There are eight (or nine) different parts of speech in English. They are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Many modern textbooks add a ninth category, which is articles and determiners.
In this guide, you will find information about each class of speech, followed by games and activities to practice:
Articles and Determiners
It is important to know the basic parts of speech when you are studying English. When you are getting started, you learn to identify the verb in a sentence. You learn about nouns, and then how to replace them with pronouns. Then you add conjunctions, and then adjectives. When your teacher says “adjectives go before nouns”, you need to know what she’s talking about, in order to learn efficiently.
On one hand, the parts of speech can be a powerful tool that excels your English learning. On the other hand, don’t be discouraged if you find the parts of speech confusing and boring. As long as you know the basics, and have the tools you need to keep learning, you’re fine. Everyone learns differently.
Nouns are people, animals, places, things and ideas. There are different types of nouns. Proper nouns, like people’s names, have the first letter capitalized. Compound nouns are made up of more than one noun together. Some examples are ice cream, motorcycle, and butterfly. Collective nouns describe groups, like a crowd of people, a bunch of grapes, and a herd of buffalo. We also refer to count and non-count nouns, to refer to things that we can count as separate objects, or things that we consider a unified whole.
Learn more about nouns.
Pronouns replace nouns, so that we can avoid repeating them. The subject pronouns I, you, he, she, it, we, and they replace subjects. The object pronouns me, you, him, her, it, us, and them, replace nouns after a verb. It’s easy to determine the subject and object in a sentence. Subjects come before a verb, and objects are after the verb.
Daniel reads many books.
He reads them.
Sarah helps her dad in the store.
She helps him in it.
Learn more about pronouns.
Verbs are words that represent actions, like dance, jump, and study. They can also be words that refer to a state of being, like be, or want.
Many verbs in English are a combination of a verb and another little word (either a preposition or an adverb). These are called phrasal verbs. They follow the same rules as other verbs, but the meaning changes. Sometimes the meaning is obvious, but often, it isn’t.
Learn more about phrasal verbs.
There are two basic classes of verbs. The normal verbs in examples above (dance, jump, study, be, want) are called lexical verbs. The second type are called auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary verbs help another verb in some way.
Do and have are both normal verbs and auxiliary verbs. Let’s look at two examples:
Do you do exercise?
Here, the second do is a normal verb. The first do is an auxiliary verb. It is needed to indicate that the sentence is a question.
Have you ever had a dream?
Had (which is have in the past participle form), is a normal verb. Have is an auxiliary verb, needed to make the sentence Present Perfect. It helps us understand that we want to know if you have ever had the experience, throughout your entire life.
Further, there is a special class of auxiliary verb called the modal auxiliary verbs. They help another verb, as all auxiliaries do. For example, in the sentence ‘Frank can run’, can tells us that Frank has the ability to run. But modals follow a different set of rules.
Learn more about modal auxiliary verbs.
Learn more about verbs.
Adjectives give us more information about nouns and pronouns. They are descriptive. They tell us the number, colour, character, size and more. They answer questions such as which, or how many?
Learn more about adjectives.
One type of adjective is the possessive adjective. It indicates who owns something. Whose car is that? It is their car. We classify these as either possessive adjectives or possessive determiners.
Articles and determiners
Articles and determiners are syntax words. This means that their function is just part of the way English sentences work. They aren’t optional. You can choose to add an adjective. You can’t opt out of articles and determiners.
There are three articles, the, a, and an.The article the is called definite, because it refers to something specific, whereas a and an are called indefinite articles.
Three other types of words that can be classes as determiners are quantifiers, demonstrative pronouns, and possessive adjectives.
Learn more about articles and determiners.
Adverbs are similar to adjectives, in that they modify something, but whereas adjectives modify nouns, adverbs give us information about a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. In the sentence ‘the dog walked very quickly’, quickly is an adverb, and very is another adverb that modifies quickly.
Learn more about adverbs.
Prepositions pertain to a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun’s role in a sentence, in terms of its direction, location, or time. It establishes the noun’s relationship with the rest of the sentence.
The pencil is on the desk.
We will meet in September.
The kids had fun at the party.
The flowers are for my friend’s party.
Other common prepositions are: over, under, to, from, with, and of.
Check out the prepositions rescue guide.
Conjunctions join words, or parts of a sentence together. There are three kinds of conjunctions. They are coordinating, subordinating, and correlating (or pairing) conjunctions.
Notice how the conjunctions in the following sentences connect words, phrases, and clauses.
I am hungry, but I will wait until lunch time to eat.
Would you prefer coffee or hot chocolate?
David wanted to improve his English, so he called Exhibit A English.
Learn more about conjunctions.
Interjections are words that express strong emotion. They are often short, sudden words that can be a complete sentence by themselves. Examples: Wow! Yuck! Oops! Ouch!
Determining the part of speech
In order to determine the type of word that you are looking at, you need to think about the role it plays in the sentence.
Let’s look at the word before, as an example.
We usually go to gym before work.
In this sentence, before is a preposition, because it tells us about the time relationship between going to the gym and work.
I will arrive before 8:00 AM.
Here, before refers to the verb arrive. It is an adverb, because it tells us when the action will occur.
Mary gave her friend a hug before she left.
Here, before is a conjunction. It connects the two parts of the sentence. It joins the subordination clause, ‘she left’ with the main clause, ‘Mary gave her friend a hug’.
Embrace your learning style.
You don’t need to master the parts of speech in order to be fluent in English. You need to know and understand the basics, so you can learn about proper syntax (the order of the words). But don’t worry about the nitty-gritty. There are lots of other valid, effective things to focus on and ways to learn.
If you are the type of student who enjoys grammar, I hope that this guide has been helpful. Let me know what topics you would like me to expand upon.
Parts of Speech Sorting Game – Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives (Beginner)
Parts of Speech Sorting Game – Nouns, Subject Pronouns, Verbs and Adjectives (Beginner)
Parts of speech Sorting Game – Famous people – Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives (Advanced)
A challenge for my advanced students: