Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech

Main article: Form classes (language)

In grammar, a lexical category (also word class, lexical class, or in traditional grammar part of speech) is a linguistic category of words (or more precisely lexical items), which is generally defined by the syntactic or morphological behaviour of the lexical item in question. Common linguistic categories include noun and verb, among others. There are open word classes, which constantly acquire new members, and closed word classes, which acquire new members infrequently if at all.

Different languages may have different lexical categories, or they might associate different properties to the same one. For example, Japanese has as many as three classes of adjectives where English has one; Chinese, Korean and Japanese have classifiers while European languages do not grammaticalize these units of measurement (a pair of pants, a grain of rice); many languages don't have a distinction between adjectives and adverbs, adjectives and verbs (see stative verbs) or adjectives and nouns[citation needed], etc. Some argue that the formal distinctions between parts of speech must be made within the framework of a specific language or language family, and should not be carried over to other languages or language families.


The classification of words into lexical categories is found from the earliest moments in the history of linguistics.[1] In the Nirukta, written in the 5th or 6th century BCE, the Sanskrit grammarian Yāska defined four main categories of words:[2]

  1. nāma - nouns or substantives
  2. ākhyāta - verbs
  3. upasarga - pre-verbs or prefixes
  4. nipāta - particles, invariant words (perhaps prepositions)

These four were grouped into two large classes: inflected (nouns and verbs) and uninflected (pre-verbs and particles).

A century or two later, the Greek scholar Plato wrote in the Cratylus dialog that "... sentences are, I conceive, a combination of verbs [rhēma] and nouns [ónoma]".[3] Another class, "conjunctions" (covering conjunctions, pronouns, and the article), was later added by Aristotle.

By the end of the 2nd century BCE, the classification scheme had been expanded into eight categoriesTemplate:Contradiction-inline, seen in the Tékhnē grammatiké:

  1. Noun: a part of speech inflected for case, signifying a concrete or abstract entity
  2. Verb: a part of speech without case inflection, but inflected for tense, person and number, signifying an activity or process performed or undergone
  3. Participle: a part of speech sharing the features of the verb and the noun
  4. Interjection: a part of speech
  5. Pronoun: a part of speech substitutable for a noun and marked for person
  6. Preposition: a part of speech placed before other words in composition and in syntax
  7. Adverb: a part of speech without inflection, in modification of or in addition to a verb
  8. Conjunction: a part of speech binding together the discourse and filling gaps in its interpretation

The Latin grammarian Priscian (fl. 500 CE) modified the above eightfold system, substituting "interjection" for "article". It wasn't until 1767 that the adjective was taken as a separate class.[4]

Traditional English grammar is patterned after the European tradition above, and is still taught in schools and used in dictionaries. It names eight parts of speech: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, and interjection (sometimes called an exclamation).


Since the Greek grammarians of 2nd century BCE, parts of speech have been defined by morphological, syntactic and semantic criteria. However, there is currently no generally agreed-upon classification scheme that can apply to all languages, or even a set of criteria upon which such a scheme should be based.

Linguists recognize that the above list of eight word classes is drastically simplified and artificial.[5] For example, "adverb" is to some extent a catch-all class that includes words with many different functions. Some have even argued that the most basic of category distinctions, that of nouns and verbs, is unfounded,[6] or not applicable to certain languages.[7]

Functional classification

Common ways of delimiting words by function include:

  • Closed word classes:
    • auxiliary verbs
    • clitics
    • coverbs
    • conjunctions
    • determiners (articles, quantifiers, demonstrative adjectives, and possessive adjectives)
    • particles
    • measure words
    • adpositions (prepositions, postpositions, and circumpositions)
    • preverbs
    • pronouns
    • contractions
    • cardinal numbers



A tree diagram of English categories

English frequently does not mark words as belonging to one part of speech or another. Words like neigh, break, outlaw, laser, microwave and telephone might all be either verb forms or nouns. Although -ly is an adverb marker, not all adverbs end in -ly and not all words ending in -ly are adverbs. For instance, tomorrow, fast, crosswise can all be adverbs, while early, friendly, ugly are all adjectives (though early can also function as an adverb).

In certain circumstances, even words with primarily grammatical functions can be used as verbs or nouns, as in "We must look to the hows and not just the whys" or "Miranda was to-ing and fro-ing and not paying attention".

See also


  1. Robins, R. H. (1989). General Linguistics. 4th ed. London: Longman.
  2. Bimal Krishna Matilal (1990). The word and the world: India's contribution to the study of language, Oxford. Yaska is dealt with in Chapter 3.
  3. Cratylus 431b
  4. Beauzée, Nicolas, Grammaire générale, ou exposition raisonnée des éléments nécessaires du langage. (Paris, 1767).
  5. Zwicky, Arnold What part of speech is "the". Language Log. URL accessed on 26 December 2009.
  6. Hopper, P. and S. Thompson. 1985. "The Iconicity of the Universal Categories 'Noun' and 'Verbs'". In Typological Studies in Language: Iconicity and Syntax. John Haiman (ed), vol. 6, pp. 151-183, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company
  7. Broschart, Jürgen 1997. "Why Tongan does it differently: Categorial Distinctions in a Language without Nouns and Verbs." Linguistic Typology 1(2):123-165.

External links

Look up this page on
Wiktionary: part of speech

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).