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As regards their function in the sentence, words fall under certain classes called parts of speech, all the members of each of these classes having certain formal characteristics in common which distinguish them from the members of the other classes. Each of these has a name of its own noun, adjective, verb etc.

Thus, if we compare nouns, such as snow, tree, man, with adjectives, such as big, white, green, and verbs, such as melt, grow, speak, we shall find that all nouns whose meaning admits it agree in having plural inflections generally formed by adding s /trees/; that adjectives have no plural inflections, but have degrees of comparison /big, bigger, biggest/ which nouns and verbs have not; that verbs have inflections of their own distinct from those of the other parts of speech // grow, he grows, grown/; that each part of speech has special form-words associated with it /a tree, the tree, to grow, is growing, has grown/, and that each part of speech has more or less definite position in the sentence with regard to other parts of speech /white snow, the snow melts, the green tree, the tree is green/.

If we examine the functions of these three classes, we see at once that all verbs are predicative words that they state something about a subject word, which is generally a noun /the snow melts/; that adjectives are often as assumptive words /white snow/, and so on.

If we examine the meanings of the words belonging to the different parts of speech, we shall find that such nouns as tree, snow, man, are all substance words, while the adjectives and verbs given above are all attributive words, the adjectives expressing permanent attributes or phenomena. We can easily see that there is a natural connection between the functions and meaning of these parts of speech.

But this connection, though natural, is not necessary. In language it is often necessary to state, as well as imply, permanent attribute /the tree is green/, and it is sometimes convenient to make statements about attributes as well as substances. Thus, instead of using the word white as a means of implying something about snow or any other substances, we may wish to state or imply something about the attribute itself, as when we say whiteness is an attribute of snow or talk of the dazzling whiteness of the snow. It is easy to see that there is no difference of meaning between whiteness is an attribute of snow and snow is white: the difference between white and the noun whiteness is purely formal and functional grammatical, not logical.

The parts of speech in inflectional languages are divided into two main groups, declinable, that is, capable of inflection, and indeclinable, that is, incapable of inflection.

The declinable parts of speech fall under the three main divisions, nouns, adjectives, and verbs, which have been already described. Pronouns are a special class of nouns and adjectives, and are accordingly distinguished as noun-pronouns, such as I, they, and adjective-pronouns, such as my and that in my book, that man. Numerals are another special class of nouns and adjectives: three in three of us is a noun-numeral, in three men adjective-numeral. Verbals are a class of words intermediate between verbs on the one hand and nouns and adjectives on the other: they do not express predication, but keep all the other meanings and grammatical functions of the verbs from which they are formed. Noun-verbals comprise infinitives, such as go in I will go, I wish to go, and gerunds, such as going in I think of going. Adjectives-verbals comprise various participles, such as melting and melted in melting snow, the snow is melted.

Indeclinable words or participles comprise adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. The main function of adverbs, such as quickly and very, is to serve as adjunctive-words to verbs and to other particles, as in the snow melted quickly, very quickly. Prepositions, such as of, are joined to nouns to make them into adjunct-words, as in man of honour, where of honour is equivalent to the adjective honourable.

Conjunctions, such as if, are used mainly to show the connection between sentences, as in if you do so, will repent it. Interjections, such as ah! alas!, are sentences-words expressing various emotions.

For convenience we include nouns in the limited sense of the words, noun-pronouns, noun-numerals and gerunds under the common designation noun-word. We also include adjectives, adjective-pronouns, adjective-numerals and participles under the common designation adjective-word.

The term verb is sometimes used to include the verbals, sometimes to exclude them. When necessary, the predicative forms of the verb as opposed to the verbals are included under the term finite verb:thus in I think of going, think is a finite verb as opposed to the verbal /gerund/ going, although both are included under the term verb in its wider sense.

The following is, then, our classification of the parts of speech in English:


noun-words:noun,noun-pronoun,noun-numeral noun-numeral, infinitive, gerund.

DECLINABLEadjective-words:adjective, adjective-pronoun,

adjective-numeral, participles.

verbs: finite verb, verbals /infinitive, gerund, participles/.

INDECLINABLE /particles/: adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection.

The distinction between the two classes which for convenience we distinguished as declinable and indeclinable parts of speech is not entirely dependent on the presence or absence of inflection, but really goes deeper, corresponding, to some extent, to the distinction between head-word and adjunct-word. The great majority of the particles are used only as adjunctive-words, many of them being only form-words, while the noun-words, adjective-words and verbs generally stand to the particles in the relation of head-words.



1. What happens to words in the sentence?

2. What distinguishes all the members of each of the classes from the members of the other classes?

3. What formal characteristics have all nouns /adjectives, verbs/?

4. What are the functions of the noun /the adjective, the verb/?

5. What is the meaning of the above-mentioned parts of speech?

6. What groups are the parts of speech in inflectional languages divided into?

7. What main divisions do the declinable parts of speech fall under?

8. How are pronouns, numerals and verbals distinguished by H. Sweet?

9. What are the main characteristics of verbals?

10. What do indeclinable words or particles comprise?

11. What are the main functions of adverbs /prepositions, conjunctions and interjections/?

12. What does the term verb include?

13. What is H. Sweets description of the difference between the verbals and finite verbs?

14. What is H. Sweets classification of the parts in English?

15. What is the distinction between the two classes /declinable and indeclinable/?




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L. Murrey | O. Jespersen

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