In French (and many other languages), adjectives and pronouns have different classes, e.g.:


  • demonstrative
  • indefinite
  • interrogative
  • numerical
  • possessive


  • demonstrative
  • indefinite
  • interrogative
  • personal
  • possessive
  • relative

I would say that adjectives and pronouns fall under the umbrella of a grammatical category, but I can't think of a way to describe how they are further classified - what is the name of the class of modifiers (as listed)? Unfortunately this is probably a very simple question, but I can't find related terms (for English) even in a intro-level linguistics book like How English Works by Anne Curzan, or through Google.

Edit: It seems to me that demonstrative pronoun is more specific than just pronoun. That said, is there a name for the class of words that further specifies the category (e.g. pronoun --> demonstrative pronoun)?

Edit 2: I'm asking about these in terms of syntax. A pronoun can have multiple syntactic categories, for example the word qui in French functions as an interrogative pronoun as well as a relative pronoun. Interrogative and relative belong to some category under the pronoun umbrella, but what is that category? It's can't possible just be a 'pronoun type'... I would think that there is some linguistic term to describe this.

  • 3
    The subcategories of grammatical categories are also grammatical categories.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 17:57
  • @GregLee Hm... is there not a more specific word/phrase to denote them? In terms of hierarchy, the grammatical category of adjective or pronoun is higher on the chain, because there are specific types of adjectives and pronouns... I'm looking for a way to denote their classification. And there seemingly should be something more specific, because the adjective/pronoun types are specific. But, maybe there's not and I'll just have to make something up :) Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 18:14
  • 1
    @ChrisCirefice, Your reasoning is flawed. From the fact that "female person" is more specific than "person", can you conclude that "female" is more specific than "person"? Obviously not.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 0:22
  • 2
    @IvanKapitonov I have an elementary education in linguistics. I tried to do my own research by looking through an elementary linguistics book (which I mentioned in my question). I have followed all the general rules of the SE network and yet I get this kind of response in my first question in the community. How am I supposed to know that a name doesn't exist for the thing I'm trying to classify? I can't, which is why I asked this community of linguists. Yet here we are. Thank you for your answer, in any case. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 3:43
  • 1
    In grammar, it is usual to talk about "types" or "subclasses."
    – Alex B.
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 20:00

2 Answers 2


Just to stop answering in the comments:

Pronouns, like other grammatical categories, are a major syntactic class, primarily defined by distributional criteria, i.e., the contexts where they can(not) occur---so that the set of contexts will be different for each category. Of course, this correlates significantly with their function (or semantics).

Smaller subclasses can be defined based on different properties, but the ones you are interested in are functional/semantic ones, i.e., defined by their use. That said, they probably have somewhat different distribution, but I don't think anyone uses it in practice to classify them. Also, it can happen in languages that the same pronoun covers more than one function. Thus, it is generally more interesting and helpful to take a viewpoint like how is indefiniteness expressed?'',how are wh-questions formed?'' etc.

Hope that helps you with your question (or maybe to formulate another one).

To respond to Greg Lee's comments: Of course, modification increases specificity, and female person is more specific than person in the same way that demonstrative pronoun is more specific than pronoun. Of course, you don't compare things that are not in subset relation, e.g., beginning with letter A and pronoun. I don't understand what you protest against, Greg. (Intersective) Modifiers increase specificity, fact.

  • Evidently what I was talking about is used in practice, as the FranText corpus was classified grammatically by the categories I mentioned in my question (which is why I asked in the first place!). The lexicon I'm using, Lexique, has documentation. It's in French, but Tableau 3 (scroll down just a bit) shows these grammatical categories. Someone is using them, and they were in all of my French grammar books. So I was just curious as to what this 'subclass' was called. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 3:51

It might help you to take a look at the CLAWS7 pos-tagger key. It is a part-of-speech tagging machine with 137 different parts of speech!

From CLAWS, there are four part-of-speeches containing the word "adjective"

JJ  general adjective
JJR general comparative adjective (e.g. older, better, stronger)
JJT general superlative adjective (e.g. oldest, best, strongest)
JK  catenative adjective (able in be able to, willing in be willing to) 

You could also add possessive pronouns to the list, along with past participles that occur after a linking verb. For example, "he was tired."

Based on the tags from CLAWS7, you might classify pronouns in English like...

subjective personal pronoun (he)
objective personal pronoun (him)
reflexive personal pronoun (himself)
subjective wh- pronoun (who)
objective wh- pronoun (whom) 'not commonly spoken
nominal possessive personal pronoun (mine, yours)
indefinite pronoun (anyone, everyone)

In English there are also "determiners" which are closely related to pronouns and adjectives too. For example, "that" is a determiner which can function as either an adjective or pronoun based on the particular situation

I think it's hard to create these lists because in English there are so many words that can apply to many different parts of speech. Perhaps an ESL teacher would be of more help.

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