Word Class – Lexical Category and functional category

Last Updated On: 22/08/2020

Word Class: Are you searching for notes on World Class (Lexical Category and functional category) in English Grammar? Here I’m sharing you the English Grammar notes on Word Classes which will be helpful for various examinations like UPSC, PSC and bank exams.

Word Class in English

Words are classified into eight parts depending on their nature and function in sentences. They are called word classes. In traditional grammar the term parts of speech is used.

Class words are broadly divided into two categories: lexical and functional.

The following three criteria are applied to decide the category of a word:

  1. Semantic (relying on meaning)
  2. Morphological (relying on word forms)
  3. Syntactic (relying on combinations of words in phrases and sentences)

Let us examine the two categories now.


Lexical Category and functional category

Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs belong to the lexical category. Words that belong to the category are called content words.

For example, consider the following sentence:

Mother serves me breakfast in tiny plates.

We know mother is a noun. Based on the above criteria, it is content word. Take the verb serves. It is also a content word. The word breakfast is also a noun. So too is plates. What about tiny? It is an adjective. So we have the words mother, serves, breakfast, tiny, and plates. All these are content words. They give us the lexically significant meaning component. But can you assemble a sentence with just these words? No. That is why two more words are use in the sentence: me an in. What is the function of those words in the sentence?

They mainly serve a grammatical function. Such words that contribute to grammatical functions are called function words and they beong to the functional category. They are also called structure words.

Pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections belong to the functional category. Demonstratives (this, that), articles (a, an, the), and auxiliary verbs (can, will, must, have, be) are also considered function words.

For example, consider the following sentences.

  1. Padma is learning music.  –  Is Padma learning music?
  2. Salim can work hard.  –  Can Salim work hard?

In these sentences, we notice that the formation of a question involves moving an auxilary verb to the initial position in the structure. Lexical verbs cannot move in this way in Modern English. Can you ask a question like this form the following sentence with the verb learn?

Padma learns music.

Content WordsExamplesFunction wordsExamples
NounSita, Kannur, girl, manPronounHe, she, their, our, his
VerbWalk, play, writePrepositionOn, in, up, under
AdjectiveLong, red, smart, smallConjunctionAn, but, or
AdverbLogically, wellInterjectionOh, alas, ah
DemonstrativesThis, that
ArticlesA, an, the
Auxiliary verbsIs, can, may

I hope the above note on Word Class in English will be helpful for those who are preparing for exams like PSC and UPSC. If you have any doubts feel free to contact us.

Note: This note about World Class is prepared based on the text book “The Four Skills for communication” written by Josh Sreedharan.

Sharing is caring
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x