Closed classes

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Closed classes

There are several minor parts of speech which are closed classes. They serve grammatical functions in clauses and phrases, occurring in fixed syntactic positions. These are determiners (for example, the), prepositions (for example, to), coordinators (for example, and), and subordinators (for example, because). Pronouns are also a closed class – in this website they are dealt with in the section relating to nouns.


1. Determiners

2. Prepositions

3. Coordinators

4. Subordinators

Related pages

Parts of speech


Determiners occur preceding the head within noun phrases and function to modify the noun in terms of definiteness or quantity. Some quantifiers can inflect for grade, for example, few, fewer, fewest. Some have irregular forms, for example, many or much, more, most and little, less, least.

There are six types of determiners: articles (for example, a/an, the), demonstratives (for example, this, that, these, those), interrogatives (for example, what, which), numbers (for example, one, two, three ... fifteen and so on), quantifiers (for example, some, few, any, several, no, all, both), and possessives (for example, Christie's, my).


Prepositions function as the heads of prepositional phrases. They take a noun phrase as a complement and relate it to other constituents in a sentence. Prototypical prepositions encode spatial (for example, to the park, from Paris) and temporal relations (for example, after dinner, in a week), but they can also express manner (for example, with grace) and agency (for example, by the police).

Many prepositions can fulfil more than one semantic function. For example, over encodes both place (for example, over the gate) and time (for example, over several days). Some prepositions can have functions traditionally related to other parts of speech, for example, before can be a preposition (for example, Mel went every year before 1995), a subordinator (for example, Mel wants to go before it closes) or an adverb (for example, Mel has only been once before).

Prepositions do not have inflections.

Some verbs require prepositions as particles. This means they function as part of the verb, for example, switch on (the light), fold up (the umbrella). See the discussion of prepositional phrases.


Coordinators join two or more equal constituents together. The constituents may be words, phrases, or clauses. In English, the coordinators are and, or and but. Here are some examples:


Subordinators join two clauses which do not have equal syntactic status: they join a subordinate clause to the main clause. One important function of subordinators is to allow the inclusion of contextual information within a clause. Some important semantic categories of English subordinators are listed below, with examples.

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Closed classes

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