The Grammar Factor: parts of speech/word classes, initial capital letters

By Mary Morel, July 2016

Illustration depicting a roadsign with a jargon concept. Dusk sky background.

‘Word classes’ or ‘parts of speech’?

I read an article about word classes recently. Now, I know that the term ‘parts of speech’ has gone out of fashion in favour of ‘word classes’, but wasn’t aware that two other competing terms are ‘lexical categories’ and ‘syntactic categories’. The rationale for these new words is that the term ‘parts of speech’ is ancient and irrelevant to the way we use language.

I adopted ‘word classes’ a few years ago, but have reverted back to ‘parts of speech’ because it is still commonly used. Often I use both terms side by side. Maybe today’s school students will lead the way to adopting a new term. Read more.

Do you still use the term ‘parts of speech’ or have you switched to ‘word classes’, ‘lexical categories’ or ‘syntactic categories’? (I know these terms are precise, but I truly hate grammar jargon.)

I am refreshing my grammar courses at the moment, so have created videos on conjunctions, adjectives and verbs.


Blogs and podcast

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Readers’ questions

Initial capitals

Question: There is some controversy regarding the capitalisation of nouns such as semester, term and year when referring to year levels. For example:

During semester 1, little Johnny has explored worms. Next semester he will learn about snails. He is doing well for a child in year 6.

During Semester 1, little Johnny has explored worms.  Next Semester he will learn about snails.  He is doing well for a child in Year 6.

Answer: There is no need to capitalise ‘semester’. It is not a proper noun, nor would I regard it as a defined term that needs an initial capital.

I think ‘Year 6’ is different because this is a recognised defined term. I would use a capital ‘Y’.

During semester 1, little Johnny has explored worms.  Next semester he will learn about snails.  He is doing well for a child in Year 6.

Question: Dear all vs. Dear All – is there a right and a wrong here?

Answer: This is a question of style, not right and wrong.

I would write ‘Dear all’ because I cannot see a rationale for the capital. You don’t need it for respect and it’s not a defined term.

Colons and capital letters

Question: Do you need to start a question with an initial capital after a colon? For example:

So the question is: What can you do for your customers, clients or patients to compensate for any annoyances of dealing with you?

So the question is: what can you do for your customers, clients or patients to compensate for any annoyances of dealing with you?

Answer: There’s no agreement on this one.

You need a capital letter if you are introducing dialogue or a quotation. Whether you use a capital letter after a colon to introduce a complete sentence or question is a style choice.

The question is: Who will be the winner?
The question is: who will be the winner?

And here’s a link for more info.

Taming board paper templates workshop in Melbourne

Join me for a workshop in Melbourne on 11 August on taming board paper templates.

For more information visit the Governance Institute of Australia’s website.

Interesting articles about writing

Governments in Australia and New Zealand fail to meet plain English website guidelines
Why are our government websites still not written in plain English? Read more.

How up-to-date is your LinkedIn profile?
This article looks at 19 mistakes people make with their LinkedIn profile

Passive panic: In partial defence of an unloved grammatical tool
I agree with this article on the passive voice – what do you think?

Collecting positive foreign words that lack English equivalents
English does not have words for everything.

Good shoes, perfect grammar: He’s OK
Judging people on their grammar can have a good outcome! Read more.

Quote of the month

‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’
George Bernard Shaw


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