When is a verb not a verb? When it’s a part of speech.
English exams often ask questions about the ‘parts of speech’. This is just a fancy term for all the different kinds of words, but they’re worth knowing just in case. Just watch out for words such as ‘jump’, which can be more than one part of speech!
Noun: a word for a person, place or thing
- abstract noun: a word to describe an idea, eg peace
- common (or concrete) noun: a word for a thing or object, eg table
- proper noun: the name of a person, place etc, eg Nick, London
- collective noun: the name of a group of animals, eg herd or flock
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence with ‘the’ in front of the word. If it makes sense, it’s probably a noun, eg He looked at the ______.
Pronoun: a word that stands in for a noun
- personal pronoun: a word that shows a person or thing, eg he, she, them
- possessive pronoun: a word that shows the owner of an object, eg his, their
- relative pronoun: a word that ‘relates’ to the subject just mentioned, eg who, that, which
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence with a verb after the word (but without ‘the’ or ‘a’ in front of it). If it makes sense, it’s probably a pronoun, eg ______ looked at the wall.
Verb: a doing word, eg jumped, was, pays
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence putting the word after a pronoun such as ‘he’. If it makes sense, it’s probably a verb, eg He ______ it or He ______ in the garden.
Adjective: a word that describes a noun or pronoun, eg green or young
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence putting the word between ‘the’ and a noun. If it makes sense, it’s probably an adjective, eg The ______ book lay on the table.
Article (or determiner): a word that introduces a noun
- definite article: the
- indefinite article: a or an
Sometimes, people call these words ‘determiners’. They include the articles but also words like ‘this’ and ‘that’.
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence with the word in front of a noun. If it makes sense, it’s probably an article, eg ______ book lay on the table.
Adverb: a word that describes an adjective, adverb or verb, usually ending in -ly, eg really or quickly
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence with the word after a verb. If it makes sense, it’s probably an adverb, eg He ran ______ around the garden.
Preposition: a word that shows the position in time or space, eg in, at or after
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence about placing something somewhere, putting the word before the location. If it makes sense, it’s probably a preposition, eg She put the book ______ the table.
Conjunction (or connective): a word that connects two sentences together (sometimes called a connective), eg and, but or because.
- ‘Coordinating conjunctions‘ are used to make a ‘compound’ sentence when the clauses are equally important, and the two ‘main clauses’ should always be separated by a comma, eg ‘The sun was warm, but it was cooler in the shade’. There is a useful way of remembering the coordinating conjunctions, which is to use ‘FANBOYS’. This consists of the first letter of ‘for’, ‘and’, ‘nor’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘yet’ and ‘so’.
- ‘Subordinating conjunctions‘ are used to make a ‘complex’ sentence when there is a main clause and a subordinate clause. (Subordinate just means less important.) If the sentence starts with a subordinating conjunction, the clauses need a comma between them, eg ‘Even though it was very hot, he wasn’t thirsty’. However, if the subordinate clause comes at the end, there is no need for a comma, eg ‘He wasn’t thirsty even though it was very hot’. There are lots of subordinating conjunctions, such as ‘after’, ‘although’ and ‘because’, but the easy way to remember it is to ask yourself if the conjunction is in FANBOYS. If it is, it’s a coordinating conjunction; if it’s not, it’s a subordinating conjunction. Alternatively, subordinating conjunctions are sometimes known as ‘WABBITS’ because some of the commonest ones start with those letters (when, where, while, after, although, before, because, if, though and since).
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence with two clauses joined by the word. If it makes sense, it’s probably a conjunction, eg He looked at the problem ______ decided to do something about it.
Interjection: an outburst or word people say when they’re playing for time, eg hey, well, now or so
Tip: Make up a phrase or a sentence that someone might say, putting the word at the start, followed by a comma. If it makes sense, it’s probably an interjection, eg ______, can we go to the mall?
You can test yourself by reading any passage in English and going through it word by word, asking yourself what parts of speech they all are. Why not start with this article? See how fast you can go. If you’re not sure, ask yourself the questions in each of the tips shown above, eg if you think it’s a noun, can you put it into a sentence with ‘the’ in front of it?