Grammar: ENG 371
of North Carolina at Pembroke, 1998
To classify words, grammarians use two large categories called form
and function. Function is how the word or the phrase
is used within the sentence or clause, while form classifies the
word or phrase by a simple definition along with some general rules.
For example, a noun is classified in form as a word that can made
be plural or possessive. The following sentence gives an example
of the difference between the two categories:
We admired the stone wall. In this sentence "stone"
in function is an adjectival that modifies "wall." In form
"stone" is a noun because it can be made plural or possessive: "stones"
be better understood in a Web site titled
"Adverbials." We can change the class of a word by adding prefixes
or suffixes. Example: The word "play" is a verb, but it
can be changed to an adjective by adding -ful to make it "playful."
The girls play. The girls are playful. Therefore,
the class of the word has changed from a verb to an adjective.
are four form classes:
Here are some
characteristics of the different form classes that will help you distinguish
All of these
form classes have derivational and inflectional affixes. These affixes
are prefixes or suffixes that change the meaning or the class of a word.
Example: Adding in- or un- to a word can make the
word negative. She is happy. She is unhappy.
The first sentence means that she is happy, and the second one means
that she is not happy. An affix may not work for every
word in a class, however. Example: Adding -ful to a verb can
make it an adjective, but this is not true for all verbs. You could
make "thank" into "thankful," but you could not use this suffix in the
verb "talk" to make it "talkful." You would add a different suffix:
"talkative." The only explanation that can be given for these
inconsistencies is that these are rules in the English language that deal
with the morphology of word and how they are used. It is something
that can be chased back for centuries. This is why it is always useful
to have a dictionary if you ever have any questions about a word and its
*These affixes very
often can help you determine the class of the word. For example,
most words that end in "-ly" are adverbs.
de-, -ify, -en, -ate, -ize
-ful, -fic, -ic, -ate, -ish, -ary, -ive, -able
These are only a few examples
of affixes that can be used to change words to other classes. To
learn more about some affixes and their meanings, go to a site titled Morphemes.
member of the form classes; modifies a noun; most adjectives can be inflected
to be made comparative or superlative (small, smaller, smallest)
and can be qualified or intensified (rather small, very small);
some derivational endings (-ous, -ish, -ful, and -ary).
member of the form classes; modifies a verb--names time, place, reason,
manner, and the like; some can be qualified (very slowly, rather slowly);
can be made comparative or superlative (more slowly, fastest); some
derivational endings (-ly, -wise, -ward).
affixes: a prefix or suffix that is added to a word in a form
class to change its meaning or class.
categories of words that have derivational and inflectional morphemes.
Most English words belong to one of the four form classes.
shift: a shift in which a word changes classes without the addition
of affixes (They call him everyday. -- verb. The
call came in after lunch. -- noun).
suffix that changes the grammatical role of a word in a sentence. Example:
the suffix -s forms the third-person singular form of most verbs
(He talks to his boss every morning.)
a member of the form classes; fills headword slot in a noun phrase;
can be plural and possessive (dogs, dog's); derivational endings
(-ion, -tion, -ment, -ness); can sometimes function as adjectivals
and adverbials (They formed a baseball team.)
member of the form classes; depicts the action in the sentence; can always
be marked with auxiliaries; inflectional endings (-s, -ing, -ed, -en);
derivational endings (-ify, -ize, -ate).
Classes classify most of the words in the English Language.
the classes have derivational affixes, which can change the class of one
word to another class.
if you ever wonder in what situation a word should be used or what the
correct affix for a word is, you can refer to a dictionary.
the affixes of the classes can help you improve your lexicon (vocabulary)
to make it more varied. Your writing can also improve because it
will help you flow from one class to another easily.
If you know that you can make a noun from a verb by adding -ion( act--action),
then that is another way to use that word and you have another word in
your "mental dictionary."
the form of these words by adding the correct derivational affixes.
Inflectional suffixes to make the sentences grammatically correct.
1. The school was work hard
2. The boy paper was written
on the computer.
ladder is the high among the three.
picture is the pretty of the two.
of the dog bones were put in their bowls for their dinner.
here for answers to these exercises.
Martha and Robert Funk. Understanding English Grammar.
5th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1998.
This grammar textbook gives some very
useful information on many topics of English.
Fromkin, Victoria, and
Robert Rodman. An Introduction to Language. Fifth
Edition. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.
This book gives a good understanding of
the background on some interesting aspects of the English language like
morphology, grammar, and phonology.