Breaking Down Parts Of Speech - Grammar

Parts of speech are like Legos. Instead of being made into houses or spaceships, they’re the building blocks we use to form written and spoken language.

Every word you speak or write is a part of speech. In the English language, there are 8 parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and adjectives. These parts of speech represent categories of words according to their grammatical function.

Parts of speech graphic design

Why Understanding Parts of Speech is Important? 

Having a basic understanding of the parts of speech in the English language gives you a specific terminology and classification system to talk about language. It can help you correctly punctuate a sentence, capitalize the right words, and even understand how to form a complete sentence to avoid grammatical errors.

The 8 Parts of Speech: Definitions, Examples, and Rules

Part Of Speech Function Example Vocabulary Example Sentences
A noun is a person or thing. Birthday, cake, Paris, flat, and Jane. Today is my birthday.
I like cake.
I have a flat;It's in Paris.
A pronoun is a noun substitute. I, you, she, her, him, some, and them. Susan is my neighbor; She is charming.
An adjective describes the noun in a sentence. Happy, small, cozy, hungry, and warm. She lives in a small cottage.
Her home is cozy and warm.
A verb an action word or state of being. Run, jump, sleep, can, do, (to) be, or like The teacher is happy; she likes her students.
An adverb describes a verb, adverb, or adjective. Merrily, slowly, softly, or quickly The girl spoke softly.
She walked away slowly.
A preposition connects a noun or pronoun to another word by showing the direction of the place, location, or movement. In, on, at, to, after. We left by bus in the morning.
We returned on Sunday.
A conjunction connects words, sentences, or clauses. And, but, or, nor. I like apple pie and ice cream, but I don’t like hamburgers.
An article to show whether a specific identity is known or unknown. A, an, and the. A man called today.
The cat is on the table;get it off!
SOURCE: Word Tips

Still with us? Now, we will break each category down and give some examples.

1. Nouns

Nouns are words that name a person, place, thing, or idea. Examples of nouns are Sam, England, dog, and safety. Nouns can be further classified into specific types of nouns, such as proper nouns, common nouns, and abstract nouns. 

Proper nouns name a specific person, place, or thing and always start with a capital letter. 

Some examples are;

  • Egypt
  • Paul
  • Eiffel Tower

Common nouns don’t name a specific person, place, or thing and don’t start with a capital letter unless they are placed at the beginning of a sentence. 

Some examples are;

  • dog
  • houses
  • sleep 

Abstract nouns, as opposed to concrete nouns that identify material things, are words that express a characteristic or idea. 

Some examples are;

  • Happiness
  • Tranquility 
  • War

Possessive nouns are nouns that possess something and usually have ‘s or simply ‘ at the end. When the noun is singular, we add an ‘s. When the noun is plural, we add an apostrophe. 

Here are examples of possessive nouns;

  • David’s sister has a dog. 
  • His sister’s dog is named Max. 

Their parents’ have two dogs.

Nouns can be singular or plural. In some cases, you simply add an -s to make a noun plural. Other times, it’s a bit trickier, such as with words that end in -y. When plural, the -y ending becomes -ies.

Here are examples of making -y words into the plural form;

  • Lady (S) and ladies (Pl), 
  • or library (S) and libraries (PL.) 

There are some nouns we can count and others we cannot. Countable nouns can be counted, such as;

  • Tables and chairs,
  • or dogs and cats

These can be singular or plural. 

Mass nouns, or uncountable nouns, can’t be counted and don’t have a plural form. Air, water, and hair are mass nouns. Of course, we can still count them in units, such as;

  • Strands of hair
  • Cups of water 

However, we can’t pluralize them using different conjunctions.

A noun phrase is two or more words that function as a noun in a sentence. It also includes modifiers that can come before or after the noun.

Here are examples of noun phrases;

  • The little brown dog is mine. 
  • Their new blue car is incredible. 
  • The market down the street has the best prices. 

Collective nouns refer to a group or collection of things, people, or animals. Such as;

  • Forest of trees
  • Choir of singers
  • Herd of sheep

If you want to know where to find nouns in a sentence, look for the subject or direct objects, and they will stand right out. For example; 

  • Mary ate chocolate cake and ice cream

(Mary = Subject, chocolate cake, and ice cream = direct objects.) 

This is an easy way to identify nouns in a sentence.

2. Pronouns

Pronouns are words used in the place of a noun or noun phrase. 

For example; 

  • The tourists listened to a tour guide speaking about a painting; they looked interested in what he was saying about it

Pronouns can be further classified into different types of pronouns, such as personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, and possessive pronouns. 

Some examples of personal pronouns are I, me, he, him, they, and them. 

Here are examples of personal pronouns in sentences;

  • They are my friends. 
  • I tried to help them win the game. 
  • You weren’t with us. 

Some examples of reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, herself, and itself.

Here are examples of reflexive pronouns in sentences;

  • I helped myself to an extra serving of gravy. 
  • She didn’t do the cooking herself. 
  • The word itself is pretty easy to spell but hard to pronounce.

Reflexive pronouns can also be used for emphasis, as in this sentence: Joe himself baked the cake.

Some examples of possessive pronouns are my, mine, your, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs. We use these words when we want to express possession. Such as;

  • Is this your car? 
  • No, it’s his.
  • It’s not mine.

Mine, yours, and his are examples of the independent form of possessive pronouns, and when showing possession, these pronouns never need an apostrophe.

3. Adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns. They make the meaning more definite. When we want to talk about what kind of a house we have, we can use adjectives to describe it, such as big, red, or lovely. 

We can use adjectives to precede the word it modifies, like this;

  • She wore a beautiful, blue dress.

Or we can use adjectives following the word they modify, like this; 

  • The athlete, tall and thin, was ready to win the race. 

There are many types of adjectives, one being possessive. The seven possessive adjectives are my, your, his, her, its, our, and their. These words modify a noun or pronoun and show possession. Such as;

  • Their dog is brown.
  • How old is your brother?
  • That was my idea.

These words make it clear to who the person, animal, thing, or idea belongs.

4. Verbs

Verbs are words that express an action or a state of being. All verbs help to make a complete statement. Action verbs express a physical action, for example;

  • Run
  • Jump 
  • Stop

Other verbs express a mental action, for example;

  • Think
  • Consider
  • Dream

These can also be called lexical verbs.

Sometimes lexical verbs need the help of another type of verb. That’s where helping verbs, or auxiliary verbs, come into action; they help to make a statement or express an action. 

Examples of auxiliary verbs are am, are, is, has, can, may, will be, and might have.

When we use more than one verb when writing or speaking to express an action or state of being, it’s called a verbal phrase and is made up of the main verb, or lexical verb, and one or more, auxiliary verbs

Some examples of verbal phrases: 

  • Have gone 
  • Should have done
  • Must have been broken 
  • Will be following

Here are examples of verbal phrases used in a sentence:

  • You should have gone to the concert last night. It was amazing!
  • I may go to the concert next time if I have the money for a ticket.

I might have missed out this time, but I certainly won’t next time.

5. Adverbs

Adverbs are used to describe an adjective, verb, or even another adverb. They can express how something is done, as in splendidly or poorly.

Here are some examples of adverbs in use: 

  • She was running extremely fast during that race.

The adverb extremely modifies the adjective fast, expressing just how rapid the runner was.

  • I can hardly see it in the distance. 

The adverb hardly modifies the verb see, expressing how much is visible, which in this case is not much at all. 

  • It’s been surprisingly poorly cleaned. 

The adverb surprisingly modifies another adverb poorly, expressing the surprise at how badly the car has been cleaned.

6. Prepositions

They are used to show relationships between words, such as nouns or pronouns, with other words in the sentence. They can indicate spatial or time relationships. Some common prepositions are about, at, before, behind, but, in, off, on, to, and with.

Here are some examples of common prepositions in sentences:

  • She sat behind me in class. 
  • Her mother was from Vietnam. 
  • The two of us worked together on the project.

Prepositions are followed by objects of prepositions, a noun, or a noun phrase that follows to give it meaning. 

  • Julie goes to school with Mark. (With whom? Mark.)

Groups of words can also act as prepositions together, such as in spite of

In spite of all the traffic, we arrived just on time.

7. Conjunctions

Conjunctions link words or groups of words together. We often use them to create complex sentences. There are three types of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and subordinating conjunctions. 

Examples of coordinating conjunctions are and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet. Such as;

  • He wanted apple pie and ice cream. 
  • She offered him fruit or cookies.  
  • He ate the fruit but still wanted apple pie.

Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs. Some examples are;

  • Either/or,
  • and neither/ nor. 

Here is an example of the conjunctions above in use:

  • He wanted neither fruit nor cookies for dessert. 

We use subordinating conjunctions to begin subordinate clauses or sentences. 

Some examples of common subordinating conjunctions are after, before, then, when, provided, unless, so that, and while. Such as;

  • He left the house before it turned dark.
  • He realized he had forgotten a gift when he arrived at the party.

The party was better than he had imagined.

8. Articles

There are three articles in the English language: a, an, and the. Articles can indicate whether a specific identity is known or not.

A and an are called indefinite articles and refer to a general group. Such as;

  • A woman is at the front door.
  • She stood there for a minute.
  • She had a book in her hand.

The is a definite article and refers to a specific thing or person. Such as;

  • The woman at the door is my friend Tracy.
  • She’s returning the book she borrowed last week.

It’s important to get these right to know if we’re talking about a specific item, person, or thing in general.

Takeaways - Tips and FAQs 

How many parts of speech are there in the English language? Are there 8, 9, or 10? 

Some sources consider articles to be an adjective and not a separate part of speech in itself. Other sources believe the numeral (five, ten, twenty) to be a part of speech. 

There is also a category called interjection. Darn! What’s that? Yes, Darn! is an interjection, which is a word that expresses emotion and has no grammatical connection to other words in the sentence. Ah! Oh boy! Now that is interesting. 

Many words can also be used as more than one part of speech. 

For example, the word these can be used as both an adjective and a pronoun. Such as;

  • These cookies are terrible. 

(These is used as an adjective modifying the word cookies.) 

  • These are much tastier. 

(These is used as a pronoun taking the place of the previously mentioned noun cookies.) 

Once you get the hang of it, identifying the various parts of speech in a sentence will be second nature, like riding a bike. And just think, it can help you craft stronger sentences.

Be sure to try our word tools. You can generate words by part of speech, starting letter, length, etc., and start improving your knowledge of the English language word by word.