Other Parts of Speech


Learning Objectives

  • identify functions of conjunctions, and potential usage issues with them
  • identify functions of prepositions, and potential usage issues with them
  • identify functions of articles, and potential usage issues with them
A person struggling to hold three boxes, one labelled with a conjunction, one with a preposition, and one with an article. He's saying "Uh, what should I do with these?"

We’ve covered the majority of parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. So, what’s left?

What remains are the little connecting word categories: conjunctions, prepositions, and articles. These small words may not seem as important as verbs, nouns, and adjectives, but they are the backbone of English: these are the words that give our language structure.


Conjunctions are the words that join sentences, phrases, and other words together. Conjunctions are divided into several categories, all of which follow different rules. We will discuss coordinating conjunctions, adverbial conjunctions, and correlative conjunctions.

Coordinating Conjunctions

The most common conjunctions are andor, and but. These are all coordinating conjunctions. Coordinating conjunctions are conjunctions that join, or coordinate, two or more equivalent items (such as words, phrases, or sentences). The mnemonic acronym FANBOYS can be used to remember the most common coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, oryet, and so.

  • For: presents a reason (“They do not gamble or smoke, for they are ascetics.”)
  • And: presents non-contrasting items or ideas (“They gamble, and they smoke.”)
  • Nor: presents a non-contrasting negative idea (“They do not gamble, nor do they smoke.”)
  • But: presents a contrast or exception (“They gamble, but they don’t smoke.”)
  • Or: presents an alternative item or idea (“Every day they gamble, or they smoke.”)
  • Yet: presents a contrast or exception (“They gamble, yet they don’t smoke.”)
  • So: presents a consequence (“He gambled well last night, so he smoked a cigar to celebrate.”)

Here are some examples of these used in sentences:

  • Nuclear-powered artificial hearts proved to be complicated, bulky, and expensive.
  • In the 1960s, artificial heart devices did not fit well and tended to obstruct the flow of venous blood into the right atrium.
  • The blood vessels leading to the device tended to kink, obstructing the filling of the chambers and resulting in inadequate output.
  • Any external injury or internal injury put patients at risk of uncontrolled bleeding because the small clots that formed throughout the circulatory system used up so much of the clotting factor.
  • The current from the storage batteries can power lights, but the current for appliances must be modified within an inverter.

As you can see from the examples above, a comma only appears before these conjunctions sometimes. So how can you tell if you need a comma or not? There are three general rules to help you decide.

Rule 1: Joining Two Complete Ideas

Let’s look back at one of our example sentences:

The current from the storage batteries can power lights, but the current for appliances must be modified within an inverter.

There are two complete ideas in this sentence. A complete idea has both a subject (a noun or pronoun) and a verb. The subjects have been italicized, and the verbs bolded:

  • the current from the storage batteries can power lights
  • the current for appliances must be modified within an inverter.

Because each of these ideas could stand alone as a sentence, the coordinating conjunction that joins them must be preceded by a comma. Otherwise you’ll have a run-on sentence.

Run-on sentences are one of the most common errors in college-level writing. Mastering the partnership between commas and coordinating conjunctions will go a long way towards resolving many run-on sentence issues in your writing.

Rule 2: Joining Two Similar Items

So what if there’s only one complete idea, but two subjects or two verbs?

  • Any external injury or internal injury put patients at risk of uncontrolled bleeding because the small clots that formed throughout the circulatory system used up so much of the clotting factor.
  • In the 1960s, artificial heart devices did not fit well and tended to obstruct the flow of venous blood into the right atrium.

The first sentence has two subjects: external injury and internal injury. The second sentence has two verbs: did not fit well and tended to obstruct. In each sentence, the two similar items are separated from each other by a conjunction, but no comma is required.

Rule 3: Joining Three or More Similar Items

So what do you do if there are three or more items?

  • Anna loves to run, David loves to hike, and Luz loves to dance.
  • Fishing, hunting, and gathering were once the only ways for people do get food.
  • Emanuel has a very careful schedule planned for tomorrow. He needs to work, study, exercise, eat, and clean.

As you can see in the examples above, there is a comma after each item, including the item just prior to the conjunction. There is a little bit of contention about this, but overall, most styles prefer to keep the additional comma (also called the serial comma). We discuss the serial comma in more depth in Text: Commas.

Starting a Sentence

Many students are taught—and some style guides maintain—that English sentences should not start with coordinating conjunctions.

This video shows that this idea is not actually a rule. And it provides some background for why so many people may have adopted this writing convention:


Are the following sentences correctly punctuated?

  1. I heard some news on the radio about a fire and my family saw it on the television.
  2. The fire chief called in all his men, but ordered them to stay back.
  3. The building became engulfed in flames, so they stood by.
  4. They needed to examine everything for they did not think it was an accident.
  5. The police could not find the source of the fire, nor could the fire chief.

Adverbial Conjunctions

Icon of two thought bubblesAdverbial conjunctions link two separate thoughts or sentences. When used to separate thoughts, as in the example below, a comma is required on either side of the conjunction.

The first artificial hearts were made of smooth silicone rubber, which apparently caused excessive clotting and, therefore, uncontrolled bleeding.

When used to separate sentences, as in the examples below, a semicolon is required before the conjunction and a comma after.

  • The Kedeco produces 1200 watts in 17 mph winds using a 16-foot rotor; on the other hand, the Dunlite produces 2000 watts in 25 mph winds.
  • For short periods, the fibers were beneficial; however, the eventual buildup of fibrin on the inner surface of the device would impair its function.
  • The atria of the heart contribute a negligible amount of energy; in fact, the total power output of the heart is only about 2.5 watts.

Adverbial conjunctions include the following words; however, it is important to note that this is by no means a complete list.

therefore however in other words
thus then otherwise
nevertheless on the other hand in fact


Fill in the missing punctuation marks for the sentences below:

  1. Alícia works behind the counter in the family bakery after school __ however __ Benjamin doesn’t.
  2. On the one hand __ Benjamin loves goes to soccer games __ on the other hand __ he doesn’t like to play soccer.

Correlative Conjunctions

Balanced scales iconCorrelative conjunctions are word pairs that work together to join words and groups of words of equal weight in a sentence. This video will define this types of conjunction before it goes through five of the most common correlative conjunctions:

The table below shows some examples of correlative conjunctions being used in a sentence:

Correlative Conjunction Example
either…or You either do your work or prepare for a trip to the office. (Either do, or prepare)
neither…nor Neither the basketball team nor the football team is doing well.
not only…but (also) He is not only handsome, but also brilliant. (Not only A, but also B)
Not only is he handsome, but also he is brilliant. (Not only is he A, but also he is B.)
both…and Both the cross country team and the swimming team are doing well.
whether…or You must decide whether you stay or you go. (It’s up to you)
Whether you stay or you go, the film must start at 8 pm. (It’s not up to you)
just as…so Just as many Americans love basketball, so many Canadians love ice hockey.
as much…as Football is as much an addiction as it is a sport.
no sooner…than No sooner did she learn to ski, than the snow began to thaw.
rather…than I would rather swim than surf.
the…the The more you practice dribbling, the better you will be at it.
as…as Football is as fast as hockey (is (fast)).


Select the correct conjunction for each sentence:

  1. (Both / Not only) you but also Paul forgot to do the annual report last week.
  2. You will need to finish it by (either / neither) today or tomorrow. Just get it done by Friday.
  3. (Both / Not only) you and Paul have been wasting too much time.
  4. Not only (she yells / does she yell / is she yell) at me, but also she screams at me.
  5. Either (she stops / does she stop) yelling at me or I quit.
  6. She both (annoys / does she annoy) and angers me.


Icon of open box with two arrows going inside itPrepositions are relation words; they can indicate location, time, or other more abstract relationships. Prepositions are noted in bold in these examples:

  • The woods behind my house are super creepy at night.
  • She sang until three in the morning.
  • He was happy for them.

A preposition combines with another word (usually a noun or pronoun) called the complement. Prepositions are still in bold, and their complements are in italics:

  • The woods behind my house are super creepy at night.
  • She sang until three in the morning.
  • He was happy for them.

Prepositions generally come before their complements (e.g., in England, under the table, of Jane). However, there are a small handful of exceptions, including notwithstanding and ago:

  • Financial limitations notwithstanding, Phil paid back his debts.
  • He was released three days ago.

Prepositions of location are pretty easily defined (near, farover, under, etc.), and prepositions about time are as well (before, after, at, during, etc.). Prepositions of “more abstract relationships,” however, are a little more nebulous in their definition. The video below gives a good overview of this category of prepositions:

Note: The video said that prepositions are a closed group, but it never actually explained what a closed group is. Perhaps the easiest way to define a closed group is to define its opposite: an open group. An open group is a part of speech allows new words to be added. For example, nouns are an open group; new nouns, like selfie and blog, enter the language all the time (verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are open groups as well).

Thus a closed group simply refers to a part of speech that doesn’t allow in new words. All of the word types in this section–prepositions, articles, and conjunctions–are closed groups.


Identify the prepositions in the following sentences:

  1. The cow jumped over the moon.
  2. My favorite painting is The Girl with the Pearl Earring.
  3. Beatriz wanted to know if she would see Alexandre before lunch.
  4. All he does is talk about his band.

So far, all of the prepositions we’ve looked at have been one word (and most of them have been one syllable). The most common prepositions are one-syllable words. According to one ranking, the most common English prepositions are on, in, to, by, for, with, at, of, from, as.

There are also some prepositions that have more than one word:

  • in spite of (She made it to work in spite of the terrible traffic.)
  • by means of (He traveled by means of boat.)
  • except for (Joan invited everyone to her party except for Ben.)
  • next to (Go ahead and sit down next to Jean-Claude.)

Prepositions in Sentences

You’ll often hear about prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase includes a preposition and its complement (e.g., “behind the house” or “a long time ago“).

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

As we just learned, it is totally okay to end a sentence with a preposition. And, as we saw, it can often make your writing smoother and more concise to do so.

However, it’s still best to avoid doing it unnecessarily. If your sentence ends with a preposition and would still mean the same thing without the preposition, take it out. For example:

Where are you at?

That’s not what it’s used for.

If you remove at, the sentence becomes “Where are you?” This means the same thing, so removing at is a good idea. However, if you remove for, the sentence becomes “That’s not what it’s used,” which doesn’t make sense.


There are three articles in the English language: thea, and an. These are divided into two types of articles: definite (the) and indefinite (aan). The definite article indicates a level of specificity that the indefinite does not. “An apple” could refer to any apple; however “the apple” is referring back to a specific apple.

Thus, when using the definite article, the speaker assumes the listener knows the identity of the noun’s referent (because it is obvious, because it is common knowledge, or because it was mentioned in the same sentence or an earlier sentence). Use of an indefinite article implies that the speaker assumes the listener does not have to be told the identity of the referent.

There are also cases where no article is required:

  • with generic nouns (plural or uncountable): cars have accelerators, happiness is contagious, referring to cars in general and happiness in general (compare the happiness I felt yesterday, specifying particular happiness);
  • with many proper names: Sabrina, France, London, etc.

Watch this quick introduction to indefinite and definite articles and the difference between the two:

Indefinite Article

The indefinite article of English takes the two forms a and an. These can be regarded as meaning “one,” usually without emphasis.

Distinction between a and an

an icon showing the article aYou’ve probably learned the rule that an comes before a vowel, and that a comes before a consonant. While this is generally true, it’s more accurate to say that an comes before a vowel sound, and a comes before a consonant sound. Let’s look at a couple of examples with a:

  • a box
  • a HEPA filter (HEPA is pronounced as a word rather than as letters)
  • a one-armed bandit (pronounced “won. . . “)
  • a unicorn (pronounced “yoo. . . “)

an icon showing the article anLet’s try it again with an:

  • an apple
  • an EPA policy (the letter E read as a letter still starts with a vowel sound)
  • an SSO (pronounced “es-es-oh”)
  • an hour (the h is silent)
  • an heir (pronounced “air”)
Note: Some speakers and writers use an before a word beginning with the sound h in an unstressed syllable: an historical novel, an hotel. However, where the h is clearly pronounced, this usage is now less common, and a is preferred.


Look at the following words. When they require an indefinite article, should it be a or an?

  1. ewe
  2. SEO specialist
  3. apple
  4. URL
  5. herb

Definite Article
an icon showing the article the

The definite article the is used when the referent of the noun phrase is assumed to be unique or known from the context. For example, in the sentence “The boy with glasses was looking at the moon,” it is assumed that in the context the reference can only be to one boy and one moon.

The can be used with both singular and plural nouns, with nouns of any gender, and with nouns that start with any letter. This is different from many other languages which have different articles for different genders or numbers. The is the most commonly used word in the English language.


Choose the article that should go in each sentence:

  1. Every day, I eat (a / an / the) egg salad sandwich.
  2. I love looking at (a / an / the) stars with you.
  3. Dani was planning to buy (a / an / the) book she had been eyeing as soon as she got paid.
  4. (A / An / The) brain like that will get you far in life.

Word Order

In most cases, the article is the first word of its noun phrase, preceding all other adjectives and modifiers.

The little old red bag held a very big surprise.

There are a few exceptions, however:

  • Certain determiners, such as all, both, half, double, precede the definite article when used in combination (all the team, both the girls, half the time, double the amount).
  • Such and what precede the indefinite article (such an idiot, what a day!).
  • Adjectives qualified by too, so, as and how generally precede the indefinite article: too great a loss, so hard a problem, as delicious an apple as I have ever tasted, I know how pretty a girl she is.
  • When adjectives are qualified by quite (particularly when it means “fairly”), the word quite (but not the adjective itself) often precedes the indefinite article: quite a long letter.