Some grammatical terms may be familiar to you, but others can be confusing or hard to remember. Clicking on any term below will give you a quick and clear definition. Below the categorized section you’ll find all the terms listed from A–Z, so you can browse that way if you prefer.
- Abstract noun
- Collective noun
- Common noun
- Concrete noun
- Count noun
- Mass noun
- Noncount noun
- Proper noun
- Verbal noun
- Auxiliary verb
- Modal verb
- Phrasal verb
- Split infinitive
Tenses and Moods
- Conditional clause
- Coordinate 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
Other useful terms
An active verb has a subject that is performing the action of the verb, for example:
John ate the apple.
The opposite of passive. Find out more about active and passive verbs.
A type of optional adverbial that adds extra information to a sentence, for instance:
I can’t sleep at night.
Read more about adverbials and adjuncts.
A word, such as very, really or slowly, that is used to give more information about an adjective, verb, or other adverb. Learn more about how to use adverbs.
An adverb, phrase, or clause that changes, restricts, or adds to the meaning of a verb, for instance:
I put my bag on the floor.
Read more about adverbials.
A word, sentence, or phrase that states that something is the case or which expresses agreement, for instance:
Whales are mammals; that’s correct.
The opposite of negative.
An adjective that is used to put people or things into categories or classes (e.g. an electric oven, a presidential candidate). Compare with qualitative adjective. Find out more about classifying and qualitative adjectives.
I went to the bank and drew out some money.
The comparative form of an adjective is used for comparing two people or things, to express the fact that one has a higher degree of a quality than the other. For example:
She’s taller than me.
He’s happier today than yesterday.
They’re more popular than the Beatles.
She became a teacher.
I was angry.
They seemed very friendly.
A word made up of two or more existing words, such as credit card, left-handed, or website. Learn more about hyphens in compound words.
He would see.
Should we stay or go?
If I had more money, I’d buy a bigger house.
Should you change your mind, we’d be happy to help.
A clause that describes something that is possible or probable, depending on something else happening. Such clauses usually begin with if or unless, for example:
If it rains, the match 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. Learn about the different types of conjunctions.
A spoken sound made by completely or partially blocking the flow of air breathed out through the mouth. In English, consonants are represented by the letters b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, and z. Compare with vowel. See also Is the letter Y a vowel or a consonant?
I’m watching the TV.
It was snowing.
A shortened form of a word or group of words (e.g. they’re is a contraction of they are). Read more about contractions.
It was freezing cold but the sun was shining.
[coordinate clause] [coordinate clause]
In the context of dictionaries and linguistics, a corpus is a very large and diverse collection of written (or spoken) material that is gathered into an electronic database and can be analysed to find out how people are really using language. Find out more about the Oxford English Corpus.
Also called countable noun. 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. The opposite of nouncount noun. Learn more about count and noncount nouns.
Another term for restrictive relative clause.
The pronouns, verb forms, and determiners that are used by a speaker to identify himself or herself, or to refer to a group including himself or herself, for instance, I, we, my, we were, I went. Compare with second person, third person.
Formal speaking and writing typically has more complex grammatical structures and more conservative or technical vocabulary than everyday English. It’s used in official communications and speeches, business reports, legal contexts, academic books, etc. For example:
The defendant was unable to give any alternative satisfactory explanation of how he financed the purchase, apart from unspecified loans from individuals not available to give evidence.
A verb tense used to refer to something that has not yet happened, for example:
I shall arrive in Paris at midday.
Will it be sunny this weekend?
Learn more about verb tenses.
Another term for verbal noun.
Add the onions to the pan.
Find out more about the imperative and other moods of verbs.
The form (or mood) of a verb that expresses simple statements of fact. In the sentence Jo likes coffee, the verb like is in the indicative mood. Find out more about the indicative and other moods of verbs.
Another term for reported speech.
The basic unchanged form of a verb, which usually occurs with the word "to". For instance: to read; to be. See also split infinitive.
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. Read more about verb tenses and forming plurals of nouns.
Informal speaking and writing typically has fairly simple grammatical structures, doesn’t always follow strict grammatical rules, and uses non-specialist vocabulary. It’s suitable for everyday communication with friends or other people you know. For example:
"Coming out tonight?" "No chance, sorry!"
Another term for exclamation.
Used to describe a word used to ask a question, or to describe a sentence in the form of a question. For instance, how, where, and who are interrogative words, and Why don’t we meet for coffee? is an interrogative sentence (that is, a question). The interrogative form (mood) of a verb is used to ask questions and in English it’s formed by an auxiliary verb that is placed before the subject, for example:
Are you going on vacation this year?
Learn more about the interrogative and other moods of verbs.
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.
An irregular word, such as a noun or verb, has inflections that do not follow the normal rules. For example, the plural of man is the irregular form men, and the past of the verb run is ran. The opposite of regular. Learn more about regular and irregular verbs.
We’re waiting for the bus.
I went to a restaurant and I treated myself to lunch.
[main clause] [main clause]
A noun that refers to something that can’t be counted, and that does not regularly have a plural form, for example, rain, darkness, happiness, or humor. Also called noncount noun. The opposite of count noun. Learn more about count and noncount nouns.
A modal verb is an auxiliary verb which is used with another verb to talk about possibility, probability, permission, intention, etc. The main modal verbs are can, could, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, would. Also called modal auxiliary verb. Find out more about auxiliary verbs.
A word or phrase that changes, restricts, or adds to the meaning of another word, often a noun or adjective used before another noun. Adverbs can also act as modifiers, for example, in the following sentence, very [adverb], large [adjective], and family [noun] are all being used as modifiers to give more information about the noun home:
It was a very large family home.
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), a condition (the conditional mood) or a wish or possibility (the subjunctive mood). Read more about the moods of verbs.
The smallest unit of meaning into which a word can be divided. You cannot break a morpheme down into anything smaller that has a meaning. For example, the word never has one morpheme, while the word nevertheless has three morphemes (never, the, and less). Read more about morphemes. Compare with syllable.
A clause that gives extra information that could be left out of a sentence without affecting the structure or meaning. Non-restrictive relative clauses are normally introduced by which, who, or whose (but never by that) and you should place a comma in front of them:
He held out the small bag, which Jane snatched eagerly.
[main clause] [non-restrictive relative clause]
A word that refers to a person or thing, for example book, John, country, London, or friendship. Different types of noun include abstract, collective, count/noncount, concrete, gerund/verbal, mass, and proper. Find out more about nouns.
The person or thing affected by a verb, for example:
He was eating a sandwich.
She loves animals.
The past participle is the form of a verb that is used to form:
certain past tenses, e.g. I have looked everywhere; we had decided to 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:
continuous tenses describing something that is still happening, e.g. I am thinking, she was talking.
adjectives, e.g. running water, the freezing rain.
verbal nouns, e.g. a woman of good breeding; no smoking allowed.
The apple was eaten.
A verb tense used to refer to something that happened before the present, for example:
We went shopping last Saturday.
Did you go for a meal, too?
Learn more about verb tenses.
It was the first time that I had seen an eagle.
A word such as I, me, you, him, her, us, we, they, or them that is used in place of a noun that has already been mentioned or that is already known. Compare with possessive pronoun. See when to use "I" or "me".
His car broke down.
The idea didn’t catch on.
You’re putting me off.
Find out more about phrasal verbs.
A small group of words that forms a meaningful unit within a clause, for example the red dress; in the city. A phrase is also a group of words which have a specific meaning when used together, for example to let the cat out of the bag. Learn more about phrases.
The basic form of an adjective or adverb that is used to express a simple quality, for instance sad, good, fast, loudly. Compare with comparative and superlative. Find out more about comparative and superlative adjectives.
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.
Ours is a family farm.
Compare with personal pronoun.
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). Compare with suffix. See examples of prefixes and suffixes.
She ran across the street.
The restaurant is not open during the day.
We went by train.
A verb tense used to refer to something that is happening or exists now or that happens or exists regularly, for example:
I love my parents.
She goes swimming every week.
Read more about verb tenses.
Another term for continuous.
A word such as I, he, she, 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, Italy, London, Monday, or White House). In written English, proper nouns begin with capital letters. Compare with common noun. Find out about other types of noun.
A regular word, such as a noun or a verb, has inflections that follow the normal rules. For instance, the noun cat has a regular plural with -s (cats), and the verb to love forms its tenses in the normal way (loved; loving). The opposite of irregular. Find out more about regular and irregular verbs.
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 should not place a comma in front of them. For example:
It reminded him of the house that he used to live in.
[main clause] [restrictive relative clause]
He's going out with a girl who used to go to my school.
[main clause] [restrictive 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 mark, or question mark. For example:
Paul flew to New York last Monday.
Whose turn is it to do the dishes?
Read more on sentences.
Very informal words and expressions that are mainly found in speaking rather than writing. Slang is often used by a particular group, such as young people or the armed forces. For example, in British teenage slang, bare means "very" or "a lot of" (I was bare tired), while in military slang, a bandit is an enemy aircraft. Compare with formal, informal.
A split infinitive happens when an adverb is placed between to and a verb (e.g. She seems to really like him). Some people object strongly to split infinitives. Although there’s no real grammatical justification for this view, it’s best to avoid them in formal writing. More on split infinitives.
The restaurant was packed.
He was eating a sandwich.
A special form (or mood) of a verb that expresses a wish or possibility instead of a fact. In the following sentences the verbs face and were are in the subjunctive mood (the ordinary indicative forms would be faces and was):
The report recommends that he face a tribunal.
I wish I were more organized.
Read more about the subjunctive and other moods of verbs.
A clause that depends on a main clause for its meaning. Together with a main clause, a subordinate clause forms part of a longer sentence. A sentence may contain more than one subordinate clause. There are two main types of subordinate clause: the relative clause and the conditional clause.
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 likeable or breakable). The opposite of prefix. See examples of prefixes and suffixes.
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. For example:
She’s the tallest girl in the class.
He’s the happiest person I know.
They’re the most popular band in the world.
Compare with positive and comparative. See more examples of comparative and superlative adjectives.
A word or part of a word that contains one vowel sound, and usually one or more consonants before or after the vowel sound. For example, speak has one syllable and speaker has two syllables (speak and -er). Compare with morpheme.
Syntax is the way in which words and phrases are put together to create well-formed sentences in a language. For example, "I went to the store today" is correct English syntax, whereas "Store I went today the to" is not.
I admire your courage.
They followed him back to his house.
A word that describes what a person or thing does, or what happens, for example run, sing, grow, occur, seem. Learn more about verbs.
A spoken sound made with the mouth open and without the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, teeth, etc. In English, vowels are represented by the letters a, e, i, o, and u. Compare with consonant. See also Is the letter Y a vowel or a consonant?