Types of words

Keep the functions of words in mind to write clear content. Grammar and sentence structure help people understand meaning.

Words are grouped by function

Each word has a function in a sentence, clause or phrase. You can group words into different types depending on the way they function.

Functions include:

Functional categories for words are also known as ‘parts of speech’.

Sentence structure sets the function of words

Many individual words can belong to different word types. This depends on what the word is doing in the sentence.

The function of the word depends on the role it plays in combination with others.


  • You can face penalties for using a still to make alcohol without the proper licence. [‘Still’ is a noun.]
  • The dinghy was floating in still water. [‘Still’ is an adjective.]
  • The people stood still during the national anthem. [‘Still’ is an adverb.]

You can change the meaning of a sentence by moving a word.

Place modifying words, such as adjectives and adverbs, next to the thing that they’re modifying. The same applies to adverbial and adjectival phrases and clauses.

If you don’t put the modifier in the right place, people will find it difficult to understand your content.

The following sentences are all grammatically correct. The meaning changes as the modifier ‘only’ is moved.


Only Jamilah told Freddie that she respected him. [No one else told Freddie.]

Jamilah only told Freddie that she respected him. [Jamilah didn’t write to Freddie. She just told him.]

Jamilah told only Freddie that she respected him. [Jamilah didn’t tell anyone else she respected him. She also didn’t tell anyone else that she respected them.]

Jamilah told Freddie only that she respected him. [Jamilah didn’t tell Freddie anything else.]

Jamilah told Freddie that only she respected him. [No one else respects Freddie.]

Jamilah told Freddie that she only respected him. [Jamilah doesn’t have any other opinion of Freddie.]

Jamilah told Freddie that she respected only him. [Jamilah doesn’t respect anyone else.]

Fixing a misplaced modifier is more complicated. Sentences with this issue often need some rewriting.

Write this

The report suggested that the drug is beneficial, even though it’s harmful in larger doses. [‘It’ in the modifier refers to ‘the drug’.]

Not this

Even though it’s harmful in larger doses, the report suggested the drug is beneficial. [‘It’ in the modifier could go with ‘the report’ or ‘the drug’. This structure weakens the modifier’s link with ‘the drug’. It creates ambiguity in meaning.]

Release notes

The digital edition relates grammatical concepts to the principles of plain language.

It provides an overview on types of words to introduce grammatical concepts about parts of speech and how they relate to sentence structure.

The sixth edition called types of words ‘word classes’. It had summary information about parts of speech on pages 68 to 70. This formed part of Chapter 5 on grammar.

The Content Guide did not have any in-depth information on grammatical concepts.

About this page


Garner BA (2016) Garner’s modern English usage, 4th edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Murphy EM (2011) Working words, Canberra Society of Editors, Canberra.

Oxford University Press (2017) Australian concise Oxford dictionary, 6th edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Peters P (1995) The Cambridge Australian English style guide, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Stilman A (2004) Grammatically correct, Writer’s Digest Books, Ohio.

University of Chicago Press (2017) Chicago manual of style: the essential guide for writers, editors, and publishers, 17th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

This page was updated Monday 6 September 2021.