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Word classes and word formation

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on 22 October 2013

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Transcript of Word classes and word formation

Word classes and word formation
Word classes
Words are fundamental units in every sentence, so we will begin by looking at these. Consider the words in the following sentence:

my brother drives a big car

We can tell almost instinctively that brother and car are the same type of word, and also that brother and drives are different types of words. By this we mean that brother and car belong to the same word class. Similarly, when we recognise that brother and drives are different types, we mean that they belong to different word classes. We recognise seven MAJOR word classes:

Word formation
In linguistics, word formation refers to the ways in which new words are made on the basis of other words or morphemes.
VERBS: be, drive, grow, sing, think
NOUNS: brother, car, David, house, London
DETERMINERS: a, an, my, some, the
ADJECTIVES: big, foolish, happy, talented, tidy
ADVERBS: happily, recently, soon, then, there
PREPOSITIONS: at, in, of, over, with
CONJUNCTIONS: and, because, but, if, or

Criteria for Word Classes
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
The replacement test:

My son cooks dinner every Sunday
My son prepares dinner every Sunday
My son eats dinner every Sunday
My son misses dinner every Sunday

1. The meaning of the word
2. The form or `shape' of the word
Some words can be assigned to a word class on the basis of their form or `shape'.

For example, many nouns have a characteristic -tion ending: action, condition,
contemplation. Similarly, many adjectives end in -able or -ible: acceptable, credible,
miserable. Many words also take what are called INFLECTIONS, that is, regular changes in
their form under certain conditions. For example, nouns can take a plural inflection, usually
by adding an -s at the end:

car -- cars
dinner -- dinners
book -- books

Verbs also take inflections:

walk -- walks -- walked -- walking
3. The position or `environment'
of the 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. We can illustrate the use of this criterion
using a simple example. Compare the following:

[1] I cook dinner every Sunday

[2] The cook is on holiday
Nouns are commonly thought of as "naming" words, and specifically as the names of "people, places, or things". Nouns such as John, London, and computer certainly fit this description, but the class of nouns is much broader than this. Nouns also denote abstract and intangible concepts such as birth, happiness, evolution, technology, management, imagination, revenge, politics, hope, cookery, sport, literacy....
Many nouns can be recognised
by their endings. Typical noun
endings include:
-ER/-OR →actor, painter, plumber, writer
-ISM criticism, egotism, magnetism, vandalism
-IST artist, capitalist, journalist, scientist
-MENT arrangement, development, establishment, government
-TION foundation, organisation,
recognition, supposition

Most nouns have distinctive SINGULAR and PLURAL forms. The plural of regular nouns is formed by adding -s to the singular:

car cars
dog dogs
house houses

However, there are many irregular nouns which do not form the plural in this way:

man men
child children
sheep sheep

Pronouns are a major subclass of nouns. We
call them a subclass of nouns because they can sometimes replace a noun in a sentence:

Noun Pronoun
John got a new job ~He got a new job
Children should ~They should watch less
watch less television television

There are three personal pronouns, and each has a singular and a plural form:

Person Singular Plural
1st I we
2nd you you
3rd he/she/it they

These pronouns also have another set of forms, which we show here:

Person Singular Plural
1st me us
2nd you you
3rd him/her/it them

In our first example above, we say that he can replace John in "John got a new job ~He got a new job"

But "he" cannot replace John in "I gave John a new job." Here, we have to use the objective form "him": I gave him a new job.
Other Types of Pronoun
As well as personal
pronouns, there are
many other types,
which we summarise

Verbs have traditionally been defined as "action" words or "doing" words. The verb in the following sentence is rides:

Paul rides a bicycle

Here, the verb rides certainly denotes an action which Paul performs - the action of riding a bicycle. However, there are many verbs which do not denote an action at all. For example, in Paul seems unhappy, we cannot say that the verb seems denotes an action. We would hardly say that Paul is performing any action when he seems unhappy. So the notion of verbs as "action" words is somewhat limited.
We can achieve a more robust definition of verbs by looking first at their formal features.
The verb form
Ending Base Form
-ate concentrate, demonstrate, illustrate
-ify clarify, dignify, magnify
-ise/-ize baptize, conceptualize, realise
Past and Present Forms
When we refer to a verb in general
terms, we usually cite its base form,
as in "the verb travel", "the verb sing".
We then add inflections to the base
form as required.
More verb forms
Adjectives can be identified using a number of formal criteria.
However, we may begin by saying that they typically describe an attribute of a noun:

cold weather
large windows
violent storms
Some adjectives can be
identified by their endings.
Typical adjective endings include:
However, a large number of very
common adjectives cannot be identified
in this way. They do not have typical
adjectival form:
As this list shows, adjectives are formally very diverse. However, they have a number of characteristics which we can use to
identify them.
Adjectives also take different forms to indicate their position on a scale of comparison:
Adverbs are used to modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb:

[1] Mary sings beautifully
[2] David is extremely clever
[3] This car goes incredibly fast

In [1], the adverb beautifully tells us how Mary sings. In [2], extremely tells us the degree to which David is clever. Finally, in [3], the adverb incredibly tells us how fast the car goes.
Before discussing the meaning of adverbs, however, we will identify some of their formal characteristics.
Formal Characteristics of Adverbs
From our examples above, you can see that many adverbs end
in -ly. More precisely, they are formed by adding -ly to an adjective:

In the formation of comparatives
and superlatives, some adverbs
are irregular:
Prepositions cannot be distinguished by any formal features. A list of prepositions will illustrate this point:

across, after, at, before, by, during, from, in, into, of, on, to, under, with, without
We can, say, however, that prepositions typically come before a noun:
How does the system work?


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