Published 2nd February 2016

english word categories

For most of us, the thought of English grammar is enough to send shivers down our spine. Even for the most experienced TEFL teacher there are aspects of English grammar which elude us or grammatical questions which we struggle to explain.

But not many people realise the English grammar does not only relate to verbs and tenses. Vocabulary also has a sort of grammar, in that words can differ in relation to their role in a sentence. So, to help you to get your head around this, let’s look at the different word categories or classes we have in English.


A noun is a word that identifies something; it is an “it”. Nouns can be concrete (book) or abstract (love) or collective (a pride of lions).  A noun can be countable (pen) or uncountable (sugar). A singular noun is preceded by a determiner but plural nouns aren’t. Some plural nouns are irregular (people). Whether it is countable or uncountable will determine what determiners can be used with the noun (many hands vs much money).


A pronoun is a word used in place of a noun. It is used when the noun is already known and it is used usually to avoid repeating the noun. Personal pronouns are the most recognised, such as he or she or it. Pronouns can also be possessive (mine) and reflexive (myself).


A verb describes an action. Verbs change form depending on tense, number and person. There are many irregular verbs which cause difficulties for learners. A transitive verb needs an object, while an intransitive verb doesn’t

(how to teach phrasal verbs)


An adjective is a word that gives extra information to describe a noun. Adjectives can be used before the noun (attributively) or after the noun (predicatively). Adjectives are used in comparison: comparatives are used to compare two nouns (bigger), superlatives are used to compare three or more nouns (the most expensive).


An adverb is a word which is used to describe an adjective or a verb. It usually ends in –ly (quickly). There are many different kinds of adverbs – of time, manner and place.


A preposition is used with a noun or pronoun to show its relationship to something else. Prepositions can describe position (opposite), manner (by) and time (on Sunday).


A conjunction is a word which connects phrases, clauses or sentences. A co-ordinating conjunction joins items of equal value (or, and), while a subordinating conjunction joins a subordinate to a main clause (until, before).


A determiner is a word which introduces a noun. Determiners are also known as articles .The determiner the is the definite article, while the determiner a is the indefinite article.

These are the different word classes of English, in a nutshell. English learners often have problems with word classes because they do not realise that they are as much a part of grammar as tenses are and so change depending on the situation. Having a thorough understanding of word classes and how they change is one step towards having a handle on English grammar.