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Parts of Speech

These definitions explain the 8 parts of speech in the English language.


A noun identifies a person, place, thing, or idea.

  • Common nouns are generic: girl, boy, city, ship, desk, courage
  • Proper nouns are specific: Juliet, Romeo, St. Louis, Titanic


A pronoun renames or refers back to the person, place, thing or idea mentioned earlier in a sentence.

  • Personal pronouns: I, me, you, they, them, she, her, he, him, it, we, us
  • Relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, which, that, what
  • Interrogative pronouns (used in questions): who, which, what, whose
  • Demonstrative pronouns: this, that, these and those
  • Indefinite pronouns (a partial list): all, anybody, anyone, both, each, everyone, everybody, many, none, several, someone


A verb expresses action or state of being. “Helping” verbs (such as modals and auxiliary verbs) are used with base verbs to make a verbal phrase.

  • Action verbs: see, run, jump, sing, study, dance, cry, shout, buy, sell, fix, think, wonder, etc.
  • State of being verbs: am, is, was, were, will be, became, appear, seem, look, feel, etc.
  • Modal verbs: can, could, will, would, shall, should, ought, must, may, might, etc. These verbs are found in verbal phrases, seldom by themselves: can see, will run, might study, must sell, etc.
  • Auxiliary verbs: am, is, are, was, were, have, had, etc.
  • In a verbal phrase, remember that the modal or auxiliary verb may be separated from the main verb, especially in a question:
    • Did you hear me call?
    • She is not going with us.
    • How long have you been working at McDonald’s?


An adjective describes or modifies a noun or pronoun:

For example:

  • brown eyes
  • that person
  • ten players

Adjectives tell...

  • what kind: brown eyes
  • which one: that person
  • how many: ten players


An adverb modifies or describes a verb, adjective, or another adverb. It usually answers “question” statements: how? when? where? why? how often? how much? to what degree?

  • The orchestra played beautifully. (How?)
  • The band has played there. (Where?)
  • The choir sang long. (To what extent?)
  • He is extremely capable. (How capable?)
  • She danced very slowly. (How slowly?)


A preposition shows a relationship between a noun/pronoun and another word. Most prepositions show motion toward a place or location of an object.

The English language has more than 40 prepositions, including: above, across, behind, below, down, in, off, on, under, through, into, of, on account of, in spite of, etc.


A conjunction joins words or groups of words. There are three major classes of conjunctions in English:

  • Subordinate conjunctions: when, while, although, because, since, if, until, even though, etc.
  • Coordinate conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so
  • Correlative conjunctions (used in pairs): neither/nor; either/or; not only/ but also; both/and


An interjection expresses an emotion such as delight, surprise, or disgust. It usually appears at the beginning of a sentence and often is followed by an exclamation point:

  • (Delight) Wow! Gosh! Golly! For heaven’s sake!
  • (Surprise) Oh! Ah! Yikes! Gee!
  • (Disgust) Yuck! Ugh! Bah!

A Word as More Than One Part of Speech

Remember, a word can be used as more than one part of speech. The function of a word determines what part of speech it is.

For example:

  • Appearances can be deceiving. (Can is a modal verb)
  • The tin can of tomatoes is dented. (Can is a noun)
  • We should can peaches and plums. (Can is an action verb)
  • The French actress danced the can-can. (Can-can is a noun-noun)
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