/ Aron Thode

The Parts of Speech for ESL Teaching

ESL teachers ought to know English grammar, at least to some degree. A potential first step in that direction is knowing the parts of speech. Many other concepts in grammar build upon this way of classifying words in the English language.

Along with knowledge of the verb tenses, familiarity with the parts of speech is one of the best ways to connect with students on an abstract level as they learn English. It’s not an exaggeration to say that words like verb and noun come up in every single class I teach.

However, as I said about tenses, there is friction between attempts to describe language and attempts to teach it. If you search for part-of-speech graphics online, you will find declarations of both eight and nine parts of speech (for my version of such graphics, go to the end). Meanwhile, linguists can get much more granular and extend out the number of categories to include ones that have no place in the ESL classroom.

A common point of divergence when looking at ESL graphics online (as some indication of what teachers are teaching) is the inclusion or omission of article as a separate category. It’s tempting to set articles apart, given how large they loom for English learners (large, and ominous). At the same time, articles have often been categorized as a type of adjective. Neither of those options appeal to me. I prefer the categorization of articles (a, an, the) as determiners as one of the parts of speech.

It’s worth noting that small categories like particle and postposition are routinely omitted as parts of speech for practical purposes (they don’t have many members, and the members they do have can be captured by the other categories).

Also, words can often be classed in more than one category, and sometimes in several. For example, the word advance is a noun (the latest scientific advance) and a verb (our society is advancing all the time), but it can also work as an adjective (an advanced civilization). Keeping track of these permutations can be difficult for students.

Parts of Speech


Nouns are the names for all kinds of things. In a given text, nouns convey most of the meaning. It helps to know about countable and uncountable nouns, regular and irregular plural forms, and proper nouns.

Examples: desk, desks, love, Morocco, knife, knives.


Verbs describe actions, states of being, mental processes, and occurrences. They can carry a lot of meaning, and sometimes they carry very little. There is a lot for students to learn, such as various verb types:

Language learners must know how to conjugate each verb so that it agrees with the subject of a sentence. Importantly, they should also know participle forms and how to change the verbs according to tense.

Examples: have, can, run, do, eat, give up.


Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns by giving us extra information about them. Students are introduced to comparative forms (eg. bigger) and superlative forms (the tallest) relatively early. They may continue making errors in this area as they otherwise progress.

Examples: red, helpful, older, unbelievable.


Adverbs answer questions like how, how much, how often, why, when, where, and the speaker’s attitude toward what they are talking about. It helps to look at adverbs further divided into subcategories:

Adverbs appear in different places in sentences, which can be challenging to students.


Interjections are words like curses, exclamations, brief responses, greetings and fillers that sit apart from the grammatical logic of a sentence. They can appear outside and inside sentences. Inside sentences, they should be set apart from the rest of the sentence with brackets or commas.

The above categories, except for auxiliary verbs, are considered open classes in that they receive new additions as the language changes. The following categories are considered closed as they don’t change regularly.


Pronouns stand in for nouns, and they should refer to a noun that the listener or reader is aware of. In many cases, they help us avoid saying a noun over and over, which would sound repetitive.

There are several types of pronouns. Most of the types are given in the following examples:


Prepositions help express meanings like place, time, and more. Sometimes they are just linking words without meaning. They frequently come before noun phrases, but they always relate to a noun or pronoun (which may have appeared earlier in the sentence).


Conjunctions connect words, phrases, and clauses. There are a few types (with examples in brackets): coordinating (and, but, etc), subordinating (if, after, because, etc), and correlative (either … or, not only … but also, etc).


Determiners inform us about nouns in several ways. They tell us things like quantity, proximity to the speaker, and possession. They help us know when a person is talking about things in general or about a specific thing. Types of determiners include articles, demonstratives, possessives, quantifiers, and numbers.

Parts of Speech Graphics

Now, behold my attempts at helpful graphics:

A graphic of nine adjacent hexagons, each containing a different part of speech. Each part's function is described. This chart is in color.

Download the above image as an easily printable PDF.

A graphic of nine adjacent hexagons, each containing a different part of speech. Each part's function is described and examples are supplied. This chart is in color.

Download the above image as an easily printable PDF.

A graphic of nine adjacent hexagons, each containing a different part of speech. Each part's function is described and examples are supplied. This chart is in black and white.

Download the above image as an easily printable PDF.