If you find grammatical terms confusing or hard to remember, you can use this quick-reference list to help you. All the main terms are listed in alphabetical order:
Forms of verbs/moods
- Conditional clause
- Defining relative clause
- Main clause
- Non-restrictive relative clause
- Relative clause
- Restrictive relative clause
- Subordinate clause
Other parts of speech
- Part of speech
- Word class
An active verb has a subject that is performing the action of the verb, e.g.:
John ate the apple.
The opposite of passive.
A word, such as heavy, red, or sweet, that is used to describe a noun.
A word, such as very, really, or slowly, that is used to give more information about an adjective, verb, or other adverb.
An attributive adjective is used before the noun it describes—e.g., a red apple or a heavy bag. The opposite of predicative.
Auxiliary verbs are used to form tenses of other verbs. The main ones are be, do, and have.
A group of words that contains a verb and either forms part of a sentence or is a complete sentence in itself. For example:
I went to the bank and took out some money.
A noun that refers to a group of people or things—e.g., team, family, police, committee.
The comparative form of an adjective is used for comparing two people or things, to express the fact that one of the two has a higher degree of a quality than the other (e.g., taller, happier, more popular). Compare with superlative.
A word made up of two or more existing words, such as credit card, left-handed, or website.
A clause that describes something that is possible or probable, usually beginning with if or unless. For example:
If it rains, the game will be canceled.
I’m not going to the party unless she comes too.
A word that is used to link other words or parts of a sentence, such as and, but, or if.
In the context of dictionaries, a corpus is a very large collection of written (or spoken) material that is gathered into a database and can be analyzed to find out how people are really using language.
A noun that refers to something that can be counted and has both singular and plural forms, such as cat/cats, woman/women, family/families. Also called countable noun.
Another term for restrictive relative clause.
A term for the determiner the.
A word that introduces a noun, such as the, a, every, and this.
The actual words of a speaker quoted in writing—e.g., "I don’t believe you," said Nina. Compare with reported speech.
Another term for verbal noun.
The form (or mood) of a verb that expresses a command, for example, "Come here!"
A term for the determiner a (or an).
The form (or mood) of a verb that expresses a simple statement of fact. In the sentence Jo likes coffee, the verb like is in the indicative mood.
Another term for reported speech.
The basic unchanged form of a verb, which usually occurs with the word ‘to.'
A change in the form of a word (usually the ending) to show its grammatical function in a sentence, for example, the tense of a verb or the plural of a noun.
An intransitive verb is not followed by an object. In the following sentences, talk and cry are intransitive verbs:
The baby was crying.
We talked for hours.
The opposite of transitive.
A noun that refers to something that cannot be counted, and which does not regularly have a plural form—e.g., rain, darkness, happiness, or humor.
A clause that makes sense on its own, or may form part of a longer sentence. For example:
We’re waiting for the bus.
I went to a restaurant and I treated myself to lunch.
[main clause] [main clause]
A word that changes or adds to the meaning of another word, especially a noun or adjective used before another noun. In the phrase a large family home, both largeand family are being used as modifiers.
A category or form of a verb that indicates whether the verb expresses a fact (the indicative mood), a command (the imperative mood), a question (the interrogative mood), or a wish or possibility (the subjunctive mood).
A word or phrase stating that something is not the case, such as never, nothing, or not.
A clause that gives extra information that could be left out of a sentence without affecting the structure or meaning. Nonrestrictive relative clauses are normally introduced by which, who, or whose (but never by that). You should place a comma in front of them:
He held out the small bag, which Jane snatched eagerly.
[main clause] [nonrestrictive relative clause]
Also called nondefining relative clause.
A word that refers to a person or thing—e.g., book, John, country, California, or friendship.
The person or thing affected by a verb, for example:
He was eating a sandwich.
She loves animals.
Compare with subject.
Another term for word class.
The past participle is the form of a verb that is used to form:
- certain past tenses—e.g., I have lookedeverywhere; we had decidedto leave.
- adjectives—e.g., broken glass; lost property.
The present participle is the form of a verb, ending in –ing, that is used to form:
- tenses describing something that is still happening—e.g., I am thinking, she istalking.
- adjectives—e.g., runningwater, the freezingrain.
- nouns—e.g., a woman of good breeding;no smoking allowed.
A passive verb has a subject which is undergoing the action of the verb, rather than carrying it out, e.g.:
The apple was eaten.
The opposite of active.
A word such as I, me, mine, you, yours, his, hers, we, they, or them that is used in place of a noun that has already been mentioned or that is already known.
A verb that is made up of a main verb together with an adverb or a preposition (or both). Typically the meaning of a phrasal verb is not obvious from the meanings of the component words—e.g., his car broke down; the idea didn’t catch on; you’re puttingmeoff.
The form of a noun that is used to refer to more than one person or thing, such as books or benches.
A pronoun, such as mine, yours, hers, or ours, that refers to something owned by the speaker or by someone or something previously referred to, for example:that book is mine; John’s eyes met hers; oursis a family farm.
A postpositive adjective is placed after the word it relates to, for example, galore in there were prizes galore.
A predicative adjective follows a verb such as be, become, grow, look, or seem. For example, the future looks gloomy; they grew weary. The opposite of attributive.
A letter or group of letters placed at the beginning of an existing word to change its meaning, such as un- (as in unable, unlock, or unhappy) or multi- (as in multimedia, multitask, or multicultural).
A word that is used in front of a noun or pronoun to show place, time, or method, for example:
She ran across the street.
The restaurant is not open during the day.
We went by train.
A word such as he, it, we, hers, us, your, or they that is used instead of a noun to indicate someone or something that has already been mentioned, especially to avoid repeating the noun. For example:
Kate was tired so she went to bed.
Print out the leaflet and pass it around.
A noun that identifies a particular person or thing—e.g., John, Africa, Boston, Monday, Brooklyn Bridge. In written English, proper nouns begin with capital letters.
A clause that is connected to a main clause by a word such as that, which, who, whose, or where. For example:
I first saw her in Paris, where I lived in the early twenties.
[main clause] [relative clause]
The reporting of a speaker’s words, rather than quoting them directly—e.g., Nina said that she didn’t believe him. Compare with direct speech.
Also called indirect speech.
A clause that gives essential information about a noun that comes before it. Restrictive relative clauses can be introduced by that, which, who, or whose. You do not place a comma in front of them. For example:
It reminded him of the house that he used to live in.
It reminded him of the house which he used to live in.
[main clause] [restrictive relative clause]
In sentences like this, the decided preference in American English is to use that, while in British English it is quite common to encounter that or which in both writing and speech.
Also called defining relative clause.
A sentence is a group of words that makes complete sense, contains a main verb, begins with a capital letter, and ends with a period, exclamation point, or question mark.
A split infinitive happens when an adverb is placed between to and a verb—e.g., She seems to really likehim. Some people object strongly to split infinitives. Although there’s no real grammatical justification for this view, it’s best to try to avoid them in formal writing.
The type of English that is suitable for use in every type of written or spoken situation (as opposed to informal language, slang, or jargon).
The subject of a sentence is generally the person or thing that the sentence is about, often the person or thing that performs the action of a verb. For example:
The restaurant was packed.
He was eating a sandwich.
Compare with object.
A special form (or mood) of a verb that expresses a wish or possibility instead of a fact. In the following sentence, the verb face is in the subjunctive mood. The ordinary indicative form would be faces:
The report recommends that he face a tribunal.
A clause that depends on a main clause for its meaning. Together with a main clause, a subordinate clause (or clauses) forms part of a longer sentence. There are two main types of subordinate clause: the relative clause and the conditional clause.
The superlative form of an adjective is used for comparing one person or thing with every other member of their group, to express the fact that they have the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g., tallest, happiest, most popular). Compare with comparative.
A group of letters placed at the end of an existing word to change its meaning, such as –ish (as in childish or feverish) or –able (as in bendable or breakable).
Syntax is the way in which words and phrases are put together to create well-formed sentences in a language.
The form that a verb takes to show when a person did something, or when something existed or happened. In English the main tenses are: present, past, and future.
A transitive verb is one that is used with an object. In the following sentences, admire and follow are transitive verbs:
I admire your courage.
They followed him back to his house.
The opposite of intransitive.
A word that describes what a person or thing does, or what happens, for example, run, sing, grow, occur, seem.
The present participle of a verb when it’s used as a noun—e.g., smoking in smoking is strictly forbidden. Also called gerund.
Word classes are the categories to which words belong according to the part they play in a sentence—e.g., noun, verb, adjective, adverb, or pronoun. Also called part of speech.