Driffield Junior School

  1. Learning
  2. English
  3. Word classes

Word classes

Word classes help us to identify the role of a word in a sentence. However, the English language can be very tricky resulting in some words being able to function as different word classes depending on their position in the sentence.

For example, the word 'cover' can be a noun (as in a bed cover or quilt) or a verb (to cover up a car). We must read sentences carefully to be identify the class of each word in a sentence.


A noun is a name of something such as a person, place, object or thing, for example, table, teacher or building.

Proper nouns require capital letters, for example, Driffield, River Hull or Thomas.


Adjectives describe nouns and help build an image in a reader's mind. In writing, adjectives are really important to help develop description.

For example, we may describe the sun as blistering, yellow or mild.

TIP! To help you find the adjective, look for the noun first.


Verbs are 'action' or 'doing' words. The ending (suffix) of the verb can tell us about the tense too.

Examples of verbs are ate, jump, sneeze and catch.

A fun game to play to practise verbs is the alphabet game - can you pick (and act out if you want to) a verb for every letter of the alphabet?

Auxiliary verbs:

These are a type of verb that are not as noticeable in a sentence; these can help the verbs in the sentence or sit on their own.

There are three types of auxiliary verb:

To be - is, are, am, was, were, be, being and been

To have - have, had and has

To do - do, did and does

We did our homework or We have completed our homework.

Modal verbs:

Although this word class has the word 'verb' in it, they are not a type of verb. Instead, they can modify the verb by telling us the possibility of a verb happening. Modal verbs can show certainty (the verb will definitely happen) or possibility (the verb could happen).

Examples of modal verbs are might, could, should, will, may, can, shall and would.


These types of words help us describe a verb (a way to remember this is that verb is in adverb). Adverbs can describe a verb in three main ways: how it was done (adverb of manner), where it was done (adverb of place) or when it was done (adverb of time). Adverbs are only one word.

For example, Keira painted the vase yesterday. Yesterday describes when the painting happened so it is the adverb.

TIP! When trying to spot the adverb, look for the verb first!


Determiners are words which appear before a noun to make it clear which noun is being referred to. The most common determiners are a, an and the. There are lots of different groups of determiners but we do not need to remember their names. Other determiners may tell us how many (e.g. three, many or several).

those pencils, your hairband, some reading books


There are two types of conjunctions that we need to know. The 'Helping Hands' sheet on the Grammar & Punctuation page is useful to help us remember them.

Coordinating conjunctions:

These conjunctions are used to join parts of a sentence or words together.

We use 'FANBOYS' to help us remember them - for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so

Jamie leapt over the large puddle for he could not step over it.

Subordinating conjunctions:

These types of conjunction help join a main clause and a subordinate clause.

There are many subordinating conjunctions but we can use 'I SAW A WABUB' to help us remember the main ones - if, since, although, when, after, whilst, as, before, until and because.

Before it started raining, I helped bring in the washing.

I had to work during break time as I forgot to hand in my homework.


Pronouns are words that can be used in place of a noun (they are not a type of noun). We use pronouns in our writing and in speech to avoid repeating the same noun. Examples of pronouns are I, me, they, we, he, she, his, her, them, our, their and mine.

Look at the example below:

Sarah went to the park at lunchtime. Sarah brought an umbrella in case it rained. Sarah thought the clouds were beginning to turn grey but Sarah's brother didn't think it would turn.

This sentence is very boring to read because we have repeated the noun - can you replace the noun with the correct pronouns?

Relative pronouns:

These are a type of pronoun that always begin a relative clause (read more about these in the 'Clauses and Phrases' section). The main relative pronouns are who, whom, which, whose and that.


Contractions are words that we use in informal writing or in informal speech. They are created by putting two words together, for example, did + not = didn't. We put an apostrophe in place of the omitted letters to show where letters are missing.

Some contractions are trickier than others: shall + not = shan't and I + had = I'd.

Be careful when using 'it's'. This is the contracted form of 'it is'. Always check this in your writing.

Prefix and Suffixes:

Prefixes are a group of letters (not a complete word) that can be added to the beginning of the a root word to change the meaning.

For example, I can change the meaning of the word 'understand' by adding the prefix 'mis-' = misunderstand.

Other examples of prefixes are de-, un-, im-, pre-, trans-, tele- and bi-. There are many more that you will learn.

Suffixes are also a group of letters that change the meaning of a word but they are placed at the end of the word. Some suffixes help us to identify the tense of a word.

Examples of some (but not all) suffixes are -ed, -ing, -s, -es, -able, -ment and -ly.

An activity to help recap prefixes and suffixes is to think of a root word, e.g. 'port'. How many different words can you make in 1 minute using prefixes and suffixes? Can you create more than your opponent?


A preposition is a word that tells us where or when something is in relation to something else (usually the noun). We can remember this by using the 'position' part of 'preposition'. They help to link nouns and pronouns to the rest of the sentence.

Prepositions usually tell us where the noun is in relation to something else. Here are some examples:

under, behind, above, next, on top, across, past, through and between.

Prepositions can also tell us when something is:

after, before, by, during, since, until and to.

You will notice that some of these prepositions are also subordinating conjunctions. To check whether a word is a preposition or a subordinating conjunction, look to see if the word is followed by a subordinate clause. If it is, the word is used as a subordinating conjunction.

Preposition: The children ate lunch after the cinema.

Subordinating conjunction: The children ate lunch after they had been to the cinema

(See the 'clauses' section for an explanation of subordinating clauses)