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Parts of Speech

Ranez.Ru > Помощь в учебе абитуриентам и студентам > Студенту > Английский язык > Теоретическая грамматика >

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Traditional classification of words (dating back to ancient times) – 8 parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections.



  • The definitions are largely notional and often extremely quite vague; e.g. A pronoun is a word used instead of a noun (John came this morning – a man, someone, you-know-who, the aforementioned).
  • The number of parts of speech in the traditional grammars seems to be arbitrary. Why 8? Prof. Ilyish – 12 (+ numerals, statives, modal words and particles), prof. Khaimovich and Rogovskaya – 14 (+ articles and response words).

Thus, meaning can’t be the only criterion for classifying words. Compare: 

  1. The last train was at 7.
  2. When did you last get a letter from her
  3. She was faithful to the last.
  4. How long will the fine weather last?

That’s why to classify words we must take into consideration morphological characteristics of words. For instance, H.Sweet: declinables (nouns, adjectives, verbs) and indeclinables (adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections). One more classification (based on syntactic functions of word classes): noun-words (nouns, noun-numerals, noun-pronouns, Infinitives, Gerunds), adjective-words (adjectives, adjective-pronouns, adjective-numerals, Participles), verb-words (verbs, verbals). O.Jespersen (his theory is between syntax and morphology):

  1. substantives (including proper nouns)
  2. adjectives (In some respect (1) and (2) may be classed together as nouns)
  3. pronouns (including numerals and pronominal adverbs)
  4. verbs (with doubts as to the inclusion of verbals)
  5. particles (adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections) characterized negatively as made up of all those that cannot find any place in any of the first 4 classes.

J.Sledd: inflexional classes (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives – based on inflexion, adverbs – based on derivation) and positional classes (4 main positional classes – nominals, verbals, adjectivals, adverbials – and 8 smaller positional classes – determiners, prepositions, conjunctions, relatives, interrogatives, intensive-reflexives, auxiliaries and adverbials of degree). He uses the method of substitution:

  • e.g. Cash/money/the money/the big money talks.


An adjective is usually an adjectival but it may be a nominal, etc.:

  • The poor boy became president. The poor can afford no vacations.

The strong points: 1) emphasis on inflexions as indicators of parts of speech 2) the idea of heterogeneity of word-classes.

Function. Ch.Fries: All the instances of one part of speech are the ‘same’ only in the sense that in the structural patterns of English each has the same functional significance. He classifies words using 3 typical sentences which he calls frames:

  • Frame A – The concert was good (always).
  • Frame B – The clerk remembered the tax (suddenly).
  • Frame C – The team went there.

Fries establishes 4 classes (class 1, 2, 3 4) and 15 groups of structural words (group A, B, C, D, E, etc.) – e.g. group A comprises all the words which may occupy the position of the: no, your, their, both, few, much, John’s, our, four, twenty, etc.

Main drawbacks: 

  • morphological characteristics are ignored completely;
  • syntactical characteristics are not always taken into consideration (e.g. modal verbs are isolated from Class 2);
  • the classes are heterogeneous (one and the same word may happen to be in different classes and groups).

Strong points:

  • special accent is laid on distribution of words and their syntactic valency (another name for the classification is syntactico-distributional);
  • his materials comprise 250 000 word entries which provide information on frequency of occurrence.

Russian linguistic tradition: meaning, form and function. e.g. table – a noun because 1) it is the name of a thing (specific meaning), 2) it has forms of number and case and 3) it can function as a subject or an object in a sentence.

Not all the 3 principles work at the same time. There are, for example, unchangeable words.

By meaning we do not understand the individual meaning of a word (its lexical meaning) but the meaning common to all the words of a given class.

By form we mean the morphological characteristics of a type of word. Verbs are characterized by the categories of tense, mood, aspect, voice, etc. The form is not just stem-building elements.

By function we mean the syntactical properties of a type of words, i.e. its distribution (combinability and arrangement in a sentence) and its function in a sentence.


Problem classes of words:

  • response words
    1. meaning – response statement
    2. negative combinability
    3. functioning as sentence-words (Are you coming? – Yes.)
  • modal words
    1. meaning – modality: certainty, probability, i.e. speaker’s evaluation
    2. form – invariable
    3. function – do not enter any phrases, stay outside Happily they arrived. They arrived happily.
  • statives
    1. meaning – state
    2. form – prefix a-, no degrees of comparison
    3. function of a predicative (He is afraid of difficulties)
  • postpositions (to bring up :: to bring)
  • particles (He is simply mad. He speaks simply.)
  • word-substitutes (Prof.Vorontsova: He speaks English better than I do).

Field theory. Prof.Admoni: there are linguistic units in every part of speech which possess all the properties of the given class. This is the nucleus of this part of speech. But there are also units which possess not all the properties of it though they belong to this part of speech. The field then includes both the central part and periphery, it is not homogeneous. The task of the linguist is to reveal all the central and all the peripheral elements.



Define the part of speech reference of the word in the sentences:

  1. She wore a yellow dress.
  2. Do not use this soap – it will yellow your linen.
  3. The yellow of an egg is called the yolk.

How is this word treated in the positional, syntactico-distributional and field theories?


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