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In grammar, a part of speech (also a word class, a lexical class, or a lexical category) is a linguistic category of words (or more precisely lexical items), which is generally defined by the syntactic or morphological behaviour of the lexical item in question. Common linguistic categories include noun and verb, among others. There are open word classes, which constantly acquire new members, and closed word classes, which acquire new members infrequently if at all.

Almost all languages have the lexical categories noun and verb, but beyond these there are significant variations in different languages.[1] For example, Japanese has as many as three classes of adjectives where English has one; Chinese, Korean and Japanese have nominal classifiers whereas European languages do not; many languages do not have a distinction between adjectives and adverbs, adjectives and verbs (see stative verbs) or adjectives and nouns[citation needed], etc. This variation in the number of categories and their identifying properties entails that analysis be done for each individual language. Nevertheless the labels for each category are assigned on the basis of universal criteria.[1]


Since the Greek grammar of 2nd century BC, parts of speech have been defined by morphological, syntactic and semantic criteria. However, there is currently no generally agreed-upon classification scheme that can apply to all languages, or even a set of criteria upon which such a scheme should be based.


A diagram of English categories in accordance with modern linguistic studies

English words have been traditionally classified into eight lexical categories, or parts of speech (and are still done so in most dictionaries):

any abstract or concrete entity; a person (police officer, Michael), place (coastline, London), thing (necktie, television), idea (happiness), or quality (bravery)
any substitute for a noun or noun phrase (them)
any qualifier of a noun or pronoun (big)
any action (walk), occurrence (happen), or state of being (be)
any qualifier of an adjective, verb, clause, sentence, or other adverb (very)
any establisher of relation and syntactic context (in)
any syntactic connector (and)
any emotional greeting (or "exclamation") (ow)

Linguists recognize that the above list of eight word classes is drastically simplified and artificial.[2] For example, "adverb" is to some extent a catch-all class that includes words with many different functions. Some have even argued that the most basic of category distinctions, that of nouns and verbs, is unfounded,[3] or not applicable to certain languages.[4][5] Although these eight are the traditional eight English parts of speech, modern linguists have been able to classify English words into even more specific categories and subcategories based on function.

The four main parts of speech in English, namely nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, are labelled form classes as well. This is because prototypical members of each class share the ability to change their form by accepting derivational or inflectional morphemes. The term form is used because it refers literally to the similarities in shape of the word in its pronunciation and spelling for each part of speech.[6]

Neither written nor spoken English generally marks words as belonging to one part of speech or another, as they tend to be understood in the context of the sentence. Words like neigh, break, outlaw, laser, microwave, and telephone might all be either verb forms or nouns. Although -ly is a frequent adverb marker, not all adverbs end in -ly (-wise is another common adverb marker) and not all words ending in -ly are adverbs. For instance, tomorrow, fast, very can all be adverbs, while early, friendly, ugly are all adjectives (though early can also function as an adverb). Verbs can also be used as adjectives (e.g. "The astonished child watched the spectacle unfold" instead of the verb usage "The unfolding spectacle astonished the child"). In such cases, the verb is in its participle form.

In certain circumstances, even words with primarily grammatical functions can be used as verbs or nouns, as in, "We must look to the hows and not just the whys."

Functional classification[edit]

The study of linguistics has expanded the understanding of lexical categories in various languages and allowed for better classifying words by function. Common lexical categories in English by function may include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kroeger, Paul (2005). Analyzing Grammar: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-521-01653-7. 
  2. ^ Zwicky, Arnold (30 March 2006). "What part of speech is "the"". Language Log. Retrieved 26 December 2009. "...the school tradition about parts of speech is so desperately impoverished" 
  3. ^ Hopper, P; Thompson, S (1985). "The Iconicity of the Universal Categories 'Noun' and 'Verbs'". In John Haiman. Typological Studies in Language: Iconicity and Syntax 6. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 151–183. 
  4. ^ Launey, Michel (1994). Une grammaire omniprédicative: essai sur la morphosyntaxe du nahuatl classique. Paris: CNRS Editions. 
  5. ^ Broschart, Jürgen (1997). "Why Tongan does it differently: Categorial Distinctions in a Language without Nouns and Verbs". Linguistic Typology 1 (2): 123–165. doi:10.1515/lity.1997.1.2.123. 
  6. ^ Klammer, Thomas; Schulz, Muriel R.; Della Volpe, Angela (2009). Analyzing English Grammar (6th ed.). Longman. 

External links[edit]

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Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:56:15 -0700

He played football, baseball, tennis, ran track, and was a part of speech and drama. After spending a year at Blinn Junior College and another at Tyler Junior College, Larson made his way to The University of Texas at Austin where he received dual ...
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Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:05:32 -0700

So is it Kyle Wilbur, or Kyle Wilber? Perhaps Willber? Wilburrer? Can you use it in a sentence? Part of speech, please? Half the meth-heads in Philly can spell Heisenberg, but some of the most staunch Cowboys faithful aren't yet familiar enough with ...


Wed, 16 Jul 2014 02:31:11 -0700

"Whom" is already, basically, a dead word walking—a vestige of a time long ago, when all English nouns carried suffixes to indicate which part of speech they were functioning as. Even though it seems easy enough to remember the rules for “He v. Him ...


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The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary of English language defines noun as “a word that refers to a person, place, thing, event, substance or quality.” As a part of speech in English, a noun is defined as “a name of any person, animal, place or thing.
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Sat, 19 Jul 2014 23:18:10 -0700

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