Considering the following sentences:

  1. Don't listen to those other people.
  2. You should always use prefixes with your table names.
  3. I have even started using them in normal writing.
  4. See how effective it is?
  5. People can understand your writing better.

I am prefixing these words with abbreviations marking their parts of speech as a demonstration of why prefixes in general are a bad idea, and some of the words are giving me trouble to classify them. (The message is supposed to be an implicit proof of why adding prefixes to table names in a database is terrible. But I'd like to get it right.)

I've also realized that I'm not sure whether it's best to notate the base part of speech or the inflected part of speech it's functioning as, and would appreciate thoughts on that.

For reference, here is my stab at it:

  1. com-Don't ver-Listen prep-To adj-Those adj-Other nou-People.
  2. pro-You aux-Should adv-Always ver-Use nou-Prefixes prep-With pro-Your adj-Table nou-Names.
  3. pro-I aux-Have adv-Even ver-Started ver-Using pro-Them prep-In adj-Normal nou-Writing.

  4. com-See adv-How adj-Effective pr-It ver-Is?

  5. nou-People aux-Can ver-Understand pro-Your nou-Writing adv-Better!

(where com means command verb)


  • Are those and other adjectives or determinatives? Both? Which makes more sense?
  • Should I call table of table names a noun or an adjective, as it is functioning as an adjective but the base word is a noun?
  • Are using and writing gerunds, verbs, or some other part of speech?

I considered differentiating between pronouns and possessive pronouns, but no obvious abbreviation jumped out at me.

This question is closed, and has been replaced by the following three questions:

  1. Adjectives vs. determinatives
  2. Nouns vs. nouns used as adjectives
  3. Verbs vs. gerunds vs. something else
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Comments can only be moved to chat once. Please conduct discussion in the designated chatroom not here. Further discussion here will be deleted.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 1:23

1 Answer 1


It's much easier to do parts of speech if we don't confuse them with grammatical relations/syntactic functions , and if we don't get distracted by inflections. A verb is still a verb, regardless of which inflected form it is in.

We'll also need to say a bit about what kind of grammar we subscribe to. The type of grammar that I work with regards pronouns as a subclass of nouns. It also views auxiliary verbs as a type of verb. If you wish to treat pronouns as a separate category, you would need to change the asterisked instances of noun to pronoun.

Here are the parts of speech:

Sentence 1

  • Don't (verb)
  • listen (verb)
  • to (preposition)
  • those (determinative)
  • other (determinative)
  • people (noun)

Sentence 2

  • You (*noun)
  • should (verb)
  • always (adverb)
  • use (verb)
  • prefixes (noun)
  • with (preposition)
  • your (*noun)
  • table (noun)
  • names (noun)

Sentence 3

  • I (*noun)
  • have (verb)
  • even (adverb)
  • started (verb)
  • using (verb)
  • them (*noun)
  • in (preposition)
  • normal (adjective)
  • writing (noun)

Sentence 4

  • See (verb)
  • how (adverb)
  • effective (adjective)
  • it (*noun)
  • is (verb)

Sentence 5

  • People (noun)
  • can (verb)
  • understand (verb)
  • your (*noun)
  • writing (noun)
  • better (adverb)

Regarding the different -ing forms here, many modern grammars have done away with the distinction between gerunds and participles, because the distinction has always been based on the syntactic function of the words. Many modern grammars use the term gerund-participle to cover these -ing forms of verbs. However, remember that gerund-participles are still verbs. So in terms of parts of speech, this makes no difference to their category whatsoever.

The word using in sentence (3) is indeed a gerund-participle form of the verb. We can tell that it is a verb here because it is taking a Direct Object, the word them. Nouns cannot take Direct Objects. Instead their comparable arguments must occur in a preposition phrase after the noun: the winning of the race, for example.

The word writing in sentences (3) and (5), however, is not a gerund-participle, but a noun. Notice that in sentence (3), it is being attributively modified by the adjective normal. If this were an instance of the verb "writing" then we would have had to use the adverb normally instead:

  • *I have even started using them in my normally writing. (ungrammatical)

As can be seen from the example above this is ungrammatical.

Remember that we said at the beginning that we shouldn't confuse parts of speech with syntactic functions. The word table in sentence (1) appears in attributive position before the noun names. This is a position that we often see adjectives in. However, that does not mean that the noun table is an adjective here. Notice that it does not inflect for grade (comparative and superlative forms) and cannot be modified by the adverb very:

  • *My names are tabler than yours. (ungrammatical)
  • *Those tablest names. (ungrammatical)
  • *I wrote some very table names. (ungrammatical)

One further case where it is important not to confuse syntactic functions and parts of speech is with regard to the syntactic function of Determiner and the part of speech determinative. Consider the noun phrase the boys' dogs. Here we see the phrase the boys' in Determiner function and the noun dogs occurring as the Head of the larger noun phrase. However, notice that although the phrase the boys' is in Determiner function, it is not a determinative. It is, of course, also a noun phrase with its own complete noun phrase structure. Inside it we see the determinative the in Determiner function and the word boys as the Head.

Now we can replace the noun phrase the boys' here with the genitively inflected pronoun their giving us the noun phrase their dogs. Notice that unlike the word the, their is a pronoun, not a determinative. So even though the word their has the same function as a word like the in this phrase, it is still a pronoun, and therefore in my type of analysis a noun. For this reason the word your in sentences (2) and (5) is a noun despite being in Determiner function.

Hope (verb) that (determinative) is (verb) helpful! (adjective).

Grammar note

1. Some grammars, such as The Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language by Quirk et al (1985), use the term Determinative for the function and the term determiner for the part of speech.

2. Some modern grammarians argue that all determinatives and all pronouns are the same part of speech. So writers such as Mariangela Spinillo or Dick Hudson have argued that determinatives are pronouns. In contrast other grammarians, such as Abney (1987), have argued that all pronouns are determinatives.

  • 4
    I don't understand why you would classify "your" in Sentence 2 and 5 as "*noun" instead of determinative. It is as much determinative as "this" or "that". I also would call "that" in your last sentence "demonstrative pronoun" or "determinative pronoun" instead of just "determinative".
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 13:27
  • 1
    @Rathony Good question. They are genitively inflected nouns in Determiner function. So they're Determiners but not determinatives (in the same way that different types of phrase can be Subjects). The reason for this is clearer if you look at a noun phrase such as "Rathony's witty comment" <--- That has the proper noun "Rathony's" in Determiner function, but Rathony's is not a determinative! Then suppose that you replace Rathony's with the pronoun his --> is witty comments. That his is a pronoun there, and therefore in my type of grammar a noun! Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 13:50
  • @Araucaria: Several comments may be witty, but I like his best. That's presumably what you're calling a "noun" usage, but since I couldn't have said I like your best I don't see how this line of argument justifies calling your a noun. (In short, yours seems like suspect reasoning! :) Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 13:58
  • @FumbleFingers Same thing goes, whether you substitute yours for Rathony's as in "I like yours/Rathony's" or you substitute your for Rathony's as in "I like your/Rathony's book", it's still an N regadless of whether it ends in /s/ or not. These genitive pronouns used to inflect according to whether the next word began with a vowel. Nowadays they inflect according to whether there's a nominal following them. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 14:06
  • I see the logic in your comments here, but I don’t see why you then classify those as determinative, rather than *noun. Surely this/these and that/those are also just pronouns in determiner function (cf. your note 2). The only difference is that these two don’t inflect morphologically for determiner function. I don’t see any logical way of separating pronouns and determinatives that would put your in the former category and this/that/these/those in the latter. Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 10:04

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