Exploring the English language
Exploring the English language

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Exploring the English language

1 Word classes

Activity 1

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Look at an extract from An A to Z of English by clicking on the video clip below. In this extract, poet Michael Rosen acts out a confusing lesson on grammar. How many of the questions would you have got right? (Just give an answer based upon your immediate impression, it's not a test!)

‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)

Download this video clip.Video player: ‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)
Skip transcript: ‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)

Transcript: ‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)

Teacher
‘A noun is a naming word. What is the naming word in the sentence: “He named the ship Lusitania ”?’ ‘Named’, said George. ‘Wrong. It’s “ship”’. ‘Oh’, said George. The teacher said: ‘A verb is a doing word. What is the doing word in the sentence: “I like doing homework”?’ ‘Doing’, said George. ‘Wrong. It’s “like”.’ ‘Oh’, said George. The teacher said: ‘An adjective is a describing word. What is the describing word in the sentence: “Describing sunsets is boring”?’ ‘Describing’, said George. ‘Wrong. It’s “boring”.’ ‘I know it is’, said George.
End transcript: ‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)
‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)
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Discussion

If you had the same problem as George, then the next set of activities on word classes may set you on the right track. If you guessed correctly the identity of the noun, verb, adjective and so on in Rosen's little bit of fun, then the following activities will serve as a useful refresher for you.

As a matter of interest, your ability to do these activities may well rest on your age, the type of English lessons you had in school and where you studied. Rosen's depiction of grammar as boring (and ultimately useless) displays the attitude which swung the UK English curriculum away from the study of formal grammatical analysis during the 1960s and 1970s.

Michael Rosen's poem focused on the functions of different types of word (or ‘word classes’) in a sentence. It is useful to be familiar with the basic word classes in this course, and the following activities will give you practice in identifying them.

Activity 2

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

In parts 1 and 2 below you'll find a series of formal and reasonably traditional definitions of eight word classes.

Part 1. Read the definitions of the word classes at the top of the table. Then look at the list of word classes, and match the word class to the definition by placing it in the second column.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. preposition

  2. determiner

  3. pronoun

  4. noun

  • a.Indicate whether something is general (a car, an example) or specific (the car, the example), or owned by somebody (your dog, her cat). Can also indicate whether something is near (this book, these papers) or far (that view, those roads).

  • b.Can substitute for nouns. Can be personal (I, you, he, we, they), or possessive (mine, yours, ours), demonstrative (this, that, these, those) or interrogative (who, which), amongst others.

  • c.Examples are by, with, in, on, at, through, during, over, around, according to, apart from. Typically indicate a relationship between other words e.g. slice of bread. Or they are to do with positioning things e.g. in your dreams, over the top.

  • d.Refer to places, people, things or ideas. Can usually be expressed as singular or plural, e.g. issue - issues, pencil - pencils. Often used with a or the.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = a
  • 3 = b
  • 4 = d

Part 2. Now do the same for the word classes below.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. verb

  2. adverb

  3. adjective

  4. conjunction

  • a.Typically modify nouns (or pronouns), giving them some kind of quality e.g. an old house, decayed flesh, he's lucky, lonesome me. Can themselves be qualified by words like very, so, rather, quite e.g. very old, rather lucky, so filthy.

  • b.Join parts of a text together, expressing a logical relationship. They include words that add (and, besides, moreover, in addition), compare (like, as, but, in contrast, on the other hand), express time (after, as long as, while) or express cause (so, because, therefore).

  • c.Express events such as doing, happening, being, saying, feeling, sensing, having. Generally vary for present or past tense (hold - held - was holding) and indicate modality (can hold, could hold, might hold).

  • d.Modify verbs by adding extra information about when/where/how etc. a verb takes place e.g. he smiled grimly, they shouted loudly, we went yesterday. Can also modify adjectives e.g. she seemed genuinely surprised, or other adverbs e.g. they were playing surprisingly well.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = d
  • 3 = a
  • 4 = b

Activity 3

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes

Here are some word class identification exercises for practice. For each sentence below, write each word (or word group) into the correct row of the table according to its word class.

1. Initially, it will only come for a very short distance, but in a few days you will be able to increase the distance.

Noun
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Verb
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Adjective
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Preposition
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Adverb
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Pronoun
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Determiner
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Conjunction
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Words: 0
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Answer

Noundistance, days, distance
Verbwill, come, will, be, able, to, increase
Adjectiveshort, few
Prepositionfor, in
Adverbinitially, only, very
Pronounit, you
Determinera, a, the
Conjunctionbut

2. If you are planning a holiday in Italy this summer, you must visit the ancient city of Rome. Book your accommodation early because it is very hard to find at that time of the year.

Noun
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Verb
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Adjective
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Preposition
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Adverb
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Pronoun
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Determiner
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Conjunction
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Words: 0
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Answer

Nounholiday, Italy, summer, city, Rome, accommodation, time, year
Verbare, planning, must, visit, book, is, to, find
Adjectiveancient, hard
Prepositionin, of, at, of
Adverbearly, very
Pronounyou, you, it
Determinera, this, the, your, that, the
Conjunctionif, because

3. We are developing novel classes of drugs to treat epilepsy at its cause, more effectively and more safely. Our gene discoveries are also potentially powerful tools for the accurate diagnosis of epilepsy.

Noun
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Verb
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Adjective
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Preposition
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Adverb
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Pronoun
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Determiner
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Conjunction
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Words: 0
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Answer

Nounclasses, drugs, epilepsy, cause, gene, discoveries, tools, diagnosis, epilepsy
Verbare, developing, treat, are
Adjectivenovel, powerful, accurate
Prepositionof, at, for, of, to
Adverbmore, effectively, more, safely, potentially
Pronounwe
Determinerits, our, the
Conjunctionand, also

4. If you are a speaker of English you will be able to estimate the social status of native speakers solely on the basis of the linguistic evidence of their speech.

Noun
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Verb
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Adjective
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Preposition
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Adverb
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Pronoun
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Determiner
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Conjunction
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Words: 0
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Answer

Nounspeaker, English, status, speakers, basis, evidence, speech
Verbare, will, be, able, to, estimate
Adjectivesocial, native, linguistic
Prepositionof, of, on, of, of
Adverbsolely
Pronounyou, you
Determinera, the, the, the, their
Conjunctionif

5. When the hawk is bound to a creance and perched on a post or an assistant's hand, you hold a piece of meat in your gloved fist so the hawk can see it.

Noun
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Verb
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Adjective
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Preposition
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Adverb
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Pronoun
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Determiner
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Conjunction
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Words: 0
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Answer

Nounhawk, creance, post, assistant, hand, piece, meat, fist, hawk
Verbis, bound, perched, hold, can, see
Adjectivegloved
Prepositionto, on, of, in
Adverb
Pronounyou, your, it
Determinerthe, a, a, an, a, the
Conjunctionwhen, and, or, so

In the last example of the preceding activity, did you correctly identify creance as a noun? Did you know what a creance was before reading this? If you answered ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively, then you have identified the word class by dint of the way it behaves within the text. You've worked out that any word which occurs within that particular context (a -and…) must be a noun. In other words, you've made the identification on the grounds of the function rather than the form of the word. This is usually the most dependable way of making such an identification, since a single form, such as holiday, can behave as a number of different word classes according to its function within the text:

It was a dreadful holiday (noun).

They have a holiday cottage (adjective).

We holiday there each year (verb).

This means that you do not have to recognise a word in order to allocate it to a word class. You simply have to analyse its behaviour within the sentence.

Activity 4

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Now look at this nonsense sentence and place each word into the correct word class.

The greeful porgs bleened glidly.

Noun
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Verb
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Adjective
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Preposition
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Adverb
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Pronoun
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Determiner
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Conjunction
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Words: 0
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Answer

Nounporgs
Verbbleened
Adjectivegreeful
Preposition
Adverbglidly
Pronoun
Determinerthe
Conjunction

Activity 5

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

As in the previous activities, place each of the following words into the correct word class, thinking once again about the behaviour of the words in the sentence.

These cortical striatal fibres may expand their terminal fields and occupy a number of synaptic spaces on caudate neurons vacated by degeneration of their ipsilateral prefrontal input.

Noun
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Verb
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Adjective
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Preposition
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Adverb
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Pronoun
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Determiner
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Conjunction
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Words: 0
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Answer

Nounfibres, fields, number, spaces, neurons, degeneration, input
Verbmay, expand, occupy, vacated
Adjectivecortical, striatal, terminal, synaptic, caudate, ipsilateral, prefrontal
Prepositionof, on, by, of
Adverb
Pronoun
Determinerthese, their, a, their
Conjunctionand
U211_1

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