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1.34 Using the correct word type

An error found in some students' writing is the use of the wrong "type" of word, that is, confusion between verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc. For example:

The important of the discovery cannot be denied. (should be "importance")
This type of revenue is very importance. (should be "important")

If you do make this kind of mistake, which usually happens if your native tongue is very different to English (eg. Chinese), there are two basic pieces of advice:

You need to become sensitive to the different types of word endings, to know, for example, that the ending "-tion" is very often for a noun; that "-ly" very often signifies an adverb. Make yourself some lists, and make sure you know when the different types of words are used. An adjective, for example, is associated with a noun (an object, a person, an idea etc); an adverb with a verb.

Buy yourself a good dictionary and learn to use it effectively. The Collins Cobuild English Language dictionary, for example, has a column telling you the type of word and gives practical examples of the words in use. Be very careful with the use of electronic dictionaries and small monolingual dictionaries, as these could be misleading.

These are the main word types which may cause confusion:


Nouns are words which refer to people, things or ideas. For example, girl, door, hunger.

They are often preceded by some kind of determiner or article, such as this, those, my; a/an, the, or by an adjective describing the word. Associated verbs almost always come after the noun.

Nouns can be countable (made into a plural), for example book, tutor, or uncountable (cannot be made into a plural), for example literature, staff.

Nouns are often used as if they were adjectives:

a Sunday newspaper
the staff restaurant

And verbs can become nouns by adding –ing:

walking is good for you
talking is not allowed

Note that nouns can often be used as verbs:

to paper the bedroom (=put wallpaper up)

to chair a meeting

to screen applicants for a job


Verbs are used with nouns to express what that noun “does” or what happens to it:

Doris studies Spanish in the evening.
The door was repaired last week.

Verb forms in English are very simple. A regular verb has just four forms: look, looks, looked and looking. Meaning is often expressed through an associated modal auxiliary verb such as can, should, or might: in this case the main verb is always in the base (infinitive) form:

It might rain tonight.
You should write around 2000 words.

Alternatively, forms of the verbs be and have are used with the main verb:

It is becoming cheaper to fly.
They have started work on their project.


These are words which “describe” or tell you more about a noun: red, expensive, difficult.
They always come before the associated noun: the red balloon.

Adjectives never ‘agree’ with the noun, i.e. they don’t need an –s if the noun is plural:
the expensive book or the expensive books.

Adjectives usually can’t be made into nouns. You can’t say I’d like the green. Instead, you need to say the green one or the green tie. One exception is when some colours are made plural to describe, for example, a football team (Birmingham City are The Blues), although this is rare.

In standard English, adjectives cannot be used as adverbs; you can’t say he sang really good, but instead he sang really well.

See the note above about nouns acting as adjectives.


Adverbs add information about an action, event or situation. They tell us when, how or where something happens. For example: sometimes, gradually, everywhere.

Words ending in –ly will very often be adverbs, but there are many adverbs which do not end in –ly. There are also some adjectives which end in –ly (eg. friendly); these cannot be made into an adverb, but instead you would say, for example, in a friendly way.


Find the errors and correct them.

1 The problem is to find the people who are response for the situation.

2 People may be temporary out of a job.

3 This essay will analyse the important of the shadow economy.

4 They claim they are unemployed, but in fact they are in a well situation.

5 Some of the gains from tax evasion will flow to the consume as well.

6 GDP shows how much the economy in that country has growth.

7 The government has found it necessarily to raise interest rates.

8 The teacher usually reliant on one book.

9 The information provided will be treated confidential by the researchers.

10 To avoid unstable in sales, companies tend to diversify.


Links to further resources on word types




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Steve Gould
Last updated: 4 January 2011

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