Word Class

Words don't only mean something; they also do something. In the English language, words are grouped into word classes based on their function, i.e. what they do in a phrase or sentence. In total, there are nine word classes in English.

Word Class Word Class

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Table of contents

    Word class meaning and example

    All words can be categorised into classes within a language based on their function and purpose.

    An example of various word classes is 'The cat ate a cupcake quickly.'

    Word class function

    The function of a word class, also known as a part of speech, is to classify words according to their grammatical properties and the roles they play in sentences. By assigning words to different word classes, we can understand how they should be used in context and how they relate to other words in a sentence.

    Each word class has its own unique set of characteristics and rules for usage, and understanding the function of word classes is essential for effective communication in English. Knowing our word classes allows us to create clear and grammatically correct sentences that convey our intended meaning.

    Word classes in English

    In English, there are four main word classes; nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. These are considered lexical words, and they provide the main meaning of a phrase or sentence.

    The other five word classes are; prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. These are considered functional words, and they provide structural and relational information in a sentence or phrase.

    Don't worry if it sounds a bit confusing right now. Read ahead and you'll be a master of the different types of word classes in no time!

    All word classesDefinitionExamples of word classification
    NounA word that represents a person, place, thing, or idea. cat, house, plant
    PronounA word that is used in place of a noun to avoid repetition.he, she, they, it
    VerbA word that expresses action, occurrence, or state of being.run, sing, grow
    AdjectiveA word that describes or modifies a noun or pronoun.blue, tall, happy
    AdverbA word that describes or modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb.quickly, very
    PrepositionA word that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. in, on, at
    ConjunctionA word that connects words, phrases, or clauses.and, or, but
    InterjectionA word that expresses strong emotions or feelings.wow, oh, ouch
    DeterminersA word that clarifies information about the quantity, location, or ownership of the noun Articles like 'the' and 'an', and quantifiers like 'some' and 'all'.

    The four main word classes

    In the English language, there are four main word classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Let's look at all the word classes in detail.

    Nouns

    Nouns are the words we use to describe people, places, objects, feelings, concepts, etc. Usually, nouns are tangible (touchable) things, such as a table, a person, or a building.

    However, we also have abstract nouns, which are things we can feel and describe but can't necessarily see or touch, such as love, honour, or excitement. Proper nouns are the names we give to specific and official people, places, or things, such as England, Claire, or Hoover.

    Cat

    House

    School

    Britain

    Harry

    Book

    Hatred

    'My sister went to school.'

    Verbs

    Verbs are words that show action, event, feeling, or state of being. This can be a physical action or event, or it can be a feeling that is experienced.

    Lexical verbs are considered one of the four main word classes, and auxiliary verbs are not. Lexical verbs are the main verb in a sentence that shows action, event, feeling, or state of being, such as walk, ran, felt, and want, whereas an auxiliary verb helps the main verb and expresses grammatical meaning, such as has, is, and do.

    Run

    Walk

    Swim

    Curse

    Wish

    Help

    Leave

    'She wished for a sunny day.'

    Adjectives

    Adjectives are words used to modify nouns, usually by describing them. Adjectives describe an attribute, quality, or state of being of the noun.

    Long

    Short

    Friendly

    Broken

    Loud

    Embarrassed

    Dull

    Boring

    'The friendly woman wore a beautiful dress.'

    Word class, Image of woman in dress, StudySmarterFig 1. Adjectives can describe the woman and the dress

    Adverbs

    Adverbs are words that work alongside verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They provide further descriptions of how, where, when, and how often something is done.

    Quickly

    Softly

    Very

    More

    Too

    Loudly

    'The music was too loud.'

    All of the above examples are lexical word classes and carry most of the meaning in a sentence. They make up the majority of the words in the English language.

    The other five word classes

    The other five remaining word classes are; prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. These words are considered functional words and are used to explain grammatical and structural relationships between words.

    For example, prepositions can be used to explain where one object is in relation to another.

    Prepositions

    Prepositions are used to show the relationship between words in terms of place, time, direction, and agency.

    In

    At

    On

    Towards

    To

    Through

    Into

    By

    With

    'They went through the tunnel.'

    Pronouns

    Pronouns take the place of a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence. They often refer to a noun that has already been mentioned and are commonly used to avoid repetition.

    Chloe (noun) → she (pronoun)

    Chloe's dog → her dog (possessive pronoun)

    There are several different types of pronouns; let's look at some examples of each.

    • This, that, those, these - demonstrative pronouns
    • Anyone, somebody, everyone, anything, something - Indefinite pronouns
    • Which, what, that, who, who - Relative pronouns

    'She sat on the chair which was broken.'

    Determiners

    Determiners work alongside nouns to clarify information about the quantity, location, or ownership of the noun. It 'determines' exactly what is being referred to. Much like pronouns, there are also several different types of determiners.

    • This, that, those - you might recognise these for demonstrative pronouns are also determiners
    • One, two, three etc. - cardinal numbers
    • First, second, third etc. - ordinal numbers
    • Some, most, all - quantifiers
    • Other, another - difference words

    'The first restaurant is better than the other.'

    Conjunctions

    Conjunctions are words that connect other words, phrases, and clauses together within a sentence. There are three main types of conjunctions;

    For, and, nor, but, or, yet, so - coordinating conjunctions

    After, as, because, when, while, before, if, even though - subordinating conjunctions

    Either/or, neither/nor, both/and - correlative conjunctions

    'If it rains, I'm not going out.'

    Interjections

    Interjections are exclamatory words used to express an emotion or a reaction. They often stand alone from the rest of the sentence and are accompanied by an exclamation mark.

    Oh

    Oops!

    Phew!

    Ahh!

    'Oh, what a surprise!'

    Word class: lexical classes and function classes

    A helpful way to understand lexical word classes is to see them as the building blocks of sentences. If the lexical word classes are the blocks themselves, then the function word classes are the cement holding the words together and giving structure to the sentence.

    Word class, lexical class, functional class, StudySmarterFig 2. Lexical and functional word classes

    In this diagram, the lexical classes are in blue and the function classes are in yellow. We can see that the words in blue provide the key information, and the words in yellow bring this information together in a structured way.

    Word class examples

    Sometimes it can be tricky to know exactly which word class a word belongs to. Some words can function as more than one word class depending on how they are used in a sentence. For this reason, we must look at words in context, i.e. how a word works within the sentence. Take a look at the following examples of word classes to see the importance of word class categorisation.

    The dog will bark if you open the door.

    The tree bark was dark and rugged.

    Here we can see that the same word (bark) has a different meaning and different word class in each sentence. In the first example, 'bark' is used as a verb, and in the second as a noun (an object in this case).

    I left my sunglasses on the beach.

    The horse stood on Sarah's left foot.

    In the first sentence, the word 'left' is used as a verb (an action), and in the second, it is used to modify the noun (foot). In this case, it is an adjective.

    I run every day

    I went for a run

    In this example, 'run' can be a verb or a noun.

    Word Class - Key takeaways

    • We group words into word classes based on the function they perform in a sentence.

    • The four main word classes are nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. These are lexical classes that give meaning to a sentence.

    • The other five word classes are prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. These are function classes that are used to explain grammatical and structural relationships between words.

    • It is important to look at the context of a sentence in order to work out which word class a word belongs to.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Word Class

    What is a word class?

    A word class is a group of words that have similar properties and play a similar role in a sentence.

    What are examples of word classes?

    Some examples of how some words can function as more than one word class include the way 'run' can be a verb ('I run every day') or a noun ('I went for a run'). Similarly, 'well' can be an adverb ('He plays the guitar well') or an adjective ('She's feeling well today'). 

    What are the nine word classes in English?

    The nine word classes are; Nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, interjections.

    What is the purpose of a word class?

    Categorising words into word classes helps us to understand the function the word is playing within a sentence.

    What are parts of speech?

    Parts of speech is another term for word classes.

    What are the different groups of word classification? 

    The different groups of word classes include lexical classes that act as the building blocks of a sentence e.g. nouns. The other word classes are function classes that act as the ‘glue’ and give grammatical information in a sentence e.g. prepositions.

    What word class is all, that, and the? 

    The word classes for all, that, and the is:
    'All' = determiner (quantifier)
    'That' = pronoun and/or determiner (demonstrative pronoun)
    'The' = determiner (article)

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is an example of a proper noun?

    Pick out the concrete noun from the following:

    Pick out the abstract noun from the following:

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