I am trying to make a word game, and part of it requires dividing the words into types. I want it it to work across any language, but so far I can only see 3 things that seem to exist in every language:

  • nouns
  • verbs
  • adjectives

Is there anything else that every language has? Do all languages even have these features? I am looking for 4 major parts of speech every language has.


1 Answer 1


Short answer: not really.

Longer answer: parts of speech vary wildly across languages, and the only real universal constants seem to be entities and predicates. In other words, every language has some way of marking an entity (what we generally call a "noun") and some way of marking a predicate (what we generally call a "verb" or "adjective"), but beyond that, it varies wildly.

The idea of "adjectives" as a category of their own, for example, isn't universal—Japanese has two categories that English-speakers generally call "adjectives", which act completely differently (one acts sort of like nouns, the other sort of like verbs). Ossetian doesn't have an "adjective" category at all, and there's no formal distinction between nouns and the things that modify them; many classical Latin and Greek grammarians analyzed their languages the same way, though there's more of a distinction there than in Ossetian.

The closest you can get probably involves relying on closed classes like conjunctions. But even this isn't truly universal: the Middle Egyptian equivalent of English "and", for example, generally just involves sticking two things next to each other with nothing in between.

If you really want to for whatever reason, you can probably force the categories of "noun", "verb", "adjective", and "adverb" onto most languages. Parts of speech are theoretical constructs, after all; there's no quantitative experiment you can perform that proves two things belong in the same class or different classes. It'll just require some force to jam the square pegs into the round holes, and the result may not be very elegant. It's up to you if that serves your purposes or not.

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