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GEN 100

Writing Workshop

The Parts of Speech

Here are the eight categories that English words fall into:


Can be a person, place, or thing. The category of "thing" includes much: ideas, actions, living things, and more.

Nouns can act as subjects, objects, or other complements. Nouns may take on modifiers, including determiners, articles and other adjectives. Many parts of speech can act as nouns, such as gerunds, infinitives, pronouns, or nominal clauses.

Nouns can be (1) common or proper; (2) count, non-count, or collective; (3) singular or plural; (4) definite or indefinite.


Verbs describe an action or state.

Verbs form the main part of the predicate of a sentence. Verbs can appear in verbal phrases (gerund, participial, and infinitive), which can act as nouns or modifiers.

Verbs can be action verbs (do, eat, run, work, study, talk, etc.) or linking verbs (be, seem, become, look, sound, feel, taste, smell).

Base verbs (without modals / helping verbs) have two tenses (past and future); four aspects (simple, progressive, perfect, perfect-progressive); three moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative); and two voices (active and passive).

These terms are defined as:

Only two tenses? No future tense? This depends on how you categorize and define parts of English. Most grammar definitions include many tenses. Strict grammarians, however, will see tense as only affecting the base form of the verb, and do not count compound or modal verbs as "tenses." In English, the base verb never changes to describe the future; this is only carried by modals (e.g., "will") and auxiliaries (e.g., "going to").

Auxiliary Verbs

Verbs can also act with modal auxiliary verbs to expand their use. "Modal" means the possibility, obligation, ability, or permission related to an action. Modals include:

There are also some non-modal auxiliary verbs:

Off-topic Japanese-English translation note: The Japanese construction "~ba ii" ("it would be better if") is often dangerously mistranslated as "had better." In English, "had better" contains a sense of threat: something bad will happen to you if you don't do it. Once, I worked in an office where a Japanese manager told an English-speaking worked that she "had better wear dress shoes" to work. The manager intended it as a suggestion; the worker believed she was being threatened with losing her job.


Pronouns replace nouns that have already been mentioned, or something that cannot or need not be named specifically.

Pronouns sometimes appear differently in the object position (he/him, I/me, etc.).

Pronouns include:


Adjectives describe nouns or words/phrases acting as nouns.

Adjectives almost always come before nouns. If used with linking verbs, they come after the verb.

Determiners are often counted as adjectives, though they are sometimes given their own place as a part of speech.

Determiners include articles (a, an, the), demonstratives (this, that, when used with a noun), quantifiers (many, little, few, several), numbers (two, five, thirty), and distributive (each, any). Pronouns sometimes are categorized with determiners.


Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and whole sentences.

Adverbs can describe time (today, tomorrow), frequency (often, always), place (here, there, anywhere, everywhere), and manner (slowly, well, skillfully).

I once heard a grammarian say, half-jokingly, that if you cannot identify what part of speech a word is, then it is probably an adverb!


Conjunctions join words, phrases, and clauses. They include three categories:

Coordinating conjunctions join words, phrases, and independent clauses. They come between the words, phrases, and clauses that are linked. Sometimes (not always), they are preceded by a comma. Formally, they should never link sentences, but they are often used this way in casual writing.

Subordinating conjunctions join dependent (adverbial) clauses to independent clauses. They come at the beginning of the dependent clause. A comma will follow the dependent clause if it comes before another clause; no comma is used if the dependent clause follows an independent clause.

Correlative conjunctions join words, phrases, and clauses, but they have two parts. Each part comes before the word(s) they connect. Correlative conjunctions usually connect similar structures.

One extra category is usually added to conjunctions, but they are not truly conjunctions: subjunctive adverbs (sometimes called logical connectors), such as however, furthermore, for example, and therefore. These are groups with conjunctions because they do almost the same thing: they connect clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and groups of paragraphs together. However, they are technically adverbs.


Prepositions are used with a noun phrase (the object of a preposition) to provide information about time, location, or manner.

Prepositions can be a single word (in, on, after, about, by, with), or they can be phrasal (because of, instead of, according to).

Do not confuse prepositions with phrasal verbs, such as find out, turn in, or bring up. A phrasal verb includes a verb plus one or more prepositions. However, the prepositions are not counted as "actual" prepositions; instead, they are counted as part of the verb.

You can tell a preposition from a phrasal verb in two ways: (1) a preposition in a phrasal verb does not carry literal meaning; for example, when you "wake up," nothing is actually going upwards. Also, (2) a preposition always has an object; the preposition used as a phrasal verb does not have its own object. If you say, Tomorrow, I will sleep in, there is no object for a preposition:


Interjections are short statements, meant to catch someone's attention, to address someone, or to express emotion.

These could include Hey! Ouch! Meh, Wow! Eww! Daw, What the? or perhaps Gesundheit.,