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Contributors:Dana Bisignani, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This handout defines the basic parts of speech and provides examples of their uses in sentences. Links to more handouts and exercises on particular parts of speech are also provided. If you are learning English as a Second Language (ESL), you may also want to browse through a complete listing of our ESL resources.

Parts of Speech Overview

Nouns

A noun is a word that denotes a person, place, or thing. In a sentence, nouns answer the questions who and what.

Example: The dog ran after the ball.

In the sentence above, there are two nouns, dog and ball. A noun may be concrete (something you can touch, see, etc.), like the nouns in the example above, or a noun may be abstract, as in the sentences below.

Example 1: She possesses integrity.
Example 2: He was searching for love.

The abstract concepts of integrity and love in the sentences above are both nouns. Nouns may also be proper.

Example 1: She visited Chicago every year.
Example 2: Thanksgiving is in November.

Chicago, Thanksgiving, and November are all proper nouns, and they should be capitalized. (For more information on proper nouns and when to capitalize words, see our handout on Capital Letters.)

You may also visit our handout on Count and Noncount Nouns.

Learn how to spot verbs that act as nouns. Visit our handout on Verbals: Gerunds, Participles, and Infinitives.

Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun in a sentence.

Example: She decided to go to a movie.

In the sentence above, she is the pronoun. Like nouns, pronouns may be used either as subjects or as objects in a sentence.

Example: She planned to ask him for an interview.

In the example above, both she and him are pronouns; she is the subject of the sentence while him is the object. Every subject pronoun has a corresponding object form, as shown in the table below.

Subject and Object Pronouns
Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns
I Me
We Us
You You
She Her
He Him
It It
They Them

For more information on pronouns, go to our handout on Pronouns.

To find out what part of speech are that, which, and whom? Visit our handout on Relative Pronouns.

Articles

Articles include a, an, and the. They precede a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence.

Example 1: They wanted a house with a big porch.
Example 2: He bought the blue sweater on sale.

In example 1, the article a precedes the noun house, and a also precedes the noun phrase big porch, which consists of an adjective (big) and the noun it describes (porch). In example 2, the article the precedes the noun phrase blue sweater, in which sweater is the noun and blue the adjective.

For more information, go to our handouts on Articles: A vs. An and How to Use Articles (a/an/the).

Adjectives

An adjective is a word that modifies, or describes, a noun or pronoun. Adjectives may precede nouns, or they may appear after a form of the reflexive verb to be (am, are, is, was, etc.).

Example 1: We live in the red brick house.
Example 2: She is tall for her age.

In example 1, two consecutive adjectives, red and brick, both describe the noun house. In example 2, the adjective tall appears after the reflexive verb is and describes the subject, she.

For more on adjectives, go to our handouts Adjective or Adverb and How to Use Adjectives and Adverbs.

Verbs

A verb is a word that denotes action, or a state of being, in a sentence.

Example 1: Beth rides the bus every day.
Example 2: Paul was an avid reader.

In example 1, rides is the verb; it describes what the subject, Beth, does. In example 2, was describes Paul’s state of being and is therefore the verb.

There may be multiple verbs in a sentence, or there may be a verb phrase consisting of a verb plus a helping verb.

Example 1: She turned the key and opened the door.
Example 2: Jackson was studying when I saw him last.

In example 1, the subject she performs two actions in the sentence, turned and opened. In example 2, the verb phrase is was studying.

Some words in a sentence may look like verbs but act as something else, like a noun; these are called verbals. For more information on verbs that masquerade as other parts of speech, go to our handout on Verbals: Gerunds, Participles, and Infinitives.

To learn more about conjugating verbs, visit our handouts on Verb Tenses, Irregular Verbs, and Two-Part (Phrasal) Verbs (Idioms).

Adverbs

Just as adjectives modify nouns, adverbs modify, or further describe, verbs. Adverbs may also modify adjectives. (Many, though not all, adverbs end in -ly.)

Example 1: He waved wildly to get her attention.
Example 2: The shirt he wore to the party was extremely bright.

In the first example, the adverb wildly modifies the verb waved. In the second example, the adverb extremely modifies the adjective bright, which describes the noun shirt. While nouns answer the questions who and what, adverbs answer the questions how, when, why, and where.

For a more detailed discussion of adverbs, visit our handout Adjective or Adverb and become an expert.

Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that joins two independent clauses, or sentences, together.

Example 1: Ellen wanted to take a drive into the city, but the cost of gasoline was too high.
Example 2: Richard planned to study abroad in Japan, so he decided to learn the language.

In the examples above, both but and so are conjunctions. They join two complete sentences with the help of a comma. And, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet can all act as conjunctions.

Prepositions

Prepositions work in combination with a noun or pronoun to create phrases that modify verbs, nouns/pronouns, or adjectives. Prepositional phrases convey a spatial, temporal, or directional meaning.

Example 1: Ivy climbed up the brick wall of the house.

There are two prepositional phrases in the example above: up the brick wall and of the house. The first prepositional phrase is an adverbial phrase, since it modifies the verb by describing where the ivy climbed. The second phrase further modifies the noun wall (the object of the first prepositional phrase) and describes which wall the ivy climbs.

For a more detailed discussion on this part of speech and its functions, click on Prepositions.

Below is a list of prepositions in the English language:

Aboard, about, above, across, after, against, along, amid, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, into, like, near, of, off, on, onto, out, over, past, since, through, throughout, to, toward, under, underneath, until, unto, up, upon, with, within, without.