Basic Grammar: Parts of Speech

English Grammar is traditionally divided into parts of speech. Here, we add an extra category, the expletive. Other categorisations of language structures enable us to describe the function of a word or words in a sentence. The parts of speech, however, can be thought of as the building blocks of the language; in English they are arranged in a way that is typical for English. These building blocks are used to construct phrases, clauses, and sentences.


A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea. Most nouns may be singular (i.e., represent one person, place, thing, or idea) or plural (i.e., represent more than one person, place, thing, or idea). A plural noun usually ends with an s. There are also many irregular plural forms that must be learned and recognized.

Examples:             Singular      Plural
       Person      boy      boys
              woman      women
       Place      Lake Erie      Great Lakes
       Thing      house      houses
              tree      trees
       Idea      democracy      democracies
              freedom      freedoms
              love      love

Types of Nouns

A noun may belong to more than one of the following groups.


Examples:      Person      Place      Thing
       Anne      Hyde Park      (the) Bible
       Gandhi      Mt. Everest      Concorde
       Mr. Lee      Vancouver      Ford Escort


Examples:      Person      Place      Thing
       child      city      chair
       doctor      home      expression
       singer      restaurant      snow


Examples:      Person      Place      Thing
       club      forest      decade
       jury      mall      dozen
       team             herd


Examples:      humour, fatigue, liberty, love, refusal, truth


Examples:      Touch      Hear      See      Smell      Taste
       snow      cry      cloud      fumes      coffee
       tree      sigh      landscape      odour      hot dog
       wind      whisper      moon      perfume      salt


Examples:      Regular Countables        Irregular Countables
       cat      cats      child      children
       house      houses      goose      geese
       husband      husbands      person      people
       socialist      socialists      woman      women

Non-count or mass

Examples:      advice, information, news, rice, sugar, water


An article conveys information about the noun. While a, an, and the are called articles, they function much like adjectives.

Indefinite articles (a and an)

Definite article (the)

For more information on Articles, please go to Determiners.

Verbs and Verbals

A verb may be singular (indicate the action of a singular noun) or plural (indicate the action of a plural noun). In the present tense, a singular verb ends in s for 3rd person singular.

Principal Parts to the Verb

       Regular Verbs
Examples:      Base Form      Past      Past Participle      Present Participle
       consider      considered      considered      considering
       indicate      indicated      indicated      indicating
       model      modelled      modelled      modelling
       walk      walked      walked      walking

Notice that past and past participle forms for regular verbs end with -ed. For other verbs, please see Irregular Verbs. All verbs, however, are regular in the present participle form. The only changes that occur are a result of spelling. All verbs add -ing to the base form.

Spelling rules:
  1. If the base form ends in e, omit the e and add ing
    e.g., bite ® biting

  2. If the base form ends in a single vowel followed by a consonant, double the final consonant and add ing (British and Canadian spelling)
    e.g., travel ® travelling

  3. If the base form ends in ie, change the ie to y and add ing
    e.g., die ® dying

Types of Verbs



Stative or Linking

Auxiliary (sometimes called helping) verbs

Examples:      am      be      did      does      have      shall      would
       are      been      do      had      is      will       


A modal provides additional information about a main verb; it adds a sense of obligation, possibility, ability or permission.

Examples:      can, could, be able to      have to      must      would
       can’t      may      shall     
       have got to      might      should     

For more information, please refer to Modals.


A verbal is a word derived from a verb but which functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb.


For more information, please see Infinitives and Gerunds.

Past participles

Present participles


For more information, please see Infinitives and Gerunds.


A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun or a larger group of words. The word or words to which a pronoun refers is called the antecedent.

Types of Pronouns

Personal Pronouns








An adjective modifies, describes, limits or adds meaning to a noun or pronoun.

Types of adjectives

Of quality

Examples:      round, yellow, thin, heavy, silk, etc.

The little girl played with a round, yellow ball.
He wore a thin, blue silk scarf round his neck.


Examples:      this, that, these, those

This purple skirt is a better bargain than that one.
These lettuces look fresher than those over there.

This, that, these, and those function as adjectives here, not as pronouns. As adjectives, they are adding to the reader’s understanding of the nouns, not referring to the antecedent as they would do if they were functioning as pronouns, as below:

That is not a relevant question. (That is a pronoun here referring to the previous sentence.)


Examples:      each, every, either, neither

Each student should have his own personal copy of the text.
Every citizen over the age of eighteen has the right to vote.
Either pen will do.
Neither proposal was accepted.

Each, every, either, and neither function as adjectives here because they add meaning to the reader’s understanding of the noun they precede. If they were pronouns they would refer to the antecedent as in the following:

Six students attended the seminar. Each contributed to the discussion. (Each is a pronoun here referring to students.)


Examples:      some, any, no, few, many, much, one, two, etc.

She dug out a few grubby coins from the bottom of her bag.
Did you offer your grandmother some tea?
Six years later, the insurgents are struggling to survive along the country’s eastern border.
No objections to the hiring were raised.


Examples:      which, what, whose

To which university did she apply?
What scoundrel dares disturb my sleep in this fashion?
Whose coat is this?

Possessive adjective pronouns

These adjectives affect the meaning of the noun that follows.

Examples:      their, my, your, his, her, its, our, your

He laid his jacket neatly over the back of the chair.
Traditional economic theories assume that people save or borrow so as to spread their income over their lifetime.

Possessive nouns

Examples:      the University’s, Peter’s, New York’s, etc.

The University’s Educational Services department organizes on-site programmes.
Have you seen Adam’s new car?

The possessive noun modifies or adds to the reader’s understanding of the following noun.


A, an, and the can also be considered adjectives because they affect the reader’s understanding of the noun that follows.

A girl crossed the road. (The A tells the reader that there is only one girl, and also that the girl is unknown to the writer.)
The girl crossed the road. (The tells the reader that there is one girl, but she is familiar to the writer.)

For more information, please refer to the main information on Articles.

Proper adjectives


An adverb modifies verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or the idea in or contained in a phrase or clause.

He walked hurriedly along the corridor. (Hurriedly modifies the verb walked.)
Jan thought her colleague indescribably dull. (Indescribably modifies the adjective dull.)
Maria always talked very softly. (Very modifies the adverb softly.)
Unfortunately, there was little anyone could do to help. (Unfortunately modifies the whole sentence.)

Of manner

Of place

Of time

Of frequency

Of certainty

Examples:      absolutely, certainly, definitely, obviously, surely, etc.

He certainly seemed upset.
The teacher was obviously annoyed with Jack for handing in his assignment so late.
The product is definitely improved.

Of degree

Examples:      very, fairly, rather, quite, so, too, hardly, etc.

She walked very slowly towards the cliff’s edge.
He talked so quietly that listening was a strain.
I hardly know what to say.
Kate rather liked Simon’s impish ways.



Conjunctive Adverbs

A conjunctive adverb modifies the action by creating logical connections in meaning between independent clauses. Unlike conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs are not always at the beginning of the clause.

Types of Conjunctive Adverbs

Of addition

Examples:      also, besides, furthermore, moreover, etc.

The condo complex has tennis courts; besides this, it has an indoor pool.
He must have got stopped at the border crossing; otherwise, he would have arrived by now.
The lecturer had a monotonous voice; furthermore, he jumped from one idea to another so that the lecture was very difficult to follow.

Of contrast

Examples:      however, still, nevertheless, conversely, nonetheless, instead, etc.

The printers are on strike; registered students will, nevertheless, receive course packages on time.
We were able to run only four courses; still, this compares favourably with other summer programmes.
It’s really cold today; we can’t complain, however, as it’s been mild overall.

Of comparison

Examples:      similarly, likewise

Paul went to Lakeland college; his daughter, likewise, did her studies there.
Kate is engrossed in her dogs; Martha is similarly obsessed with her horses.

Of result

Examples:      therefore, hence, thus, consequently, etc.

He rarely produced a day’s work; he consequently lost his job.
Caffeine is a stimulant; thus, it can keep a person awake at night.
We discovered Ida’s activities were duplicating those of Marla; we, therefore, assigned Ida other tasks.

Of time

Examples:      next, then, meanwhile, finally, subsequently, etc.

The chairman will be late for the meeting; meanwhile, we’re to hand out minutes of the last meeting to the board members.
The network has crashed; next, the power will go off.
First boil the water; then, pour it over the tea bag.


A preposition indicates relationships in time or space, and when combined with its object and any modifiers of the object, forms a prepositional phrase.

She set a table up on the veranda. (The veranda is the object of the preposition on. The prepositional phrase describes a relationship in space.)
They arrived before nightfall. (Nightfall is the object of the preposition before. The prepositional phrase describes a relationship in time.)

The following is a list of commonly used prepositions. The list is by no means comprehensive.

Examples:      about      below      from      over      until
       above      beside      in      past      up
       across      between      into      since      with
       along      by      of      through      within
       at      down      of      to      without
       before      during      on      towards       
       behind      for      outside      under       


A conjunction is used to join words or groups of words.

Types of Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions

These join clauses that are not equivalent grammatical structures. Subordinating conjunctions introduce dependent clauses. These clauses cannot stand by themselves but must be joined to a main or independent clause.

The following is a list of words most often used as subordinating conjunctions:

Examples:      after      even though      than      wherever
       although      if      that      whether
       as      in order that      though      which
       as if      in order to      unless      while
       as though      rather than      until      who
       because      since      when       
       before      so as to      whenever       
       even if      so that      where       

In order to make feasible projections, we need to have reliable data.
He’s taller than you are.
He looks as if he were about to cry.


An interjection is an exclamatory word or expression that conveys surprise or another strong emotion, and is usually used alone and punctuated with an exclamation point. If it is used as part of a sentence, it is set off with a comma. Interjections should be avoided in academic writing.

Examples:      oh!      gosh!      wow!      good!
       ouch!      hey!      yikes!      what!

“Wow! Did you see that flash car?”
“Hey! Watch where you're going?”
“Ouch! That hurt.”


The grammatical structure called an expletive is more often described by its function—the null subject, the dummy subject, or the existential subject—because it takes the part of subject in a sentence, referring to a real subject used later in the sentence. It is a rhetorical device that is not really a part of speech because it carries no meaning itself. The expletives there and it are used with a form of the verb be to postpone the subject until after the verb; however, it is often possible to avoid using the expletive.

It is having the right skills that matters. (Having the right skills is the postponed subject.)
Having the right skills is what matters. (Expletive is not used.)
It is possible that our proposal will be rejected. (That our proposal will be rejected is the postponed subject.)
That our proposal will be rejected is possible. (Expletive is not used.)
There were over a hundred people at the meeting last night. (Over a hundred people is the subject.)
Over a hundred people were at the meeting last night. (Expletive is not used.)

Although it is always possible to avoid using an expletive, there are instances when placing the subject before the verb sounds awkward and unnatural:

There was no answer.
No answer was there.