An Introduction to Word Classes

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An Introduction to Word
Classes
Words are fundamental units in
every sentence
• my brother drives a big car
• instinctively - brother and car are the same
type of word
• and also that brother and drives are
different types of words.
brother and car belong to the same word class
brother and drives are different types, they belong to
different word classes
• We recognise seven MAJOR word classes:
Verb
Noun
Determiner
Adjective
Adverb
Preposition
Conjunction
be, drive, grow, sing, think
brother, car, David, house, London
a, an, my, some, the
big, foolish, happy, talented, tidy
happily, recently, soon, then, there
at, in, of, over, with
and, because, but, if, or
Additional categories
• articles < determiners
• numerals
• Types of verbs?
• Types of conjunctions?
The term parts of speech refers to an
approach to classification of words
• Words are analyzed on the basis of their
formation
• and their use in sentences (ex. noun?)
• what are the forms like?
• how are they used in sentences?
We use a combination of three criteria for
determining the word class of a word:
1. The meaning of the word
2. The form or ‘shape' of the word
3. The position or ‘environment' of the word
in a sentence
1. Meaning
brother
London
David
people
house
car
places
things
It can also be applied to verbs
action
cook, drive, eat, run, shout, walk
This approach has certain merits
• It allows us to determine word classes by
replacing words in a sentence with words
of "similar" meaning.
My son cooks dinner every Sunday
My son prepares dinner every Sunday
My son eats dinner every Sunday
My son misses dinner every Sunday
However, this approach also has
some serious limitations
• The definition of a noun as a word
denoting a person, place, or thing,
excludes abstract nouns
• Similarly, to say that verbs are "action"
words excludes a verb like be, as in I want
to be happy.
2. The form or ‘shape’ of a word
• Some words can be assigned to a word
class on the basis of their form or ‘shape’.
• -tion ending (ex.)
• -able or –ible (ex.)
• Many words also take what are called
INFLECTIONS = regular changes in their
form under certain conditions.
3. The position or ‘environment’ of a
word in a sentence
• This criterion refers to where words
typically occur in a sentence, and the
kinds of words which typically occur near
to them.
[1] I cook dinner every Sunday
[2] The cook is on holiday
Cook can be a verb or a noun -- it all
depends on how the word is used.
• She looks very pale
She's very proud of her looks
• He drives a fast car
He drives very fast on the motorway
• Turn on the light
I'm trying to light the fire
I usually have a light lunch
Of the three criteria for word classes that we
have discussed here, the Grammar will
emphasize the second and third - the form
of words, and how they are positioned or
how they function in sentences.
Open and Closed Word Classes
• Words are divided into grammatical
classes, which are discriminated on the
basis of three criteria:
• semantic,
• formal and
• functional.
• The semantic criterion deals with the most
generalized meaning characterizing all the
words in a class.
• The formal criterion shows the specific
word-building patterns and the
grammatical forms of the words in a given
grammatical class.
• The functional criterion relates to the
syntactic positions of words belonging to a
particular class.
On the basis of these criteria, words are
divided into
• lexical classes
• functional series of words
• To the lexical classes belong the noun, the
verb, the adjective, the adverb and the
numeral.
• To the functional series of words belong the
article, the preposition, the particle, the
pronoun and the conjunction.
Lexical classes
• words of full nominative value with selfdependent syntactic functions
• they are morphologically changeable units
of language
• these classes are OPEN
The class of nouns
• It is potentially infinite.
• Example: Internet, website, CD-ROM, email,
newsgroup, modem, multimedia
New verbs have also been introduced:
download, upload, reboot, right-click, doubleclick
• The adjective and adverb classes can also
be expanded by the addition of new words,
though less prolifically.
Functional words
• They are of incomplete nominative value
and non-self-dependent functions in the
structure of the phrase or the sentence.
• They constitute CLOSED systems.
• They are made up of finite sets of words
which are never expanded.
Word Classes Based on Meaning
• For example,
generic vs. specific
stative vs. dynamic
assertive vs. nonassertive
Generic & Specific
• Generic vs. Specific is a way of explaining
the meanings of nouns.
• A noun has "generic" meaning when it
refers to things, people, ideas, etc.,
generally as types rather than as specific
individuals.
• A computer is a machine.
• The computer has changed modern life.
• Computers are found just about
everywhere.
• Computation of grades is a process that
computers handle efficiently.
• Music can be played on computers.
Generic Examples
• I got a new computer for Christmas.
• I installed the new computer early in the
morning of December 24.
• I now own 3 computers.
• Without Microsoft Excel on my computer, I
would find the process of doing my grades
really frustrating.
• I play the music of Beethoven on my
computers.
Specific Examples
The distinction between generic and specific
meaning is a terrifically important concept
• selection of the articles a/an and the and
the decision not to use an article at all
• a/an, the, and 0 articles are used for both
generic meanings and for specific meaning
In the above examples
• The generic set is about
computers in general--not about
any particular computer owned by
any particular person.
• The specific set is about me and
my computers in my home.
If we approach teaching articles based on
how they are used with different types of
nouns, we would say something like:
a/an with singular nouns
the with singular or plural or noncount nouns
zero-article with plural or noncount nouns
Stative vs. Dynamic
• a way of classifying different types of
verbs--or at least different meanings that
verbs can have
• Stative refers to "state of being" rather
than "action."
She is a teacher. He is a sociologist.
(states of being rather than of activities)
Dynamic refers to "actions" and "activity" in
verb meanings:
• He walks to class.
• They eat lunch in the cafeteria.
• The contrast is often used in ESL/EFL to
help students understand why they can or
cannot use a progressive verb form.
That is, progressive verbs refer to actions
rather than states of being.
That's why this sentence is wrong:
*They are knowing English very well.
• The verb know generally is used for a
"state of being" rather than an action, and
so it can't be used in the progressive form
(most of the time).
In ESL/EFL materials we have lists of verbs
divided into groups of Stative Verbs and
Dynamic Verbs.
• Actually:
some verbs are just about always used for
stative meanings;
other verbs are just about always used for
dynamic meanings;
but...verbs can be switched from one class
to the other for special purposes.
For example, verbs like taste or smell can
be either actions or states of being:
• He was tasting the soup for salt when he
dropped the box of salt in the pan.
• The soup tastes pretty salty now.
Assertive vs. Nonassertive
• a way of talking about the difference
between positive sentences and related
negative sentences and questions.
• positive sentences "assert" something
• negative sentences and questions do not
Assertive Examples
• They have been to France already.
• They had some French bread for dinner.
• They saw somebody running out of the
restaurant.
Nonassertive Examples
• They haven't been to Egypt yet.
• They haven't had any Egyptian bread yet.
• Did they have any French wine?
• Did they see anybody they recognized?
• They didn't see anyone that they knew.
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