Lexical categories

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The following is a basic list of grammatical terms. Most important are parts of speech, also known as word classes, or grammatical categories. The important words of sentence are called content words, because they carry the main meanings, and receive sentence stress Nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives are content words. Minor words are called function words, which are less important in the sentence, and usually don’t get stressed. All other categories — such as prepositions, articles, quantifiers, particles, auxiliary verbs, be-verbs, etc. — are function words.

1 Content words

1.1 ADJECTIVE (adj.)

Modifies a noun. See also the adjectives page.

attributive We all live in a yellow submarine.
predicate Our submarine is yellow.

1.2 ADVERB (adv.)

Modifies verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. We can distinguish various types, such as:

frequency: I often wear fruit on my head.
intensity: I love chocolate so much! I just can’t get enough!
manner The matter was dealt with graciously.
conjunctive: However, I don’t recommend that you try it.
sentence [sentential] adverb: I really don’t understand him.

1.3 NOUN (n.)

Nouns can be classified according to mass (non-count) and count nouns, and according to proper/common nouns.

mass / substance / material I love drinking coffee.
count: I can’t imagine that eating a large pizza could make me gain so much weight.
common: I don’t trust politicians.
proper: I don’t trust Bob Dole or President Clinton.

Nouns can vary along various dimensions, like abstract (love, mercy) versus concrete (bottle, pencil). Some nouns are super-ordinate nouns that denote a general category, i.e., a hypernym, and nouns for members of the category are hyponyms.

  • equipment→ computer, scanner, microscope
  • furniture→ table, desk, chair, shelf

1.4 VERB (v.)

Verbs can be classified in many ways — according to properties (transitive / intransitive, activity (dynamic) / stative), verb form, and grammatical features (tense, aspect, voice, and mood). Most verbs are content words, while some (below) are function words.

transitive (trans.):

Can take an object.

I ate all the kiwis. I gave all the berries to the penguin.
intransitive (intrans.):

Can’t take an object.

All the kiwis disappeared.
activity (dynamic) I hiked the mountain and ran for an hour.
stative: The strawberries weigh over 2kg.

Stative verbs referring to mental states

I love berries.

Verb forms
basic form sneeze
infinitive: to sneeze
inflected form: She sneezes whenever she’s around cats.
gerund Sneezing is such an irritating thing.
participle The poor girl, sneezing from an allergy attack, had to rest.

Inflected forms
tense present I sneeze
simple past I sneezed
perfect I have sneezed
past perfect I had sneezed
voice active You are tricking me.
passive I was tricked.
aspect simple I sneeze
progressive I am seezing.
emphatic I do sneeze.
perfect / perfective I have sneezed.
habitual I sneeze (every day). I used to sneeze.
continuous I kept sneezing.
immediate future I’m about to sneeze. I’m going to sneeze.
mood (modality) indicative I am sneezing.
conditional I would / might / may sneeze.
imperative Don’t sneeze! Go see a doctor!
suggestive Let’s all sneeze together!

2 Function words

2.1 Verbs

Some types of minor verbs are function words.

linking copular) verb Links subject with predicate. be, seem, tends to
auxiliary (AUX) Helping verb for forming tenses. be, have, will
modal Indicates modality or speaker’s evaluations of the statement. must, may, might, should

2.2 Pro-form

A group of function words that can stand for other elements. Just as pronouns can substitute for nouns, we also have words that can substitute for verbs, verb phrases, locations (adverbials or place nouns), or whole sentences.

sentential / verbal PF such, so I don’t think so.
locative PF there, here I like it here, but I didn’t like it over there.
pronouns [various types]

2.3 Pronoun (prn.)

Substitutes for a noun, including unspecified and unknown referents.

personal I, you, he, she, it, we, they, him, her, me, them
indefinite someone, somebody, anyone, anybody, no one, nobody, everyone,

everybody, all, each

interrogative which, what, who?
emphatic I myself wouldn’t do it. They can do it themselves.
demonstrative this, that, these, those
possessive mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs
reflexive myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves
reciprocal each other, one another
relative For introducing relative clauses:

who, whom, whose, which, that

dummy / filler / expletive prn. Fills a subject slot when needed, but doesn’t really stand for


It is raining.

There is a unicorn in my garden.

2.4 Conjunction (conj.)

Joins two clauses to make a compound sentence, or joins two items to make a compound phrase.

coordinating conj. Combines two nouns, pronouns, adjectives, or adverbs into a compound phrase, or joins two main clauses into a compound sentence. and, or, but, so
correlative conj. Work in tandem to join two phrases. either...or;


subordinating conj. Joins a subordinate (non-main) clause with a main clause. A main (or independent) clause is a clause that could stand alone as a separate grammatical sentence, while a subordinate (or dependent) clause cannot stand alone. while, although, because

2.5 Determiners

A category that includes articles, possessive adjectives, and sometimes, quantifiers. Articles distinguish between mass versus count nouns, or between uses of a noun that are (1) more abstract, generic, or mass, versus (2) more concrete, delimited, or specified. See the page on determiners.

definite article the
indefinite articles a, an
demonstrative adj. this, that, these, those
interrogative adj. which X?, whose X?
possessive adj. my, your, his, her, its, our, their

2.6 Quantifiers

Words that modify nouns in terms of quantity.

  • much, many, each, every, all, some, none, any

2.7 Preposition (prep.)

Shows relationships, literal or abstract, between two nouns.

  • Do you believe in ghosts? Yes, I think there’s one in my closet right now!

2.8 Particle (par.)

A group of several miscellaneous kinds of minor function words.

complementizer Marks a that-complement clause. Complements without expressed subjects are often marked with that, and subjects of complement clauses are often marked with the particle for. I know that you took the money.

It would be crazy for them to go to Greenland for vacation.

discourse particle Express sentence pauses, or bridges between thoughts. Hmm...I just don’t know what to do.

Well, I think I’ll just go home.

I, uh...think I’d ...uh...better be going...

infinitive particle The particle to is added to a main verb to make an infinitive. I want to go to the bathroom!
negative particle A negative such as no, not. I am not a crook!
phrasal verb particle [PVP] Combines with a main verb to make a phrasal verb. Look out!

Carry on with your work.

2.9 Interjection (interj.)

An exclamation, for expressing emotions, calling someone, expletives, etc.

  • Hey! Get out of my refrigerator!
  • Oh! Can you come here?
  • Ouch! That really hurt!
  • Rats! Darn it!

3 Sentence structure and position

We also classify words by their function or role in a sentence, and how they relate to other words and the whole sentence. A sentence with a linking verb can be divided into the subject (SUBJ) [or nominative] and verb phrase (VP), which contains a verb or smaller verb phrase, and a noun or adj. predicate (PRED). A noun or pronoun belongs to or makes up a noun phrase (NP), just as a verb belongs to or makes up a VP.

  • Penguins are birds.

[NP] [VP [NP]]


In sentences with transitive verbs, the verb phrase consists of a verb plus an object (OBJ) — a direct object (DO), and possibly an indirect object (IO).

  • Penguins eat fish.

[SUBJ] [VP [DO] ].

I feedmy penguinsfish.

[SUBJ] [VP [IO] [DO] ].

The functions of nouns in a sentence, such as subject, object, DO, IO, and possessive are known as CASE.

4 See also