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I am starting studying linguistics independently. I have a few basic doubts.

English has following types of words: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection.

It seems that this is capable of describing anything. But can there be more type of words? Also can we have languages that uses less types of words but still are capable of describing anything

Also there is something called auxilary verbs also called helping verbs in english. For e.g.:- Does he want that? In this sentence "does" is the auxilary verb which adds further meaning to the verb "want". It is possible that there is single verb which combines both the meaning of "does" and "want". So are auxilary verbs necessary?

Hope the questions makes sense. Basically motive of the questions is to understand parts of speech and get an idea on why they are important. Thank you

  • Right. English would not have had to be the way it is. It could have turned out to be Eskimo, for instance. – Greg Lee Mar 3 '15 at 17:42
  • I believe some languages do not distinguish between adjectives and adverbs, using the same words for both. – Zgialor Mar 3 '15 at 19:41
  • What research have you done before? Even Wikipedia will tell you that you missed many. – curiousdannii Mar 4 '15 at 7:04
  • I think that your question needs clarification. Are you asking for a linguistically sound list of English word classes? Or are you asking about terms for word classes that can be used across many languages? – James Grossmann Mar 7 '15 at 20:40
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For English, you probably forgot articles.

Other languages usually have different sets of parts of speech (or lexical classes), and the Wikipedia article provides with a decent list of those. For a more detailed analysis, check David Beck's "The Typology of Parts of Speech Systems", chapter 4 "Types of lexical inventory".


As one of interesting examples, Thai has noun classifiers (measure words). They are used to "compensate" the absence of plural number and also to improve the "rhythm" of the language (a pretty subjective thing which is often forgotten by language learners but is important to native speakers).

There are classifiers for types of nouns (animals, people), or based on shape of the objects (round, square, cigar-shaped things), etc. The more or less complete list of Thai noun classifiers is here.

Often, noun classifiers can act as normal nouns, e.g. คน (see below) is a regular noun meaning "person".

Noun classifiers are closed class, so new classifiers are almost never added.

Here's some usage:

นักเรียน ๔ คน กลับบ้าน [nák riːan sìː kʰon klàp bâːn] student 4 classifier for people return home

Or, when you order something in a shop:

ขอ ไข่ดาว ๒ ลูก [kʰɔ̌ː kʰàj daːw sɔ̌ːŋ lûːk] want scrambled eggs 2 classifier for round-shaped objects

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Some languages have an additional POS termed "ideophone", which are similar to English words like "bang", "whump", "crash", but frequently with a very wide semantic range, and their syntax can be kind of odd. In Shona, they tend to require an auxiliary verb "say", for example imbwa yakati mwana n'a "The dog bit the child", where yakati is "he said" and n'a is the ideophone referring to biting (imbwa = "dog", mwana = 'child'): literally, "The dog said the child 'bite'". There is a regular verb -ruma meaning "bite", so this can also be rendered imbwa yakaruma mwana. An ideophone can also be combined with a lexical verb, e.g. imbwa yakaruma mwana n'a "The dog bit the child 'bite'", or akabvunza nga nga nga "he asked persistently" (akabvunza="he asked", nga nga nga = ideophone meaning 'persistently'). The purpose of the introducer verb -ti is to provide something for verb inflection to hang on, since ideophones don't inflect. If the ideophone precedes the lexical verb, then the ideophone usually has an introducer (-ti) and the lexical verb is in the infinitive, so imbwa yakati n'a mwana kuruma ("the-dog said 'bite' the-child to-bite") again meaning 'the dog bit the child'. Ideophones have pretty unrestricted syntax (modulo the requirement for the sentence to bear verbal inflection), though perhaps cannot penetrate inside an NP.

These examples have provided verb-like and adverb-like semantics; additionally, they can contribute adjective-like semantics, e.g. akavhura nzii bhokisi "he opened the black box" (*akavhura='he opened', nzii=ideo. 'black'*) – or, bhokisi rakavhurwa nzii 'the black box was opened'. As far as I know, the ideophone here conveys something about blackness as a consequence of opening the box, like "He opened the box and it was all black inside". Ideophones do not appear to supply nominal information.

They are "special" in two areas of phonology. One is they can be monosyllabic, whereas in all other word classes a word undergoes epenthesis to become a least bisyllabic. The second is that they cannot undergo tone sandhi rules.

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  • To add to your examples of the phonological consequences of having a certain part of speech, in Yawelmani (and the other Yokuts languages), a type of verb that typically imitates natural sounds, is exempt from the normal rule that lowers long high vowels. Stanley Newman calls them "wiyi verbs" ("wiy(i)" means "do") in Yokuts Language of California. – Greg Lee Mar 7 '15 at 17:46
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The fundamental problem with the question is the assumption that a language 'has' some sort of fixed categories of words joined together by common properties. It is understandable because typical language pedagogy makes it seem that 'parts of speech' are some sort of natural types.

But in fact, nothing could be further from how languages operate. These are the key things to know about 'parts of speech' or 'word types'.

  1. There is no definitive list of word types for any given language. Any list will be the result of tradition and theoretical assumptions made by the person compiling a particular grammar. In English grammars, you can find lists of anywhere between 8 and 11. In other languages, you will find wildly different lists.

  2. The criteria for including a word in a particular category combine function, meaning, morphology and syntax in various inconsistent ways. This makes it hard to come up with many meaningful crosslinguistic universals.

  3. Word categories do not have clear boundaries. There are many edge cases and possible disputes. Some linguists have talked about things like 'nouniness' to indicate the problem.

  4. The only true universally recognized word types that are identified in all languages are nouns and verbs with a strong case being made for adjectives. But even this does not always mean that a word that is a noun in one language cannot be a verb in another and vice versa. In effect, word types are very much specific to each language.

  5. Despite their problematic nature, word types (parts of speech) are very useful when dealing with text. For instance, in natural language processing, language teaching, corpus linguistics, etc. But it is important not to treat them as fixed and immutable. They're just helpful heuristic devices.

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The question makes sense. Auxiliary verbs aren't necessary as there are languages that don't have them. Likewise there are languages without prepositions. Those languages use morphology to express what prepositions express in English (and many other languages). Many Amerindian languages don't have Aux and P. An example: "Juma-t jupa-tak alarapïwa" means "I will buy it from you for him/her" (the suffixes -t and -tak mark ablative and benefactive, respectively, and tense is expressed by the verb ending).

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