Open Class vs Closed Class Words – Meaning & Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

You cannot build a sentence without at least one word. Words are essential to produce meaning when organized accurately. In English, they are divided into two: open class and closed class words.

I’ll show you the meaning of open and closed classes in this post. You will also learn examples of words under these two categories.

What’s the Difference Between Open and Closed Words?

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Understanding the meaning of open and closed classes will help you process sentences better. Open class is a category of parts of speech or word classes that accept new members, while closed class does not.

In other words, new words can be added to the open class when the need arises. But with closed classes, the set of words is finite and can never be expanded. But it’s possible to change the spelling of these words over a long period.

What are the Examples of Closed Class Words?

Closed classes include pronouns, conjunctions, determiners, and determiners. These examples of parts of speech don’t readily accept new members.

For instance, there hasn’t been an addition to the famous trio, in, on, and at. In the same way, I, you, we, he, she, it, and they remain the only subjective pronouns in English. You’ll also notice there are only three articles in English, including the, a, and an.

Any changes in this class of words are impossible. Otherwise, it happens very slowly. It may take over centuries before a new article or pronoun is introduced. Compare that to the growing number of new nouns, including vlog, selfie, and binge-watch.

There is also a massive resistance from grammarians when introducing new words in this class. For example, numerous attempts have been made to produce gender-neutral pronouns in English.

What are the Examples of Open Class Words?

In English, the open classes are adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and lexical verbs or action verbs. This class of words involves several words in the English language. Open class words are further divided into two: simple and complex words.

A simple word only has one morpheme. For example, swim, green, and house only have one morpheme. Meanwhile, a complex word has more than one morpheme. Some examples include swimming, greenest, and houses.

The process of grammaticalization makes it possible to create new open-class words. This procedure happens over a long period, as words undergo semantic changes. Later, the word gets a revised grammatical purpose or lexical meaning.

Are Adverbs Closed or Open Class?

Adverbs are considered open classes because we can create and add new words to this category of content words.

Final Word on Open Classes vs. Closed Classes

Words become a powerful way to communicate when used wisely. Now you know the difference between open class and closed class words in English.

Remember that open class words readily accept new words, while closed class words are static because they don’t accept new members.