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English Grammar Terms

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This glossary of English grammar terms relates to the English language. Some terms here may have additional or extended meanings when applied to other languages. For example, "case" in some languages applies to pronouns and nouns. In English, nouns do not have case and therefore no reference to nouns is made in its definition here.




Active voice

One of two voices in English; a direct form of expression where the subject performs or "acts" the verb; see also passive voice.
eg: "Many people eat rice."


Part of speech that typically describes or "modifies" a noun.
eg: "It was a big dog."

Adjective clause

Seldom-used term for relative clause.


Word or phrase that adds information to a sentence and that can be removed from the sentence without making the sentence ungrammatical.
eg: I met John at school.


Word that modifies a verb, an adjective or another adverb.
eg: quickly, really, very

Adverbial clause

Dependent clause that acts like an adverb and indicates such things as time, place or reason
eg: Although we are getting older, we grow more beautiful each day.


Statement that expresses (or claims to express) a truth or "yes" meaning; opposite of negative.
eg: The sun is hot.


Language unit (morpheme) that occurs before or after (or sometimes within) the root or stem of a word.
eg: un- in unhappy (prefix), -ness in happiness (suffix)

(also known as "concord")

Logical (in a grammatical sense) links between words based on tense, case or number.
eg: this phone, these phones.


Word, phrase or clause that is replaced by a pronoun (or other substitute) when mentioned subsequently (in the same sentence or later).
eg: "Emily is nice because she brings me flowers."


Noun phrase that re-identifies or describes its neighbouring noun.
eg: "Canada, a multicultural country, is recognized by its maple leaf flag."


Determiner that introduces a noun phrase as definite (the) or indefinite (a/an)


Feature of some verb forms that relates to duration or completion of time; verbs can have no aspect (simple), or can have continuous or progressive aspect (expressing duration), or have perfect or perfective aspect (expressing completion)


Auxiliary verb
(also called "helping verb")

Verb used with the main verb to help indicate something such as tense or voice.
eg: I do not like you. She has finished. He can swim.

Bare infinitive

Unmarked form of the verb (no indication of tense, mood, person, or aspect) without the particle "to"; typically used after modal auxiliary verbs; see also infinitive.
eg: "He should come", "I can swim"

Base form

Basic form of a verb before conjugation into tenses etc.
eg: be, speak


Form of a pronoun based on its relationship to other words in the sentence; case can be subjective, objective or possessive.
eg: "I love this dog", "This dog loves me", "This is my dog"

Causative verb

Verb that causes things to happen such as "make", "get" and "have"; the subject does not perform the action but is indirectly responsible for it.
eg: "She made me go to school", "I had my nails painted"


Group of words containing a subject and its verb.
eg: "It was late when he arrived"

comparative adjective

Form of an adjective or adverb made with "-er" or "more" that is used to show differences or similarities between two things (not three or more things)
eg: colder, more quickly


Part of a sentence that completes or adds meaning to the predicate.
eg: Mary did not say where she was going.

Compound noun

Noun that is made up of more than one word; can be one word, or hyphenated, or separated by a space.
eg: toothbrush, mother-in-law, Christmas Day

Compound sentence

Sentence with at least two independent clauses; usually joined by a conjunction.
eg: "You can have something healthy but you can't have more junk food."


Another term for agreement.


Structure in English where one action depends On another ("if-then" or "then-if" structure); most common are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd conditionals.
eg: "If I win I will be happy", "I would be happy if I won"


To show the different forms of a verb according to voice, mood, tense, number and person; conjugation is quite simple in English compared to many other languages.
eg: I walk, you walk, he/she/it walks, we walk, they walk; I walked, you walked, he/she/it walked, we walked, they walked.


Word that joins or connects two parts of a sentence.
eg: Ram likes tea and coffee. Anthony went swimming although it was raining.

Content word

Word that has meaning in a sentence, such as a verb or noun (as opposed to a structure word, such as pronoun or auxiliary verb); content words are stressed in speech.
eg: "Could you BRING my GLASSES because I've LEFT them at HOME"

(also called "progressive")

Verb form (specifically an aspect) indicating actions that are in progress or continuing over a given time period (can be past, present or future); formed with "BE" + "VERB-ing"
eg: "They are watching TV."


Shortening of two (or more) words into one.
eg: isn't (is not), we'd've (we would have)

Countable noun

Thing that you can count, such as apple, pen, tree (see uncountable noun).
eg: one apple, three pens, ten trees

Dangling participle

Illogical structure that occurs in a sentence when a writer intends to modify one thing but the reader attaches it to another.
eg: "Running to the bus, the flowers were blooming." (In the example sentence it seems that the flowers were running.)

Declarative sentence

Sentence type typically used to make a statement (as opposed to a question or command).
eg: "Tara works hard", "It wasn't funny"

Defining relative clause
(also called "restrictive relative clause")

Relative clause that contains information required for the understanding of the sentence; not set off with commas; see also non-defining clause.
eg: "The boy who was wearing a blue shirt was the winner"

Demonstrative pronoun
Demonstrative adjective

Pronoun or determiner that indicates closeness to (this/these) or distance from (that/those) the Speaker.
eg: "This is a nice car", "Can you see those cars?"

Dependent clause

Part of a sentence that contains a subject and a verb but does not form a complete thought and cannot stand on its own; see also independent clause.
eg: "When the water came out of the tap..."


Word such as an article or a possessive adjective or other adjective that typically comes at the beginning of noun phrases.
eg: "It was an excellent film", "Do you like my new shirt?", "Let's buy some eggs"

Direct speech

Saying what someone said by using their exact words; see also indirect speech.
eg: "Lucy said: 'I am tired.'"

Direct object

Noun phrase in a sentence that directly receives the action of the verb; see also indirect object.
eg: "Joey bought the car", "I like it", "Can you see the man wearing a pink shirt and waving a gun in the air?"

Embedded question

Question that is not in normal question form with a question mark; it occurs within another statement or question and generally follows statement structure.
eg: "I don't know where he went," "Can you tell me where it is before you go?", "They haven't decided whether they should come"

Finite verb

Verb form that has a specific tense, number and person.
eg: I work, he works, we learned, they ran

First conditional

"If-then" conditional structure used for future actions or events that are seen as realistic possibilities.
eg: "If we win the lottery we will buy a car"


Incomplete piece of a sentence used alone as a complete sentence; a fragment does not contain a complete thought; fragments are common in normal speech but unusual (inappropriate) in formal writing.
eg: "When's her birthday? - In December", "Will they come? - Probably not"


Purpose or "job" of a word form or element in a sentence.
eg: The function of a subject is to perform the action. One function of an adjective is to describe a noun. The function of a noun is to name things.

Future continuous
(also called "future progressive")

Tense used to describe things that will happen in the future at a particular time; formed with WILL + BE + VERB-ing.
eg: "I will be graduating in September."

Future perfect

Tense used to express the past in the future; formed with WILL HAVE + VERB-ed.
eg: "I will have graduated by then"

Future perfect continuous

Tense used to show that something will be ongoing until a certain time in the future; formed with WILL HAVE BEEN + VERB-ing.
eg: "We will have been living there for three months by the time the baby is born"

Future simple

Tense used to describe something that hasn't happened yet such as a prediction or a sudden decision; formed with WILL + BASE VERB.
eg: "He will be late", "I will answer the phone"

Genitive case

Case expressing relationship between nouns (possession, origin, composition etc).
eg: "John's dog", "door of the car", "children's songs", "pile of sand"


Noun form of a verb, formed with VERB-ing.
eg: "Walking is great exercise"

Gradable adjective

Adjective that can vary in intensity or grade when paired with a grading adverb ; see also non-gradable adjective.
eg: quite hot, very tall

Grading adverb

Adverb that can modify the intensity or grade of a gradable adjective.
eg: quite hot, very tall

Hanging participle

Another term for dangling participle.

Helping verb

Another term for auxiliary verb.


Form of verb used when giving a command; formed with BASE VERB only
eg: "Brush your teeth!"

Indefinite pronoun

Pronoun does not refer to any specific person, thing or amount. It is vague and "not definite".
eg: anything, each, many, somebody

Independent clause
(also called "main clause")

Group of a word that expresses a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence; see also dependent clause
eg: "Tara is eating curry.", "Tara likes oranges and Joe likes apples."

Indirect object

Noun phrase representing the person or thing indirectly affected by the action of the verb; see also direct object
eg: "She showed me her book collection", "Joey bought his wife a new car"

Indirect question

Another term for embedded question

Indirect speech
(also called "reported speech")

Saying what someone said without using their exact words; see direct speech
eg: "Lucy said that she was tired"


Base form of a verb preceded by "to"**; see also bare infinitive
eg: "You need to study harder", "To be, or not to be: that is the question"


change in word form to indicate grammatical meaning
eg: dog, dogs (two inflections); take, takes, took, taking, taken (five inflections)


Common word that expresses emotion but has no grammatical value; can often be used alone and is often followed by an exclamation mark
eg: "Hi!", "er", "Ouch!", "Dammit!"


(Formal) sentence type (typically inverted) normally used when asking a question
eg: "Are you eating?", "What are you eating?"

Interrogative pronoun

Pronoun that asks a question.
eg: who, whom, which

Intransitive verb

Verb that does not take a direct object; see also transitive verb
e.g. "He is working hard", "Where do you live?"


Any reversal of the normal word order, especially placing the auxiliary verb before the subject; used in a variety of ways, as in question formation, conditional clauses and agreement or disagreement
eg: "Where are your keys?","Had we watched the weather report, we wouldn't Have gone to the beach", "So did he", "Neither did she"

Irregular verb

Verb that has a different ending for past tense and past participle forms than the regular "-ed"; see also regular verb
eg: buy, bought, bought; do, did, done

Lexicon, lexis

All of the words and word forms in a language with meaning or function

Lexical verb

another term for main verb

Linking verb

Verbs that connect the subject to more information (but do not indicate action), such as "be" or "seem"

Main clause

Another term for independent clause

Main verb
(also called "lexical verb")

Any verb in a sentence that is not an auxiliary verb; a main verb has meaning on its own
eg: "Does John like Mary?", "I will have arrived by 4pm"

Modal verb
(also called "modal")

Auxiliary verb such as can, could, must, should etc; paired with the bare infinitive of a verb
eg: "I should go for a jog"


Word or phrase that modifies and limits the meaning of another word
eg: the house => the white house, the house over there, the house we sold last year


Sentence type that indicates the speaker's view towards the degree of reality of what is being said, for example subjunctive, indicative, imperative


Unit of language with meaning; differs from "word" because some cannot stand alone
e.g. un-, predict and -able in unpredictable

Multi-word verb

Verb that consists of a basic verb + another word or words (preposition and/or adverb)
eg: get up (phrasal verb), believe in (prepositional verb), get on with (phrasal-prepositional verb)


Form which changes a "yes" meaning to a "no" meaning; opposite of affirmative
eg: "She will not come", "I have never seen her"

Nominative case

Another term for subjective case

Non-defining relative clause
(also called "non-restrictive relative clause")

Relative clause that adds information but is not completely necessary; set off from the sentence with a comma or commas; see defining relative clause
eg: "The boy, who had a chocolate bar in his hand, was still hungry"

Non-gradable adjective

Adjective that has a fixed quality or intensity and cannot be paired with a grading adverb; see also gradable adjective
eg: freezing, boiling, dead

Non-restrictive relative clause

Another term for non-defining relative clause


Part of speech that names a person, place, thing, quality, quantity or concept; see also proper noun and compound noun
eg: "The man is waiting", "I was born in London", "Is that your car?", "Do you like music?"

Noun clause

Clause that takes the place of a noun and cannot stand on its own; often introduced with words such as "that, who or whoever"
eg: "What the president said was surprising"

Noun phrase (NP)

Any word or group of words based on a noun or pronoun that can function in a sentence as a subject, object or prepositional object; can be one word or many words; can be very simple or very complex
eg: "She is nice", "When is the meeting?", "The car over there beside the lampost is mine"


Change of word form indicating one person or thing (singular) or more than one person or thing (plural)
eg: one dog/three dogs, she/they


Thing or person affected by the verb; see also direct object and indirect object
eg: "The boy kicked the ball", "We chose the house with the red door"

Objective case

case form of a pronoun indicating an object
eg: "John married her", "I gave it to him"

Part of speech

One of the classes into which words are divided according to their function in a sentence
eg: verb, noun, adjective


Verb form that can be used as an adjective or a noun; see past participle, present participle

Passive voice

One of two voices in English; an indirect form of expression in which the subject receives the action; see also active voice
eg: "Rice is eaten by many people"

Past tense
(also called "simple past")

Tense used to talk about an action, event or situation that occurred and was completed in the past
eg: "I lived in Paris for 10 years", "Yesterday we saw a snake"

Past continuous

Tense often used to describe an interrupted action in the past; formed with WAS/WERE + VERB-ing
eg: "I was reading when you called"

Past perfect

Tense that refers to the past in the past; formed with HAD + VERB-ed
eg: "We had stopped the car"

Past perfect continuous

Tense that refers to action that happened in the past and continued to a certain point in the past; formed with HAD BEEN + VERB-ing
eg: "I had been waiting for three hours when he arrived"

Past participle

Verb form (V3) - usually made by adding "-ed" to the base verb - typically used in perfect and passive tenses, and sometimes as an adjective
eg: "I have finished", "It was seen by many people", "boiled eggs"


Verb form (specifically an aspect); formed with HAVE/HAS + VERB-ed (present perfect) or HAD + VERB-ed (past perfect)


Grammatical category that identifies people in a conversation; there are three persons: 1st person (pronouns I/me, we/us) is the speaker(s), 2nd person (pronoun you) is the listener(s), 3rd person (pronouns he/him, she/her, it, they/them) is everybody or everything else

Personal pronoun

Pronoun that indicates person
eg: "He likes my dogs", "They like him"

Phrasal verb

Multi-word verb formed with a verb + adverb
eg: break up, turn off (see phrasal verbs list)
NB: many people and books call all multi-word verbs "phrasal verbs" (see multi-word verbs)


Two or more words that have a single function and form part of a sentence; phrases can be noun, adjective, adverb, verb or prepositional


Of a noun or form indicating more than one person or thing; plural nouns are usually formed by adding "-s"; see also singular, number
eg: bananas, spoons, trees


Grammatically correct placement of a word form in a phrase or sentence in relation to other word forms
eg: "The correct position for an article is at the beginning of the noun phrase that it describes"


Basic state of an adjective or adverb when it shows quality but not comparative or superlative
eg: nice, kind, quickly

Possessive adjective

Adjective (also called "determiner") based on a pronoun: my, your, his, her, its, our, their
eg: "I lost my keys", "She likes your car"

Possessive case

Case form of a pronoun indicating ownership or possession
eg: "Mine are blue", "This car is hers"

Possessive pronoun

Pronoun that indicates ownership or possession
eg: "Where is mine?", "These are yours"


One of the two main parts (subject and predicate) of a sentence; the predicate is the part that is not the subject
eg: "My brother is a doctor", "Who did you call?", "The woman wearing a blue dress helped me"


Affix that occurs before the root or stem of a word
eg: impossible, reload


Part of speech that typically comes before a noun phrase and shows some type of relationship between that noun phrase and another element (including relationships of time, location, purpose etc)
eg: "We sleep at night", "I live in London", "This is for digging"

Prepositional verb

Multi-word verb that is formed with verb + preposition
eg: believe in, look after

Present participle

-Ing form of a verb (except when it is a gerund or verbal noun)
eg: "We were eating", "The man shouting at the back is rude", "I saw Tara playing tennis"

Present simple (also called "simple present")

Tense usually used to describe states and actions that are general, habitual or (with the verb "to be") true right now; formed with the basic verb (+ s for 3rd person singular)
eg: "Canada sounds beautiful", "She walks to school", "I am very happy

Present continuous (also called "present progressive")

Tense used to describe action that is in process now, or a plan for the future; formed with BE + VERB-ing
eg: "We are watching TV", "I am moving to Canada next month"

Present perfect

Tense that connects the past and the present, typically used to express experience, change or a continuing situation; formed with HAVE + VERB-ed
eg: "I have worked there", "John has broken his leg", "How long have you been in Canada?"

Present perfect continuous

Tense used to describe an action that has recently stopped or an action continuing up to now; formed with HAVE + BEEN + VERB-ing
eg: "I'm tired because I've been running", "He has been living in Canada for two years"


Another term for continuous


Word that replaces a noun or noun phrase; there are several types including personal pronouns, relative pronouns and indefinite pronouns
eg: you, he, him; who, which; somebody, anything

Proper noun

Noun that is capitalized at all times and is the name of a person, place or thing
eg: Shakespeare, Tokyo


Standard marks such as commas, periods and question marks within a sentence
eg: - ; :


Determiner or pronoun that indicates quantity
eg: some, many, all

Question tag

Final part of a tag question; mini-question at end of a tag question
eg: "Snow isn't black, is it?"

Question word

another term for WH-word

Reciprocal pronoun

Pronoun that indicates that two or more subjects are acting mutually; there are two in English - each other, one another
eg: "John and Mary were shouting at each other", "The students accused one another of cheating"

Reduced relative clause
(also called "participial relative clause")

Construction similar to a relative clause, but containing a participle instead of a finite verb; this construction is possible only under certain circumstances
eg: "The woman sitting on the bench is my sister", "The people arrested by the police have been released"

Reflexive pronoun

Pronoun ending in -self or -selves, used when the subject and object are the same, or when the subject needs emphasis
eg: "She drove herself", "I'll phone her myself"

Regular verb
see regular verbs list

Verb that has "-ed" as the ending for past tense and past participle forms; see also irregular verb
eg: work, worked, worked

Relative adverb

Adverb that introduces a relative clause; there are four in English: where, when, wherever, whenever; see also relative pronoun

Relative clause

Dependent clause that usually starts with a relative pronoun such as who or which, or relative adverb such as where
eg: "The person who finishes first can leave early" (defining), "Texas, where my brother lives, is big" (non-defining)

Relative pronoun

Pronoun that starts a relative clause; there are five in English: who, whom, whose, which, that; see also relative adverb

Reported speech

Another term for indirect speech

Restrictive relative clause

Another term for defining relative clause

Second conditional

"If-then" conditional structure used to talk about an unlikely possibility in the future
eg: "If we won the lottery we would buy a car"


Largest grammatical unit; a sentence must always include a subject (except for imperatives) and predicate; a written sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop/period (.), question mark (?) or exclamation mark (!); a sentence contains a complete thought such as a statement, question, request or command
eg: "Stop!", "Do you like coffee?", "I work."


List of items in a sentence
eg: "The children ate popsicles, popcorn and chips"


Of a noun or form indicating exactly one person or thing; singular nouns are usually the simplest form of the noun (as found in a dictionary); see also plural, number
eg: banana, spoon, tree

Split infinitive

Situation where a word or phrase comes between the particle "to" and the verb in an infinitive; considered poor construction by some
eg: "He promised to never lie again"

Standard English (S.E.)

"Normal" spelling, pronunciation and grammar that is used by educated native speakers of English

Structure word

Word that has no real meaning in a sentence, such as a pronoun or auxiliary verb (as opposed to a content word, such as verb or noun); structure words are not normally stressed in speech
eg: "Could you BRING my GLASSES because I've LEFT them at HOME"


One of the two main parts (subject and predicate) of a sentence; the subject is the part that is not the predicate; typically, the subject is the first noun phrase in a sentence and is what the rest of the sentence "is about"
eg: "The rain water was dirty", "Mary is beautiful", "Who saw you?"

Subjective case
also called "nominative"

Case form of a pronoun indicating a subject
eg: Did she tell you about her?


Fairly rare verb form typically used to talk about events that are not certain to happen, usually something that someone wants, hopes or imagines will happen; formed with BARE INFINITIVE (except past of "be")
eg: "The President requests that John attend the meeting"

Subordinate clause

Another term for dependent clause


Affix that occurs after the root or stem of a word
eg: happiness, quickly

Superlative, superlative adjective

Adjective or adverb that describes the extreme degree of something
eg: happiest, most quickly


Subject-verb-object; a common word order where the subject is followed by the verb and then the object
eg: "The man crossed the street"


Sentence structure; the rules about sentence structure

Tag question

Special construction with statement that ends in a mini-question; the whole sentence is a tag question; the mini-question is a question tag; usually used to obtain confirmation.
eg: "The Earth is round, isn't it?", "You don't eat meat, do you?"


Form of a verb that shows us when the action or state happens (past, present or future). Note that the name of a tense is not always a guide to when the action happens. The "present continuous tense", for example, can be used to talk about the present or the future.

Third conditional

"If-then" conditional structure used to talk about a possible event in the past that did not happen (and is therefore now impossible)
eg: "If we had won the lottery we would have bought a car"

Transitive verb

Action verb that has a direct object (receiver of the action); see also intransitive verb.
eg: "The kids always eat a snack while they watch TV"

Uncountable nouns
(also called "mass nouns" or "non-count")

Thing that you cannot count, such as substances or concepts; see also countable nouns.
eg: water, furniture, music


Way in which words and constructions are normally used in any particular language.

V1, V2, V3

Referring to Verb 1, Verb 2, Verb 3 - being the base, past and past participle that students typically learn for irregular verbs.
eg: speak, spoke, spoken


Word that describes the subject's action or state and that we can change or conjugate based on tense and person.
eg: (to) work, (to) love, (to) begin


Form of a verb that shows the relation of the subject to the action; there are two voices in English: active, passive


Question using a WH-word and expecting an answer that is not "yes" or "no"; WH-questions are "open" questions; see also yes-no question
eg: Where are you going?

(also called "question word")

Word that asks a WH-question; there are 7 WH-words: who, what, where, when, which, why, how

Word order

Order or sequence in which words occur within a sentence; basic word order for English is subject-verb-object or SVO

Yes-no question

Question to which the answer is yes or no; yes-no questions are "closed" questions; see also WH-question
eg: "Do you like coffee?"

Zero conditional

"If-then" conditional structure used when the result of the condition is always true (based on fact)
eg: "If you dial O, the operator comes on"




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