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Function words (or grammatical words) are words that have little lexical meaning or have ambiguous meaning, but instead serve to express grammatical relationships with other words within a sentence, or specify the attitude or mood of the speaker. Words that are not function words are called content words (or open class words or lexical words): these include nouns, verbs, adjectives, and most adverbs, although some adverbs are function words (e.g., then and why). Dictionaries define the specific meanings of content words, but can only describe the general usages of function words. By contrast, grammars describe the use of function words in detail, but treat lexical words in general terms only.

Function words might be prepositions, pronouns, auxiliary verbs, conjunctions, grammatical articles or particles, all of which belong to the group of closed-class words. Interjections are sometimes considered function words but they belong to the group of open-class words. Function words might or might not be inflected or might have affixes.

Function words belong to the closed class of words in grammar in that it is very uncommon to have new function words created in the course of speech, whereas in the open class of words (that is, nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs) new words may be added readily (such as slang words, technical terms, and adoptions and adaptations of foreign words). See neologism.

Each function word either gives some grammatical information on other words in a sentence or clause, and cannot be isolated from other words, or it may indicate the speaker's mental model as to what is being said.

Grammatical words, as a class, can have distinct phonological properties from content words. Grammatical words sometimes do not make full use of all the sounds in a language. For example, in some of the Khoisan languages, most content words begin with clicks, but very few function words do.[1] In English, only function words begin with voiced th- [ð] (see Pronunciation of English th).

The following is a list of the kind of words considered to be function words:

See also

References

  1. ^ Westphal, E.O.J. (1971), "The click languages of Southern and Eastern Africa", in Sebeok, T.A., Current trends in Linguistics, Vol. 7: Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa, Berlin: Mouton 
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