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Parts of Speech

Downloadable version: Parts of Speech

Overview: The different parts of speech in English represent the classifications for words in the language.  Each language uses different classifications to segregate and define its words.  English has nine different classifications, and these parts of speech and the rules that govern each make up the building blocks for our sentences.  It is important to understand how each part of speech functions in a sentence because, combined with proper punctuation, the use and misuse of words create the meaning in your writing.

Nouns are people, places, or things. They often function as the subjects and objects in sentences.

Nouns are classified in several different ways:


Proper nouns:  Jennifer Lawrence, California, Chipotle

Common nouns: computer, classroom, essay

Collective nouns: family, team, jury, herd

Concrete nouns: desk, house, tree, computer

Abstract nouns: peace, happiness, loneliness

In the example sentence below, The Writer’s Resource Lab is a noun acting as a subject (the noun performing the action), and individualized writing instruction is a noun acting as an object (the noun receiving the action).

  • The Writer’s Resource Lab regularly offers individualized writing instruction.


A verb is an action performed or a state of being.  Below, offers is the verb, the action being performed.

  • The Writer’s Resource Lab regularly offers individualized writing instruction.


An adverb is a word that modifies a verb or sometimes adjectives and other adverbs. Adverbs usually end in –ly. In the example sentence below, regularly is an adverb because it describes the verb “offers.”

  • The Writer’s Resource Lab regularly offers individualized writing instruction.


Adjectives are words that modify (describe) nouns or pronouns. Attributive adjectives appear before the noun. Predicative adjectives appear in the predicate of a sentence and are not followed by nouns; instead, they are complements of the copula be function that links predicative adjectives to nouns using helping verbs.

  • The Writer’s Resource Lab regularly offers individualized writing instruction.

In the example above, individualized is an attributive adjective because it describes and precedes “writing instruction.” In the example below, however, individualized is a predicative adjective because it appears after the noun it describes.

  • Writing instruction at the Writer’s Resource Lab is individualized.


Similar to adjectives, articles modify nouns.  Articles are, in fact, often considered a special type of adjective; however, instead of simply modifying a noun like an adjective does, articles indicate the type of direct or indirect reference being made by the noun. The definite article, the, indicates a specific noun while the indefinite articles, a and an, refer to a any member of a collective of nouns.

Definite article = the Indefinite articles = a, an

In the first example sentence below, the is a definite article because “Writer’s Resource Lab” is a specific place while in the sentence below it, a is an indefinite article because “writing lab” is one out of a collective group of many countable writing labs.

  • The Writer’s Resource Lab regularly offers individualized writing instruction.
  • Like many other universities, Cal State Long Beach has a writing lab.


A pronoun is a word that takes the place of and refers back to a noun.


Personal pronouns = I, me, you, she, her, he, him, it, we, us, you, they, them

Possessive pronouns = my, mine, your, yours, her, hers, his, its, our, ours, your, yours, their, theirs

Interrogative pronouns = who, whom, whose, which, what

Intensive and Reflexive pronouns = myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves

Indefinite pronouns = someone, anyone, everyone, anything, everything, something, some, none, many, one, few, nobody, etc.

Demonstrative pronouns = this, that, these, those

Relative pronouns = who, whom, whose, which, that

Reciprocal pronouns = each other, one another

Review the examples of pronoun usage below.  For a more thorough explanation of these examples, review our pronoun handout.

  • Who will be at the party?
  • These are for my research paper.
  • Everyone writes at some point in their
  • The essay that is about gun control will be due next week.


Prepositions are words that, when coupled with a noun or pronoun, create a phrase to modify another word. These prepositional phrases almost always act as adjectives or adverbs. Commonly used prepositions include:  about, before, down, into, next, out, through, to, in, on, up.

  • The textbook on the table contains many useful grammar exercises.
  • The assignment before this essay proved to be difficult.

Prepositions often indicate location and time. Whereas the prepositional phrase on the table clarifies the location of “the textbook,” before this essay describes the time that “the assignment” was completed.


Conjunctions are terms that join words, phrases, or clauses.

Coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) join two independent clauses (complete sentences) while subordinating conjunctions (if, while, although, since, because, whereas, etc.) join subordinate clauses and clarify the relationship between the ideas.

  • Writing requires much time and effort, yet I enjoy learning how to express my thoughts clearly.
  • Because I am an English major, I write essays frequently.


Interjections are words or phrases used to show an exclamation or a dispute or give a command.  Depending upon their intended emotion, interjections either stand alone marked by an exclamation point as in the first example below or set off from a the rest of a sentence by a comma.

  • Wow! You earned an A on your essay.
  • Oh, I don’t agree with your discussion of global warming.




Practice: Understanding the function of the parts of speech will help you to not only improve the clarity of your writing but be able to discuss and understand your writing with tutors during your sessions at the WRL.

Copyright (C) 2016. All rights reserved. This handout is part of a library of instructional materials used in California State University, Long Beach’s writing center, the Writer’s Resource Lab. Educators and students are welcome to distribute copies as long as they do so with attribution to all organizations and authors. Commercial distribution is prohibited

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