Parts of Speech


Parts of Speech

Parts of Speech, words classified according to their functions in sentences, for purposes of traditional grammatical analysis (see Grammar). Eight parts of speech are usually identified: nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, verbs, and interjections. Most of the major language groups spoken today, notably the Indo-European languages and Semitic languages, use almost the identical categories; Chinese, however, has fewer parts of speech than English.


A noun (Latin nomen, "name") is usually defined as a word denoting a thing, place, person, quality, or action and functioning in a sentence as the subject or object of action expressed by a verb or as the object of a preposition. In modern English, proper nouns, which are always capitalized and denote individuals and personifications, are distinguished from common nouns.

Nouns and verbs may sometimes take the same form, as in Polynesian languages. Verbal nouns, or gerunds, combine features of both parts of speech. They occur in the Semitic and Indo-European languages and in English most commonly with words ending in -ing.

Nouns may be inflected to indicate gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter), number, and case. In modern English, however, gender has been eliminated, and only two forms, singular and plural, indicate number (how many perform or receive an action). Some languages have three numbers: a singular form (indicating, for example, one book), a plural form (indicating three or more books), and a dual form (indicating, specifically, two books). English has three cases of nouns: nominative (subject), genitive (possessive), and objective (indicating the relationship between the noun and other words).


An adjective is a word that modifies, or qualifies, a noun or pronoun, in one of three forms of comparative degree: positive (strong, beautiful), comparative (stronger, more beautiful), or superlative (strongest, most beautiful). In many languages, the form of an adjective changes to correspond with the number and gender of the noun or pronoun it modifies.


An adverb is a word that modifies a verb (he walked slowly), an adjective (a very good book), or another adverb (he walked very slowly). Adverbs may indicate place or direction (where, whence), time (ever, immediately), degree (very, almost), manner (thus, and words ending in -ly, such as wisely), and belief or doubt (perhaps, no). Like adjectives, they too may be comparative (wisely, more wisely, most wisely).


Words that combine with a noun or pronoun to form a phrase are termed prepositions. In languages such as Latin or German, they change the form of the noun or pronoun to the objective case (as in the equivalent of the English phrase give to me), or to the possessive case (as in the phrase the roof of the house).


Conjunctions are the words that connect sentences, clauses, phrases, or words, and sometimes paragraphs. Coordinate conjunctions (and, but, or, however, nevertheless, neither nor) join independent clauses, or parts of a sentence; subordinate conjunctions introduce subordinate clauses (where, when, after, while, because, if, unless, since, whether).


A pronoun is an identifying word used instead of a noun and inflected in the same way nouns are. Personal pronouns, in English, are I, you, he/she/it, we, you (plural), and they. Demonstrative pronouns are thus, that, and such. Introducing questions, who and which are interrogative pronouns; when introducing clauses they are called relative pronouns. Indefinite pronouns are each, either, some, any, many, few, and all.


Words that express some form of action are called verbs. Their inflection, known as conjugation, is simpler in English than in most other languages. Conjugation in general involves changes of form according to person and number (who and how many performed the action), tense (when the action was performed), voice (indicating whether the subject of the verb performed or received the action), and mood (indicating the frame of mind of the performer). In English grammar, verbs have three moods: the indicative, which expresses actuality; the subjunctive, which expresses contingency; and the imperative, which expresses command (I walk; I might walk; Walk!)

Certain words, derived from verbs but not functioning as such, are called verbals. In addition to verbal nouns, or gerunds, participles can serve as adjectives (the written word), and infinitives often serve as nouns (to err is human).


Interjections are exclamations such as oh, alas, ugh, or well (often printed with an exclamation point). Used for emphasis or to express an emotional reaction, they do not truly function as grammatical elements of a sentence.


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