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Word Class

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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 meaning

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

Look at the following sentence as an example 'The cat ate a cupcake quickly.'

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 word classes in no time!

The four main word classes

In the English language, there are four main word classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Let's look at them each 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, StudySmarterAdjectives can describe the woman and the dress - Pixabay

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.

Let's look at these

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.

  • He, she, it, they - personal pronouns
  • His, hers, its, theirs, mine, ours - possessive pronouns
  • Himself, herself, myself, ourselves, themselves - reflexive pronouns
  • 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 - 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;

  • Coordinating conjunctions - these link independent clauses together.

  • Subordinating conjunctions - these link dependent clauses to independent clauses.

  • Correlative conjunctions - words that work in pairs to join two parts of a sentence of equal importance.

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!'

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, StudySmarterLexical and functional word classes - StudySmarter Original

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. 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 to see the importance of word class.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

Parts of speech is another term for word classes.

Final Word Class Quiz

Question

A word can only belong to one type of noun. True or false?

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Answer

This is false. A word can belong to multiple categories of nouns and this may change according to the context of the word.

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Question

Name the two principal categories of nouns.

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Answer

The two principal types of nouns are ‘common nouns’ and ‘proper nouns’.

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Question

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


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Answer

Coca Cola

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Question

Name the 6 types of common nouns discussed in the text.

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Answer

Concrete nouns, abstract nouns, countable nouns, uncountable nouns, collective nouns, and compound nouns.

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Question

What is the difference between a concrete noun and an abstract noun?


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Answer

A concrete noun is a thing that physically exists. We can usually touch this thing and measure its proportions. An abstract noun, however, does not physically exist. It is a concept, idea, or feeling that only exists within the mind.

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Question

Pick out the concrete noun from the following:


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Answer

Giraffe


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Question

Pick out the abstract noun from the following:

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Answer

Time

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Question

What is the difference between a countable and an uncountable noun? Can you think of an example for each?


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Answer

A countable noun is a thing that can be ‘counted’, i.e. it can exist in the plural. Some examples include ‘bottle’, ‘dog’ and ‘boy’. These are often concrete nouns. 

An uncountable noun is something that can not be counted, so you often cannot place a number in front of it. Examples include ‘love’, ‘joy’, and ‘milk’.

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Question

Pick out the collective noun from the following:


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Answer

​choir

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Question

What is the collective noun for a group of sheep?


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Answer

The collective noun is a ‘flock’, as in ‘flock of sheep’.

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Question

The word ‘greenhouse’ is a compound noun. True or false?


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Answer

This is true. The word ‘greenhouse’ is a compound noun as it is made up of two separate words ‘green’ and ‘house’. These come together to form a new word.


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Question

What are the adjectives in this sentence?: ‘The little boy climbed up the big, green tree’

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Answer

The adjectives are ‘little’ and ‘big’, and ‘green’ as they describe features about the nouns.


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Question

Place the adjectives in this sentence into the correct order: the wooden blue big ship sailed across the Indian vast scary ocean.


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Answer

The big, blue, wooden ship sailed across the vast, scary, Indian ocean.

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Question

What are the 3 different positions in which an adjective can be placed?


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Answer

An adjective can be placed before a noun (pre-modification), after a noun (post-modification), or following a verb as a complement.

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Question

In this sentence, does the adjective pre-modify or post-modify the noun? ‘The unicorn is angry’.


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Answer

The adjective ‘angry’ post-modifies the noun ‘unicorn’.

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Question

In this sentence, does the adjective pre-modify or post-modify the noun? ‘It is a scary unicorn’.


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Answer

The adjective ‘scary’ pre-modifies the noun ‘unicorn’.

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Question

What kind of adjectives are ‘purple’ and ‘shiny’?


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Answer

‘Purple’ and ‘Shiny’ are qualitative adjectives as they describe a quality or feature of a noun

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Question

What kind of adjectives are ‘ugly’ and ‘easy’?


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Answer

The words ‘ugly’ and ‘easy’ are evaluative adjectives as they give a subjective opinion on the noun.

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Question

Which of the following adjectives is an absolute adjective?


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Answer

​Perfect

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Question

Which of these adjectives is a classifying adjective?

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Answer

​Italian

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Question

Convert the noun ‘quick’ to its comparative form.

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Answer

The comparative form of ‘quick’ is ‘quicker’.

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Question

Convert the noun ‘slow’ to its superlative form.


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Answer

The comparative form of ‘slow’ is ‘slowest’.

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Question

What is an adjective phrase?


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Answer

An adjective phrase is a group of words that is ‘built’ around the adjective (it takes centre stage in the sentence). For example, in the phrase ‘the dog is big’ the word ‘big’ is the most important information.

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Question

Give 2 examples of suffixes that are typical of adjectives.


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Answer

Suffixes typical of adjectives include -able, -ible, -ful, -y, -less, -ous, -some, -ive, -ish, -al.

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Question

What is the difference between a main verb and an auxiliary verb?

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Answer

A main verb is a verb that can stand on its own and carries most of the meaning in a verb phrase. For example, ‘run’, ‘find’. Auxiliary verbs cannot stand alone, instead, they work alongside a main verb and ‘help’ the verb to express more grammatical information e.g. tense, mood, possibility.

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Question

What is the difference between a primary auxiliary verb and a modal auxiliary verb?


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Answer

Primary auxiliary verbs consist of the various forms of ‘to have’, ‘to be’, and ‘to do’ e.g. ‘had’, ‘was’, ‘done’. They help to express a verb’s tense, voice, or mood. Modal auxiliary verbs show possibility, ability, permission, or obligation. There are 9 auxiliary verbs including ‘could’, ‘will’, might’.

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Question

Which of the following are primary auxiliary verbs?

  • Is

  • Play

  • Have

  • Run

  • Does

  • Could

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Answer

The primary auxiliary verbs in this list are ‘is’, ‘have’, and ‘does’. They are all forms of the main primary auxiliary verbs ‘to have’, ‘to be’, and ‘to do’. ‘Play’ and ‘run’ are main verbs and ‘could’ is a modal auxiliary verb.

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Question

Name 6 out of the 9 modal auxiliary verbs.


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Answer

Answers include: Could, would, should, may, might, can, will, must, shall

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Question

‘The fairies were asleep’. In this sentence, is the verb ‘were’ a linking verb or an auxiliary verb?


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Answer

The word ‘were’ is used as a linking verb as it stands alone in the sentence. It is used to link the subject (fairies) and the adjective (asleep).

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Question

What is the difference between dynamic verbs and stative verbs?


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Answer

A dynamic verb describes an action or process done by a noun or subject. They are thought of as ‘action verbs’ e.g. ‘kick’, ‘run’, ‘eat’. Stative verbs describe the state of being of a person or thing. These are states that are not necessarily physical action e.g. ‘know’, ‘love’, ‘suppose’.

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Question

Which of the following are dynamic verbs and which are stative verbs?

  • Drink

  • Prefer

  • Talk

  • Seem

  • Understand

  • Write

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Answer

The dynamic verbs are ‘drink’, ‘talk’, and ‘write’ as they all describe an action. The stative verbs are ‘prefer’, ‘seem’, and ‘understand’ as they all describe a state of being.

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Question

What is an imperative verb?


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Answer

Imperative verbs are verbs used to give orders, give instructions, make a request or give warning. They tell someone to do something. For example, ‘clean your room!’.

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Question

Inflections give information about tense, person, number, mood, or voice. True or false?


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Answer

True

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Question

What information does the inflection ‘-ing’ give for a verb?


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Answer

The inflection ‘-ing’ is often used to show that an action or state is continuous and ongoing.

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Question

How do you know if a verb is irregular?


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Answer

An irregular verb does not take the regular inflections, instead the whole word is spelt a different way. For example, begin becomes ‘began’ or ‘begun’. We can’t add the regular past tense inflection -ed as this would become ‘beginned’ which doesn’t make sense.

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Question

Suffixes can never signal what word class a word belongs to. True or false?


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Answer

False. Suffixes can signal what word class a word belongs to. For example, ‘-ify’ is a common suffix for verbs (‘identity’, ‘simplify’)

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Question

A verb phrase is built around a noun. True or false?


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Answer

False. A verb phrase is a group of words that has a main verb along with any other auxiliary verbs that ‘help’ the main verb. For example, ‘could eat’ is a verb phrase as it contains a main verb (‘could’) and an auxiliary verb (‘could’).

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Question

Which of the following are multi-word verbs? 

  • Shake

  • Rely on

  • Dancing

  • Look up to

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Answer

The verbs ‘rely on’ and ‘look up to’ are multi-word verbs as they consist of a verb that has one or more prepositions or particles linked to it.

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Question

What is the difference between a transition verb and an intransitive verb?


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Answer

Transitive verbs are verbs that require an object in order to make sense. For example, the word ‘bring’ requires an object that is brought (‘I bring news’). Intransitive verbs do not require an object to complete the meaning of the sentence e.g. ‘exist’ (‘I exist’).

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Question

What is an adverb?

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Answer

An adverb is a word that gives more information about a verb, adjective, another adverb, or a full clause.

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Question

What are the 3 ways we can use adverbs?


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Answer

We can use adverbs to modify a word (modifying adverbs), to intensify a word (intensifying adverbs), or to connect two clauses (connecting adverbs).

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Question

What are modifying adverbs?


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Answer

Modifying adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They add further information about the word.

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Question

‘Additionally’, ‘likewise’, and ‘consequently’ are examples of connecting adverbs. True or false?


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Answer

True! Connecting adverbs are words used to connect two independent clauses.

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Question

What are intensifying adverbs?


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Answer

Intensifying adverbs are words used to strengthen the meaning of an adjective, another adverb, or a verb. In other words, they ‘intensify’ another word.

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Question

Which of the following are intensifying adverbs?

  • Calmly

  • Incredibly

  • Enough

  • Greatly

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Answer

The intensifying adverbs are ‘incredibly’ and ‘greatly’. These strengthen the meaning of a word.

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Question

Name the main types of adverbs


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Answer

The main adverbs are; adverbs of place, adverbs of time, adverbs of manner, adverbs of frequency, adverbs of degree, adverbs of probability, and adverbs of purpose.

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Question

What are adverbs of time?


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Answer

Adverbs of time are the ‘when?’ adverbs. They answer the question ‘when is the action done?’ e.g. ‘I’ll do it tomorrow

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Question

Which of the following are adverbs of frequency?

  • Usually

  • Patiently

  • Occasionally

  • Nowhere

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Answer

The adverbs of frequency are ‘usually’ and ‘occasionally’. They are the ‘how often?’ adverbs. They answer the question ‘how often is the action done?’. 


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Question

What are adverbs of place?


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Answer

Adverbs of place are the ‘where?’ adverbs. They answer the question ‘where is the action done?’. For example, ‘outside’ or ‘elsewhere’.

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Question

Which of the following are adverbs of manner?

  • Never

  • Carelessly

  • Kindly

  • Inside

Show answer

Answer

The words ‘carelessly’ and ‘kindly’ are adverbs of manner. They are the ‘how?’ adverbs that answer the question ‘how is the action done?’. 


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