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The terminology of grammar 

A list of the main terms of grammar 

used to describe the words and functions of the English language

A thematic glossary of the words commonly used to describe points of grammar in English. The four lists below cover units, categories, structural elements and general grammar terms. The object of these lists is to explain, as succinctly and clearly as possible, the essential vocabulary of English grammar.

1. Units of  meaning (from  big to  small)

Document  -  A document is a written, or sometimes oral, presentation of facts, fiction, ideas or opinions. It is or can be considered as complete and comprehensible in its own right.

Paragraph - Paragraphs are the principal sub-divisions of documents. In standard descriptive or declarative documents, a paragraph is a group of sentences with the same theme.  Though there is no rule, grammarians tend to agree that a paragraph will normally have between two and eight sentences, with an optimal length of 3 to 5 sentences.  Longer documents may be divided into larger subdivisions such as chapters or sections or even books.

Sentence - A sentence is the basic unit that constitutes a declarative or interrogative statement. With the exception of single-word imperatives (such as Look!) a sentence contains at least two words and consists of a subject and a predicate. A simple sentence contains a single clause. A compound sentence contains more than one clause.

Clause - A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate.  We can distinguish main clauses, which can stand as sentences in their own right, and subordinate clauses which cannot. Examples:
  Free-standing main clause:  My brother likes fast cars.
  Two coordinated main clauses: My brother likes fast cars, but he drives badly.
  A main clause and a subordinate clause: He likes cars which can go fast.

Phrase - A phrase is a group of words which form a single unit of meaning. Examples:
   The man in the red shirt  is a phrase, but so is the red shirt on its own.  

Word - a word is the smallest complete free-standing unit of meaning in a language. Words come into several different categories which we call "parts of speech". These are detailed below.

Morpheme - a morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in language. A word may be made up of a single lexical morpheme:
  Examples: Give /  child /  speak  /  good /  nation
or of a combination of morphemes, at least one of which must be lexical.
   Examples:  Giving  /  children  /   speaker  / goodness /  nationalistic
In the last example, nationalistic,  we can see four morphemes: nation, al, ist, and ic.  Nation is a lexical morpheme or lexeme, al ist and ic are morphemes that cannot exist on their own , but when attached to the lexeme serve to change its meaning or function.

2. Parts of speech or grammatical categories

These descriptions are deliberately brief. Each of these parts of speech is defined and described in greater detail, with more examples, on its own page. Follow the links.

Adjective - An adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun, or occasionally a pronoun.  Examples: Good / bad /  ugly / disreputable

Adverb -  An adverb is a word that describes of modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or occasionally a whole sentence.
Examples:  Slowly /  generally  / upwards /  somewhere  /  quite

Article - An article is a type of determiner which comes before a noun. In English we distinguish two sorts of articles, the definite article the, and  the inderfinite articles a and an.  Some grammar-books also include the word some as an indefinite article.

Conjunction - A conjunction is a word that is used to link sentences, clauses, phrases or words. The main examples :  and / but / or / yet .  See Coordination

Noun -  A noun is a word that describes an entity (person, item, substance etc) or a process. It is usually preceded by a determiner (article or other determiner) and may be qualified or modified by one or more adjectives, by prepositional phrases, or by another noun.  Nouns are divided into two main categories, count or countable nouns , that can be counted, and non-count or uncountable nouns that cannot.
 Examples:  Man  /  woman  /  chair  /  basket  /  oxygen / philosophy / idea

Preposition - A preposition is a short functional word that serves to relate two other words in terms of space, time, manner or other relation. Prepositions are essentially used to introduce a prepositional phrase (like in the beginning), or to inflect the meaning of a verb  (like to come in).
Examples:  in / on / under / against / after / with / by

Pronoun -  A pronoun is a (usually) short word that allows a speaker or writer to refer back to an already-mentioned noun, without repeating it.  The main groups of pronouns are personal pronouns ( I you he she it one we they... and their object forms or possessive forms, me, her ... and  mine, hers), demonstrative pronouns (this, that etc)  and relative and interrogative pronouns  (who, which  etc.)

Verb - A verb is a word that describes an action or a state of being. The verb is the key word in a sentence, and no sentence can exist without one.  The shortest of all sentences contsist of a single verb used in the imperative form. Example: Look !
   There are two sorts of verbs: dynamic verbs describe actions or changes of state: examples  go / become /  sit down / move
Stative verbs describe a condition or state of being: examples  be / like / know

3. Structural elements of a sentence

Subject : The subject is the main actor or the main topic of a sentence. In a basic declarative sentence, the subject comes before the verb. The subject may be just a single pronoun or noun, such as He or The cat ;  but in many sentences it is may be quite a bit more, including adjectives, prepositional phrases, relative clauses or more. In this example, all the words in red make up the subject
Example:  The old man in the red shirt who's talking too loudly is my uncle.

Verb :  See Verb above

Predicate :  Everything in a sentence that is not the subject. The predicate includes the verb, or verbs, plus any other elements that may be present, notably objects or adverb phrases

Direct Object : The direct object is the entity (person, thing, process) that is directly concerned by the action expressed through the verb, or  is the entity that explains the action or process. It is the complement of a transitive verb. It can be a pronoun, a noun, a noun phrase, or more than one of these.
Examples:  I like chocolate   /    I like them   /  I like people who are friendly /
  I like people who are friendly and don't smoke cigarettes, including you.

Indirect object :  The indirect object is the person or entity that is the recipient of the action, or for whom the action is done.  When the indirect object follows the direct object, it is  introduced with the preposition to; but if it precedes the direct object, to is omitted.
Examples:   I gave a bone to the dog
I gave the dog a bone  /  I gave it a bone.

Main clause  The main clause is the principal clause in a sentence. There can be one main clause or more in a sentence; if this is the case, the main clauses will be separated by a semli-colon (;), or by a coordinating conjunction such as and, but or yet.

Subordinate clause: A subordinate or dependent clause cannot exist without a main clause. It is normally introduced by a subordinating conjunction, such as since, if, because or as,  or by a relative pronoun such as who or that.
Examples:   You can go home now if you've finished your project.
   As I said, there are no tickets left for the concert.
   When he reached Manchester, he looked for a hotel.

4. Other grammatical terms

Apposition : Normally a direct sequence of two nouns, with no intervening preposition, which both refer to the same entity :  
Examples:   Prince William  /   The car, a Jaguar, ..
  The painting, a work
by Rembrandt,.... 
In English, except in titles (such as Doctor Jekyll ), the second or "apposed" noun requires a determiner, normally an article.  Apposition should not be confused with compound nouns, in which two nouns placed next to each other refer to different things; for example The shop window

Auxiliary :   A verb that comes before a main verb to designate a tense, a modality or the passive voice.  The basic auxiliaries are be and have:  modal auxiliaries are will, shall, may, might, must, can, be able to and their other forms

Communication : the object of speech or writing. Communication cannot be successful unless the producer (speaker, writer) and the receiver (listener, reader) are using the same language code.  The code consists of two elements : vocabulary (words) and grammar (how those words are organised).

Comparative : a particular meaning that is given to an adjective or adverb either by adding -er to the end of the word, or by ading more before it.

Complement : the main element of the predicate after the verb. See object above.

Conjunctive adverb :  A type of connector, a type of sentence adverb used to express a particular relationship between a first clause and a second clause that follows.  Examples:   Therefore,  however,  similarly.
See Conjunctive adverbs

Connector : a word that links two similar items (words, phrases, clauses) .  Connectors are either conjunctions or conjunctive adverbs.  See conjunctions

Coordination : linking two or more elements with similar status in the sentence.

Declarative :  A declarative sentence is a normal sentence, which is neither an interrogative sentence (question), nor an exclamation, nor an imperative . A declarative sentence can be affirmative or negative.
Examples:   The man is sitting on a chair, and The man is not sitting on a chair are both declarative statements.

Determiner :  Determiners are used at the start of a  noun phrase.  The most common determiners are articles; but determiners also include demonstrativesnumerals, or possessive determiners.  All nouns or noun phrases require a determiner unless they are used as generalisations.
Examples:   The man is eating his dinner, and That man is eating chips.
No determiner is required before chips, which is used as a generalisation. For more on this, see count and non-count nouns

Endings :  Also called suffixes, endings are grammatical or functional morphemes that are added to the end of word to inflect or change its meaning. Compared to many languages, English has relatively few endings. There are actually only three common endings in English that are used to make inflected forms of a word, without changing its category. These are -ing,  -ed, and -s for verbs, and -s for nouns.  Other endings  are used to change the grammatical category of a word, for example  -ness  or -ity that form nouns from adjectives, or -ful or -less that form adjectives from nouns.

Gerund : a Gerund is a type of -ing word. To distinguish gerunds from present participles, see Gerunds.

Grammar :  The corpus of rules and principles that describe how a language is used or should be used. Grammar can be prescriptive (telling people what is correct and what is not) , or descriptive (describing what how people actually use language). Grammar is constantly evolving, but it does so more slowly that vocabulary.  As well as traditional grammar, linguists have developed other types of grammar to better analyse language, such as transformational grammar or generative grammar.

Imperative : the form of the verb that we use when we give an order or a command.  See  Imperative.

Indicative :  In English, almost all verbs are used in the indicative mood. The subjunctive, the other principal mood, is rare

Intensifier : a type of adverb that is used to give extra force to the meaning of an adjective.  Examples:   very /  extremely  /  most  / highly

Modal verb : Modal verbs, or modal auxiliaries, such as can or must, are used to express possibility, obligation,  probability or futurity.  See Modals of obligation, Modals of possibilityexpressing the future.

Modify : in grammar, the word modify most commonly means to give a specific meaning to a noun or verb. Modifiers include adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases

Mood :  In English there are two moods, the indicative and the subjunctive. The subjunctive is very rarely used.

Participle : participles are nonfinite forms of verbs. This means that they cannot by themselves function as the verb of a sentence, but must be coupled to an auxiliary. English has two participles, the present participle ending in -ing, and the past participle most commonly ending in -ed.

Predicate : one of the two essential constituents of a sentence, the other one being the subject. The predicate is made up of everything in the sentence that is not contained in the subject. In a normal affirmative sentence, it follows the subject. It must contain a verb.

Punctuation : an aspect of syntax, punctuation consists of a small number of symbols that are used to delimit, when necessary, words, phrases or sentences.  See punctuation

Quantifier : A quantifier expresses an imprecise or undefined quantity; it can be contrasted with a number that expresses a precise quantity. Quantifiers include words such as some, many, a few, several.  See quantifiers

Subject :  the actor or topic of a sentence.  In a simple sentence, the subject comes first, before the predicate.

Subordination : see subordinate clause above.

Suffix : a morpheme (element of meaning) added to the end of a word. See endings above.

Style  :  the manner in which ideas are expressed as words. Style can be anything from formal to informal, or oral to written.  See style in English.

Superlative :  the highest degree of an adjective or adverb.  Superlatives are formed either by adding -est to an adjective, or by adding the word most before an adjective or an adverb.

Syntax : an aspect of grammar, syntax deals with the way in which words are organised and ordered. It includes word order and punctuation.

Tense :  tenses are specific forms of verbs which are used to situate an action in time. Technically speaking English just has two tenses, the present tense and the past tense.  Languages like French Spanish or Russian have many more tenses. However English tenses come in different forms and different aspects, so for example the English present tense has four forms, the present simple and the present progressive, the present perfect simple and the present perfect progressive. The present tenses can also express actions in the future, as in My train is leaving in half an hour.
   For purposes of simplicity and clarity, many books and teachers now use the word tense in a much broader sense, to describe each of the different forms of a verb used to denote a different time frame. See verbs.

Transitive : Verbs are either transitive or intransitive. Some verbs are always one or the other, some verbs can be either depending on their use.  A transitive verb is a verb that must have a direct object.
Example:   The dog was barking / The dog was eating a bone
In the first example, barking is intransitive. It cannot take an object. In the second example, eating is used transitively, because there is an object bone.  The verb eat can also be used intransitively, i.e. with no object, as in : The dog was eating.
See verbs.

Voice :  A key factor describing the way in which a verb is used. There are two voices, the active and the passive.   See verbs.

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Selected grammar pages
Verbs: the present tense
Verbs : the future
Verbs: conditional tenses
Phrasal & prepositional verbs
Irregular verb tables
Noun phrases
Adjective order in English
The possessive
Sentences & clauses
Relative clauses in English
Conditional clauses in English
Word order in English
Reported questions in English
Language and style 
Word stress in English
The short story of English
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