Parts Of Speech: Breaking Them Down With Examples

Author: Sarah Perowne

More content

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 articles (determiners). These parts of speech represent categories of words according to their grammatical function.

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
Noun is a person or thing. Birthday, cake, Paris, flat Today is my birthday. I like cake. I have a flat; It's in Paris.
Pronoun is a noun substitute. I, you, she, her, him, some, and them. Susan is my neighbor; She is charming.
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.
Verb is an action word or state of being. Run, jump, sleep, can, do, (to) be, or like The teacher is happy; she likes her students.
Adverb describes a verb, adverb, or adjective. Merrily, slowly, softly, or quickly The girl spoke softly. She walked away slowly.
Preposition connects a noun or pronoun to another word. Shows the direction, location, or movement. In, on, at, to, after. We left by bus in the morning. Conjunction,"connects words, sentences, or clauses.
Article shows 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!

Still with us? Now, we will break down each of these English grammar categories and give some examples.

1. Nouns

Nouns are words that name a person, place, thing, or idea. They can be further classified into different types of nouns.

Proper Nouns Vs. Common Nouns

There are some nouns we can count and others we cannot. Take a look at this table.

Type Of Noun Definition Examples
Proper Nouns Name a specific person, place, or thing. Always start with a capital letter. Egypt, Paul, Eiffel Tower, Chicago
Common Nouns Don’t name a specific person, place, or thing. Don’t start with a capital letter unless they are placed at the beginning of a sentence. dog, houses, sleep, homes, cup

Concrete Nouns Vs. Abstract Nouns

Type Of Noun Definition Examples
Concrete Nouns Identify material things. apple, boy, clock, table, window
Abstract Nouns Express a characteristic or idea. happiness, tranquility, war, danger, friendship

Singular Nouns Vs. Plural Nouns

Rule Add Singular Noun Examples Plural Noun Examples
For most common nouns… -s Chair Chairs
For nouns that end in -ch, -s, -ch, or x… -es Teach Teaches
For nouns ending with -y and a vowel… -s Toy Toys
For nouns ending with -y and a consonant… Remove -y and add -ies Lady Ladies
For nouns ending in -o and a vowel… -es or -s Tomato Tomatoes
For nouns ending in -f or -fe… Remove -fe or -f and add -v and -es Leaf Leaves
For nouns ending in o- and consonant… -es Echo Echoes

Exceptions To The Rule

Some nouns are irregular, and it’s a case of learning their plural form as they don’t always follow specific rules. Here are some examples:

Singular Irregular Noun Plural Form
Man Men
Woman Women
Tooth Teeth
Child Children
Person People
Buffalo Buffalo

Countable Vs. Uncountable Nouns

Countable Nouns Uncountable of Mass Nouns Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Singular and Plural Cannot be pluralized Depends on the context of the sentence
Table / Tables Hair Chicken / A chicken
Chair / Chairs Air Coffee / Two coffees
Dog / Dogs Information Paper / Sheet of paper
Quantifiers: some, many, a few, a lot, numbers Quantifiers: some, any, a piece, a lot of, much, a little

Other Types of Nouns

Possessive Nouns

Possessive nouns 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.

Collective Nouns

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

  • Choir of singers
  • Herd of sheep

Noun Phrases

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.
  • The market down the street has the best prices.

If you want to know where to find nouns in a sentence, look for the subject or a direct object, 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. They can be further classified into different types of pronouns, such as personal, reflexive, and possessive.

Personal Pronouns

Subject Person Pronoun Examples
1st Person Singular I I am walking.
2nd Person Singular You You are walking.
3rd Person Singular She, He, and It It is walking.
1st Person Plural We We are walking.
2nd Person Plural You (all) You are walking.
3rd Person Plural They They are walking.

Reflexive Pronouns

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.

Possessive Pronouns

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.

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.

Lexical Verbs and Auxiliary 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 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 a verbal phrase consisting of the main verb, 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 the 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. 

Coordinating 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

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.

Subordinating Conjunctions

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.

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

Takeaways - Tips

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

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

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!