Basic introduction to parts of speech

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En français

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[edit] Specific questions

[edit] Pronouns and determiners

A frequent question[1] we get is "What is the difference between a pronoun and a determiner? You tag 'this' as two parts of speech: demonstrative pronoun and demonstrative determiner. I just don't get it, it always translates the same!"

[edit] Examples in English

The simplest way to explain this is to give two example sentences,

a) I was talking about this cat.
b) This is the cat I was talking about.

In the first case, the this is modifying the following noun cat. In the second case it is substituting the noun phrase this cat. Where the word this is used as a modifier in Apertium we call it a determiner, and where it is used to substitute a noun phrase we call it a pronoun.

To translate it, in several languages like French, you need to distinguish the two cases where the word this will be translated diferently :

a) Je parlais de ce chat.
b) C'est le chat dont le parlais.

But this is not always necessarily relevant for translation, for example in Icelandic it is translated as þessi in both cases. However, it might still be relevant for transfer, for example when the pronoun is a determiner we may want to include it in concordance operations (e.g. for gender, number, and case) with the head noun, but when it is a pronoun we might not.

a) I will give this to the cat
    Ég skal gefa kettinum þetta.
b) I will give it to this cat
    Ég skal gefa þessum ketti það.

In (b) the determiner þessi "this" agrees in gender, number and case with the indirect object köttur "cat", whereas in (a), it the pronoun þessi functions as the direct object and agrees with its antecedent. You could probably just tag them both as a pronoun and then distinguish in transfer, but it's easier, and more portable (to languages where there is a difference).

[edit] Examples in French

In French, the definite articles (le, la, les) can be also pronouns. For example :

a) Le chat joue.
b) Je le vois jouer.

In a), the word le is an article, in b), it is a pronom. When translating into English, a different word is used in both cases :

a) The cat is playing.
b) I see it playing.

[edit] Pronouns replacing a direct or indirect object

It is possible that where a pronoun is used in one language, two separate pronouns are used in another language, one to replace a direct object, another to replace an indirect object.

For example, these two English sentences use the same pronoun him :

a) I see him.
b) I give him this book.

Translated into French, two different words are used :

a) Je le vois.
b) Je lui donne ce livre.

In a), the him replace a direct object and is translated by le. In b), it replaces an indirect object and is translated by lui.

[edit] Nouns and verbs

In French (at least), some nouns have exactly the same spelling as verbs in the infinitive or conjugated verbs. Examples:

En français (au moins), certains noms ont exactement la même orthographe que des verbes à l'infinitif, ou des verbes congugués. Exemples :

a) Le noyer est un arbre qui produit des noix.
The walnut is a tree that produces nuts.
b) Tu vas te noyer si tu ne sais pas à nager.
You're going to drown if you do not know how to swim.
a) Je ferme la porte.
I close the door.
b) Je porte une valise.
I carry a suitcase.
a) La brise est un vent léger.
The breeze is a little wind.
b) En tombant, je me brise les os.
When falling, I break my bones.

[edit] Nouns, adjectives and verbs

Sometimes, a word can be a noun, an adjective or a verb :

a) Les animaux de ferme vivent dans les champs.
Farm animals live in the fields.
b) On ferme ce magasin le dimanche.
This store is closed on Sundays.
c) Cette viande est très ferme.
This meat is very hard.

[edit] Sub-ordinating and co-ordinating conjunctions

  • cnjsub = subordinating conjunction "he doesn't fly _because_ he doesn't like to"
  • cnjcoo = co-ordinating conjunction "he doesn't fly _and_ he doesn't like to"
  • cnjadv = adverbial conjunction "he doesn't want to _so_ he doesn't fly"

Improve this description --Francis Tyers

[edit] Cases and post-positions

Things to think about:

[edit] Specific words

[edit] The English word each

  • Determiner: Each day I get out of bed
  • Pronoun: They will each get

[edit] The French adjective petit

In its most common usage, the word petit (small) is an adjective. Incidentally, one of the few French adjectives written before the noun it qualifies.

However, the noun can be omitted, and in this case, the adjective petit means a child or a baby (human or animal) :

  • Le petit a 5 ans, la petite 6 ans.

It could be translated like this :

  • The little boy is 5 years old, the little girl 6 years old.


  • La chienne garde ses petits.

could be translated :

  • The dog keeps her puppies.

[edit] Some intractable cases

When several words in sequence can each be analysed in several ways, several contradictory analysis are possible for a sentence or a piece of sentence, and it becomes very difficult for a software of translation to choose, or even for a human speaker if it does not know the context. Two examples from French :

Un bras ferme la porte.

  • First analysis: article, noun, verb, article, noun.
  • Second analysis: article, noun, adjective, pronoun, verb.

In English, this sentence can mean :

  • First analysis: An arm closes the door.
  • Second analysis: A strong arm carries something.

La petite brise la glace.

Several interpretations of this sentence are possible :

  • First analysis: article, adjective, verb, article, noun.
  • The little girl breaks the mirror (or the pane).
  • The little girl breaks ice.
  • The little girl unties a tense atmosphere.
  • Second analysis: article, adjective, noun, pronoun, verb.
  • The small wind freezes her.

[edit] Notes

  1. Yes, really!
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