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The 4 types of speeches

Informative, demonstrative, persuasive and special occasion.

By:  Susan Dugdale  | Last modified: 01-31-2024

There are four main types of speeches or types of public speaking.

  • Demonstrative
  • Special occasion or Entertaining

To harness their power a speaker needs to be proficient in all of them: to understand which speech type to use when, and how to use it for maximum effectiveness.

What's on this page:

An overview of each speech type, how it's used, writing guidelines and speech examples:

  • informative
  • demonstrative
  • special occasion/entertaining
  • how, and why, speech types overlap

Graphic: 4 types of speeches: informative, demonstrative, persuasive, special occasion

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Informative speeches

An informative speech does as its name suggests: informs. It provides information about a topic. The topic could be a place, a person, an animal, a plant, an object, an event, or a process.

The informative speech is primarily explanatory and educational.

Its purpose is not to persuade or influence opinion one way or the other. It is to provide sufficient relevant material, (with references to verifiable facts, accounts, studies and/or statistics), for the audience to have learned something. 

What they think, feel, or do about the information after they've learned it, is up to them.

This type of speech is frequently used for giving reports, lectures and, sometimes for training purposes. 

Examples of informative speech topics:

  • the number, price and type of dwellings that have sold in a particular suburb over the last 3 months
  • the history of the tooth brush
  • how trees improves air quality in urban areas
  • a brief biography of Bob Dylan
  • the main characteristics of Maine Coon cats
  • the 1945 US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • the number of, and the work of local philanthropic institutions
  • the weather over the summer months
  • the history of companion planting 
  • how to set up a new password
  • how to work a washing machine

Image: companion planting - cabbage planted alongside orange flowering calendula. Text: The history of companion planting - informative speech topic possibilities

Click this link if you'd like more informative topic suggestions .  You'll find hundreds of them.

And this link to find out more about the 4 types of informative speeches : definition, description, demonstration and explanation. (Each with an example outline and topic suggestions.)  

Image - label - 4 Informative speech example outlines: definition, description, explanation, demonstration

Demonstration, demonstrative or 'how to' speeches

A demonstration speech is an extension of an informative process speech. It's a 'how to' speech, combining informing with demonstrating.

The topic process, (what the speech is about), could either be demonstrated live or shown using visual aids.

The goal of a demonstrative speech is to teach a complete process step by step.

It's found everywhere, all over the world: in corporate and vocational training rooms, school classrooms, university lecture theatres, homes, cafes... anywhere where people are either refreshing or updating their skills. Or learning new ones.

Knowing to how give a good demonstration or 'how to' speech is a very valuable skill to have, one appreciated by everybody.

Examples of 'how to' speech topics are:

  • how to braid long hair
  • how to change a car tire
  • how to fold table napkins
  • how to use the Heimlich maneuver
  • how to apply for a Federal grant
  • how to fill out a voting form
  • how to deal with customer complaints
  • how to close a sale
  • how to give medicine to your cat without being scratched to bits! 

Image: drawing of a very cute cat. Text: 10 minute demonstration speech topics - How to give a cat medicine without being scratched to bits.

Resources for demonstration speeches

1 . How to write a demonstration speech   Guidelines and suggestions covering:

  • choosing the best topic : one aligning with your own interests, the audience's, the setting for the speech and the time available to you
  • how to plan, prepare and deliver your speech - step by step guidelines for sequencing and organizing your material plus a printable blank demonstration speech outline for you to download and complete  
  • suggestions to help with delivery and rehearsal . Demonstration speeches can so easily lurch sideways into embarrassment. For example: forgetting a step while demonstrating a cake recipe which means it won't turn out as you want it to. Or not checking you've got everything you need to deliver your speech at the venue and finding out too late, the very public and hard way, that the lead on your laptop will not reach the only available wall socket. Result. You cannot show your images.

Image: label saying 'Demonstration speech sample outline. Plus video. How to leave a good voice mail message.

2.  Demonstration speech sample outline   This is a fully completed outline of a demonstration speech. The topic is 'how to leave an effective voice mail message' and  the sample covers the entire step by step sequence needed to do that.

There's a blank printable version of the outline template to download if you wish and a YouTube link to a recording of the speech.

3.  Demonstration speech topics   4 pages of 'how to' speech topic suggestions, all of them suitable for middle school and up.

Images x 3: cats, antique buttons, mannequins in a pond. Text: How to choose a pet, How to make jewelry from antique buttons, How to interpret modern art.

Persuasive speeches

The goal of a persuasive speech is to convince an audience to accept, or at the very least listen to and consider, the speaker's point of view.

To be successful the speaker must skillfully blend information about the topic, their opinion, reasons to support it and their desired course of action, with an understanding of how best to reach their audience.

Everyday examples of persuasive speeches

Common usages of persuasive speeches are:

  • what we say when being interviewed for a job
  • presenting a sales pitch to a customer
  • political speeches - politicians lobbying for votes,
  • values or issue driven speeches e.g., a call to boycott a product on particular grounds, a call to support varying human rights issues: the right to have an abortion, the right to vote, the right to breathe clean air, the right to have access to affordable housing and, so on.

Models of the persuasive process

The most frequently cited model we have for effective persuasion is thousands of years old.  Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, 384–322 BC , explained it as being supported by three pillars: ethos, pathos and logos. 

Image: Fresco from School of Aristotle by Gustav Spangenberg. Text: 3 pillars of persuasion - ethos, logos, pathos

Briefly, ethos is the reliability and credibility of the speaker. How qualified or experienced are they talk on the topic? Are they trustworthy? Should we believe them? Why?

Pathos is the passion, emotion or feeling you, the speaker, bring to the topic. It's the choice of language you use to trigger an emotional connection linking yourself, your topic and the audience together, in a way that supports your speech purpose.

(We see the echo of Pathos in words like empathy: the ability to understand and share the feels of another, or pathetic: to arouse feelings of pity through being vulnerable and sad.)

Logos is related to logic. Is the information we are being presented logical and rational? Is it verifiable? How is it supported? By studies, by articles, by endorsement from suitably qualified and recognized people?

To successfully persuade all three are needed. For more please see this excellent article:  Ethos, Pathos, Logos: 3 Pillars of Public Speaking and Persuasion 

Monroe's Motivated Sequence of persuasion

Another much more recent model is Monroe's Motivated Sequence based on the psychology of persuasion.

Image: a flow chart of the 5 steps of Monroes Motivated Sequence of persuasion.

It consists of five consecutive steps: attention, need, satisfaction, visualization and action and was developed in the 1930s by American Alan H Monroe, a lecturer in communications at Purdue University. The pattern is used extensively in advertising, social welfare and health campaigns.

Resources for persuasive speeches

1.   How to write a persuasive speech Step by step guidelines covering:

  • speech topic selection
  • setting speech goals
  • audience analysis
  • empathy and evidence
  • balance and obstacles
  • 4 structural patterns to choose from

2. A persuasive speech sample outline using Monroe's Motivated Sequence

3. An example persuasive speech written using Monroe's Motivated Sequence  

4.  Persuasive speech topics : 1032+ topic suggestions which includes 105 fun persuasive ideas , like the one below.☺ 

Image: a plate with the remains of a piece of chocolate cake. Text: Having your cake and eating it too is fair.

Special occasion or entertaining speeches

The range of these speeches is vast: from a call 'to say a few words' to delivering a lengthy formal address.

This is the territory where speeches to mark farewells, thanksgiving, awards, birthdays, Christmas, weddings, engagements and anniversaries dwell, along with welcome, introduction and thank you speeches, tributes, eulogies and commencement addresses. 

In short, any speech, either impromptu or painstakingly crafted, given to acknowledge a person, an achievement, or an event belongs here.

You'll find preparation guidelines, as well as examples of many special occasion speeches on my site.

Resources for special occasion speeches

How to prepare:

  • an acceptance speech , with an example acceptance speech 
  • a birthday speech , with ongoing links to example 18th, 40th and 50th birthday speeches
  • an office party Christmas speech , a template with an example speech
  • an engagement party toast , with 5 examples
  • a eulogy or funeral speech , with a printable eulogy planner and access to 70+ eulogy examples
  • a farewell speech , with an example (a farewell speech to colleagues)
  • a golden (50th) wedding anniversary speech , with an example speech from a husband to his wife
  • an impromptu speech , techniques and templates for impromptu speaking, examples of one minute impromptu speeches with a printable outline planner, plus impromptu speech topics for practice
  • an introduction speech for a guest speaker , with an example
  • an introduction speech for yourself , with an example
  • a maid of honor speech for your sister , a template, with an example
  • a retirement speech , with an example from a teacher leaving to her students and colleagues
  • a student council speech , a template, with an example student council president, secretary and treasurer speech
  • a Thanksgiving speech , a template, with an example toast
  • a thank you speech , a template, with an example speech expressing thanks for an award, also a business thank you speech template
  • a tribute (commemorative) speech , with a template and an example speech
  • a welcome speech for an event , a template, an example welcome speech for a conference, plus a printable welcome speech planner
  • a welcome speech for new comers to a church , a template with an example speech
  • a welcome speech for a new member to the family , a template with an example

Speech types often overlap

Because speakers and their speeches are unique, (different content, purposes, and audiences...), the four types often overlap. While a speech is generally based on one principal type it might also have a few of the features belonging to any of the others. 

For example, a speech may be mainly informative but to add interest, the speaker has used elements like a demonstration of some sort, persuasive language and the brand of familiar humor common in a special occasion speech where everybody knows each other well.

The result is an informative 'plus' type of speech. A hybrid! It's a speech that could easily be given by a long serving in-house company trainer to introduce and explain a new work process to employees.  

Related pages:

  • how to write a good speech . This is a thorough step by step walk through, with examples, of the general speech writing process. It's a great place to start if you're new to writing speeches. You'll get an excellent foundation to build on.
  • how to plan a speech - an overview of ALL the things that need to be considered before preparing an outline, with examples
  • how to outline a speech - an overview, with examples, showing how to structure a speech, with a free printable blank speech outline template to download
  • how to make and use cue cards  - note cards for extemporaneous speeches 
  • how to use props (visual aids)    

And for those who would like their speeches written for them:

  • commission me to write for you

Image: woman sitting at a writing desk circa 19th century. Text: Speech writer - a ghost writer who writes someone one's speech for them

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Chapter 9 Public Speaking

9.2 Types of Speeches

A man speaking to a group of women

In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with messages both good and bad. No matter where you live, where you work or go to school, or what kinds of media you use, you are probably exposed to hundreds. if not thousands, of advertising messages every day. Researcher Norman W. Edmund estimates that by 2020 the amount of knowledge in the world will double every seventy-three days (Edmund, 2005).

Christian Pierret –  Leader  – CC BY 2.0.

Because we live in a world where we are overwhelmed with content, communicating information in a way that is accessible to others is more important today than ever before. To help us further understand why public speaking is important, we will first examine public speaking in everyday life. We will then discuss how public speaking can benefit you personally.

Everyday Public Speaking

Every single day people across the United States and around the world stand up in front of some kind of audience and speak. In fact, there’s even a monthly publication that reproduces some of the top speeches from around the United States called  Vital Speeches of the Day  ( http://www.vsotd.com ). Although public speeches are of various types, they can generally be grouped into three categories based on their intended purpose: informative, persuasive, and entertaining.

Informative Speaking

One of the most common types of public speaking is  informative speaking . The primary purpose of informative presentations is to share one’s knowledge of a subject with an audience. Reasons for making an informative speech vary widely. For example, you might be asked to instruct a group of coworkers on how to use new computer software or to report to a group of managers how your latest project is coming along. A local community group might wish to hear about your volunteer activities in New Orleans during spring break, or your classmates may want you to share your expertise on Mediterranean cooking. What all these examples have in common is the goal of imparting information to an audience.

Informative speaking is integrated into many different occupations. Physicians often lecture about their areas of expertise to medical students, other physicians, and patients. Teachers find themselves presenting to parents as well as to their students. Firefighters give demonstrations about how to effectively control a fire in the house. Informative speaking is a common part of numerous jobs and other everyday activities. As a result, learning how to speak effectively has become an essential skill in today’s world.

Persuasive Speaking

A second common reason for speaking to an audience is to  persuade  others. In our everyday lives, we are often called on to convince, motivate, or otherwise persuade others to change their beliefs, take an action, or reconsider a decision. Advocating for music education in your local school district, convincing clients to purchase your company’s products, or inspiring high school students to attend college all involve influencing other people through public speaking.

For some people, such as elected officials, giving persuasive speeches is a crucial part of attaining and continuing career success. Other people make careers out of speaking to groups of people who pay to listen to them. Motivational authors and speakers, such as Les Brown ( http://www.lesbrown.com ), make millions of dollars each year from people who want to be motivated to do better in their lives. Brian Tracy, another professional speaker and author, specializes in helping business leaders become more productive and effective in the workplace ( http://www.briantracy.com ).

Whether public speaking is something you do every day or just a few times a year, persuading others is a challenging task. If you develop the skill to persuade effectively, it can be personally and professionally rewarding.

Entertaining Speaking

Entertaining speaking  involves an array of speaking occasions ranging from introductions to wedding toasts, to presenting and accepting awards, to delivering eulogies at funerals and memorial services in addition to after-dinner speeches and motivational speeches. Entertaining speaking has been important since the time of the ancient Greeks, when Aristotle identified epideictic speaking (speaking in a ceremonial context) as an important type of address. As with persuasive and informative speaking, there are professionals, from religious leaders to comedians, who make a living simply from delivering entertaining speeches. As anyone who has watched an awards show on television or has seen an incoherent best man deliver a wedding toast can attest, speaking to entertain is a task that requires preparation and practice to be effective.

Personal Benefits of Public Speaking

Oral communication skills were the number one skill that college graduates found useful in the business world, according to a study by sociologist Andrew Zekeri (Zekeri, 2004). That fact alone makes learning about public speaking worthwhile. However, there are many other benefits of communicating effectively for the hundreds of thousands of college students every year who take public speaking courses. Let’s take a look at some of the personal benefits you’ll get both from a course in public speaking and from giving public speeches.

Benefits of Public Speaking Courses

In addition to learning the process of creating and delivering an effective speech, students of public speaking leave the class with a number of other benefits as well. Some of these benefits include

  • developing critical thinking skills,
  • fine-tuning verbal and nonverbal skills,
  • overcoming fear of public speaking.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

One of the very first benefits you will gain from your public speaking course is an increased ability to think critically. Problem solving is one of many critical thinking skills you will engage in during this course. For example, when preparing a persuasive speech, you’ll have to think through real problems affecting your campus, community, or the world and provide possible solutions to those problems. You’ll also have to think about the positive and negative consequences of your solutions and then communicate your ideas to others. At first, it may seem easy to come up with solutions for a campus problem such as a shortage of parking spaces: just build more spaces. But after thinking and researching further you may find out that building costs, environmental impact from loss of green space, maintenance needs, or limited locations for additional spaces make this solution impractical. Being able to think through problems and analyze the potential costs and benefits of solutions is an essential part of critical thinking and of public speaking aimed at persuading others. These skills will help you not only in public speaking contexts but throughout your life as well. As we stated earlier, college graduates in Zekeri’s study rated oral communication skills as the most useful for success in the business world. The second most valuable skill they reported was problem-solving ability, so your public speaking course is doubly valuable!

Another benefit to public speaking is that it will enhance your ability to conduct and analyze research. Public speakers must provide credible evidence within their speeches if they are going to persuade various audiences. So your public speaking course will further refine your ability to find and utilize a range of sources.

Fine-Tuning Verbal and Nonverbal Skills

A second benefit of taking a public speaking course is that it will help you fine-tune your verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Whether you competed in public speaking in high school or this is your first time speaking in front of an audience, having the opportunity to actively practice communication skills and receive professional feedback will help you become a better overall communicator. Often, people don’t even realize that they twirl their hair or repeatedly mispronounce words while speaking in public settings until they receive feedback from a teacher during a public speaking course. People around the United States will often pay speech coaches over one hundred dollars per hour to help them enhance their speaking skills. You have a built-in speech coach right in your classroom, so it is to your advantage to use the opportunity to improve your verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

An additional benefit of taking a public speaking class is that it will help reduce your fear of public speaking. Whether they’ve spoken in public a lot or are just getting started, most people experience some anxiety when engaging in public speaking. Heidi Rose and Andrew Rancer evaluated students’ levels of public speaking anxiety during both the first and last weeks of their public speaking class and found that those levels decreased over the course of the semester (Rose & Rancer, 1993). One explanation is that people often have little exposure to public speaking. By taking a course in public speaking, students become better acquainted with the public speaking process, making them more confident and less apprehensive. In addition, you will learn specific strategies for overcoming the challenges of speech anxiety.

Comm 101 (Dutton) by [author removed at request of original publisher] is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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6.1 General Purposes of Speaking

Learning objectives.

  • Differentiate among the three types of general speech purposes.
  • Examine the basics of informative speech topics and some common forms of informative speeches.
  • Examine the basics of persuasive speech topics and some common forms of persuasive speeches.
  • Examine the basics of entertaining speech topics and some common forms of entertaining speeches.

A magnifying glass

Jeffrey Beall – Search! – CC BY-ND 2.0.

What do you think of when you hear the word “purpose”? Technically speaking, a purpose can be defined as why something exists, how we use an object, or why we make something. For the purposes of public speaking, all three can be applicable. For example, when we talk about a speech’s purpose, we can question why a specific speech was given; we can question how we are supposed to use the information within a speech; and we can question why we are personally creating a speech. For this specific chapter, we are more interested in that last aspect of the definition of the word “purpose”: why we give speeches.

Ever since scholars started writing about public speaking as a distinct phenomenon, there have been a range of different systems created to classify the types of speeches people may give. Aristotle talked about three speech purposes: deliberative (political speech), forensic (courtroom speech), and epideictic (speech of praise or blame). Cicero also talked about three purposes: judicial (courtroom speech), deliberative (political speech), and demonstrative (ceremonial speech—similar to Aristotle’s epideictic). A little more recently, St. Augustine of Hippo also wrote about three specific speech purposes: to teach (provide people with information), to delight (entertain people or show people false ideas), and to sway (persuade people to a religious ideology). All these systems of identifying public speeches have been attempts at helping people determine the general purpose of their speech. A general purpose refers to the broad goal in creating and delivering a speech.

These typologies or classification systems of public speeches serve to demonstrate that general speech purposes have remained pretty consistent throughout the history of public speaking. Modern public speaking scholars typically use a classification system of three general purposes: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain.

The first general purpose that some people have for giving speeches is to inform . Simply put, this is about helping audience members acquire information that they do not already possess. Audience members can then use this information to understand something (e.g., speech on a new technology, speech on a new virus) or to perform a new task or improve their skills (e.g., how to swing a golf club, how to assemble a layer cake). The most important characteristic of informative topics is that the goal is to gain knowledge. Notice that the goal is not to encourage people to use that knowledge in any specific way. When a speaker starts encouraging people to use knowledge in a specific way, he or she is no longer informing but is persuading.

Let’s look at a real example of how an individual can accidentally go from informing to persuading. Let’s say you are assigned to inform an audience about a new vaccination program. In an informative speech, the purpose of the speech is to explain to your audience what the program is and how it works. If, however, you start encouraging your audience to participate in the vaccination program, you are no longer informing them about the program but rather persuading them to become involved in the program. One of the most common mistakes new public speaking students make is to blur the line between informing and persuading.

Why We Share Knowledge

Knowledge sharing is the process of delivering information, skills, or expertise in some form to people who could benefit from it. In fact, understanding and exchanging knowledge is so important that an entire field of study, called knowledge management , has been created to help people (especially businesses) become more effective at harnessing and exchanging knowledge. In the professional world, sharing knowledge is becoming increasingly important. Every year, millions of people attend some kind of knowledge sharing conference or convention in hopes of learning new information or skills that will help them in their personal or professional lives (Atwood, 2009).

People are motivated to share their knowledge with other people for a variety of reasons (Hendriks, 1999). For some, the personal sense of achievement or of responsibility drives them to share their knowledge (internal motivational factors). Others are driven to share knowledge because of the desire for recognition or the possibility of job enhancement (external motivational factors). Knowledge sharing is an important part of every society, so learning how to deliver informative speeches is a valuable skill.

Common Types of Informative Topics

O’Hair, Stewart, and Rubenstein identified six general types of informative speech topics: objects, people, events, concepts, processes, and issues (O’Hair, et al., 2007). The first type of informative speech relates to objects, which can include how objects are designed, how they function, and what they mean. For example, a student of one of our coauthors gave a speech on the design of corsets, using a mannequin to demonstrate how corsets were placed on women and the amount of force necessary to lace one up.

The second type of informative speech focuses on people. People-based speeches tend to be biography-oriented. Such topics could include recounting an individual’s achievements and explaining why he or she is important in history. Some speakers, who are famous themselves, will focus on their own lives and how various events shaped who they ultimately became. Dottie Walters is most noted as being the first female in the United States to run an advertising agency. In addition to her work in advertising, Dottie also spent a great deal of time as a professional speaker. She often would tell the story about her early years in advertising when she would push around a stroller with her daughter inside as she went from business to business trying to generate interest in her copywriting abilities. You don’t have to be famous, however, to give a people-based speech. Instead, you could inform your audience about a historical or contemporary hero whose achievements are not widely known.

The third type of informative speech involves explaining the significance of specific events, either historical or contemporary. For example, you could deliver a speech on a specific battle of World War II or a specific presidential administration. If you’re a history buff, event-oriented speeches may be right up your alley. There are countless historical events that many people aren’t familiar with and would find interesting. You could also inform your audience about a more recent or contemporary event. Some examples include concerts, plays, and arts festivals; athletic competitions; and natural phenomena, such as storms, eclipses, and earthquakes. The point is to make sure that an informative speech is talking about the event (who, what, when, where, and why) and not attempting to persuade people to pass judgment upon the event or its effects.

The fourth type of informative speech involves concepts, or “abstract and difficult ideas or theories” (O’Hair, et al., 2007). For example, if you want to explain a specific communication theory, E. M. Griffin provides an excellent list of communication theories on his website, http://www.afirstlook.com/main.cfm/theory_list . Whether you want to discuss theories related to business, sociology, psychology, religion, politics, art, or any other major area of study, this type of speech can be very useful in helping people to understand complex ideas.

The fifth type of informative speech involves processes. The process speech can be divided into two unique types: how-it-functions and how-to-do. The first type of process speech helps audience members understand how a specific object or system works. For example, you could explain how a bill becomes a law in the United States. There is a very specific set of steps that a bill must go through before it becomes a law, so there is a very clear process that could be explained to an audience. The how-to-do speech, on the other hand, is designed to help people come to an end result of some kind. For example, you could give a speech on how to quilt, how to change a tire, how to write a résumé, and millions of other how-to oriented topics. In our experience, the how-to speech is probably the most commonly delivered informative speech in public speaking classes.

The final type of informative speech involves issues, or “problems or matters of dispute” (O’Hair, et al., 2007). This informative speech topic is probably the most difficult for novice public speakers because it requires walking a fine line between informing and persuading. If you attempt to deliver this type of speech, remember the goal is to be balanced when discussing both sides of the issue. To see an example of how you can take a very divisive topic and make it informative, check out the series Point/Counterpoint published by Chelsea House ( http://chelseahouse.infobasepublishing.com ). This series of books covers everything from the pros and cons of blogging to whether the United States should have mandatory military service.

Sample: Jessy Ohl’s Informative Speech

The following text represents an informative speech prepared and delivered by an undergraduate student named Jessy Ohl. While this speech is written out as a text for purposes of analysis, in your public speaking course, you will most likely be assigned to speak from an outline or notes, not a fully written script. As you read through this sample speech, notice how Ms. Ohl uses informative strategies to present the information without trying to persuade her audience.

In 1977, a young missionary named Daniel Everett traveled deep into the jungles of Brazil to spread the word of God. However, he soon found himself working to translate the language of a remote tribe that would ultimately change his faith, lead to a new profession, and pit him in an intellectual fistfight with the world-famous linguist Noam Chomsky. As New Scientist Magazine of January 2008 explains, Everett’s research on a small group of 350 people called the Pirahã tribe has revealed a language that has experts and intellectuals deeply disturbed. While all languages are unique, experts like Noam Chomsky have argued that they all have universal similarities, such as counting, that are hard-wired into the human brain. So as National Public Radio reported on April 8, 2007, without the ability to count, conceptualize time or abstraction, or create syntax, the Pirahã have a language that by all accounts shouldn’t exist. Daniel Everett is now a professor of linguistics at Illinois State University, and he has created controversy by calling for a complete reevaluation of all linguistic theory in light of the Pirahã. Exploration of the Pirahã could bring further insight into the understanding of how people communicate and even, perhaps, what it means to be human. Which is why we must: first, examine the unique culture of the Pirahã; second, explore what makes their language so surprising; and finally, discover the implications the Pirahã have for the way we look at language and humanity. Taking a closer look at the tribe’s culture, we can identify two key components of Pirahã culture that help mold language: first, isolation; and second, emphasis on reality. First, while globalization has reached nearly every corner of the earth, it has not been able to penetrate the Pirahã natives in the slightest. As Dr. Everett told the New Yorker of April 16, 2007, no group in history has resisted change like the Pirahã. “They reject everything from outside their world” as unnecessary and silly. Distaste for all things foreign is the reason why the people have rejected technology, farming, religion, and even artwork. The lack of artwork illustrates the second vital part of Pirahã culture: an emphasis on reality. According to the India Statesman of May 22, 2006, all Pirahã understanding is based around the concept of personal experience. If something cannot be felt, touched, or experienced directly then to them, it doesn’t exist, essentially eliminating the existence of abstract thought. Since art is often a representation of reality, it has no value among the people. During his work as a missionary, Everett was amazed to find that the natives had no interest in the story of Jesus once they found out that he was dead. The Pirahã psyche is so focused on the present that the people have no collective memory, history, written documents, or creation myths. They are unable to even remember the names of dead grandparents because once something or someone cannot be experienced, they are no longer important. Since his days as a missionary, Everett remains the only Western professor able to translate Pirahã. His research has discovered many things missing with the language: words for time, direction, and color. But more importantly, Pirahã also lacks three characteristics previously thought to be essential to all languages: complexity, counting, and recursion. First, the Pirahã language seems incredibly simple. Now, this isn’t meant to imply that the people are uncivilized or stupid, but instead, they are minimalist. As I mentioned earlier, they only talk in terms of direct experience. The London Times of January 13, 2007, notes that with only eight consonants and three vowels, speakers rely on the use of tone, pitch, and humming to communicate. In fact, Pirahã almost sounds more like song than speech.
Second, Noam Chomsky’s famous universal grammar theory includes the observation that every language has a means of counting. However, as reported in the June 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine , the Pirahã only have words for “one, two, and MANY.” This demonstrates the Pirahã’s inability to conceptualize a difference between three and five or three and a thousand. Dr. Everett spent six months attempting to teach even a single Pirahã person to count to ten, but his efforts were in vain, as tribal members considered the new numbers and attempts at math “childish.” Third, and the biggest surprise for researchers, is the Pirahã’s apparent lack of recursion. Recursion is the ability to link several thoughts together. It is characterized in Christine Kenneally’s 2007 book, The Search for the Origins of Language , as the fundamental principle of all language and the source of limitless expression. Pirahã is unique since the language does not have any conjunctions or linking words. Recursion is so vital for expression that the Chicago Tribune of June 11, 2007, reports that a language without recursion is like disproving gravity. Although the Pirahã don’t care what the outside world thinks of them, their language and world view has certainly ruffled feathers. And while civilization hasn’t been able to infiltrate the Pirahã, it may ultimately be the Pirahã that teaches civilization a thing or two, which brings us to implications on the communicative, philosophical, and cultural levels. By examining the culture, language, and implications of the Pirahã tribe we are able to see how this small Brazilian village could shift the way that we think and talk about the world. Daniel Everett’s research hasn’t made him more popular with his colleagues. But his findings do show that more critical research is needed to make sure that our understanding of language is not lost in translation.

To Persuade

The second general purpose people can have for speaking is to persuade . When we speak to persuade, we attempt to get listeners to embrace a point of view or to adopt a behavior that they would not have done otherwise. A persuasive speech can be distinguished from an informative speech by the fact that it includes a call for action for the audience to make some change in their behavior or thinking.

Why We Persuade

The reasons behind persuasive speech fall into two main categories, which we will call “pure persuasion” and “manipulative persuasion.” Pure persuasion occurs when a speaker urges listeners to engage in a specific behavior or change a point of view because the speaker truly believes that the change is in the best interest of the audience members. For example, you may decide to give a speech on the importance of practicing good oral hygiene because you truly believe that oral hygiene is important and that bad oral hygiene can lead to a range of physical, social, and psychological problems. In this case, the speaker has no ulterior or hidden motive (e.g., you are not a toothpaste salesperson).

Manipulative persuasion , on the other hand, occurs when a speaker urges listeners to engage in a specific behavior or change a point of view by misleading them, often to fulfill an ulterior motive beyond the face value of the persuasive attempt. We call this form of persuasion manipulative because the speaker is not being honest about the real purpose for attempting to persuade the audience. Ultimately, this form of persuasion is perceived as highly dishonest when audience members discover the ulterior motive. For example, suppose a physician who also owns a large amount of stock in a pharmaceutical company is asked to speak before a group of other physicians about a specific disease. Instead of informing the group about the disease, the doctor spends the bulk of his time attempting to persuade the audience that the drug his company manufactures is the best treatment for that specific disease.

Obviously, the key question for persuasion is the speaker’s intent. Is the speaker attempting to persuade the audience because of a sincere belief in the benefits of a certain behavior or point of view? Or is the speaker using all possible means—including distorting the truth—to persuade the audience because he or she will derive personal benefits from their adopting a certain behavior or point of view? Unless your speech assignment specifically calls for a speech of manipulative persuasion, the usual (and ethical) understanding of a “persuasive speech” assignment is that you should use the pure form of persuasion.

Persuasion: Behavior versus Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs

As we’ve mentioned in the preceding sections, persuasion can address behaviors—observable actions on the part of listeners—and it can also address intangible thought processes in the form of attitudes, values, and beliefs.

When the speaker attempts to persuade an audience to change behavior, we can often observe and even measure how successful the persuasion was. For example, after a speech attempting to persuade the audience to donate money to a charity, the charity can measure how many donations were received. The following is a short list of various behavior-oriented persuasive speeches we’ve seen in our own classes: washing one’s hands frequently and using hand sanitizer, adapting one’s driving habits to improve gas mileage, using open-source software, or drinking one soft drink or soda over another. In all these cases, the goal is to make a change in the basic behavior of audience members.

The second type of persuasive topic involves a change in attitudes, values, or beliefs. An attitude is defined as an individual’s general predisposition toward something as being good or bad, right or wrong, negative or positive. If you believe that dress codes on college campuses are a good idea, you want to give a speech persuading others to adopt a positive attitude toward campus dress codes.

A speaker can also attempt to persuade listeners to change some value they hold. Value refers to an individual’s perception of the usefulness, importance, or worth of something. We can value a college education, we can value technology, and we can value freedom. Values, as a general concept, are fairly ambiguous and tend to be very lofty ideas. Ultimately, what we value in life actually motivates us to engage in a range of behaviors. For example, if you value protecting the environment, you may recycle more of your trash than someone who does not hold this value. If you value family history and heritage, you may be more motivated to spend time with your older relatives and ask them about their early lives than someone who does not hold this value.

Lastly, a speaker can attempt to persuade people to change their personal beliefs. Beliefs are propositions or positions that an individual holds as true or false without positive knowledge or proof. Typically, beliefs are divided into two basic categories: core and dispositional. Core beliefs are beliefs that people have actively engaged in and created over the course of their lives (e.g., belief in a higher power, belief in extraterrestrial life forms). Dispositional beliefs , on the other hand, are beliefs that people have not actively engaged in; they are judgments based on related subjects, which people make when they encounter a proposition. Imagine, for example, that you were asked the question, “Can gorillas speak English?” While you may never have met a gorilla or even seen one in person, you can make instant judgments about your understanding of gorillas and fairly certainly say whether you believe that gorillas can speak English.

When it comes to persuading people to alter beliefs, persuading audiences to change core beliefs is more difficult than persuading audiences to change dispositional beliefs. If you find a topic related to dispositional beliefs, using your speech to help listeners alter their processing of the belief is a realistic possibility. But as a novice public speaker, you are probably best advised to avoid core beliefs. Although core beliefs often appear to be more exciting and interesting than dispositional ones, you are very unlikely to alter anyone’s core beliefs in a five- to ten-minute classroom speech.

Sample: Jessy Ohl’s Persuasive Speech

The following speech was written and delivered by an undergraduate student named Jessy Ohl. As with our earlier example, while this speech is written out as a text for purposes of analysis, in your public speaking course, you will most likely be assigned to speak from an outline or notes, not a fully written script.

Take a few minutes and compare this persuasive speech to the informative speech Ms. Ohl presented earlier in this chapter. What similarities do you see? What differences do you see? Does this speech seek to change the audience’s behavior? Attitudes? Values? Dispositional or core beliefs? Where in the speech do you see one or more calls for action?

With a declining population of around 6,000, my home town of Denison, Iowa, was on the brink of extinction when a new industry rolled in bringing jobs and revenue. However, as the Canadian Globe and Mail of July 23, 2007, reports, the industry that saved Denison may ultimately lead to its demise. Denison is one of 110 communities across the country to be revolutionized by the production of corn ethanol. Ethanol is a high-powered alcohol, derived from plant matter, that can be used like gasoline. According to the Omaha World Herald of January 8, 2008, our reliance on foreign oil combined with global warming concerns have many holding corn ethanol as our best energy solution. But despite the good intentions of helping farmers and lowering oil consumption, corn ethanol is filled with empty promises. In fact, The Des Moines Register of March 1, 2008, concludes that when ethanol is made from corn, all of its environmental and economic benefits disappear. With oil prices at 100 dollars per barrel, our nation is in an energy crisis, and luckily, the production of ethanol can be a major help for both farmers and consumers, if done correctly. Unfortunately, the way we make ethanol—over 95% from corn—is anything but correct. Although hailed as a magic bullet, corn ethanol could be the worst agricultural catastrophe since the Dust Bowl. The serious political, environmental, and even moral implications demand that we critically rethink this so-called yellow miracle by: first, examining the problems created by corn ethanol; second, exploring why corn ethanol has gained such power; and finally, discovering solutions to prevent a corn ethanol disaster. Now, if you have heard anything about the problems of corn ethanol, it probably dealt with efficiency. As the Christian Science Monitor of November 15, 2007, notes, it takes a gallon of gasoline or more to make a gallon of ethanol. And while this is an important concern, efficiency is the least of our worries. Turning this crop into fuel creates two major problems for our society: first, environmental degradation; and second, acceleration of global famine. First, corn ethanol damages the environment as much as, if not more than, fossil fuels. The journal Ethanol and Bio-diesel News of September 2007 asserts that the production of corn ethanol is pushing natural resources to the breaking point. Since the Dust Bowl, traditional farming practices have required farmers to “rotate” crops. But with corn ethanol being so profitable, understandably, farmers have stopped rotating crops, leading to soil erosion, deforestation, and fertilizer runoff—making our soil less fertile and more toxic. And the story only gets worse once the ethanol is manufactured. According to National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation of February 10, 2008, corn ethanol emits more carbon monoxide and twice the amount of carcinogens into the air as traditional gasoline. The second problem created from corn ethanol is the acceleration of global famine. According to the US Grains Council, last year, 27 million tons of corn, traditionally used as food, was turned into ethanol, drastically increasing food prices. The March 7, 2007, issue of The Wall Street Journal explains that lower supplies of corn needed for necessities such as farm feed, corn oil, and corn syrup have increased our food costs in everything from milk to bread, eggs, and even beer as much as 25 percent. The St. Louis Post Dispatch of April 12, 2007, reports that the amount of corn used to fill one tank of gas could feed one person for an entire year. In October, Global protests over corn ethanol lead the United Nations to call its production “a crime against humanity.” If you weren’t aware of the environmental or moral impacts of corn ethanol, you’re not alone. The Financial Times of May 27, 2007, reports that the narrative surrounding corn ethanol as a homegrown fuel is so desirable that critical thinking is understandably almost nonexistent. To start thinking critically about corn ethanol, we need to examine solutions on both the federal and personal levels. First, at the federal level, our government must end the ridiculously high subsidies surrounding corn ethanol. On June 24, 2007, The Washington Post predicted that subsidies on corn ethanol would cost the federal government an extra 131 billion dollars by 2010. This isn’t to say that the federal government should abandon small farmers. Instead, let’s take the excitement around alternative fuels and direct it toward the right kinds of ethanol. The Economist of June 2, 2007, reports that other materials such as switch grass and wood chips can be used instead of corn. And on July 6, 2011, The New York Times reported on ethanol made from corn cobs, leaves, and husks, which leaves the corn kernels to be used as food. The government could use the money paid in subsidies to support this kind of responsible production of ethanol. The point is that ethanol done right can honestly help with energy independence. On the personal level, we have all participated in the most important step, which is being knowledgeable about the true face of corn ethanol. However, with big business and Washington proclaiming corn ethanol’s greatness, we need to spread the word. So please, talk to friends and family about corn ethanol while there is still time. To make this easier, visit my website, at http://www.responsibleethanol.com . Here you will find informational materials, links to your congressional representatives, and ways to invest in switch grass and wood ethanol. Today, we examined the problems of corn ethanol in America and discovered solutions to make sure that our need for energy reform doesn’t sacrifice our morality. Iowa is turning so much corn into ethanol that soon the state will have to import corn to eat. And while my hometown of Denison has gained much from corn ethanol, we all have much more to lose from it.

To Entertain

The final general purpose people can have for public speaking is to entertain. Whereas informative and persuasive speech making is focused on the end result of the speech process, entertainment speaking is focused on the theme and occasion of the speech. An entertaining speech can be either informative or persuasive at its root, but the context or theme of the speech requires speakers to think about the speech primarily in terms of audience enjoyment.

Why We Entertain

Entertaining speeches are very common in everyday life. The fundamental goal of an entertaining speech is audience enjoyment, which can come in a variety of forms. Entertaining speeches can be funny or serious. Overall, entertaining speeches are not designed to give an audience a deep understanding of life but instead to function as a way to divert an audience from their day-to-day lives for a short period of time. This is not to say that an entertaining speech cannot have real content that is highly informative or persuasive, but its goal is primarily about the entertaining aspects of the speech and not focused on the informative or persuasive quality of the speech.

Common Forms of Entertainment Topics

There are three basic types of entertaining speeches: the after-dinner speech, the ceremonial speech, and the inspirational speech. The after-dinner speech is a form of speaking where a speaker takes a serious speech topic (either informative or persuasive) and injects a level of humor into the speech to make it entertaining. Some novice speakers will attempt to turn an after-dinner speech into a stand-up comedy routine, which doesn’t have the same focus (Roye, 2010). After-dinner speeches are first and foremost speeches.

A ceremonial speech is a type of entertaining speech where the specific context of the speech is the driving force of the speech. Common types of ceremonial speeches include introductions, toasts, and eulogies. In each of these cases, there are specific events that drive the speech. Maybe you’re introducing an individual who is about to receive an award, giving a toast at your best friend’s wedding, or delivering the eulogy at a relative’s funeral. In each of these cases, the speech and the purpose of the speech is determined by the context of the event and not by the desire to inform or persuade.

The final type of entertaining speech is one where the speaker’s primary goal is to inspire her or his audience. Inspirational speeches are based in emotion with the goal to motivate listeners to alter their lives in some significant way. Florence Littauer, a famous professional speaker, delivers an emotionally charged speech titled “Silver Boxes.” In the speech, Mrs. Littauer demonstrates how people can use positive comments to encourage others in their daily lives. The title comes from a story she tells at the beginning of the speech where she was teaching a group of children about using positive speech, and one of the children defined positive speech as giving people little silver boxes with bows on top ( http://server.firefighters.org/catalog/2009/45699.mp3 ).

Sample: Adam Fink’s Entertainment Speech

The following speech, by an undergraduate student named Adam Fink, is an entertainment speech. Specifically, this speech is a ceremonial speech given at Mr. Fink’s graduation. As with our earlier examples, while this speech is written out as a text for purposes of analysis, in your public speaking course you will most likely be assigned to speak from an outline or notes, not a fully written script. Notice that the tenor of this speech is persuasive but that it persuades in a more inspiring way than just building and proving an argument.

Good evening! I’ve spent the last few months looking over commencement speeches on YouTube. The most notable ones had eight things in common. They reflected on the past, pondered about the future. They encouraged the honorees. They all included some sort of personal story and application. They made people laugh at least fifteen times. They referred to the university as the finest university in the nation or world, and last but not least they all greeted the people in attendance. I’ll begin by doing so now. President Holst, thank you for coming. Faculty members and staff, salutations to you all. Distinguished guests, we are happy to have you. Family members and friends, we could not be here without you. Finally, ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2009, welcome to your commencement day here at Concordia University, Saint Paul, this, the finest university in the galaxy, nay, universe. Really, it’s right up there with South Harlem Institute of Technology, the School of Hard Knocks, and Harvard. Check and check! Graduates, we are not here to watch as our siblings, our parents, friends, or other family walk across this stage. We are here because today is our graduation day. I am going to go off on a tangent for a little bit. Over the past umpteen years, I have seen my fair share of graduations and ceremonies. In fact, I remember getting dragged along to my older brothers’ and sisters’ graduations, all 8,000 of them—at least it seems like there were that many now. Seriously, I have more family members than friends. I remember sitting here in these very seats, intently listening to the president and other distinguished guests speak, again saying welcome and thank you for coming. Each year, I got a little bit better at staying awake throughout the entire ceremony. Every time I would come up with something new to keep myself awake, daydreams, pinching my arms, or pulling leg hair; I was a very creative individual. I am proud to say that I have been awake for the entirety of this ceremony. I would like to personally thank my classmates and colleagues sitting around me for slapping me every time I even thought about dozing off. Personal story, check—and now, application! Graduates, don’t sleep through life. If you need a close friend or colleague to keep you awake, ask. Don’t get bored with life. In the words of one of my mentors, the Australian film director, screen writer, and producer Baz Luhrman, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Keep yourself on your toes. Stay occupied but leave room for relaxation; embrace your hobbies. Don’t get stuck in a job you hate. I am sure many of you have seen the “Did You Know?” film on YouTube. The film montages hundreds of statistics together, laying down the ground work to tell viewers that we are approaching a crossroad. The way we live is about to change dramatically. We are living in exponential times. It’s a good thing that we are exponential people.
We are at a crossing point here, now. Each of us is graduating; we are preparing to leave this place we have called home for the past few years. It’s time to move on and flourish. But let’s not leave this place for good. Let us walk away with happy memories. We have been fortunate enough to see more change in our time here than most alumni see at their alma mater in a lifetime. We have seen the destruction of Centennial, Minnesota, and Walther. Ladies, it might not mean a lot to you, but gentlemen, we had some good times there. We have seen the building and completion of the new Residence Life Center. We now see the beginnings of our very own stadium. We have seen enough offices and departments move to last any business a lifetime. Let us remember these things, the flooding of the knoll, Ultimate Frisbee beginning at ten o’clock at night, and two back-to-back Volleyball National Championship teams, with one of those championship games held where you are sitting now. I encourage all of you to walk out of this place with flashes of the old times flickering through your brains. Reflection, check! Honorees, in the words of Michael Scott, only slightly altered, “They have no idea how high [we] can fly.” Right now you are surrounded by future politicians, film critics, producers, directors, actors, actresses, church workers, artists, the teachers of tomorrow, musicians, people who will change the world. We are all held together right here and now, by a common bond of unity. We are one graduating class. In one of his speeches this year, President Barack Obama said, “Generations of Americans have connected their stories to the larger American story through service and helped move our country forward. We need that service now.” He is right. America needs selfless acts of service. Hebrews 10:23–25 reads, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Let us not leave this place as enemies but rather as friends and companions. Let us come back next fall for our first reunion, the Zero Class Reunion hosted by the wonderful and amazing workers in the alumni department. Let us go and make disciples of all nations, guided by His Word. Let us spread God’s peace, joy, and love through service to others. Congratulations, graduates! I hope to see you next homecoming. Encouragement, check!

Key Takeaways

  • There are three general purposes that all speeches fall into: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. Depending on what your ultimate goal is, you will start by picking one of these general purposes and then selecting an appropriate speech pattern that goes along with that general purpose.
  • Informative speeches can focus on objects, people, events, concepts, processes, or issues. It is important to remember that your purpose in an informative speech is to share information with an audience, not to persuade them to do or believe something.
  • There are two basic types of persuasion: pure and manipulative. Speakers who attempt to persuade others for pure reasons do so because they actually believe in what they are persuading an audience to do or think. Speakers who persuade others for manipulative reasons do so often by distorting the support for their arguments because they have an ulterior motive in persuading an audience to do or think something. If an audience finds out that you’ve been attempting to manipulate them, they will lose trust in you.
  • Entertainment speeches can be after-dinner, ceremonial, or inspirational. Although there may be informative or persuasive elements to your speech, your primary reason for giving the speech is to entertain the audience.
  • Imagine you’re giving a speech related to aardvarks to a group of fifth graders. Which type of informative speech do you think would be the most useful (objects, people, events, concepts, processes, and issues)? Why?
  • Imagine you’re giving a speech to a group of prospective voters supporting a specific political candidate. Which type of persuasive speech do you think would be the most useful (change of behavior, change of attitude, change of value, or change of belief)? Why?
  • Imagine that you’ve been asked to speak at a business luncheon and the host has asked you to keep it serious but lighthearted. Which type of entertainment speech do you think would be the most useful (the after-dinner speech, the ceremonial speech, or the inspirational speech)? Why?

Atwood, C. G. (2009). Knowledge management basics . Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Hendriks, P. (1999). Why share knowledge? The influence of ICT on the motivation for knowledge sharing. Knowledge and Process Management, 6 , 91–100.

O’Hair, D., Stewart, R., & Rubenstein, H. (2007). A speaker’s guidebook: Text and reference (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins.

Roye, S. (2010). Austan Goolsbee a funny stand-up comedian? Not even close… [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.realfirststeps.com/1184/austan-goolsbee-funny-standup-comedian-close

Stand up, Speak out Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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8.2: The Purposes of Public Speaking

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  • Keith Green, Ruth Fairchild, Bev Knudsen, & Darcy Lease-Gubrud
  • Ridgewater College via Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

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Learning Objectives

After completing this section, students should be able to:

  • describe how public speaking differs from Interpersonal Communication and Small Group Communication.
  • explain the societal value of public speaking.
  • explain the personal benefits to learning public speaking.
  • apply the traits of a good speech in creating and presenting a speech.
  • describe the general speech purposes.

The oldest form of public communication and the precursor to mass media is the simple act of one person rising and expressing their thoughts to the group. Public discourse is the foundation of society; it is how groups of people address and resolve differences collectively and peacefully. With the rise of democracy in Ancient Greece, the value of public speaking gained prominence. A citizen's ability to speak their mind in public was highly valued and a sign of civic engagement.

Although we have so many avenues to express ourselves, from in person to online, the ability to craft and share a thoughtful, intelligent message is still an important skill. For a person's career, civic involvement, and political engagement, becoming proficient in public speaking is a highly valuable.

Public speaking has three striking characteristics that set it off from interpersonal communication and small group communication.

image 1.jpg

Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Image 1

First, public speaking is the act of one person speaking to many . Instead of focusing on an interactive nature, public speaking focuses on one person, the speaker, developing and presenting a message to a group of individuals. Second, public speaking is a more formal presentation, meaning it is bound by specific strategies and techniques. Good public speaking requires more planning, development, and self-reflexiveness, than the other two contexts. Third, in the other two contexts, we see all members communicating from a position of shared, equal responsibility. In public speaking, the speaker bears more responsibility as the message is one-directional, and the feedback the speaker receives from the audience is subtler, such as facial expressions, body posture, and fidgeting. Public speaking is still an interaction, just like interpersonal and small group, but the responsibility for success is less balanced with more responsibility being placed on the speaker.

Given the fear that most people have of public speaking, it is reasonable to ask why we engage in such an intimidating process. The fear of public speaking is common, often ranked as one of the top fears we have. A Gallup poll from 2001 found that 40% of respondents listed public speaking as their greatest fear, second only to a fear of snakes. Given a choice, people preferred dying over giving a speech. Even with this high degree of anxiety, public speaking retains a valuable place in our culture for several reasons.

Societal Functions

Public speaking has a long, illustrious history in the United States. The very formation of the U.S. political system and society is firmly rooted in wise people speaking their minds in public settings, engaging in spirited debate and discussion, and working collaboratively to find the best path for the country. Our country is founded on the premise that individuals, working together, can govern themselves. Public speaking is the tool by which this process occurs.

Public speaking allows for the relatively quick dissemination of information to a group of individuals.

If a person has much to share with a group, presenting the information via public speaking can be a fast process. A classroom lecture is a typical example. However, a question that begs to be asked is how effective such dissemination is in achieving this goal. In lecture, approximately 5-15% of the material is retained by the student; hence, the speaker (the teacher in this case) must realize this limitation and be willing to use public speaking as a starting point, using other follow up methods to enhance retention of the information.

image 2.jpg

Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Image 2

Public speaking allows individuals or groups to attempt to bring about social or political change.

We have a long history in this country of using our freedom of speech to change what we don't like. The women's movement and the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, and the TEA party movement of the early 21st century are examples of such a process occurring. Individuals see something happening around them they do not like, and they use public speaking to make others aware of the problem and advocate a way to change the situation.

Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Image 3

Public speaking allows communities to express common goals, concerns, and values.

We see speeches of commemoration at Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, and the Fourth of July. The speeches remind us of who we are as a nation, and they express common values. Attending a Sunday sermon is the same. Churches, mosques, and synagogues exist for a group of individuals to share common values and worldviews. The sermon is the central feature which pulls the community members together, the faith leader giving voice to that common world view.

Public speaking allows members of a democratic society, such as the United States, to actively debate issues of concern.

We tend to take for granted our First Amendment right to openly and clearly disagree with our governmental structures on issues of concern. We have the legal right, and obligation some would say, to speak out in opposition to those things with which we disagree. Except for advocating violence, we can speak out against our mayors, governors, and presidents, and no one has the right to squelch our voice. When we speak out in a public forum, we are participating in the process of self-governance by exercising our freedom of speech.

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Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Image 4

Personal Benefits

In addition, to the role of public speaking in our American society, becoming competent as a public speaker benefits us personally.

Managing Anxiety

Given the anxiety about public speaking, and our need to confront and manage that anxiety, we build self-confidence. Accepting and working with our speech anxiety gives us experience in facing situations in which we are being judged and evaluated. Learning how to confront fear in public speaking gives us tools to use to confront fears in other situations as well.

Managing Our Self-Presentation

We learn to monitor and manage our self-presentation. Since the vast majority of communication occurs nonverbally, a competent public speaker knows how to manage their entire physical package to present themselves most effectively, confidently, and powerfully. Just as with confronting our anxiety, being able to self-reflexively manage our self-presentation carries over into all aspects of our professional and personal lives. Although talent and ability is a significant part of career success, communication ability sets people off as especially competent and professional. The ability to engage in effective self-presentation can be a deciding factor in getting a job, being successful in the job, and advancing in our careers.

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Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Image 5

Packaging Information for Others

We learn how to package information to benefit others. Good speakers are highly receiver-oriented. We are very concerned about giving thoughtful, well organized, easily followed, and engaging presentations. The ability to create messages fitting these standards will serve any of us well in a variety of professional and personal settings. Many people have good ideas, but not everyone can communicate them well to others. In public speaking, we learn how to package our message to best fit the audience we have at the moment.

Unfortunately, for most people our exposure to public speaking has left us with a distorted view of what makes a "good" speech. Virtually anytime we ask a class, "What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of listening to a speech," the answer is "boring." This does not have to be the case; it is the job of the speaker to make choices that directly influence how interesting or boring a speech is going to be.

As speakers, we have the obligation and ability to choose how effectively and dynamically we will present ourselves and the information to the audience. We can give interesting, dynamic, energetic, and engaging speeches. Each of us has experienced teachers who were boring and monotone, but we have also experienced teachers who were dynamic and energetic. The latter group chose to make the speeches (lectures) more interesting. To make a speech more interesting and effective, we need to understand what makes a good speech:

  • A good speech is well structured and signposted to enhance clarity and memory value. A good speech is organized and easily followed with clear, obvious transitions. Our job as speakers is to present a message clearly and thoughtfully, and clear structure facilitates that.
  • A good speech sounds like "organized conversation." The phrase is meant to invoke the image of a speaker presenting naturally and comfortably; just talking to the audience, in an organized, easily followed manner.
  • A good speech has a purpose, clear to the audience and to which the speaker adheres. Good speakers make their purpose clear and they fulfill that. They do not wander, drift about, shift purposes, or mislead the audience. They do not start off informing the audience, and then suddenly shift to persuasion.
  • A good speaker is active, not passive. Too many speakers, especially novice speakers, tend to use the "open my mouth, let the words fall out" approach to speaking. This thoughtless approach to public speaking is not very effective. Good speakers make choices, determining throughout their speech the best strategy for the given audience. Through the preparation and practice process, we make decisions based on what we think will increase the likelihood of success. Such strategic thinking requires careful consideration of the topic, the audience, the speaker, and knowledge of the interaction of these three components.
  • A good speaker works to create immediacy with the audience. Immediacy is a sense of connection; that the speaker, the topic, and the audience are all working together . Good speakers see a speech as a time to share a message with an audience, building a bridge between the speaker and the audience. Too often novice speakers see the audience as a barrier to success, a collective of judgmental individuals out to embarrass the speaker. However, that is simply not true of most audiences. Audiences want the speech to be good because it validates the time spent listening, it is more enjoyable, and it simply makes the time go faster. If a speaker taps into the audience's interests and personality, they can be quite effective in engaging the audience. Such engagement does not happen automatically; it is the result of thoughtful planning and preparation.

Video \(\PageIndex{1}\): Video 1 youtu.be/i0a61wFaF8A

The public speaking situation is quite different from interpersonal communication and small group communication. The degree of advanced planning, of conscious decision making, and of communicator responsibility is much higher when giving a speech. We have been taught when a person goes to the front of the room to speak, the speaker is now "in charge" of the event. We must meet that expectation, take charge of the event, and fulfill our responsibilities for success. Speeches are only as good as the audience thinks they are; the speaker must rise to the challenge of presenting a good speech.

When developing a speech, we need to know why we are speaking. Even before considering the topic, we need to know if our purpose is to inform, to persuade, to entertain, or if it is a special occasion.

Speeches to Inform

Speeches to inform are those in which we are aiming to enlighten or to further educate the audience, but in an objective, non-directive manner. We provide the information about the topic to the audience, but we are not directing the audience to believe, feel, or act in a specific manner. There are three types of informative speeches.

  • Report speech . A speech to report is one in which we take a single body of information, analyze it for the important points, then present a summary of those important points . This is common in a business setting. For example, if ACME Industries is considering making and selling a new product, various divisions will do research to determine the likelihood of the product being a success and profitable. Once this feasibility research is done and compiled into a single report, a single person or a group will then present the key findings to the management so they can decide on the course of action to take.
  • Demonstration speech . These are classic "how to" speeches, usually arranged in a step-by-step pattern. For example, Mary may give a speech on how to be creative with Ramen noodles. She will progress, chronologically, through a series of steps the audience can then follow on their own.
  • Explanation speech . Speeches of explanation are presentations drawing from multiple sources, designed to generally enlighten the audience about a given topic. They are not designed to show how to do something, but are for generally increasing the audience's knowledge about the topic. Instead of speaking on how to make Ramen noodles, Mary may explain how good nutrition aids classroom performance in college.

Speeches to Persuade

Speeches to persuade are those in which we are aiming to influence the audience in some fashion. They are subjective and highly directive. The speaker has a bias toward a specific belief, attitude, or action, and the speaker works to direct the audience in what to believe, what opinion to have, or what action to undertake.

In persuasion, the issue of ethics becomes paramount. Some students erroneously believe that speakers always have to give both sides of the issue to be ethical, but that is not true. When Lisa shops for a car, she knows the salesperson is out to persuade her to buy; thus, she expects messages designed to urge her to that action. As long as the salesperson gives accurate, verifiable, and truthful information, there is no ethical violation.

It is our job to provide the audience with the most accurate information we can find, and to present that information honestly, not distorting it. We must cite our sources to give due credit, and the topic should be one that can be justified as beneficial to the audience, not just to the speaker.

There are three types of persuasive speeches.

  • Persuasive speeches to influence beliefs . A belief is what we hold to be true or false . For example, the knowledge that the Earth rotates around the sun is a belief; we believe it to be factual information. The idea that smoking can cause cancer is a belief. If we try to persuade the audience consuming too much fat can cause colon cancer, we are trying to get the audience to believe what is true or false about the impact of fat in our diets.
  • Persuasive speeches to influence attitudes . We attempt to influence how an audience judges an event or idea; the speaker is trying to influence the audience's opinion of something. For these speeches, the speaker is attempting to make the audience think of the topic on a scale of good to bad, or desirable to not desirable. To argue the Governor of Minnesota is doing a good job (or a bad job) is an attempt to influence an attitude or opinion. With statements like these it is not a matter of true or false, black or white. It is a matter of placing the Governor on a range of opinion from highly positive to highly negative.
  • Persuasive speeches of actuation (or action) . We try to get the audience to engage in a specific behavior. Advertising is a prime example. We are asked to have a positive opinion of a product, and then to act by purchasing.

The three types of persuasive speeches build on each other. If Yousef is going to give a speech of actuation calling for the audience to donate blood during Ridgewater College's annual blood drive, he will need to show the audience there is a need for blood (a belief), that donating blood is a good thing to do (an attitude), and how to participate in the blood drive (an action).

Speeches to Entertain

Although not commonly done in an introductory Communication Studies class, there is a third general speech purpose: a speech to entertain. We would hope all speeches are entertaining in some fashion, whether through humor, interest, or seriousness, so the audience found the speech engaging and intriguing. A true speech to entertain, however, is one in which the primary focus is to generate laughter. In other words, they are speeches intended to be funny.

These are still speeches in that they are organized, have a clear structure, and flow well, but they have as their overall goal the creation of laughter in the audience. The speaker usually has an underlying serious informative or persuasive point, but it is explored and developed through the use of humor. Commencement addresses, especially by those delivered by comedians or comic actors, like Tom Hanks, are typically structured this way. The speaker has a serious point to make but develops it in a humorous manner. These are common at events such as celebratory dinners or awards banquets.

Special Occasion Speeches

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Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Image 6 Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Image 7 Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Image 8

A special occasion speech is just what the name states: speeches given at special events. This is actually a very common type of speaking. Special occasion speeches are designed to fit the specific event at which they are being given. While each one has its own unique guidelines, the key point is to develop the speech consistent with that occasion.

Some common special occasion speeches include:

Eulogy : a speech given at a funeral or memorial service to honor the deceased.

Introduction : a speech given to introduce a speaker to an audience.

Toast : a speech given honoring a person or group, such as a wedding toast.

Giving an Award : a speech given to bestow an honor on a person.

Accepting an Award : a speech given to communicate appreciation for an award.

Commencement: a speech given at a graduation, typically addressing the past (the work done to acheive the goal) and the future (challenging the graduates to learn more, help others, get involved in social issues, or otherwise continue personal growth).

Generally special occasion speeches are fairly short and focused on the event at hand. Humor is commonly used, even with many eulogies, but only when appropriate for the event and audience.

The terms and concepts students should be familiar with from this section include:

The Nature of Public Speaking

The Value of Public Speaking

  • Societal functions
  • Personal benefits

A Good Speech

General Speech Purposes

  • to demonstrate
  • To entertain
  • Introduction
  • Giving an Award
  • Accepting an Award
  • Commencement

Gallup. ( 2001, March 19). Snakes Top List of Americans' Fears. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/1891/snak...ans-fears.aspx


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, understanding the 8 parts of speech: definitions and examples.

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General Education


If you’re trying to learn the grammatical rules of English, you’ve probably been asked to learn the parts of speech. But what are parts of speech and how many are there? How do you know which words are classified in each part of speech?

The answers to these questions can be a bit complicated—English is a difficult language to learn and understand. Don’t fret, though! We’re going to answer each of these questions for you with a full guide to the parts of speech that explains the following:

  • What the parts of speech are, including a comprehensive parts of speech list
  • Parts of speech definitions for the individual parts of speech. (If you’re looking for information on a specific part of speech, you can search for it by pressing Command + F, then typing in the part of speech you’re interested in.) 
  • Parts of speech examples
  • A ten question quiz covering parts of speech definitions and parts of speech examples

We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s begin!

Feature Image: (Gavina S / Wikimedia Commons)


What Are Parts of Speech? 

The parts of speech definitions in English can vary, but here’s a widely accepted one: a part of speech is a category of words that serve a similar grammatical purpose in sentences.  

To make that definition even simpler, a part of speech is just a category for similar types of words . All of the types of words included under a single part of speech function in similar ways when they’re used properly in sentences.

In the English language, it’s commonly accepted that there are 8 parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, interjections, and prepositions. Each of these categories plays a different role in communicating meaning in the English language. Each of the eight parts of speech—which we might also call the “main classes” of speech—also have subclasses. In other words, we can think of each of the eight parts of speech as being general categories for different types within their part of speech . There are different types of nouns, different types of verbs, different types of adjectives, adverbs, pronouns...you get the idea. 

And that’s an overview of what a part of speech is! Next, we’ll explain each of the 8 parts of speech—definitions and examples included for each category. 


There are tons of nouns in this picture. Can you find them all? 

Nouns are a class of words that refer, generally, to people and living creatures, objects, events, ideas, states of being, places, and actions. You’ve probably heard English nouns referred to as “persons, places, or things.” That definition is a little simplistic, though—while nouns do include people, places, and things, “things” is kind of a vague term. I t’s important to recognize that “things” can include physical things—like objects or belongings—and nonphysical, abstract things—like ideas, states of existence, and actions. 

Since there are many different types of nouns, we’ll include several examples of nouns used in a sentence while we break down the subclasses of nouns next!

Subclasses of Nouns, Including Examples

As an open class of words, the category of “nouns” has a lot of subclasses. The most common and important subclasses of nouns are common nouns, proper nouns, concrete nouns, abstract nouns, collective nouns, and count and mass nouns. Let’s break down each of these subclasses!

Common Nouns and Proper Nouns

Common nouns are generic nouns—they don’t name specific items. They refer to people (the man, the woman), living creatures (cat, bird), objects (pen, computer, car), events (party, work), ideas (culture, freedom), states of being (beauty, integrity), and places (home, neighborhood, country) in a general way. 

Proper nouns are sort of the counterpart to common nouns. Proper nouns refer to specific people, places, events, or ideas. Names are the most obvious example of proper nouns, like in these two examples: 

Common noun: What state are you from?

Proper noun: I’m from Arizona .

Whereas “state” is a common noun, Arizona is a proper noun since it refers to a specific state. Whereas “the election” is a common noun, “Election Day” is a proper noun. Another way to pick out proper nouns: the first letter is often capitalized. If you’d capitalize the word in a sentence, it’s almost always a proper noun. 

Concrete Nouns and Abstract Nouns

Concrete nouns are nouns that can be identified through the five senses. Concrete nouns include people, living creatures, objects, and places, since these things can be sensed in the physical world. In contrast to concrete nouns, abstract nouns are nouns that identify ideas, qualities, concepts, experiences, or states of being. Abstract nouns cannot be detected by the five senses. Here’s an example of concrete and abstract nouns used in a sentence: 

Concrete noun: Could you please fix the weedeater and mow the lawn ?

Abstract noun: Aliyah was delighted to have the freedom to enjoy the art show in peace .

See the difference? A weedeater and the lawn are physical objects or things, and freedom and peace are not physical objects, though they’re “things” people experience! Despite those differences, they all count as nouns. 

Collective Nouns, Count Nouns, and Mass Nouns

Nouns are often categorized based on number and amount. Collective nouns are nouns that refer to a group of something—often groups of people or a type of animal. Team , crowd , and herd are all examples of collective nouns. 

Count nouns are nouns that can appear in the singular or plural form, can be modified by numbers, and can be described by quantifying determiners (e.g. many, most, more, several). For example, “bug” is a count noun. It can occur in singular form if you say, “There is a bug in the kitchen,” but it can also occur in the plural form if you say, “There are many bugs in the kitchen.” (In the case of the latter, you’d call an exterminator...which is an example of a common noun!) Any noun that can accurately occur in one of these singular or plural forms is a count noun. 

Mass nouns are another type of noun that involve numbers and amount. Mass nouns are nouns that usually can’t be pluralized, counted, or quantified and still make sense grammatically. “Charisma” is an example of a mass noun (and an abstract noun!). For example, you could say, “They’ve got charisma, ” which doesn’t imply a specific amount. You couldn’t say, “They’ve got six charismas, ” or, “They’ve got several charismas .” It just doesn’t make sense! 


Verbs are all about action...just like these runners. 

A verb is a part of speech that, when used in a sentence, communicates an action, an occurrence, or a state of being . In sentences, verbs are the most important part of the predicate, which explains or describes what the subject of the sentence is doing or how they are being. And, guess what? All sentences contain verbs!

There are many words in the English language that are classified as verbs. A few common verbs include the words run, sing, cook, talk, and clean. These words are all verbs because they communicate an action performed by a living being. We’ll look at more specific examples of verbs as we discuss the subclasses of verbs next!

Subclasses of Verbs, Including Examples

Like nouns, verbs have several subclasses. The subclasses of verbs include copular or linking verbs, intransitive verbs, transitive verbs, and ditransitive or double transitive verbs. Let’s dive into these subclasses of verbs!

Copular or Linking Verbs

Copular verbs, or linking verbs, are verbs that link a subject with its complement in a sentence. The most familiar linking verb is probably be. Here’s a list of other common copular verbs in English: act, be, become, feel, grow, seem, smell, and taste. 

So how do copular verbs work? Well, in a sentence, if we said, “Michi is ,” and left it at that, it wouldn’t make any sense. “Michi,” the subject, needs to be connected to a complement by the copular verb “is.” Instead, we could say, “Michi is leaving.” In that instance, is links the subject of the sentence to its complement. 

Transitive Verbs, Intransitive Verbs, and Ditransitive Verbs

Transitive verbs are verbs that affect or act upon an object. When unattached to an object in a sentence, a transitive verb does not make sense. Here’s an example of a transitive verb attached to (and appearing before) an object in a sentence: 

Please take the clothes to the dry cleaners.

In this example, “take” is a transitive verb because it requires an object—”the clothes”—to make sense. “The clothes” are the objects being taken. “Please take” wouldn’t make sense by itself, would it? That’s because the transitive verb “take,” like all transitive verbs, transfers its action onto another being or object. 

Conversely, intransitive verbs don’t require an object to act upon in order to make sense in a sentence. These verbs make sense all on their own! For instance, “They ran ,” “We arrived ,” and, “The car stopped ” are all examples of sentences that contain intransitive verbs. 

Finally, ditransitive verbs, or double transitive verbs, are a bit more complicated. Ditransitive verbs are verbs that are followed by two objects in a sentence . One of the objects has the action of the ditransitive verb done to it, and the other object has the action of the ditransitive verb directed towards it. Here’s an example of what that means in a sentence: 

I cooked Nathan a meal.

In this example, “cooked” is a ditransitive verb because it modifies two objects: Nathan and meal . The meal has the action of “cooked” done to it, and “Nathan” has the action of the verb directed towards him. 


Adjectives are descriptors that help us better understand a sentence. A common adjective type is color.

#3: Adjectives

Here’s the simplest definition of adjectives: adjectives are words that describe other words . Specifically, adjectives modify nouns and noun phrases. In sentences, adjectives appear before nouns and pronouns (they have to appear before the words they describe!). 

Adjectives give more detail to nouns and pronouns by describing how a noun looks, smells, tastes, sounds, or feels, or its state of being or existence. . For example, you could say, “The girl rode her bike.” That sentence doesn’t have any adjectives in it, but you could add an adjective before both of the nouns in the sentence—”girl” and “bike”—to give more detail to the sentence. It might read like this: “The young girl rode her red bike.”   You can pick out adjectives in a sentence by asking the following questions: 

  • Which one? 
  • What kind? 
  • How many? 
  • Whose’s? 

We’ll look at more examples of adjectives as we explore the subclasses of adjectives next!

Subclasses of Adjectives, Including Examples

Subclasses of adjectives include adjective phrases, comparative adjectives, superlative adjectives, and determiners (which include articles, possessive adjectives, and demonstratives). 

Adjective Phrases

An adjective phrase is a group of words that describe a noun or noun phrase in a sentence. Adjective phrases can appear before the noun or noun phrase in a sentence, like in this example: 

The extremely fragile vase somehow did not break during the move.

In this case, extremely fragile describes the vase. On the other hand, adjective phrases can appear after the noun or noun phrase in a sentence as well: 

The museum was somewhat boring. 

Again, the phrase somewhat boring describes the museum. The takeaway is this: adjective phrases describe the subject of a sentence with greater detail than an individual adjective. 

Comparative Adjectives and Superlative Adjectives

Comparative adjectives are used in sentences where two nouns are compared. They function to compare the differences between the two nouns that they modify. In sentences, comparative adjectives often appear in this pattern and typically end with -er. If we were to describe how comparative adjectives function as a formula, it might look something like this: 

Noun (subject) + verb + comparative adjective + than + noun (object).

Here’s an example of how a comparative adjective would work in that type of sentence: 

The horse was faster than the dog.

The adjective faster compares the speed of the horse to the speed of the dog. Other common comparative adjectives include words that compare distance ( higher, lower, farther ), age ( younger, older ), size and dimensions ( bigger, smaller, wider, taller, shorter ), and quality or feeling ( better, cleaner, happier, angrier ). 

Superlative adjectives are adjectives that describe the extremes of a quality that applies to a subject being compared to a group of objects . Put more simply, superlative adjectives help show how extreme something is. In sentences, superlative adjectives usually appear in this structure and end in -est : 

Noun (subject) + verb + the + superlative adjective + noun (object).

Here’s an example of a superlative adjective that appears in that type of sentence: 

Their story was the funniest story. 

In this example, the subject— story —is being compared to a group of objects—other stories. The superlative adjective “funniest” implies that this particular story is the funniest out of all the stories ever, period. Other common superlative adjectives are best, worst, craziest, and happiest... though there are many more than that! 

It’s also important to know that you can often omit the object from the end of the sentence when using superlative adjectives, like this: “Their story was the funniest.” We still know that “their story” is being compared to other stories without the object at the end of the sentence.


The last subclass of adjectives we want to look at are determiners. Determiners are words that determine what kind of reference a noun or noun phrase makes. These words are placed in front of nouns to make it clear what the noun is referring to. Determiners are an example of a part of speech subclass that contains a lot of subclasses of its own. Here is a list of the different types of determiners: 

  • Definite article: the
  • Indefinite articles : a, an 
  • Demonstratives: this, that, these, those
  • Pronouns and possessive determiners: my, your, his, her, its, our, their
  • Quantifiers : a little, a few, many, much, most, some, any, enough
  • Numbers: one, twenty, fifty
  • Distributives: all, both, half, either, neither, each, every
  • Difference words : other, another
  • Pre-determiners: such, what, rather, quite

Here are some examples of how determiners can be used in sentences: 

Definite article: Get in the car.  

Demonstrative: Could you hand me that magazine?  

Possessive determiner: Please put away your clothes. 

Distributive: He ate all of the pie. 

Though some of the words above might not seem descriptive, they actually do describe the specificity and definiteness, relationship, and quantity or amount of a noun or noun phrase. For example, the definite article “the” (a type of determiner) indicates that a noun refers to a specific thing or entity. The indefinite article “an,” on the other hand, indicates that a noun refers to a nonspecific entity. 

One quick note, since English is always more complicated than it seems: while articles are most commonly classified as adjectives, they can also function as adverbs in specific situations, too. Not only that, some people are taught that determiners are their own part of speech...which means that some people are taught there are 9 parts of speech instead of 8! 

It can be a little confusing, which is why we have a whole article explaining how articles function as a part of speech to help clear things up . 


Adverbs can be used to answer questions like "when?" and "how long?"

Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives (including determiners), clauses, prepositions, and sentences. Adverbs typically answer the questions how?, in what way?, when?, where?, and to what extent? In answering these questions, adverbs function to express frequency, degree, manner, time, place, and level of certainty . Adverbs can answer these questions in the form of single words, or in the form of adverbial phrases or adverbial clauses. 

Adverbs are commonly known for being words that end in -ly, but there’s actually a bit more to adverbs than that, which we’ll dive into while we look at the subclasses of adverbs!

Subclasses Of Adverbs, Including Examples

There are many types of adverbs, but the main subclasses we’ll look at are conjunctive adverbs, and adverbs of place, time, manner, degree, and frequency. 

Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs look like coordinating conjunctions (which we’ll talk about later!), but they are actually their own category: conjunctive adverbs are words that connect independent clauses into a single sentence . These adverbs appear after a semicolon and before a comma in sentences, like in these two examples: 

She was exhausted; nevertheless , she went for a five mile run. 

They didn’t call; instead , they texted.  

Though conjunctive adverbs are frequently used to create shorter sentences using a semicolon and comma, they can also appear at the beginning of sentences, like this: 

He chopped the vegetables. Meanwhile, I boiled the pasta.  

One thing to keep in mind is that conjunctive adverbs come with a comma. When you use them, be sure to include a comma afterward! 

There are a lot of conjunctive adverbs, but some common ones include also, anyway, besides, finally, further, however, indeed, instead, meanwhile, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, now, otherwise, similarly, then, therefore, and thus.  

Adverbs of Place, Time, Manner, Degree, and Frequency

There are also adverbs of place, time, manner, degree, and frequency. Each of these types of adverbs express a different kind of meaning. 

Adverbs of place express where an action is done or where an event occurs. These are used after the verb, direct object, or at the end of a sentence. A sentence like “She walked outside to watch the sunset” uses outside as an adverb of place. 

Adverbs of time explain when something happens. These adverbs are used at the beginning or at the end of sentences. In a sentence like “The game should be over soon,” soon functions as an adverb of time. 

Adverbs of manner describe the way in which something is done or how something happens. These are the adverbs that usually end in the familiar -ly.  If we were to write “She quickly finished her homework,” quickly is an adverb of manner. 

Adverbs of degree tell us the extent to which something happens or occurs. If we were to say “The play was quite interesting,” quite tells us the extent of how interesting the play was. Thus, quite is an adverb of degree.  

Finally, adverbs of frequency express how often something happens . In a sentence like “They never know what to do with themselves,” never is an adverb of frequency. 

Five subclasses of adverbs is a lot, so we’ve organized the words that fall under each category in a nifty table for you here: 

It’s important to know about these subclasses of adverbs because many of them don’t follow the old adage that adverbs end in -ly. 


Here's a helpful list of pronouns. (Attanata / Flickr )

#5: Pronouns

Pronouns are words that can be substituted for a noun or noun phrase in a sentence . Pronouns function to make sentences less clunky by allowing people to avoid repeating nouns over and over. For example, if you were telling someone a story about your friend Destiny, you wouldn’t keep repeating their name over and over again every time you referred to them. Instead, you’d use a pronoun—like they or them—to refer to Destiny throughout the story. 

Pronouns are typically short words, often only two or three letters long. The most familiar pronouns in the English language are they, she, and he. But these aren’t the only pronouns. There are many more pronouns in English that fall under different subclasses!

Subclasses of Pronouns, Including Examples

There are many subclasses of pronouns, but the most commonly used subclasses are personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, indefinite pronouns, and interrogative pronouns. 

Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns are probably the most familiar type of pronoun. Personal pronouns include I, me, you, she, her, him, he, we, us, they, and them. These are called personal pronouns because they refer to a person! Personal pronouns can replace specific nouns in sentences, like a person’s name, or refer to specific groups of people, like in these examples: 

Did you see Gia pole vault at the track meet? Her form was incredible!

The Cycling Club is meeting up at six. They said they would be at the park. 

In both of the examples above, a pronoun stands in for a proper noun to avoid repetitiveness. Her replaces Gia in the first example, and they replaces the Cycling Club in the second example. 

(It’s also worth noting that personal pronouns are one of the easiest ways to determine what point of view a writer is using.) 

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are used to indicate that something belongs to or is the possession of someone. The possessive pronouns fall into two categories: limiting and absolute. In a sentence, absolute possessive pronouns can be substituted for the thing that belongs to a person, and limiting pronouns cannot. 

The limiting pronouns are my, your, its, his, her, our, their, and whose, and the absolute pronouns are mine, yours, his, hers, ours, and theirs . Here are examples of a limiting possessive pronoun and absolute possessive pronoun used in a sentence: 

Limiting possessive pronoun: Juan is fixing his car. 

In the example above, the car belongs to Juan, and his is the limiting possessive pronoun that shows the car belongs to Juan. Now, here’s an example of an absolute pronoun in a sentence: 

Absolute possessive pronoun: Did you buy your tickets ? We already bought ours . 

In this example, the tickets belong to whoever we is, and in the second sentence, ours is the absolute possessive pronoun standing in for the thing that “we” possess—the tickets. 

Demonstrative Pronouns, Interrogative Pronouns, and Indefinite Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns include the words that, this, these, and those. These pronouns stand in for a noun or noun phrase that has already been mentioned in a sentence or conversation. This and these are typically used to refer to objects or entities that are nearby distance-wise, and that and those usually refer to objects or entities that are farther away. Here’s an example of a demonstrative pronoun used in a sentence: 

The books are stacked up in the garage. Can you put those away? 

The books have already been mentioned, and those is the demonstrative pronoun that stands in to refer to them in the second sentence above. The use of those indicates that the books aren’t nearby—they’re out in the garage. Here’s another example: 

Do you need shoes? Here...you can borrow these. 

In this sentence, these refers to the noun shoes. Using the word these tells readers that the shoes are nearby...maybe even on the speaker’s feet! 

Indefinite pronouns are used when it isn’t necessary to identify a specific person or thing . The indefinite pronouns are one, other, none, some, anybody, everybody, and no one. Here’s one example of an indefinite pronoun used in a sentence: 

Promise you can keep a secret? 

Of course. I won’t tell anyone. 

In this example, the person speaking in the second two sentences isn’t referring to any particular people who they won’t tell the secret to. They’re saying that, in general, they won’t tell anyone . That doesn’t specify a specific number, type, or category of people who they won’t tell the secret to, which is what makes the pronoun indefinite. 

Finally, interrogative pronouns are used in questions, and these pronouns include who, what, which, and whose. These pronouns are simply used to gather information about specific nouns—persons, places, and ideas. Let’s look at two examples of interrogative pronouns used in sentences: 

Do you remember which glass was mine? 

What time are they arriving? 

In the first glass, the speaker wants to know more about which glass belongs to whom. In the second sentence, the speaker is asking for more clarity about a specific time. 


Conjunctions hook phrases and clauses together so they fit like pieces of a puzzle.

#6: Conjunctions

Conjunctions are words that are used to connect words, phrases, clauses, and sentences in the English language. This function allows conjunctions to connect actions, ideas, and thoughts as well. Conjunctions are also used to make lists within sentences. (Conjunctions are also probably the most famous part of speech, since they were immortalized in the famous “Conjunction Junction” song from Schoolhouse Rock .) 

You’re probably familiar with and, but, and or as conjunctions, but let’s look into some subclasses of conjunctions so you can learn about the array of conjunctions that are out there!

Subclasses of Conjunctions, Including Examples

Coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and correlative conjunctions are three subclasses of conjunctions. Each of these types of conjunctions functions in a different way in sentences!

Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions are probably the most familiar type of conjunction. These conjunctions include the words for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (people often recommend using the acronym FANBOYS to remember the seven coordinating conjunctions!). 

Coordinating conjunctions are responsible for connecting two independent clauses in sentences, but can also be used to connect two words in a sentence. Here are two examples of coordinating conjunctions that connect two independent clauses in a sentence: 

He wanted to go to the movies, but he couldn’t find his car keys. 

They put on sunscreen, and they went to the beach. 

Next, here are two examples of coordinating conjunctions that connect two words: 

Would you like to cook or order in for dinner? 

The storm was loud yet refreshing. 

The two examples above show that coordinating conjunctions can connect different types of words as well. In the first example, the coordinating conjunction “or” connects two verbs; in the second example, the coordinating conjunction “yet” connects two adjectives. 

But wait! Why does the first set of sentences have commas while the second set of sentences doesn’t? When using a coordinating conjunction, put a comma before the conjunction when it’s connecting two complete sentences . Otherwise, there’s no comma necessary. 

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are used to link an independent clause to a dependent clause in a sentence. This type of conjunction always appears at the beginning of a dependent clause, which means that subordinating conjunctions can appear at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle of a sentence following an independent clause. (If you’re unsure about what independent and dependent clauses are, be sure to check out our guide to compound sentences.) 

Here is an example of a subordinating conjunction that appears at the beginning of a sentence: 

Because we were hungry, we ordered way too much food. 

Now, here’s an example of a subordinating conjunction that appears in the middle of a sentence, following an independent clause and a comma: 

Rakim was scared after the power went out. 

See? In the example above, the subordinating conjunction after connects the independent clause Rakim was scared to the dependent clause after the power went out. Subordinating conjunctions include (but are not limited to!) the following words: after, as, because, before, even though, one, since, unless, until, whenever, and while. 

Correlative Conjunctions

Finally, correlative conjunctions are conjunctions that come in pairs, like both/and, either/or, and neither/nor. The two correlative conjunctions that come in a pair must appear in different parts of a sentence to make sense— they correlate the meaning in one part of the sentence with the meaning in another part of the sentence . Makes sense, right? 

Here are two examples of correlative conjunctions used in a sentence: 

We’re either going to the Farmer’s Market or the Natural Grocer’s for our shopping today. 

They’re going to have to get dog treats for both Piper and Fudge. 

Other pairs of correlative conjunctions include as many/as, not/but, not only/but also, rather/than, such/that, and whether/or. 


Interjections are single words that express emotions that end in an exclamation point. Cool!

#7: Interjections 

Interjections are words that often appear at the beginning of sentences or between sentences to express emotions or sentiments such as excitement, surprise, joy, disgust, anger, or even pain. Commonly used interjections include wow!, yikes!, ouch!, or ugh! One clue that an interjection is being used is when an exclamation point appears after a single word (but interjections don’t have to be followed by an exclamation point). And, since interjections usually express emotion or feeling, they’re often referred to as being exclamatory. Wow! 

Interjections don’t come together with other parts of speech to form bigger grammatical units, like phrases or clauses. There also aren’t strict rules about where interjections should appear in relation to other sentences . While it’s common for interjections to appear before sentences that describe an action or event that the interjection helps explain, interjections can appear after sentences that contain the action they’re describing as well. 

Subclasses of Interjections, Including Examples

There are two main subclasses of interjections: primary interjections and secondary interjections. Let’s take a look at these two types of interjections!

Primary Interjections  

Primary interjections are single words, like oh!, wow!, or ouch! that don’t enter into the actual structure of a sentence but add to the meaning of a sentence. Here’s an example of how a primary interjection can be used before a sentence to add to the meaning of the sentence that follows it: 

Ouch ! I just burned myself on that pan!

While someone who hears, I just burned myself on that pan might assume that the person who said that is now in pain, the interjection Ouch! makes it clear that burning oneself on the pan definitely was painful. 

Secondary Interjections

Secondary interjections are words that have other meanings but have evolved to be used like interjections in the English language and are often exclamatory. Secondary interjections can be mixed with greetings, oaths, or swear words. In many cases, the use of secondary interjections negates the original meaning of the word that is being used as an interjection. Let’s look at a couple of examples of secondary interjections here: 

Well , look what the cat dragged in!

Heck, I’d help if I could, but I’ve got to get to work. 

You probably know that the words well and heck weren’t originally used as interjections in the English language. Well originally meant that something was done in a good or satisfactory way, or that a person was in good health. Over time and through repeated usage, it’s come to be used as a way to express emotion, such as surprise, anger, relief, or resignation, like in the example above. 


This is a handy list of common prepositional phrases. (attanatta / Flickr) 

#8: Prepositions

The last part of speech we’re going to define is the preposition. Prepositions are words that are used to connect other words in a sentence—typically nouns and verbs—and show the relationship between those words. Prepositions convey concepts such as comparison, position, place, direction, movement, time, possession, and how an action is completed. 

Subclasses of Prepositions, Including Examples

The subclasses of prepositions are simple prepositions, double prepositions, participle prepositions, and prepositional phrases. 

Simple Prepositions

Simple prepositions appear before and between nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in sentences to convey relationships between people, living creatures, things, or places . Here are a couple of examples of simple prepositions used in sentences: 

I’ll order more ink before we run out. 

Your phone was beside your wallet. 

In the first example, the preposition before appears between the noun ink and the personal pronoun we to convey a relationship. In the second example, the preposition beside appears between the verb was and the possessive pronoun your.

In both examples, though, the prepositions help us understand how elements in the sentence are related to one another. In the first sentence, we know that the speaker currently has ink but needs more before it’s gone. In the second sentence, the preposition beside helps us understand how the wallet and the phone are positioned relative to one another! 

Double Prepositions

Double prepositions are exactly what they sound like: two prepositions joined together into one unit to connect phrases, nouns, and pronouns with other words in a sentence. Common examples of double prepositions include outside of, because of, according to, next to, across from, and on top of. Here is an example of a double preposition in a sentence: 

I thought you were sitting across from me. 

You see? Across and from both function as prepositions individually. When combined together in a sentence, they create a double preposition. (Also note that the prepositions help us understand how two people— you and I— are positioned with one another through spacial relationship.)  

Prepositional Phrases

Finally, prepositional phrases are groups of words that include a preposition and a noun or pronoun. Typically, the noun or pronoun that appears after the preposition in a prepositional phrase is called the object of the preposition. The object always appears at the end of the prepositional phrase. Additionally, prepositional phrases never include a verb or a subject. Here are two examples of prepositional phrases: 

The cat sat under the chair . 

In the example above, “under” is the preposition, and “the chair” is the noun, which functions as the object of the preposition. Here’s one more example: 

We walked through the overgrown field . 

Now, this example demonstrates one more thing you need to know about prepositional phrases: they can include an adjective before the object. In this example, “through” is the preposition, and “field” is the object. “Overgrown” is an adjective that modifies “the field,” and it’s quite common for adjectives to appear in prepositional phrases like the one above. 

While that might sound confusing, don’t worry: the key is identifying the preposition in the first place! Once you can find the preposition, you can start looking at the words around it to see if it forms a compound preposition, a double preposition of a prepositional phrase. 


10 Question Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of Parts of Speech Definitions and Examples

Since we’ve covered a lot of material about the 8 parts of speech with examples ( a lot of them!), we want to give you an opportunity to review and see what you’ve learned! While it might seem easier to just use a parts of speech finder instead of learning all this stuff, our parts of speech quiz can help you continue building your knowledge of the 8 parts of speech and master each one. 

Are you ready? Here we go:  

1) What are the 8 parts of speech? 

a) Noun, article, adverb, antecedent, verb, adjective, conjunction, interjection b) Noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, determiner, clause, adjective, preposition c) Noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, conjunction, interjection, preposition

2) Which parts of speech have subclasses?

a) Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs b) Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions c) All of them! There are many types of words within each part of speech.

3) What is the difference between common nouns and proper nouns?

a) Common nouns don’t refer to specific people, places, or entities, but proper nouns do refer to specific people, places, or entities.  b) Common nouns refer to regular, everyday people, places, or entities, but proper nouns refer to famous people, places, or entities.  c) Common nouns refer to physical entities, like people, places, and objects, but proper nouns refer to nonphysical entities, like feelings, ideas, and experiences.

4) In which of the following sentences is the emboldened word a verb?

a) He was frightened by the horror film .   b) He adjusted his expectations after the first plan fell through.  c) She walked briskly to get there on time.

5) Which of the following is a correct definition of adjectives, and what other part of speech do adjectives modify?

a) Adjectives are describing words, and they modify nouns and noun phrases.  b) Adjectives are describing words, and they modify verbs and adverbs.  c) Adjectives are describing words, and they modify nouns, verbs, and adverbs.

6) Which of the following describes the function of adverbs in sentences?

a) Adverbs express frequency, degree, manner, time, place, and level of certainty. b) Adverbs express an action performed by a subject.  c) Adverbs describe nouns and noun phrases.

7) Which of the following answers contains a list of personal pronouns?

a) This, that, these, those b) I, you, me, we, he, she, him, her, they, them c) Who, what, which, whose

8) Where do interjections typically appear in a sentence?

a) Interjections can appear at the beginning of or in between sentences. b) Interjections appear at the end of sentences.  c) Interjections appear in prepositional phrases.

9) Which of the following sentences contains a prepositional phrase?

a) The dog happily wagged his tail.  b) The cow jumped over the moon.  c) She glared, angry that he forgot the flowers.

10) Which of the following is an accurate definition of a “part of speech”?

a) A category of words that serve a similar grammatical purpose in sentences. b) A category of words that are of similar length and spelling. c) A category of words that mean the same thing.

So, how did you do? If you got 1C, 2C, 3A, 4B, 5A, 6A, 7B, 8A, 9B, and 10A, you came out on top! There’s a lot to remember where the parts of speech are concerned, and if you’re looking for more practice like our quiz, try looking around for parts of speech games or parts of speech worksheets online!


What’s Next?

You might be brushing up on your grammar so you can ace the verbal portions of the SAT or ACT. Be sure you check out our guides to the grammar you need to know before you tackle those tests! Here’s our expert guide to the grammar rules you need to know for the SAT , and this article teaches you the 14 grammar rules you’ll definitely see on the ACT.

When you have a good handle on parts of speech, it can make writing essays tons easier. Learn how knowing parts of speech can help you get a perfect 12 on the ACT Essay (or an 8/8/8 on the SAT Essay ).

While we’re on the topic of grammar: keep in mind that knowing grammar rules is only part of the battle when it comes to the verbal and written portions of the SAT and ACT. Having a good vocabulary is also important to making the perfect score ! Here are 262 vocabulary words you need to know before you tackle your standardized tests.

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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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