So, first question: how many parts of speech are there?
Well, we did a Google search, and many of the top results said ‘eight’. So there must be eight parts of speech in English.
Wrong! There are nine.
So, what are they?
1. Guide to Parts of Speech in English
Number one: nouns. Nouns can be things, animals, or people, like doctor, pencil, tree or cat.
Nouns can also be ideas or abstract things, like idea, happiness, time or money.
Number two: verbs. Verbs can be actions, like do, run, fly or win.
Verbs can also describe states, like be, love, believe or understand.
Number three: adjectives. Adjectives describe nouns. For example: red, big, metal, or beautiful.
Number four: adverbs. Adverbs can describe verbs, meaning they describe how someone does something. For example, quickly, loudly, angrily or well.
Adverbs can also describe adjectives, other adverbs, or even whole sentences. For example, very is an adverb which can describe an adjective—very slow—or another adverb—very slowly.
Unfortunately or sometimes are adverbs which can be used to add information to a whole sentence.
- Unfortunately, they missed the train and were late to their own wedding!
- Sometimes, I wish I’d made different choices in life.
So, adverbs are a little more complicated. Here’s a good way to remember it: adjectives and adverbs both describe other words. They are both used to add information to something else.
Adjectives describe nouns, and adverbs describe everything else: verbs, adjectives, adverbs and whole sentences.
Number five: pronouns.
Pronouns replace or represent nouns. For example, I, you, she or they are pronouns which represent different people.
You use pronouns to avoid repeating the same word, or to refer to something when it’s obvious what you mean.
- How was the weather there?
There is a pronoun which refers to a place. If you’ve already mentioned the place you’re talking about, you don’t need to say it again.
Two is a pronoun which refers to a quantity of something which has already been mentioned. The person you’re talking to already knows what you’re talking about.
Number six: prepositions.
Prepositions usually go before a noun or noun phrase. What’s their job?
Prepositions can do two basic things: first, they can add an idea of time, place, or movement to a noun. For example:
- on Wednesday
- in the corner
- towards the door
Secondly, prepositions can connect other words to a noun, or a pronoun.
For example, think about the verb depend on. The preposition on connects the verb depend to the object of the verb. For example:
Usually, the noun or noun phrase goes after the preposition.
However, sometimes the preposition can link to a noun (or pronoun) earlier in the sentence. For example:
Here, on links to the pronoun what.
Number seven: conjunctions.
Conjunctions connect two things. A conjunction can connect two words:
- I like cake and ice-cream.
A conjunction can connect two phrases:
- Do you want to go now or wait till this afternoon?
You can also use a conjunction to connect two clauses:
- Although I’ve been trying to learn for years, I’m still really bad at drawing.
Number eight: determiners
Determiners go before a noun. They include words like a, the, this or that, which help to specify which noun you’re talking about.
Words like my, your, his, her, etc. are also determiners. They specify which noun you’re talking about by saying who something belongs to.
Determiners can also tell you how many of something there are. Look at three examples:
- ten bananas
- some people
- both of my brothers
The words ten, some and both are determiners.
Number nine: interjections
Interjections are different, because they aren’t normally part of a sentence.
Interjections are words or phrases which show how you feel. For example:
So, now you know about the nine parts of speech in English.
2. Practice with Parts of Speech in English
Let’s practice! Look at three sentences. Each sentence has five words.
- They told me about it.
- Look in the big cupboard.
- Put it there, but carefully.
Can you identify which part of speech each word is? Pause the video and think about your answers.
How did you do? Could you identify the parts of speech correctly?
Let’s look at one more.
- I’m staying in this evening.
What part of speech are these words? Think about it.
So, I is a pronoun, am is a verb, and staying is also a verb.
What about in? Did you say it’s a preposition?
It’s not a preposition; it’s an adverb.
How does this work? We had the word in in one of the sentences you saw before, and it was a preposition.
So, what’s going on?
3. The Same Word Can be More than One Part of Speech
Some words can only be one thing.
For example, the words independence or hair can only be nouns.
Believe and destroy can only be verbs.
However, many words can be more than one part of speech.
There are two things happening here.
First, a word can be two different things, which have the same written form and the same pronunciation.
Think about the word win. Is it a noun or a verb?
It can be both.
- I’m sure they’ll win the game this weekend.
- We’ll be hoping for a win in the big game this weekend.
Many words are like this. Another example: red can be an adjective or a noun.
- What do you think about this red for the kitchen?
- I like that red top she was wearing.
This is very common: very often, a word with one written form can be two (or more) different parts of speech.
We told you there are two things happening here; what’s the other?
Sometimes, a word can be different parts of speech depending on its function in the sentence.
Look at two sentences:
- I have a few photos of my grandparents.
- Sure, you can have a few.
Here’s a question: what part of speech is few in these sentences?
In the first sentence, few is a determiner; in the second, it’s a pronoun.
Can you explain why this is?
Think about what few does in these two sentences.
In the first sentence, few adds a quantity to the noun photos. It tells us how many photos you have. This makes it a determiner.
In the second sentence, few replaces a noun. You don’t know which noun it replaces, but in context, you would understand what the person meant.
Maybe it was ‘a few biscuits’, or ‘a few pieces of paper.’
We don’t know! But, you do know that few replaces a noun, which makes it a pronoun.
Another example is the sentence we saw before:
- I’m staying in this evening.
Prepositions go with nouns, and connect nouns to other words in the sentence. In here doesn’t go with a noun, so it can’t be a preposition.
Learn more with this Oxford Online English lesson on adverbs – to, in, at.
In here means ‘at home’, and it adds information to the verb stay. What kind of words add information to verbs?
Adverbs! So, in is an adverb.
Wait a minute, did we ever finish explaining what parts of speech are in this sentence?
You’re right! We didn’t. Let’s do it now. You need to say what parts of speech the words this evening are.
Can you do it?
Maybe you said that this is a determiner, and evening is a noun. That’s technically correct, but it’s not the best answer.
The best answer is that this evening is an adverb.
How do you explain that?
4. Compound Parts of Speech in English
Until now, you’ve seen single words, and how single words can be nouns, verbs, etc.
However, when you’re thinking about parts of speech, you can’t just think about single words. Phrases can also be nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on.
Let’s do an example:
- Add a small spoonful of brown sugar, then turn the heat down and stir the mixture gently.
Think about the first part of this sentence: add a small spoonful of brown sugar.
What parts of speech do we have here?
Of course, you can go through it word by word. You can say, add is a verb, a is a determiner, small is an adjective and so on.
But, is that the most useful way of looking at it?
It makes more sense to see this as a verb—add—and a noun—a small spoonful of brown sugar.
The noun is made up of several parts of speech: determiners, adjectives, prepositions and nouns, but together they have one meaning. These words refer to one thing.
You can analyse a sentence in several different layers. So, you can see a small spoonful of brown sugar as six individual words, or one noun phrase.
You could also see it as three parts: a determiner—a small spoonful—a preposition—of—and a noun—brown sugar.
Confused? We understand! You want to know the answer. You want to know which way is ‘correct’.
There isn’t one ‘correct’ way to see this. There are different perspectives.
A better question is: which perspective makes more sense?
In this sentence, a small spoonful of brown sugar refers to one thing in the world. So it makes sense to think of it as one part of speech in the sentence.
What about the second part of the sentence? How would you analyse the parts of speech?
As you saw before, there isn’t one right answer, but here’s a suggestion.
The sentence contains a conjunction—then—and then two verb phrases linked with the conjunction and.
This makes sense because the sentence is telling you to do two things: turn the heat down and stir the mixture gently.
So, it makes sense to see turn the heat down as one part of speech, because it’s telling you do to one thing.
Let’s put these ideas together.
First, when you think about parts of speech, you can’t just memorise information. You have to look at each sentence individually, and think about what each word is doing.
Secondly, always think about what the sentence means in the real world. Sentences aren’t abstract things; they refer to real people, real things and real actions.
There is always more than one way to analyse the parts of speech in a sentence: choose the way that makes sense based on what the sentence is telling you about real life!
Let’s do a more challenging practice exercise so you can see these ideas in action.
5. More Challenging Practice with English Parts of Speech
Look at three sentences:
- Amazing! It’s way better than I ever thought it would be.
- She was an amazing clinician, who came up with many innovative ways to treat patients.
- I don’t believe it!
How would you analyse the parts of speech in these sentences? Think about the ideas we talked about in the last section. Does it make sense to break the sentences into individual words, or is it better to group words into phrases?
Pause the video and think about your ideas.
You can pause the video again to look at these in more detail.
Notice how the same word can be different parts of speech in different sentences. For example, amazing is an interjection in one sentence, and an adjective in another.
Notice also the different layers of analysis. For example, look at the phrase many innovative ways. You can see this as one noun phrase, or as a determiner plus a noun phrase, or as three individual parts: a determiner, an adjective and a noun.
Which is correct? They all are! Choose the perspective which makes more sense to you.
Thanks for watching!