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Study sheet on word categories

In all language tests, questions are asked on word categories. You are thus asked to find out whether the context requires a noun, adjective, adverb, past participle, present participle (verb in –ING) or something else. To do so, you should then know what word type follows what kind of structure. Consequently you should also be able to build different word categories from the stem or root of a word.


1. Nouns

Nouns are concepts, objects or situations and can follow articles a/an/Ø, quantifiers some, any, no for countable nouns (the ones which can be counted) and uncountable nouns but also a piece of, a lump of, a slice of… for uncountable nouns (the ones which can’t be counted). Some nouns such as advice, news, information, evidence, furniture, equipment, weather, research, luggage and baggage are uncountable in English but not necessarily in your mother tongue. For more precisions on countable and uncountable nouns, have a look at the study sheet nouns. Nouns can be composed of a stem or root to which prefixes (notably to create opposites) and suffixes (to create other nouns or change the word category) can be added.


  1. Compound nouns

Several words are added and the new designed word thus gets a new meaning. It can be nouns with/without prepositions with/without ’s. The word order is important as it changes the meaning of the compound nouns. Plurals only appear on the last noun of the compound noun. For more precisions on compound nouns, have a look at the study sheet nouns.


2. Adjectives

Adjectives qualify a noun or a noun group. Ils sont INVARIABLES en anglais et ne se mettent donc pas au pluriel contrairement au nom qui leur est apposé: one tiny bag, two tiny bags.


  1. Nominalized adjectives

When an adjective describes an abstract concept, it can be changed into a noun following the article the : the impossible.

When an adjective refers to a group in its entirety and whole, the change into a noun is possible too and it is considered as a plural:the rich and poor. Note that peoples and ehtnies are put in the plural:the blacks, the Indians.

When an adjective of nationality finishes by -sh, -ch, -ese, it can be changed into a noun following the article the and followed by a plural verb:the Chinese love karaokes at weddings.


b. Order

When several adjectives follow each other, the order should be the one represented by the acronym OPSHACOM which stands for OPinion - SHApe – Color – Origin – Material. Thus we could have the following example: a charming little transparent Welsh glass container with charming (OPinion), little (SHApe), transparent (Color), Welsh (Origin) and glass (Material).


c. Adjectives in –ED and adjectives in -ING

This is a common trap so you have to be cautious reading the rule and either memorizing it as such or through examples in order not to make any mistake on that point:

Adjectives in –ED describes a feeling, an emotion: Jen is so bored.

Adjectives in –ING is used for the situation which leads to the feeling: Her presentation was so boring.


d. Compound adjectives

They can be composed of –ING :time-consuming

Past participles (verb + -ED or 3rd column of irregular verbs) :well-known,

noun + -ED : blond-haired or of

phrasal verbs (verbs + preposition which changes the meaning of the verb) : blown-up.



3. Prefixes which change the meaning but not the word category

When the stem of the word follows a few letters, these ones are called « prefixes ». Prefixes change the meaning of the stem but doesn’t change the word category.

A-, il-,im-,in- ir-, non- and un- change the word into its opposite or contrary.


Typical > atypicalLegible > illegible

Perfect > imperfect

Accurate > inaccurate (précis- imprécis)

Regular > irregular

Verbal > non verbal

Bearable > unbearable (supportable > insupportable)


Mis- describes a mistake : understanding > misunderstanding

Over- shows an excess : dose > overdose

Pre- expresses an anterior action/idea : order > preorder

Re- informs of a repeated action: organize > regorganize

Under- depicts an insufficiency : staffed > understaffed (en sous-effectif)


4. Suffixes which modify the mean and can change the word category

When several letters follow the stem of the word, they make a « suffixe ». Suffixes modify the meaning of the stem and can change the word category too.

 -able gives a quality from a verb: to change > changeable

-dom enables an adjective, noun or verb to become a noun which expresses its abstract notion: a star > stardom

- ee transforms a verb into a noun : to send > sendee

- er changes a verb into the person doing the action: to listen > listener. Be careful to spelling modifications: run > runner, to exceptions naming an object (and not a person) : to cook > a cooker (device used to cook) when a cook is the person who cools and to verbs which can’t be changed such as to meet.

- ful transforms a noun into an adjective : respect > respectful and some containers into other nouns : a spoon > a spoonful.

- hood highlights the specie, community, main idea of a noun from another noun a sister > sisterhood

- ish descreases the quality of the stem word: thirty > thirtyish and for some nationalities: Ireland > Irish

- ism enables the change of a noun/adjective into a noun: bi-party > bi-partism

- less changes a noun into an adjective: a care > careless

- ly is the typical suffixe to change an adjective into an adverb: kind > kindly but also a noun into an adjective: love > lovely and a noun into a frequency : quarter > quarterly

-ness transforms an adjective into an abstract noun: calm > calmess

- ship extracts an abstract idea from a noun: friend > friendship

- y (different from –ly) changes a noun into an adjective : anger > angry. It is widely used for the weather forecast: fog > foggy.


Mastering word categories can be useful notably in parts 5 and 6 of the TOEIC but also in the Speaking and Writing of TOEFL IBT and IELTS, part 1 sentence completion and 2 error identification du writing of TOEFL IBT, MCQ exercises, open close exercises of the IELTS and in fill-in the blank sentences and exercises as well as open close texts of the reading section of the BULATS.


Have a look at all our grammar study sheets!

TOEIC Grammar