(And I suppose the logical follow-up question is - are there any functions words take that are not included in these 5 categories?)

1) deliver specific content/ meaning

  • adjective
  • adverb
  • noun
  • verb

2) establish relationships between other words, phrases and parts of sentences

  • conjunction
  • wh-word
  • pronoun
  • prepositions
  • copulas (link verbs)

3) modify or refine the meaning of another word, phrase or sentence

  • adjective
  • adverb
  • determiner
  • numeral
  • negative
  • noun
  • preposition
  • modals

4) frame a question

  • wh-word
  • modals
  • be, do and have (??)

5) Establish verb tense and time reference

  • adverbs
  • nouns
  • prepositions
  • auxiliaries
  • verb participles

Maybe interjections, particles, lexemes (but it seems that once these words find context in a sentence they would fall into one of the above functional categories)?

  • 1
    Wow, that's a good question, but, oh dear, I don't think interjections necessarily fall into any of those categories.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 10:07
  • 2
    Your category 1 ("deliver meaningful content") might cover the lot.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 11:02
  • 1
    Lyrical fillers. / I don't think that this breakdown is particularly helpful. For instance, the category 'establish relationships between other words, phrases and parts of sentences' lumps prepositions, which primarily tie things together at a semantic level (He went to the bank for some money) with ordering pragmatic markers (...; second, he went to the bank), whose function is similar to numbers in a numbered list. You might like to look at articles and other treatments (eg by Fraser, Swan) on pragmatic / discourse markers, which have plenty of subdivisions. Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 11:11
  • @Edwin Ashworth Not helpful in what way? I'm always aiming at generalizing grammar and linguistic concepts for ESL pedagogy - because language learners do not understand complex linguistic concepts (nor do they want to) and are unable to internalize them usefully - I just want to be sure I'm not getting something horribly wrong, which is why I ask here. But we all are able to do these things, like using ordering pragmatic markers, without understanding them analytically. Secondly, I think these kind of generalized grammar concepts are easier to assimilate and use naturally/ subconsciously. Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 15:42
  • I do see your point about numeral words which can modify entire clauses. Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 15:47

1 Answer 1


"Yes" and "no" are hard to classify.

From Wikipedia Yes and no:

The words yes and no are not easily classified into any of the eight conventional parts of speech. Although sometimes classified as interjections, they do not qualify as such, and they are not adverbs. They are sometimes classified as a part of speech in their own right, sentence words, word sentences, or pro-sentences, although that category contains more than yes and no and not all linguists include them in their lists of sentence words. Sentences consisting solely of one of these two words are classified as minor sentences.

The Oxford Dictionary defines them as "exclamations":

However, they also define hello as an exclamation, seemly using it to mean "interjection".

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