Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The English Parts of Speech - One way of looking at them

by Allan J. Hirshey

Presented below is a quick, handy, and comprehensive reference guide to the English parts of speech.  The guide is addressed to substitute teachers, returning teachers, and part-time tutors, all needing to quickly refresh their knowledge of this subject matter.   It’s easy to remember the names of the parts of speech by using the following mnemonic devices: IVAN CAPP (interjections, verbs, adjectives, nouns, conjunctions, adverbs, prepositions, and pronouns); and/or VIC NAPPA.  Enjoy the guide, and happy teaching!


Definition/Use: names of persons, places, things, animals, actions, quality, and ideas/concepts.

Examples:  Georges Bizet, San Juan, shoe, lion, departure, endurance, science.

 Noun Classifications/Forms:

 (1) Proper (always begins with a capital letter) - “James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Deerslayer.”

 (2) Common (not capitalized, unless the beginning word of a sentence) - “The author was J.D. Salinger.”   

 (3) Concrete (nouns perceived by the five senses - see, hear, smell, touch, or taste) - “Your new jazz compact disk looks and sounds great.”      

 (4) Abstract (nouns not perceived by the five senses, nor measurable) - “His imagination is almost non-existent.”

 (5) Collective (a group of things or people) - “Lady Gaga lost her luggage at the airport.”

 (6) Countable (nouns that can be either singular or plural in form) - “Silver coins and gold ingots went way up in value.”    

 (7) Non-Countable (nouns that cannot be plural in form, no “s” ending) -“All their furniture was made in Taiwan.”  

 (8) Gerunds (infinite verbs ending in “ing”, but functioning as nouns) -“ Knitting is her favorite pastime.”   
 (9) Compound (a noun made up of two or more words) - “We just remodeled our bedrooms and bathrooms.”


Definition/Use:  a part of speech that takes the place of a noun in a sentence.  The noun being replaced by the pronoun is called the “antecedent”.

Examples:  its, he, she, you, their, her, him.

Pronouns Classifications/Forms:

 (1)   Subject Personal (indicates that the pronoun is acting as the subject of the sentence)-   “The culprit was he.” 

 (2)   Object Personal (indicates that the pronoun is acting as an object of a verb or preposition) - “The park ranger gave us two hikers a map of Yosemite National Park.”       

 (3)   Possessive (shows possession and/or ownership, not used with an apostrophe). “The tiger is licking its paws.”

(4)   Indefinite (refers to an identifiable, but not a specific person or thing) -”She donated some antiques to charity.”   

 (5)   Interrogative (a pronoun used to introduce or to ask a question) - “Who wrote the novel Moby Dick?”  

 (6)   Demonstrative (pronouns pointing to and identifying a noun or pronoun) - “This cake looks fresh.”    

 (7)   Reflexive (pronouns ending in “self” or “selves” and performing actions on or for themselves) -“She made a pastrami on rye for herself.”   

(8)    Intensive (pronouns identical in form (ending in “self) to reflexive pronouns appearing above, but used to emphasize their antecedents) - “She made a pastrami on rye for the Vice-President himself.”   

(9)    Relative (pronouns introducing a relative clause and referencing an antecedent) - “The swimmer, whom we admired, won a silver medal.”

(10)  Reciprocal (pronouns used when each of two or more subjects are acting/relating each way to one another) - “Upon landing, the astronauts congratulated one another.” 

(11)  Negative (pronouns indicating the non-existence of people and things, to replace a noun phrase and to make it negative) - “Nobody won the Michigan State lottery.”


Definition/Use:  words that describe nouns or pronouns.

Examples:  purple, several, round, these, Shakespearean, broken, tenth, seven, easiest. 

Adjective Classifications/Forms:

(1)   Descriptive (also called an “attributive” adjective, can be classified into two sub types - simple descriptive and compound descriptive).

(1a)  Simple Descriptive (single or one word describing a noun) - “A huge tidal wave destroyed the marina.”  

(1b)  Compound Descriptive (two adjectives describing the noun) - “Your bluish-green bath tiles look real ritzy.” 

 (2)  Determiners (precede and modify nouns, used to express information about a noun such as definiteness, proximity, relationship, and quantity, sub-categories include articles, quantifiers, demonstratives, numbers, interrogatives, and possessives). 

 (2a)  Articles (the definite article is “the” and the two indefinite articles are “a” and “an”) -“An American diplomat was arrested in Cairo.”  “Please put a pear in the brown bag.”

(2b)  Quantifiers (answers questions how much & how many in general terms) - “Many prisoners escaped.” 

(2c)  Numbers (answers questions how much & how many in specific terms)-“Eighty percent of my class failed physics.”

(2d)  Demonstrative (used to indicate which person or thing is meant) - “Give me all those Cuban cigars!”

(2e)  Possessive (when a possessive pronoun is used to modify the noun following it to show possession, it functions as an adjective)- “That’s her file, but his desk.”

(2f)  Interrogative (another form of possessive pronoun, but asks for more specific identification of a person or thing) - “Whose cell phone is ringing?”

(3)   Relative (a form of possessive pronoun modifying names of persons and things)-“Which tie and jacket are you going to wear tonight?”   

(4)   Comparative (used to compare the differences between two nouns or a collective noun) - “Nike is more well-known in Canada than Nestles.”

(5)   Superlative (used to state something of the highest or the lowest degree) - “The fastest sport on foot is lacrosse.”

(6)    Proper (an adjective requiring capitalization, normally denoting nationality) - “The ladies prefer Irish coffee.”

(7)   Eponymous (a proper adjective derived from a person’s name) - “I study Euclidean geometry and Boolean algebra.”

(8)  Appositives (multiple adjectives used to emphasize noun/ pronoun descriptions, by being placed after them and then set off by commas) - “Their son, smart, arrogant, and wealthy, is the city’s mayor.”

(9)  Participles (verbs used as adjectives, formed from a verb’s present or past participle) - “The time-consuming bar examination wreaked havoc on my nerves.” 


Definition/Use: a word or phrase expressing an action or a state of being.        

Examples: write, catch, imagine, hear, learn, drive, was, dive, shoot, multiply, criticize, open.

Verb Classifications/Forms:

(1)   Main (also called a “lexical” verb, expresses the activity, event, or feeling described in the sentence, its two sub-categories are action verbs and linking verbs).  

(2)   Action (also called a “dynamic” verb, specifies action) - “Dell produces and sells the fastest desk top computers in the world.”

(2a)  Transitive (an action verb taking a direct object - its three sub-types are mono transitive, di transitive, and complex transitive). “George Gershwin composed The Cuban Overture.””

(2a1) Mono Transitive (a transitive verb taking only a single direct object) - “Madame Curie discovered radium.”

(2a2) Di Transitive (a transitive verb taking a direct and an indirect object) - “Queen Isabella gave Columbus three ships.”

(2a3)  Complex Transitive (a transitive verb taking a direct object plus an object complement) - “They chose Otto von Bismarck Chancellor.”

(2a4)  Intransitive (an action verb not taking a direct object) - “At midday, seals lie in the sun.”

(3)     Linking (also called a “copular” verb, doesn’t express an action, but implies a state of being and includes all forms of the verb “to be”) -“He was and still is a selfish person.”

(4)     Helping (also called an “auxiliary” verb, sub-categories are modal & semi-modal, combined with the main verb to create a complete verb) - “You should consider hiring a tutor.”   

(4a)   Modal (a helping verb expressing ability, inclination, or obligation)-“Those teenagers ought to stop smoking.”

(4b)   Semi-Modal (a verb partly like a modal and partly like a “lexical” or full verb) - “We used to smoke pot.”  

(5)    Regular (a verb forming its past tense and past participle by adding “d”, “ed”, and  sometimes “t” to the base form)- “Marcus Crassus captured and then executed Spartacus.”

(6)     Irregular (a verb that doesn’t form its past tense and past participle by adding “d” or “ed”)- “We flew to Orlando.”

(7)     Infinite (a verb whose base form is preceded by “to”) - “I’m here to inquire about your job vacancy.”

(8)     Phrasal (a verb plus a preposition or adverb that changes the meaning to make a new verb) - “His bill adds up to two hundred shekels.”

(9)     Stative (also called a “state” verb, describes a state and feeling, as opposed to an action verb) - “They know about and understand your predicament.”


Definition/Use:  a word which describes or gives more information about a verb, adjective, adverb, or phrase, usually ending in “ly”, and used to indicate manner, time, place, cause or degree.

Examples:  frequently, loudly, in order to, nowhere, now, soon, underground, surely.

Adverb Classifications/Forms:

(1)  Time (describes when something happens) -“Phineas T. Bluster recently discovered ants in his pants.”   

(2) Place (answers the question where) - “John Dillinger was shot inside the mall next to the drugstore.”

(3) Degree (answers questions how much and up to what extent) - “Nebuchadnezzar was extremely wicked.” 

(4) Purpose (answers the question why something happens) - “Tiny Tim detoured, in order to avoid the traffic jam.”

(5) Manner (modifies the verb to describe how the action was done) - “Bonnie and Clyde quickly and quietly escaped.”

(6)  Assertive (telling the speaker’s belief or disbelief in a statement) - “I’m certain that China rules North Korea.”

(7) Frequency (answers the questions how long, how often) -“Her bank publishes its financial reports daily and monthly.”

(8) Conjunctive (an adverb indicating the relationship in meaning between two independent clauses) - “Our attorney didn’t file an injunction; consequently, he lost our zoning case.”

(9) Interrogative (an adverb used to ask a question) - “How did the ancient Aztecs build their pyramid-shaped temples?”  

(10) Comparative (an adverb comparing the difference in amount, quality, and/or degree between two things) - “Usain Bolt runs much faster than his closest competitor.”

(11) Superlative (an adverb expressing something of the highest or lowest degree) - Usain Bolt ran the fastest mile.”


Definition/Use:  a part of speech (sometimes called a “function word”) used to connect words, phrases, and clauses in a sentence. 

Examples:  but, for, not only, since, although, yet, so.  

Conjunction Classifications/Forms:

(1)  Coordinating (connects two or more independent clauses, the mnemonic device used is FANBOYS - for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so) - “Sherlock Holmes loved tea, but he hated crumpets.”  

(2)  Subordinating (joins together a dependent clause and an independent clause) - “Although Joe Louis was a famous heavyweight boxer, he loathed violence.”  

(3) Correlative (also called a “paired” conjunction, and always used in pairs to link equivalent sentence elements) - “Rasputin was neither rich nor poor.”


Definition/Use:  a word used before (pre-positioned) a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun, connecting it to another word, and indicating location, direction, manner, movement, and time.

Examples: at, in, by, across, after, against, underneath, between, beyond, on, through, with.

Preposition Classifications/Forms:

(1) Time (indicating time)-“The community pool is closed until further notice.”

(2) Location (indicates location) - “We took the subway under the Oakland Bay Bridge.”     

(3) Manner (indicates manner) - “He walks like Charlie Chaplin.”

 (4) Direction (indicates direction) - “The track team jogged along the banks of the Susquehanna River.” 

 (5) Movement (indicates movement) - “Boeing’s computer staff moved across the street.”


Definition/Use: a part of speech, capable of standing alone, used to express surprise, emotion, exclamation, or attitude, followed by an exclamation point or a comma. 

Examples:  Ah,  Huh,  Phooey,  Oh,  Yea,  Bah,  Whew,  Wow,  Alas,  Gee,  Golly.

Interjection Classifications/Forms:

(1) Strong (also referred to as “forceful” interjections, set off by exclamation points) - “Ouch!  That hurts!”

(2) Weak (also referred to as “mild” interjections, set off by commas, not by exclamation points) - “Gosh, I’m sorry!”


English vocabulary words can be very versatile.  For example, the word “oil” can be used in noun, verb, adjective, and adverb forms.   “Oil has caused many world conflicts.”  “Mario Andretti oiled his racing car.” “Warren Buffett bought more oil stock.”  “The iguana’s belly felt oily.”  Advantages of learning the parts of speech are gaining a better understanding of their grammatical interrelationships, strengthening teaching self-confidence in the actual classroom setting, and improving writing skills. 

Because of the absence of a central authority regulating English use or grammar, there is no one correct way to sub-categorize the parts of speech.  Consequently, there are other long-standing grammatical disagreements still remaining to be resolved.  A few noteworthy examples are correct comma usage, and whether determiners should be unbundled from adjectives and made an independent speech part heading.  And interestingly, an internet website indicated that some academicians had defrocked the pronoun, by eliminating it as an independent speech part and sub-categorizing it under the noun.  Moreover, in its description of the English parts of speech, another educational website omitted any reference whatsoever to the interjection.  Are there anymore sacred cows out there in “speech part land” awaiting full or near extinction at the “altar?”  If so, will a universally accepted English language authority triumphantly appear and come to their rescue?  Place your bets!