How to Classify Words

A young woman is looking through the dictionary.
... monticelllo/iStock/Getty Images

The most common way to classify words is by their parts of speech. Traditional English grammar classifies words based on eight parts of speech: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection. You can categorize a word into one of these groups by analyzing its function or role in a sentence. Think about how the word affects or relates to the words around it. Some words may fall into more than one category.

1 Identifying Nouns and Pronouns

To classify a word as a noun or pronoun, ask yourself if the word tells who or what the sentence is about. Nouns and pronouns act as the subject of a sentence. A noun is defined as a person, place or thing. For example, "dog," "Joseph" and "school" are nouns. If a noun stands for more than one person or item, it is called a plural noun, such as "houses." Some nouns can also act as adjectives, such as the word "cold" in these sentences: "She caught a bad cold." "It was a cold day." A pronoun is like a noun in that it is also a person, place or thing. But pronouns are less specific and take the place of a more descriptive noun. For example, "it," "he" and "they" are pronouns.

Vocabulary Builder

2 Deciding if a Word Is a Verb

A verb is an action word. The action does not need to be energetic or physical. "Run" is a verb, for instance, but "remember" is also a verb. Determine if a word is a verb by thinking about its relationship to the noun in the sentence. A verb tells what the noun is doing. Verbs can appear in many different tenses, such as past, present or present perfect. In other words, "jump" could also appear as "jumped, "jumps" or "jumping." Some verbs can also act as nouns. The word "thought," for instance, may be a verb in one sentence and a noun in another. "The boy thought about his father." "The boy had a sudden thought."

3 Classifying Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives and adverbs are considered "modifiers" because they modify other words in a sentence. Adjectives modify nouns, and adverbs modify verbs. They modify by describing. Classify a word as an adjective if it offers detail about a noun. For instance, "loud," "fuzzy," "red" and "funny" are adjectives. Classify a word as an adverb if it qualifies a verb. "Happily," "quickly" and "quite" are examples of adverbs. Certain clues can help you classify words as adjectives or adverbs, but they are not always reliable. For example, adjectives are typically sensory words and often appear directly before a noun, but not always. Adverbs often end in "ly," but not always.

4 Finding Prepositions, Conjunctions and Interjections

Classify words as prepositions or conjunctions if they are linking words. These words help connect other main words in a sentence. Conjunctions can connect clauses, whole sentences or individual words. Conjunctions include words like "and," "but," "for," "or," "yet" and "nor." Prepositions specifically link nouns to other words. "To," "at," "after" and "on" are prepositions. These linking words are essential in forming smooth flowing sentences that are grammatically correct. Interjections are short exclamations such as "Hi!" "Ouch!" or "Oh." They usually do not play a vital role in a sentence and are more often used in speech than in writing.

Rachel Pancare taught elementary school for seven years before moving into the K-12 publishing industry. Pancare holds a Master of Science in childhood education from Bank Street College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Skidmore College.