English Word Classes – An Overview
Verbs, nouns, prepositions – we use these words on a daily basis and ever since elementary school, we hardly gave them any bigger thought. Yet, native speakers and learners of English alike can profit from knowing about the word classes (or parts of speech) we have in the English language, which words belong to which class.
This overview will give you a quick and easy to understand explanation of the individual word classes as well as providing a few explanatory examples.
Word Classes in English
First of all, lets have a look at the word classes that are present in modern English. The following classification is adapted and followed by most English dictionaries and consists of eight (sometimes nine) word classes.
In many European languages, inflection shows in which category a word belongs. Unfortunately, in English his is a lot more difficult to distinguish. Furthermore, some words can belong to more than one word class, for example google which can be used as either a noun or a verb. The following explanations of the different word classes, however, will make it easier for you to distinguish what word belongs to which class.
These word classes can be further divided into two linguistic classes, an open and a closed one. The difference between those is that the open classes allow for new word to be invented and added, while there will never be words added to a closed class.
|Open word classes||Closed word classes|
Adjectives are used to describe either a noun or pronoun (see below). They modify other words and give them more detail.
beautiful, big, sad, angry, grey, artificial, exciting, tidy, Spanish
More about Adjectives
Adverbs are, despite their name, close related to adjectives and not to verbs when it comes to their function in a sentence. They have the function of describing or modifying other word classes like verbs and adjectives. They add even more detail and description to your writing.
very, typically, quite, fast, greatly, loudly, yesterday, soon
While the suffix -ly is a typical indication for an adverb, not all adverbs are formed by adding it to an adjective. Adverbs like fast, quite and very are not created this way. Also, not all words that end in -ly are adverbs (friendly, ugly).
More about Adverbs
Articles, sometimes also referred to as determiners, are small words that mark either definiteness or indefiniteness. In English, there is only one definite article while other European language (e.g. German and French) have articles that are gender-sensitive (der, die, das & le, la, l’)
the, an, a, these, this
More about Articles
Conjunctions are words that either connect words or even whole sentences with each other.
and, or, but, until, because
More about Conjunctions
Interjections or exclamations are words or whole phrases that express emotion. Surprise, pleasure, anger, shock and other strong feelings can be expressed in a text using this word class.
Hurray, Alas, Ow!, Well done
More about Interjections
Nouns are words that describe an abstract or concrete entity. This includes things and items, ideas, actions or qualities, persons and places.
house, boat, love, dream, Sara, baker, necklace, sadness, tiredness, New York, suburb
In English, we also differentiate between count nouns and non-count nouns. The difference between those two lies within their countability. Count nouns can be modified by a numeral or a word that describes a quantity like each or several. They occur in both singular and plural form, even though they sometimes do not differ in spelling.
We would have invited more guests to the party, but we have only three tables.
We would have needed several tables to invite the whole group.
Non-count nouns or mass nouns can not be described using a number. They consist of entities that can not be divided into one or a distinct number of entities itself.
I fear we are running out of water.
I drank six waters yesterday. 🚫
They brought several waters to the shelter. 🚫
More about Nouns
Prepositions are there to create relations between words in a sentence.
in, after, on, with, to, by, because of
Pronouns are very similar to nouns. They appear in the same positions in a sentence and are, basically, replacements for nouns that are known by all parties of the conversation.
that, he, she, they, them, us, our, themselves
Michael bought a strange pet yesterday. He really thought a python was a good idea.
More about Pronouns
Verbs belong to the most essential word classes. Without a verb, forming a proper sentence is impossible. Verbs describe an action, state of being (be) or an occurrence (happen). Verbs change depending on tense and agreement to the subject of a sentence.
talk, enjoy, feel, is, did, jump, seem, expand, rain, run, have
More about Verbs