The Nine Parts of Speech in Grammar

ThoughtCo.

A part of speech is a term used in traditional grammar for one of the nine main categories into which words are classified according to their functions in sentences. Also known as word classes, these are the building blocks of grammar.

Learning the names of the parts of speech probably won't make you witty, healthy, wealthy, or wise. In fact, learning just the names of the parts of speech won't even make you a better writer.

However, you will gain a basic understanding of sentence structure and the English language.

What Are the Nine Parts of Speech?

Every sentence you write or say in English includes a few words that fall into the nine parts of speech. These include nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, articles/determiners, and interjections.

Part of SpeechBasic FunctionExamples
Nounnames a person, place, or thingpirate, Caribbean, ship, freedom, Captain Jack Sparrow
Pronountakes the place of a nounI, you, he, she, it, ours, them, who, which, anybody, ourselves
Verbidentifies an action or state of beingsing, dance, believe, seem, finish, eat, drink, be, become
Adjectivemodifies a nounhot, lazy, funny, unique, bright, beautiful, healthy, wealthy, wise
Adverbmodifies a verb, adjective, or another adverbsoftly, lazily, often, only, hopefully, softly, sometimes
Prepositionshows a relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other words in a sentenceup, over, against, by, for, into, close to, out of, apart from
Conjunctionjoins words, phrases, and clauses

and, but, or, yet

Articles and determinersspecify more information about a nounarticles: a, an, the; determiners: these, that, those; enough, much, few; which, what
Interjectionexpresses emotion and can usually stand aloneah, whoops, ouch, yabba dabba do!

Some traditional grammars have treated articles as a distinct part of speech. Modern grammars more often include articles in the category of determiners, which identify or quantify a noun. Even though they modify nouns like adjectives, they are different in that articles are an essential part of the proper syntax of a sentence, and determiners are necessary to convey the meaning of the sentence.

 Adjectives are optional parts of a sentence.

The parts of speech are commonly divided into open classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs) and closed classes (pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, articles/determiners, and interjections). Although we can add to the open classes of words as language develops, those in the closed classes are pretty much set in stone.

In contemporary linguistics, the label part of speech has generally been discarded in favor of the term word class or syntactic category.

How to Determine the Part of Speech

Keep in mind that only interjections ("Hooray!") have a habit of standing alone, though they can also appear alongside complete sentences. The other parts of speech come in many varieties and may appear just about anywhere in a sentence.

To know for sure what part of speech a word is, look not only at the word itself but also at its meaning, position, and use in a sentence.

For example, in the first sentence, work functions as a noun; in the second sentence, a verb; and in the third sentence, an adjective:

  • Bosco showed up for work two hours late.
    [The noun work is the thing Bosco shows up for.]
  • He will have to work until midnight.
    [The verb work is the action he must perform.]
  • His work permit expires next month.
    [The attributive noun (or converted adjective) work modifies the noun permit.]

Don't let this variety of meanings and uses discourage or confuse you. Learning the names of the basic parts of speech is just one way to understand how sentences are constructed.

Dissecting Basic Sentences

To form a complete sentence, you really only need two things: a noun (or pronoun standing in for a noun) and a verb. The noun gives us the subject, and the verb tells us the action the subject is taking, the predicate. 

  • Birds fly.

In this short sentence, birds is the noun and fly is the verb. The sentence makes sense and gets the point across.

  • Go!

You can have a sentence with just one word as well, but it doesn't break the above rule. This short sentence is still complete because it's a command to "you"; the pronoun, standing in for a noun, is just understood to be there.

It is the subject. The sentence is really saying "(You) go!"

It's important to note that no other two–word class combinations can form a complete sentence unless it involves an interjection. You always need a verb to have a sentence. You cannot, for instance, use a pronoun and an adverb alone and have a complete sentence: She softly. This is not a sentence because we don't know what she's doing softly.

Next, we can add more information to our first sentence by including the other parts of speech.

  • Birds fly when migrating before winter.

Birds and fly remain the noun and verb. When is an adverb because it modifies the verb fly. 

The word before is a little tricky because it can be either a conjunction, preposition, or adverb depending on the context. In this case, it's a preposition because a noun follows it. The preposition begins an adverbial phrase (before winter) that answers the question of time when the birds migrate. It is not a conjunction because it does not connect two clauses.