Englishwork: Fundamentals of Language

Language is not only the fundamental building blocks of our communication with others, but is the core of our understanding of the world around us, as well as ourselves.

How can one formulate a thought without language? How can one make judgement upon a decision, or conceptualize even the most basic ideas without it?

Only as humans developed language were they able to advance beyond a group of monkeys, monkeys who would previously follow their every instinctive urge, without the ability to look to the future ahead or remember the past behind.

If you’re here, you must understand on some level how important language is, how vital its role is in communication and its significance in day to day life. You want to grasp understanding of this artful and often overlooked aspect of our existence; uncover the subtleties of its use?

Here you will find:

  • Word Classes
  • Lexis and Semantics
  • Grammar
  • Rhetoric and Power
  • Phonetics
  • Pragmatics and Discourse
  • Spoken vs Written language
  • Sociolinguistics

Copyright © 2021 by Smail
All rights reserved. Reproduction or distribution of this book and its visual assets, in any kind of electronic or physical way, is prohibited without the permission of the publisher.


9 chapters, 33 pages

Chapter 1: Word Classes
Chapter 2: Lexis and Semantics

The rest of the chapters are available at – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B095T45KNN

Chapter 1
— Word Classes —

Every word in the English language carries with it a purpose. Contextualized with the other words of that sentence, that book, that train of thought, we create meaning as complex and as simple as the writer of these words wishes to achieve.

To appreciate the interplay between these different elements of meaning, we first need to break down language into these ‘functions’, these word classes. An easy way of categorizing our language: each word class comes with its own nuanced definitions.

For instance, many of us may know the difference between a noun and a verb, but what about between nouns and pronouns? What about interrogative and demonstrative pronouns?

1.1 – Verbs.

The ‘actions’ of language, verbs are used to bring motion into light, describing a physical action, a state of being or an occurrence. Verbs can be defined as either stative, when they describe the state of something, or one thing’s relation to another. Or they can be dynamic when they express a physical action.

Within stative and dynamic verbs, there are deeper levels of definition.

Stative verbs: To be, I am, you are, it was, etc. Dynamic verbs: Express actions, not states.
perception: believe, know, realize physical: jump, run, drive
of relation:
own, contain, have mental: think, wonder, listen
of command (rare): be quiet! be still! perpetual: see, heard, smelt

As an added level of detail, a verb can be either finite or non-finite. A finite verb is used when an action has already happened or is yet to happen. Meanwhile, non-finite verbs are used for actions which are still going on and end with an “-ing”.

Compare “I will walk” and “I am walking”. In the first example the action of walking is yet to occur, so it is finite. In the second example the act of walking is currently taking place and is still going on, so the “walk” becomes “walking”.

Do note that being finite or non-finite is not decided by if the action is in the past or present. The phrase “I was walking yesterday” is talking about something that has already happened, but in that moment of the past, which the phrase is referring to, the act of ‘walking’ was still happening.

1.2 – Nouns.

Nouns can easily be defined as the names of physical objects. If the object physically exists, the noun is known as concrete, since the object it describes is as real as concrete. Nouns also have the ability to name things which do not physically exist, such as emotions. In these cases the noun is abstract.

Abstract: Wish, luck, desire Regular -s plural: Dog to dogs
Concrete Common: Wall, pen, cat Regular -es plural: Fish to fishes
Concrete Proper: Smith, Johnson, Wilde Irregular plural: Ox to oxen
Concrete Collective: Scholes, skulk, bury

Objects that do not exist physically can still, in a sense, have a physical existence. It’s complicated to define, but nouns defining imaginary objects are still counted as ‘concrete’ nouns, since even if the object might not exist in real life it is still a ‘physical object’ in concept.

A noun can be pluralized if there are more than one of that object. A regular pluralis created by simply adding an ‘-s’ or ‘-es’ to the end of the word, but there are some irregular plurals which follow a seemingly arbitrary pattern.

Alongside having a plural, a noun can also be countable or uncountable. A countable noun can be made plural by the way stated above, but an uncountable noun is implied to already be plural.

‘Water’, ‘sugar’ and ‘dust’ have no plural form, since it is already implied there would be ‘multiple’ of them. A single grain of sand or a cup of water have to be additionally defined for someone to understand that a plural is not implied.

As an additional note, there are times when verbs can be used like nouns. For example, “Swimming is healthy.” Swimming is a verb, since it is a physical action. But in this context it is used like a noun, since the “is healthy” part is describing it (using an adjective) as though it were a noun.

An Adverb used as a noun is called a gerund.

1.3 – Auxiliary Verbs, Modals and Tenses.

We come to the first of the lesser known word classes. Auxiliary verbs work alongside the main verbs and add to the meaning the main verb can provide.

Auxiliary Verbs give tense and greater context to the main verb:
do, does, did
has, have, had
am, are, was, were

Modal Auxiliaries present doubt or politeness, in the sense of saying “something might happen” or “may we go”:

may, might; will, would
can, could; must
shall, should; ought to

Modal auxiliary verbs can be epistemic, meaning they can show degrees of probability, or deontic, to give politeness or obligation.

A verb can be followed by an auxiliary verb, which tells you more about the subject of the verb. “It became late” and “he looks tall” are two examples.

Tenses are one of the main things which auxiliary verbs can be used to create. Each verb has its own set of ‘forms’ the word can take to show each tense.

Verb ClassExamplesMeaning
infinitiveto be, to call , to dreamthe verb in its base form
present simpleI am, I call, I dreamthe action is happening in this moment
present continuousI am/you are/he is being, I am calling, I am dreamingthe action is happening in this moment and will keep happening
past simpleI was/you were, I called, I dreamedthe action has happened and has stopped happening
past continuousI was being/you were being, I was calling, I was dreamingthe action happened in the past, but was still going on
past participleI have been/you have been, I have called, I have dreamedsame as past continuous but used in the passive voice, not active
future simpleI will be/I shall, I will call, I will dreamthe action is going to happen
zero participlebe, call, dreamthe verb without anything else

Note that modal auxiliary verbs do not have an infinitive form. There is no “to shall”.

Verb Phrases are a special collection of words (both a verb and an auxiliary) used to create or change the tense:
Ran (past simple) can become ‘was running’ (past continuous);
Sit (present simple) can become ‘has been sitting’ (past perfect continuous);
Called (zero participle, past simple) to ‘will have been called’ (future perfect simple).

1.4 – Prepositions, Conjunctions and Determiners.

These word classes are used to attach different things together, to make their relation to one another more clear. The most commonly seen conjunction is ‘and’, which has the simple task of attaching an additional piece of information onto the previous piece.

Prepositions: Express time, reason, direction or position. They are relative to a noun which is included with them. Some examples are “under the table”, “with the wine” and “before the exercise.” Prepositions give one object relation to another object, may it be a physical location, or a relation of time.

Coordinating Conjunctions:For, and, nor, but, or, yet, so’. There are only seven ‘co-conjunctions’ and these are it. The function of a conjunction, such as ‘and’, is simply to attach one part of the language to another part. A co-conjunction gives equal weight to both sides (this will be later explained in 3.7, Sentences and Clauses).

Co-conjunctions usually go between two clauses; however, they can go at the start for creative reasons, but note this isn’t grammatically correct.

Subordinating Conjunctions: Other connecting words which go at the start or middle of a sentence, such as ‘however’, ‘although’ and ‘on the other hand’. These forms of conjunction introduce the supporting clause.

Again, this will be covered better in (3.7), but if a sentence reads “However hard he tried, Tom could not drive” the ‘however’ introduces the secondary clause, since “Tom could not drive” is the main clause.

We can tell the main clause from the secondary clause by checking if the specific clause would make sense on its own. “However hard he tried” is not a grammatically complete sentence, while “Tom could not drive” is grammatically complete. The secondary clause needs the context of the main clause to make sense and exist in the sentence.

Determiners: They present a specific noun, with the noun following immediately after the determiner. ‘A’ and ‘an’ are called indefinite articles, since they don’t refer to a specific object, while ‘the’ is a definite article, as it refers to something specific.

To give an example, “A car” can be any of a number of cars. “The car” implies a single, specific vehicle.

This, that, these and those are four more determiners, each with a specific meaning as given by the following table.

Over here (in this location)ThisThese
Over there (elsewhere)ThatThose

Note that these words are only determiners if they directly relate to a noun, but do not replace the noun. If they replace a noun, they are a relative pronoun, as described below.

1.5 – Pronouns.

When a noun would usually be required, but is not a noun, it is a pronoun. You can easily check if the word is a pronoun by seeing if the sentence would make sense if that word was replaced by a noun.

For example replacing the ‘thing’ in “Put that thing down.” with a noun, it creates “Put that pen down.” The ‘thing’ is a pronoun. However, replacing ‘that’ creates “Put pen thing down.” While it might still make sense, it makes you sound fully caveman.

There are four types of pronouns to describe what purpose that pronoun is fulfilling. If it’s directly replacing a noun, it’s simply a pronoun, but if its purpose is more complex, it may be one of the following.

Indefinite Pronouns: Refer to nothing definite: something, anything, nothing, everything.
Relative Pronouns:
Links the subordinate clause to the main (noun): that, those, this, these.
Interrogative Pronouns:
Used to question: who, whose, which, what?
Demonstrative Pronouns:
Directional: this, that, these, those. As mentioned in the section above, these become a determiner if they’re used with a noun, rather when replacing one.
Personal Pronouns:

Personal Pronouns:SubjectObjectPossessiveReflexive
ArchaicSingle informalthoutheethy or thine
Plural formalyeyouyour

1.6 – Adjectives.

Back to the better known word classes, adjectives are used to add extra description to a noun, and they come in three forms.

base formbig, tall, loud, red, expensivejust gives description
comparativebigger, taller, louder, redder, more or less expensivecompares a specific descriptive element to another object
superlativebiggest, tallest, loudest, reddest, most or least expensiveshows this object’s descriptive element to be greater than any other object’s

A gaming console released in the 90s is not powerful (base), but it is more powerful (comparative) than a console released in the 80s. However, the new quantum computing game console will be the most powerful (superlative) of all.

Adjectives can share a direct function with adverbs, making an Adverbial, which tells us about the action with relation to something else, such as time, place or manner. These are defined below, but some simple examples are “last June”, “in London” and “without warning”.

1.7 – Adverbs.

Just as an adjective gives additional description to a noun, so too can adverbs give additional description to a verb. Adverbs come in multiple different forms, depending on what information is added onto the verb to describe it.

Adverbs: how, when or where an action is done:

of place: southwards, anywhere, elsewhere, nowhere, yon;
of time: yesterday, tomorrow, now, last night, currently;
of manner: quickly, reluctantly, breathlessly, quietly;
of frequency: always, never, seldom, sometimes, annually;
of degree (intensifiers): quite, almost, too, very, indeed;
of connection: however, subsequently, moreover, ergo, so.

Like everything, an element of context comes into play in many cases. Saying something is ‘quite perfect’ (very nice) has an almost opposite meaning to saying something is ‘quite nice’ (not great, not terrible).

This depends on if the verb was scalable or non-scalable. A scalable verb can be ‘very’ something. ‘Very fast’, ‘very bright’ and ‘very strong’ are all scalable. A non-scalable verb does not make sense with a ‘very’, such as is the case with ‘very pure’.

Non-scalable verbs are generally used in extremes, and are considered non-scalable because saying something is ‘very pure’ is redundant (in relation to the example above). You can’t have more pure than pure, otherwise what you started with wasn’t pure.