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 Ling 131: Language & Style

Topic 2 (session A) - Being creative with words and phrases > Introducing word classes

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Session Overview
(Semi) Automatic poetry
Introducing word classes
More on word classes
Manipulating word classes
Changing word class - affixation
Changing word class - functional conversion
New words for old
Word class problems
Word class checklist
Useful Links
Grammar Website

Introducing word classes

This page introduces you to the grammatical classes which words belong to and how to spot and define them. It thus helps to explain what you were doing intuitively when you chose from the different open-class word lists (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs) to create poems on the (semi-)automatic poetry page.

Note: The grammatical description which we use on this course is based on the approach in English Grammar for Today by G. Leech, R. Hoogenraad and M. Deuchar (Macmillan 1982). For more detail, see chapter 3, 'Words'. Another good resource is the 'Word Classes' section of the University College London Internet Grammar of English.


We all have pretty good intuitions about the basic word class which lots of words come from, even if they have the possibility of shifting from one word class to another (something which will have become clear in the lists of words on the (semi-)automatic poetry page).

So, for example, 'table' can be a noun or a verb, but most English speakers will assume that at base it is a noun and that the verb is derived from the noun, not the other way round. Dictionary entries effectively encode the intuitions we have about what word classes basically belong to. The first entry will be the one for what is the basic word class form and derived forms will come later in the dictionary display.

Test your intuitions on the following words. What is the most basic word class for each of the following words?:










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