time, you will add an -s to the end of the noun, as in “cars.” However, other nouns require other methods:

  1. If the noun ends in -s, -x, -ch, or -sh, add an -es to the end of the word (e.g., “foxes” or “lunches”).
  2. If the noun ends with a consonant and a -y, change the -y to an -i and add -es (e.g., “trollies”).
  3. If the noun ends in -o, add -es (e.g., “potatoes”).
  4. If the noun ends in -is, change the -is to -es (e.g., “hypotheses”).
  5. If the noun ends in -f, change the -f to -v and add -es (e.g., “loaves”).
  6. If the noun ends in -fe, change the -f to -v and add -s (e.g., “wives”).
  7. If the noun ends in -us, change the -us to -i (e.g., “stimuli”).
  8. If the noun contains -oo, change the -oo to -ee (e.g., “teeth”).
  9. If the noun ends in -on, change the -on to -a (e.g., “criteria”).

However, some nouns don’t change (e.g., “sheep” and “series”) and some don’t follow the rules above. For example, “moose” doesn’t become “meese” and “café” doesn’t become “caves.” Learning to spot these special cases takes time and practice.


Pronouns

Pronouns replace nouns in a sentence. It’s a good idea to use pronouns at times to help avoid repetitiveness in your writing. For example, the sentence “Sally needed bread, so she said she would go to the store to get it” contains three pronouns: two uses of “she” and one use of “it.” That sentence is a lot less awkward than “Sally needed bread, so Sally said Sally would go to the store to get bread.” It’s important to note that if you are going to use a pronoun, you must make sure you have already identified the noun it will replace in the sentence. To continue our previous example, saying “She needed something, so she said she would go get it” is confusing. Who is “she,” and what is “it”?

There are seven basic types of pronouns.

  1. Subjective personal pronouns are used to replace the subject in a sentence; they are “I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “we,” “they,” and “it.”
  2. Objective personal pronouns replace the object of a verb in a sentence; they are “me,” “you,” “him,” “her,” “us,” “them,” and “it.”
  3. Possessive personal pronouns indicate possession; they are “mine,” “yours,” “his,” “hers,” “ours,” “theirs,” and “its.”
  4. Reflexive pronouns are used when the object and subject in a sentence are the same; they are “myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “herself,” “ourselves,” “themselves,” and “itself.”
  5. Interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions; they are “what,” “which,” “who,” “whom,” and “whose.”
  6. Demonstrative pronouns are used to replace a noun and distinguish it from other things; they are “this,” “that,” these,” and “those.”
  7. Indefinite pronouns don’t refer to any specific person, place, or thing; they include pronouns such as “everyone,” “anywhere,” “anything,” and “someone.”

Verbs

There are three kinds of verbs in the English language: transitive, intransitive, and linking.

  1. A transitive verb shows that an action is applied to an object. In the sentence “I took the kids to school,” the verb “took” shows that I performed an action on the object of the sentence, which is “the kids.”
  2. An intransitive verb indicates an action that is not applied to an object. For example, in the sentence “I sang,” I performed an action that is not linked to an object.
  3. A linking verb links the subject to the rest of the sentence. These verbs include “being verbs” like “feel” and “seem” as well as “helping verbs” like “have,” “be,” and “do.”

Verbs can be changed to show whether an action took place in the past, present, or future. These different forms are known as verb tenses. English uses six basic tenses.

  1. The past tense indicates an action that has already taken place: “He walked.”
  2. The present tense indicates an action that is currently occurring: “He walks.”
  3. The future tense indicates an action that will take place: “He will walk.”
  4. The present perfect uses the past participle (“walked”) and either “have” or “has” to indicate an action that began in the past and is still occurring: “He has walked for exercise for 20 years.”
  5. The past perfect uses the past participle (“walked”) and “had” to indicate a past action that took place before another action: “He had walked 5 miles to get to the store.”
  6. The future perfect uses the past participle (“walked”) and “will have” to indicate an action that will be completed at a specific time in the future: “He will have walked 5 miles by this afternoon.”

Verbs also have two voices: active and passive. In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs an action: “He sings a song.” In this case, “he” is the subject and the action is singing. In passive voice, the subject receives the action: “The song was sung by him.” When you write, it’s best to use the active voice whenever possible.


Adjectives

Adjectives are used to describe a noun. There are two types of adjectives: attributive and predicative.

Attributive adjectives are located directly next to a noun in a sentence, e.g., “I like that blue car” (with the adjective “blue” describing the noun “car”) or “Those blueberry pancakes were delicious” (with the adjective “blueberry” describing the noun “pancakes”).

Predicative adjectives are separated from the noun they describe by a verb. For example, in the sentence “I thought the girl was pretty,” the adjective “pretty” describes the noun “girl.”


Adverbs

Adverbs describe or modify verbs, adjectives, or even other adverbs. For example, in the sentence “I quickly walked to the park,” the adverb “quickly” modifies the verb “walked” to show that the speaker walked fast instead of slowly. In the sentence “The child was very small,” the adverb “very” modifies the adjective “small.”


Prepositions

Prepositions link nouns and pronouns to other words within a sentence. Most of the time, prepositions indicate where a noun or pronoun is with regard to space and time. For example, in the sentence “I put my hat on the rack,” the preposition “on” shows where the speaker placed his or her hat. In the sentence “I made dinner after I went to the grocery store,” the preposition “after” tells when the speaker made dinner.


Articles

There are two types of articles: definite and indefinite. The definite article is the word “the,” which indicates one specific thing, e.g., “Go get the car.” In that example, we are referring to one specific car. There are two indefinite articles: “a” and “an.” These are used to refer to something that is not as specific, e.g. “Go read a book” or “Go eat an apple.” In these examples, we are telling the listener to read any book or eat any apple. The article “an” is used before words that begin with a vowel sound.


Conjunctions

Conjunctions link words or parts of sentences. There are two types of conjunctions: coordinate and subordinate.

The coordinate conjunctions are “and,” “but,” “either…or,” and “neither…nor.” These conjunctions link words or groups of words that have equal significance in a sentence, e.g., “red and blue balls” or “I went to the store, but I didn’t buy anything.” In the second example, both parts of the sentence (“I went to the store” and “I didn’t buy anything”) could stand on their own as complete sentences.

Subordinate conjunctions link more important words or groups of words to words that are considered less important. The subordinate conjunctions are “that,” “as,” “after,” “before,” “since,” “when,” “where,” “unless,” and “if.” In the sentence “After I went to the store, I came home and made dinner,” the phrase “After I went to the store” cannot stand on its own as a complete sentence. Therefore, it depends on the second part of the sentence to make sense.

Now that you know all about the different parts of speech, check out our articles on Basic English sentence structure and Basic English punctuation.


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