Online Writing Lab

The Parts of Speech

All words in the English language can be classified as one of the eight different parts of speech.  Understanding the different parts of speech is important in understanding how words can and should be joined together to make sentences that are both grammatically correct and readable.  An understanding of the parts of speech is also important for knowing how to correctly punctuate sentences.

The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections. 

Noun – A noun is generally defined as a person, place, or thing.  Furthermore, nouns can be divided into two categories: proper nouns and common nouns.  Proper nouns are the names of people or places that are capitalized (Aims Community College, John Smith, etc.).  Common nouns are names that do not require capitalization. 

Verb – A verb is a word that describes action or a state of being.  The second part of this definition is important, as many believe that verbs are always action words that can be visualized.  This is true of action verbs.  However, there are also linking verbs, and these types of verbs do not express action; instead, they express identity, classification, or existence.   (The following are the most common linking verbs:  is, am, was, were, are, and verb phrases ending in be, been, being.)

Verbs often change their form as different endings are added to them.  These endings are changed to show a verb’s relationship to time.  This is referred to as verb tense.   

Pronoun – A pronoun is a word that is used to replace a noun.  For example, instead of saying “Sam likes pizza” we can use “He” as a substitute for Sam.  Writers need to be careful with pronoun use, as pronouns should only be used after a noun has been used first, and it must be clear which noun the pronoun is replacing.

Adjective – An adjective modifies (limits or describes) a noun or a pronoun.   Essentially, it provides more information about a person, place, or thing.  For instance, in the sentence Frank is a tall, skinny man, both tall and skinny are adjectives as they are used to describe Frank. 

Adverb – Similar to adjectives, an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.  In the sentence Susan walked slowly towards the door, the word slowly serves as an adverb since it describes how she walked. 

Preposition – A preposition shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and some other word in the sentence.  This relationship is spatial, temporal, or directional.  For instance, in the sentence Mark walked towards the house, the word towards is a preposition since it shows direction.  When linked with nouns or pronouns, prepositions create word groups referred to as prepositional phrases. (In the previous example, towards the house is a prepositional phrase.)

Conjunction – Conjunctions are used to link words or parts of sentences together.  There are three different types of conjunctions: coordinating, subordinating, correlative. 

  • Coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) are used to connect similar words or independent clauses (sentences) together. 
  • Subordinating conjunctions come at the beginning of subordinate clauses and are used to connect the subordinate clause to the rest of the sentence.  (Common subordinating conjunctions include after, as, although, because, before, even though, if, once, rather than, since, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever, whereas, while, among others.)
  • Correlative conjunctions are a combination of a coordinating conjunction and another word (example: In the sentence both John and I are having a hard time with the homework, both…and are the correlative conjunctions.)

Interjection – An interjection is a word added to a sentence to convey emotion and is not grammatically related to any other part of the sentence.   Interjections can also serve as a single word sentence (ex: Wow!).  Interjections are rarely used in academic writing and their use should be avoided in most essays.