You are on page 1of 34

Unit 3

Word Classes:
1. Nouns
Three major families of words
1. LEXICAL words (4)
– Nouns -main carriers of information
– Lexical verbs -get stressed in speech
– Adjectives -belong to open word classes
– Adverbs -often a complex internal structure
-heads of phrases
-remain if a sentence is compressed
2. FUNCTION words (6)
– Determiners - short
– Pronouns - unstressed
– Auxiliary verbs -indicate meaning relationships
– Prepositions -help interpret units containing lexical words
– Coordinators -belong to closed word classes
– Subordinators - no internal structure
A metaphor
If lexical words are the main blocks of a
Function words are the mortar.
Three major families of words/2

– mainly spoken language
– marked by break in intonation
– carry emotional and discoursal meanings.
– They are stand-alone words
– Some of them can be questioned whether they are
words at all (uh-huh, uh-oh).
– Their frequency differs in AmE and BrE. (see fig. 13.3)
– Many inserts are strongly preferred within particular
social groups.
– Biber et al. distinguish nine major classes according to
their function.
Inserts: types
1. Interjections: Oh
2. Greetings and farewells: Hello, Cheers
3. Discourse markers: Well, Right, Now, Okay,
4. Attention signals: Hey
5. Response elicitors: eh? see? okay? right?
6. Response forms: Yeah Yep Nope, Sure, Okay
7. Polite formulas: please, thanks, sorry
8. Expletives: shit damn bloody hell fuck geez
9. Hesitators: Um er er erm uh

(see table 13.1)

Lexical word classes
• Four main classes of lexical words:
1. nouns
2. verbs
3. adjectives
4. adverbs
• These words are looked at from a threefold (triple)
1. morphological: what is their word structure or form
(stems & affixes)?
2. syntactic: what is their role at phrase level or in higher
3. semantic: what type of meaning do they convey?
Nouns (i)
1. Morphological characteristics
• A noun can change its form (i.e., can have inflectional suffixes)
to express:

a) A contrast in singular and plural (-s): dog/dogs

* uncountable nouns (they refer to an undifferentiated mass or
notion): gold, information, butter, advice, music
there are clear grammatical differences. (chapter 4)

b) to mark the genitive case (-’s) (the girl’s face); with

regular plurals ending in –s the genitive is marked by an
apostrophe (his parents’ home)

• Often, they contain more than one morpheme:

a) Affixation: build-er, bright-ness, friend-ship
b) Compounding: base+base clothesline, bombshell
Nouns (ii)
2. Syntactic characteristics
Normally the chief item (or HEAD) of noun phrases
e.g. a new book about the cold war
the ugliest person you’ve ever seen
A noun functions as the subject, object, or complement
of a clause,
e.g. Apples are popular I like apples

3. Semantic characteristics
Refer to concrete, physical entities (people, objects,
e.g. book, friend, iron
Or to abstract entities such as qualities or states
e.g. freedom, wish, friendship
Morphology of nouns: derivation
Derived nouns are formed from other words by affixation, conversion
and compounding.
1 Affixation 4.11.1

• Derivational prefixes do not alter the word class of the base word:
patient>outpatient; group>subgroup. They change the meaning.
On pages 88-89 there is a list of ‘the more frequent prefixes’. It might be
an idea to look through them quickly and pay attention esp. to the
non-Latin/Greek ones, ie. fore-, out-, under- (forecast, foresight,
forefront/ outskirts, outsourcing, output/ underclothes, …)

• Derivational suffixes do often change the word class of the base

word: dark>darkness; agree>agreement.

On pages 89-90 there is a list of common noun suffixes. Pay attention to

the more alien ones: -ee, -dom, -hood, -ing, -ness, -ship. Those
that are derived from verbs & adjs. are nominalizations.
Morphology of nouns: conversion
2 Conversion 4.11.2
Or ‘zero derivation’ (no affix added).The base itself is
converted into a different word class.
• verb>noun: (deverbal nouns)
(state of mind, state of sensation): desire, doubt, love
(event, activity): attempt, hit, laugh, swim
(‘object of verb’): answer, bet, catch, find
(‘subject of verb’): cheat, coach, show-off, bore
(‘instrument of verb’): cover, paper, wrap
(‘manner of -ing’): walk, throw

• adjective>noun: (deadjectival nouns)

a pint of bitter; he’s a natural; the final; newly marrieds;
the dailies; a red
Morphology of nouns: compounding
3 Compounding 4.11.3

The creation of a new word by combining two existing

• Points to make about English compounds:

NB1: the head of the comp. is generally the last element.

Q: What is a race horse? Answ: Well, basically a horse.
Q: What is a horse race? Answ: Well, basically a race.

NB2 Thus, the compound may be ‘unfolded’ as a phrase or clause

beginning with the head.
(A race horse is a horse that races. A horse race is a race that
involves horses.)
(vid. CGE 265b)
Types of nouns
1. Proper nouns
2. Common nouns
a) Abstract and Concrete
b) Countable and Uncountable
3. Package nouns
1. Collective nouns
2. Unit nouns
3. Quantifying nouns
4. Species nouns
1. Proper nouns
• Most proper nouns take capital letters:
1. names of people: John Brown
2. names of places: Spain
3. names of organizations, institutions, religions: the
Town Hall; the University of Zaragoza; Catholicism …
4. names of periods of time: Saturday, July, Christmas …
5. address terms for family members: Hey, Mum! Uncle
Fred! …
6. people or bodies with unique public function: the
Pope, the President, the King …
7. languages, nationalities & ethnic groups: English,
Aragonese, the Irish …
8. nouns (and adjectives) derived from proper nouns:
Marxism, a Londoner, Victorian …
1. Proper nouns
• Proper nouns do not usually have contrasts of singular/plural or
definite/indefinite. But note the difference bet. Spanish & English:
Los Pérez (unmarked plural); the Smiths (plural marked with -s).

• Proper nouns can act as common nouns:

• He believes he is a Shakespeare (an author like Shakespeare)

• I used to know a Juan Pérez
• A Mr White was trying to contact you
• That Mr White has phoned you again
• A: “I used to know John Lennon quite well.” B: “Surely you can
mean the John Lennon?”
• In the England of Shakespeare
• Poor old Charles
• The beautiful Princess Diana (but Princess Diana)
• The Dr Brown I know comes from Australia
• The Zaragoza I grew up in has changed a lot.
2. Common nouns:
abstract and concrete
• Concrete nouns refer to entities which can be observed
and measured, such as horse, butter, car.
• Abstract nouns refer to unobservable notions, such as
difficulty, idea, certainty, remark.

The distinction seems straighforward, but in fact it can be quite

difficult deciding whether a word is being used in a purely
abstract or concrete way.
Nouns such as football, permit both abstract and concrete

Thomas can kick a football 50 yards (1 yard = 0.9144 metres)

Thomas often plays football on Saturdays
2. Common nouns
count and non-count
a) Countable: nouns that are viewed as
countathey have a sing. & a plural form;
they can be counted. They refer to
persons, objects, places … specific
quantities of substances, materials, liquids,
gases; specific realizations of abstract
They can be accompanied by determiners that
refer to distinctions in number:
a /one/every student
ten/many/those students
2. Common nouns:
count and non-count
b) Uncountable: they cannot (usually)be counted. They
refer to substances (steel), materials (paper) , liquids
(water), gases (air), abstract realities (love, poverty,
expectation) …but also to things like luggage, or furniture.
This category includes singular invariable nouns:
• notably news:
That’s the best piece of news I’ve heard in a long time!
No news is good news
• nouns ending in -ics (linguistics, athletics …),
• diseases ending in -s (measles, mumps, shingles)
• Nouns that are ordinarily non-count can be converted into
count nouns with two types of special use:
a) Different kinds of varieties: selection of cheeses
b) Particular instances: two coffees, please
“Two loves I have of comfort and despair”
by William Shakespeare
Sonnet 144
Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil,
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell:
Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
“I saw…”
The test for noun classes (Quirk et al.5.2) * not valid
1 2 3 2+3
Proper noun Count noun Uncount Either count
or uncount
Zero article Peter book furniture brick
No article

the the Peter the book the furniture the brick

a A Peter a book a furniture a brick

some some Peter some book some some brick


plural Peters books furnitures bricks

Count and Non-count nouns
• The clear grammatical differences are:
1. Count nouns cannot stand alone in the singular (*I saw
book), but noncounts can (chess is fun, music is my life).
2. Count nouns allow a plural (I like books), noncount nouns
do not. (*furnitures, *musics).
3. Count nouns occur in the singular with ‘a’ (a book);
noncount nouns with ‘some’ (we need some furniture). Both
types can occur with ‘the’ (the book, the furniture)
4. Some nouns can be either count or noncount, depending on
their meaning and the situation:
I’ve had many odd experiences (something that happens to you)
I’ve not had much experience (knowledge or skill obtained)
Exercise. Test these words in order to see whether they are
countable or uncountable. Translate the Spanish sentence
using the English word given.
Eg. Tengo un mueble que quiero vender. (furniture)
*I have a furniture that I want to sell.
I have a piece of furniture I want to sell.√
Conclusion: mueble is c.; furniture is unc.
Do the same with these pairs of words:
1 Tengo una noticia que te va a sorprender. (news)
2 No me des más consejos. (advice)
3 Prefiero el arroz al pan. (rice)
4 No puedes salir con esos pelos. (hair)
5 Sus conocimientos de África … (knowledge)
6 Se distinguen varios comportamientos según la edad.
7 Había un tráfico denso. (traffic)
8 Deja las compras en la mesa por favor. (shopping)
9 Ha hecho varios trabajos para el Ayuntamiento. (work)
10 Algunas informaciones no eran correctas. (information)
1 Tengo una noticia que te va a sorprender. (news)
I have got a piece of / an item of news which is going to surprise you.
2 No me des más consejos. (advice)
Do not give me any more pieces of advice. (a piece of advice)
3 Prefiero el arroz al pan. (rice)
I prefer rice to bread.
4 No puedes salir con esos pelos. (hair)
You can’t go out with that hair.
5 Sus conocimientos de África … (knowledge)
His knowledge of / about Africa
6 Se distinguen varios comportamientos según la edad. (behaviour)
Several types / kinds of behaviour are distinguished according to /depending on
the age.
7 Había un tráfico denso. (traffic)
The traffic was (horrendous) / dense / heavy.
There was / heavy traffic.
8 Deja las compras en la mesa por favor. (shopping)
Leave the shopping on the table.
9 Ha hecho varios trabajos para el Ayuntamiento. (work)
He has done a lot / some work for the City Hall / Council
10 Algunas informaciones no eran correctas. (information)
Some of the information was not correct.
Some of the items of information were not correct.
3. Package nouns
They include the 4 categories of countable
common nouns:
1. Collective nouns
2. Unit (or Partitive) nouns
3. Quantifying nouns
4. Species nouns

All package nouns are followed by of-phrases.

3. Package nouns: collective
3.1. Collective nouns
Nouns that refer to groups of people, animals or things;
They behave like countable nouns (2+3).
• some are general or neutral (group, crowd …)
• others have specific connotations (bunch, flock, gang
• Set of is used for abstract nouns: a set of assumptions,
conditions, but also for group of things.
• Some collective nouns have rigid collocations* (cf. a
pack of lies/ una sarta de mentiras)

*collocations (Glossary) a combination of lexical words which frequently co-occur

in texts
Herd of cows, host of stars, series of accidents, shoal of fish, swarm of bees,
troop of inspectors.
3. Package nouns/1.collective nouns
• Exercise. Decide whether the collective noun is
‘neutral’, whether it colours the noun that it
goes with or whether it is a hard-and-fast
• a group of children
• a gang of boys
• a set of spoons
• a herd of tourists
• a swarm of bees
• a flight of stairs
3. Package nouns/1.collective nouns
• Ex 4.2 Decide whether the collective noun is ‘neutral’,
whether it colours the noun that it goes with or whether
it is a hard-and-fast collocation.

• a group of children (neutral)

• a gang of boys (colours: boys=criminals)
• a set of spoons (neutral? colloc?)
• a herd of tourists (colours: tourists=characterless
• a swarm of bees (rigid colloc.)
• a flight of stairs (rigid colloc., a set of stairs, usu.
between two floors of a building) we live up
three flights of stairs
3. Package nouns: partitive
3. 2. Unit (or Partitive) nouns
These nouns are usually used to refer to a
unit of something designated by an
uncountable noun: a bit of wood/ a piece
of cheese / an item of information.
Unit noun (Count)+ of + Uncountable.
Singular partitives Plural Partitives
A piece of cake two pieces of cake
A bit of chalk some bits of chalk
An item of news several items of news

a lump of sugar but also two sugars

3. Package nouns /Unit (or Partitive)

• Exercise. Provide suitable ‘unit nouns’ that collocate

with the following nouns:
1. a _ of paper
2. a _ of advice
3. a _ of coal
4. a _ of bread
5. a _ of string
6. a_ of water
7. a_ of bacon
8. a_ of dust
9. a _ of chocolate
10. a_ of applause
3.Package nouns /Unit (or Partitive)

• Exercise. Provide suitable ‘unit nouns’ that collocate

with the following nouns:
1. a sheet of paper
2. a piece/word of advice
3. a lump of coal
4. a loaf /slice of bread
5. a ball/piece/foot of string
6. a drop of water
7. a rasher/ slice of bacon
8. a speck of dust
9. a chunk/bar of chocolate
10. a round of applause
3. Package nouns: quantifying/1
3.3. Quantifying Nouns
• These nouns refer to quantities: a kilo of pears.
• Structure: QN + of + Count or Uncount Noun.
a pile of bricks / a pile of rubbish
• Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish them from unit
nouns: a roll of cloth could very well refer to a ‘unit’ or to
a ‘quantity’. Biber distinguishes 7 kinds:
i) nouns that quantify by referring to a container: a basket
of fruit/ a box of matches /a cup of tea …
ii) nouns that quantify by referring to shape: a heap of
leaves/ a mountain of work /a pile of money…
iii) nouns that quantify in officially recognized measures: a
gallon of petrol/ three miles of motorway …
3. Package nouns: quantifying/2
iv) nouns that are plural numerals: dozens/ hundreds/
thousands/ millions of stars
v) nouns that refer to large quantities: loads/ masses/
heaps/ tons of fans (mogollón) (unga bunga things to
vi) nouns ending in -ful: two teaspoonfuls of olive oil. -ful
can be added to virtually any container: glass, cup,
bottle, fist, hand, mouth, room, house, classroom,
(handful= puñado)
vii) the nouns pair & couple are used differently. Pair
often implies that the items are joined (a pair of
scissors/ glasses); couple usually means a few (wait
a couple of minutes) in conversation.
3. Package nouns: species
•These refer to the species or type rather than the quantity of
the following noun: two types of novel, this sort of character,
that kind of film
•Species nouns can be followed by uncountable nouns (an
excellent class of beer) or by countable nouns, in which case
there is a choice of singular or plural for both nouns:
I don’t like this kind of question (sg + sg)
I don’t like this (or these) kind of questions (sg + pl)
I don’t like these kinds of question (pl + sg)
I don’t like these kinds of questions (pl + pl)

•Sort of and kind of are the most common, but do not confuse
with the stance adverbs, used to convey imprecision, very
common in conversation (they are called ‘hedges’)
It was kind of strange
I just sort of managed to do what the teacher wanted
Noncounts and their Count equivalents
• Apart from a tendency for concrete nouns to be count and for
abstract to be noncount, there is no necessary connection
between the classes of nouns and the entities to which they
refer. Many noncount have an equivalent countable expression.


This is important information a piece / bit / word of information

Have you any news? a piece /a bit / an item of good news
Some good advice a piece / word of good advice
Warm applause a round of applause
How’s business? a piece/ bit of business
Expensive furniture a piece / an article/a suite of furniture
What (bad/good) luck! a piece of (bad/good) luck
The interest is only 5 per cent a (low) rate of interest
There is evidence that… a piece of evidence
Practice: recognizing types of nouns
e.g. I like philosophy (a common, abstract, uncountable
1. Your books have sold millions of copies! [fict.]
2. According to Kant, the original mass of gas cooled
and began to contract.[acad.]
3. The minibar was filled with candy, mineral water,
decaffeinated soft drinks and dairy products. “These
are the kind of munchies which our research found
helps sleep,” said Jeremy Baka, Hilton’s spokesman.

(from Conrad et al.’s Workbook, 4.1)