Word classes

Words can be grouped according to their function, or what they ‘do’, in a sentence. Words are grouped into the following main classes:

  • nouns
  • adjectives
  • verbs
  • adverbs
  • prepositions
  • connectives

Nouns and pronouns

Nouns are by far the largest category of words in English. They signify all kinds of physical things both living and inanimate. They also signify imagined things like ‘a ghost’; and ideas or concepts, such as ‘love’, ‘guilt’ or ‘fate’.

They are divided into three main groups:

  • concrete nouns
  • abstract nouns
  • proper nouns

Concrete nouns signify things, either in the real or imagined world. If a word signifies something that can be detected with the senses, then it is a concrete noun, eg:

  • table
  • football
  • candle
  • car
  • building
  • phone

Examples in full sentences:

The football lay discarded on the pitch.

The candle glowed in the darkness.

The crowd cheered in excitement.

Abstract nouns refer to concepts and exist as ideas, rather than objects you can touch, eg:

  • love
  • hope
  • intelligence
  • hate
  • courage

Examples in full sentences:

There was hope in his eyes as he looked up.

Intelligence can be measured in several ways.

He was full of courage as he walked towards the battlefield.

Love is all around but hate hides in the shadows.

Proper nouns are also called naming nouns. They refer to the actual name of an individual example of a common noun. Names of people, places, companies, institutions, rivers (and more) are all proper nouns. Proper nouns begin with a capital letter.

Example in a sentence:

Ryan had never been to London before that Saturday.

Common nounProper noun
girlJessica
riverthe River Taff
countryEgypt
boyAlex
waterfallNiagara Falls
oceanAtlantic Ocean

Pronouns

Pronouns take the place of proper nouns in a sentence.

  • I
  • he
  • she
  • it

Examples:

Sarah was tired. = She was tired.

Dev bought a new bike. = He bought a new bike.

The coffee was expensive. = It was expensive.

Adjectives

An adjective is a describing word that adds qualities to a noun or pronoun. An adjective normally comes before a noun, eg:

  • The greedy man counted each shiny coin in his money pile; he rubbed his grubby hands excitedly.

An adjective can also come after a noun or pronoun:

  • He was extremely greedy.
  • My mother seemed to be uncertain.

Adjective phrases are describing phrases. For example:

  • The exceedingly tasty pie sat on the table.
  • The incredibly high price of tickets put her off the festival.
  • She was intelligent but extremely arrogant.

Verbs

A verb lies at the heart of a sentence. It describes the action or state of the subject. It is the ‘doing’ or ‘being’ part of the sentence.

  • Abigail ran through the field.
  • Jane tore off the wrapping paper.

Some verbs can also link extra information about their subject to an adjective:

  • The cake was delicious.
  • Noah appeared unwell.