The sentence I'm considering is this:

The boy said, "O King, live for ever."

Is the word "O" in the above sentence an adjective?

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    What would you think of migrating this question to ELU? It's a tricky question, involving a little-known subtlety of English grammar, and your interest in how to tag the word for the Penn Treebank project suggests that you might get a better answer by asking linguists. – Ben Kovitz May 15 '15 at 1:32
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    As a non-native speaker, I think it should be tagged (i.e. treated by labeling it) as "interjection" or "exclamation" (UH in Penn Treebank). For example, Macmillan defines it as "interjection", Oxford dictionary defines it as "exclamation", archaic: used before a name in the vocative, with an example 'give peace in our time, O Lord'. IMHO, there are more important things in learning English as a second language than PoS, such as English verb forms, articles, etc. – Damkerng T. May 15 '15 at 4:59
  • It's a literary vocative particle. (Note: particle, not article; it doesn't function anything like a determiner―or like an adjective, for that matter.) – snailplane May 15 '15 at 10:52
  • @snailboat you say particle, the chosen answer says article; no clarity here. To me, it's an interjection. If people want to use a shorter word, let them. – user6951 May 15 '15 at 15:43
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    @pazzo If you want to call it an interjection, I won't argue. That works out okay. The important thing here is how it behaves, and it doesn't behave anything like an article or an adjective. – snailplane May 15 '15 at 15:48

There happens to be a specific technical term for that word.  You're looking at the vocative article.

Authorities seem to disagree as to whether articles are adjectives.  I happen to agree with those that say they are.

  • Would oou be able to look at this list of part-of-speech tags and tell me which one would be the most appropriate here? ling.upenn.edu/courses/Fall_2003/ling001/penn_treebank_pos.html – Καrτhικ May 15 '15 at 1:12
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    @Καrτhικ It's not listed! You'll need to ask the people who run the Penn Treebank project, but first look at this. There is no one, true categorization of English parts of speech. People have invented many ways to categorize parts of speech, to suit many different purposes. Penn Treebank does not include "article" among its parts of speech, which is unusual; apparently they prefer "determiner". But I'm not sure if vocative "O" is a determiner—it's a somewhat arbitrary choice. – Ben Kovitz May 15 '15 at 1:28
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    It is an arbitrary choice. For the phrasing "O King", I'd have to class "O" as a determiner. For the phrasing "O my dear King", I'd have to class it as a predeterminer. Since both of those entries are on the list, I'd have to choose one of them in preference to "adjective". – Gary Botnovcan May 15 '15 at 1:43
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    How 'bout UH? I'm not convinced that merely because "article" is the traditional name among students of Greek we can assume that its use in English is comparable to that of English articles or determiners. – StoneyB on hiatus May 15 '15 at 3:32
  • Does this mean that there are four articles in English? Maybe even more? Too much of my formerly solid education has become a moving target. – Ast Pace May 15 '15 at 3:47

Oh, dear.

It's originally not a word at all, but an "ejaculation" or "interjection"— a (presumedly) spontaneous sound expressive of strong emotion, such as surprise, vexation, joy or grief. It's also used frequently as a "discourse marker" to perform a transition or cover a momentary groping for words.

In the early 12th century, however, English writers adopted the Latin and Old French use of O to signal that the following noun phrase is a "vocative"—that is, that the noun designates the person addressed. In the course of the evolution from Early Modern to Modern English it became conventional to spell the sound ‹Oh› when used as an interjection or discourse marker, reserving the bare ‹O› spelling for vocative uses, or to lend an archaic or exotic or "poetic" air.

It is not at all clear that vocative ‹O› has ever been anything but a literary form in English, except among people who conscientiously imitate literary use—there seems to have been a lot of this in the 19th century, and you occasionally hear it employed ironically by English professors. I'm quite certain I've never heard it used spontaneously.

So it doesn't really fit anywhere in the conventional parts of speech. If I had to assign it to a category I'd call it a literary proclitic; but I'd rather not.

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    The Macquarie Dictionary defines both hello and O as interjections. You wouldn't say that hello is not a word! Funnily enough, definition 2 of both words is an exclamation of surprise, etc.! – CJ Dennis May 15 '15 at 9:02
  • You've never heard it used spontaneously? My boys use it all the time when they say, "O Father of mine, how may I honor and obey you?" – Καrτhικ May 15 '15 at 11:40
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    @Καrτhικ No doubt my son would, too, if that circumstance ever arose; but it hasn't yet. – StoneyB on hiatus May 15 '15 at 11:49
  • I would say it's a word ; even um... is a word. I have to learn new ways of saying 'um...' when I learn a foreign language. People are, um, free to disagree. – user6951 May 15 '15 at 15:52
  • @pazzo "Originally", I hedged. Where you draw the line can be tricky, but at some point you have to distinguish non-linguistic sounds like screams, gasps and sneezes (and their stereotyped orthographic representations) from linguistic "words". – StoneyB on hiatus May 15 '15 at 16:34

Almost in all grammar books, the last or eighth part of speech is "interjection". O is an interjection used in the entence presented to express a sudden strong emotion (invocation or wish).


Yes, it is an interjection. Just like the "O" in "O, what fun it is to ride!" or "Oh, I see."

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    Some people would spell it as Oh, what fun it is to ride whereas others allow oh to be spelt O. Neither rule is followed universally. – CJ Dennis May 15 '15 at 9:05
  • @CJDennis probably because it's mostly a spoken sound there is diversity in spelling, but this can be said of most words pre the printing press – user6951 May 15 '15 at 15:47

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