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An Introduction to Word Classes and Grammatical Categories Unit 3

Words are fundamental units in every sentence

my brother drives a big car
instinctively - brother and car are the same type of word and also that brother and drives are different types of
We recognize seven MAJOR word classes:
brother and car belong to the same word class
brother and drives are different types, they belong to different word classes
Verb be, drive, grow, sing, think
Noun brother, car, David, house, London
Determiner a, an, my, some, the
Adjective big, foolish, happy, talented, tidy
Adverb happily, recently, soon, then, there
Preposition at, in, of, over, with
Conjunction and, because, but, if, or

Additional categories
articles < determiners
Types of verbs?
Types of conjunctions?
The term parts of speech refers to an approach to classification of words
Words are analyzed on the basis of their formation and their use in sentences (ex. noun?)
what are the forms like?
how are they used in sentences?
We use a combination of three criteria for determining the word class of a word:
1. The meaning of the word
2. The form or ‘shape' of the word
3. The position or ‘environment' of the word in a sentence

Brother Car House



People Place

It can also be applied to verbs


cook walk
drive eat run shout
Fill in the blanks
My son ________ dinner every Sunday .

This approach has certain merits

It allows us to determine word classes by replacing words in a sentence with words of "similar" meaning.
My son cooks dinner every Sunday
My son prepares dinner every Sunday
My son eats dinner every Sunday
My son misses dinner every Sunday
However, this approach also has some serious limitations
The definition of a noun as a word denoting a person, place, or thing, excludes abstract nouns
Similarly, to say that verbs are "action" words excludes a verb like be, as in I want to be happy.
2. The form or ‘shape’ of a word
Some words can be assigned to a word class on the basis of their form or ‘shape’.
-tion ending (ex.)
-able or –ible (ex.)
Many words also take what are called INFLECTIONS = regular changes in their form under certain conditions.
3. The position or ‘environment’ of a word in a sentence
This criterion refers to where words typically occur in a sentence, and the kinds of words which typically occur near to
[1] I cook dinner every Sunday
[2] The cook is on holiday
Cook can be a verb or a noun -- it all depends on how the word is used.
She looks very pale
She's very proud of her looks

He drives a fast car

He drives very fast on the motorway

Turn on the light

I'm trying to light the fire
I usually have a light lunch
*Of the three criteria for word classes that we have discussed here, the Grammar will emphasize the second
and third - the form of words, and how they are positioned or how they function in sentences.
Open and Closed Word Classes
Words are divided into grammatical classes, which are discriminated on the basis of three criteria:
formal and
The semantic criterion deals with the most generalized meaning characterizing all the words in a class.

The formal criterion shows the specific word-building patterns and the grammatical forms of the words in a given
grammatical class.

The functional criterion relates to the syntactic positions of words belonging to a particular class.
On the basis of these criteria, words are divided into
lexical classes
functional series of words
To the lexical classes belong the noun, the verb, the adjective, the adverb and the numeral.
To the functional series of words belong the article, the preposition, the particle, the pronoun and the
Lexical classes
words of full nominative value with self-dependent syntactic functions
they are morphologically changeable units of language.
The class of nouns
It is potentially infinite.
Example: Internet, website, CD-ROM, email, newsgroup, modem, multimedia
New verbs have also been introduced:
download, upload, reboot, right-click, double-click
The adjective and adverb classes can also be expanded by the addition of new words, though less prolifically.
Functional words
They are of incomplete nominative value and non-self-dependent functions in the structure of the phrase or the
They constitute CLOSED systems.
They are made up of finite sets of words which are never expanded.
Word Classes Based on Meaning
For example,
generic vs. specific
stative vs. dynamic
assertive vs. non-assertive

Generic & Specific

Generic vs. Specific is a way of explaining the meanings of nouns.
A noun has "generic" meaning when it refers to things, people, ideas, etc., generally as types rather than as specific in
Generic Examples
1. A computer is a machine.
2. The computer has changed modern life.
3. Computers are found just about everywhere.
4. Computation of grades is a process that computers handle efficiently.
5. Music can be played on computers.
Specific Examples
1. I got a new computer for Christmas.
2. I installed the new computer early in the morning of De cember 24.
3. I now own 3 computers.
4. Without Microsoft Excel on my computer, I would find the process of doing my grades really frustrating.
5. I play the music of Beethoven on my computers.
*The distinction between generic and specific meaning is a terrifically important concept
-selection of the articles a/an and the and the decision not to use an article at all
-a/an, the, and 0 articles are used for both generic meanings and for specific meaning
In the above examples
The generic set is about computers in general--not about any particular computer owned by any partic ular person.
The specific set is about me and my computers in my home.
Stative vs. Dynamic
a way of classifying different types of verbs--or at least different meanin gs that verbs can have
Stative refers to "state of being" rather than "action."
She is a teacher. He is a sociologist.
(states of being rather than of activities)
Dynamic refers to "actions" and "activity" in verb meanings:
He walks to class.
They eat lunch in the cafeteria.
The contrast is often used in ESL/EFL to help students understand why they can or cannot use a progressive verb form.
That is, progressive verbs refer to actions rather than states of being.