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Word Classes

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Subject Material

Word Classes

There are two main types of word classes, each with several subtypes: Lexical Words and Function Words.

Word classes

1 Lexical words:

Nouns: car, police, idea, love, builder, refugee, abstraction, substitutability
Verbs: be, do, write, connect, compare, limit, oppose, put off, bad-mouth
Adjectives: pale, clever, blue, deep, favourite, crummy, obstinate, fast-loving
Adverbs: soon, immediately, very, slowly, recklessly, obviously

Note: If you check your dictionary you will see that many words belong to two (or more) word classes: e.g. to turn- a turn, the police - to police, many limits - to limit. It is their use in a specific sentence that tells you which word class it belongs to.

2 Function words:

  • Pronouns:
    • Personal pronouns: I, you, we, etc.
    • Possessive pronouns: mine, yours, his, ours, etc.*
    • Demonstrative pronouns: this/that, these/those
    • Reflexive pronouns: myself, yourself, ourselves, etc.
    • Interrogative pronouns: who, what, which, how, why, etc.
    • Relative pronouns: who, which, that, etc.
    • Indefinite pronouns: somebody, anybody, everybody, all, many, a few, etc.
  • Determiners (‘bestemmerord’) articles a (an), the; other determiners: some, many, another, etc.
  • Auxiliaries (‘hjelpeverb’): be, have, do, will, can, might, etc.
  • Prepositions: to, by, for, under, beneath, across, in front of, etc.
  • Subjunctions: when, while, if, that, whether, because, etc.
  • Anticipatory there: There is a new pair of skis in the garage
  • Empty it: It is surprising that they left
  • Infinitive marker to: I hope to meet her tomorrow)


For more information about there and it, see 4C.

Note: *A determiner is a word that comes before a noun and tells us more about it. Many words can be both pronouns and determiners. Here that is a determiner in the first example and a pronoun in the second; I like that car/I like that. So also many and what in these examples many people left early /I didn’t see many and what nonsense! /what did you see?

A subjunction makes a sub-clause part of a larger main clause: I would do it if I get the chance. Here if is the subjunction that connects if I get the chance to the main clause: I would do it. The infinitive marker may also be regarded as a subjunction.

We have now looked at the basic word classes in isolation. But we must look at how they can be expanded into longer phrases.