Parts of speech
Why know about parts of speech?
Parts of speech are categories of words like « noun » or « adjective » which tell us how a word behaves in general, rather than its role in a specific sentence (like « subject » or « object »).
They are important because without them it would be impossible to learn how a language works.
Take, for example, the following rule about how to write words expressing nationality:
* Nouns relating to nationalities begin with a capital letter:
Les Français sont très fiers de leur cuisine The French are very proud of their cuisine
* Adjectives relating to nationalities, however, begin with a small letter:
La grammaire française est difficile French grammar is difficult
It is difficult to understand this rule without understanding the words noun and adjective!
The major parts of speech
A noun is a word like Peter, teacher or mountain which names an entity such as a person, thing, place, substance or state.
A verb is a word such as to give or to be which can serve either to express an action or state, or else to modify another verb by giving information for example about time (I will go). Verbs are situated in time primarily by means of tense, for example the present, the perfect etc. Other verb forms include moods such as the indicative (used when considering something as a fact or probability), and the subjunctive (used when the action of the verb is coloured with an attitude such as doubt, need, wishing, feeling or opinion).
An adjective is a word that gives information about a noun. Most often adjectives serve to indicate a quality possessed by a noun, and these are called qualificative adjectives. For example, in the phrase the red book, the qualificative adjective red modifies the noun book. Other types of adjective include possessive adjectives: my book; demonstrative adjectives: this house; indefinite adjectives: several people; interrogative adjectives: what number?; and numerical adjectives: fifty pounds.
An adverb is a word that can modify most parts of speech apart from a noun. For example, in the sentence She sang beautifully, the adverb beautifully modifies the verb sang; in She has an extremely beautiful voice, the adverb extremely qualifies the adjective beautiful; and in She sang extremely beautifully, the adverb extremely modifies the adverb beautifully.
An article is a word such as the or a appearing before a noun that describes the scope of reference of that noun (that is whether the noun referred to is specific or non-specific, a part or whole of a category, and so on). It may be definite (the) or indefinite (a). French also has the partitive article (du, de la) which expresses part of a category.
A pronoun is a word which stands in the place of a noun or something that functions as a noun. It can be a personal pronoun (I, me); a possessive pronoun (yours); a demonstrative pronoun (this one, those); an interrogative pronoun (which?); a relative pronoun (who, that); or an indefinite pronoun (anything).
A preposition is a word that expresses the relationship between a noun, pronoun or infinitive and the rest of the sentence. Prepositions have two basic functions. First (usually involving to or of) to provide a transparent link between two words, as in to manage to do or the rate of inflation. And second to express a distinct relationship between a noun or pronoun and the rest of its sentence (as in He put the book on the table).
A conjunction is a word like but, and or because that connects words, phrases or clauses.