Glossary of English grammar and usage terms

A

Adjectivea word, phrase, or clause that describes a noun or pronoun.

Adverba word, phrase, or clause that modifies the meaning of a verb, adjective, or other adverb.

Antecedent: the noun or noun phrase to which a pronoun refers.

Appositivea noun or noun phrase that identifies or modifies the noun or pronoun that comes immediately before it—e.g., Joey, my boyfriend, wanted pizza.

Article: a type of adjective used to indicate specificity. In English, the only articles are thea, and an.

Auxiliary verban irregular verb that provides information about another verb. The main ones are to have and to be.

B

C

Case: the property of a noun or pronoun that indicates how it relates to other parts of a sentence. The three cases in English are nominative, possessive, and objective.

Collective noun: a count noun referring to a group—e.g., staffbandgroup.

Comparative: indicating that something has a quality to a greater or lesser degree than something else. For example, fasterprettier, and more equitable are comparative adjectivesComparative adverbs usually take more.

Complement: a word or phrase that completes the meaning of a verb. The main types are objects, predicate nouns, and predicate adjectives.

Conjunctiona word or phrase that links words, phrases, clauses, or sentences.

Conjunctive adverban adverb that functions as a conjunction—for example, howevertherefore, hence.

Contractionan abbreviation of a word or phrase formed by omitting letters, usually replacing the omitted letters with an apostrophe—e.g., can’twe’llhe’d.

Conventional: significantly more common than alternative forms.

Count noun: a noun that can be singular or plural.

D

Dangler (or dangling modifier)a modifier, especially at the beginning of a sentence, positioned to modify the wrong word or no word at all—e.g., Leaving home, the weather was nice.

Direct object: the noun or pronoun referring to a person or thing acted upon directly by the action of a verb—e.g., I’m writing a book.

E

F

First person: the person of a clause when the speaker is speaking of himself or herself.

G

Gerundan -ing verb form that functions as a noun—e.g., Running is fun. Gerunds are identical to present participles, which usually function as adjectives.

Grammar: the set of rules one needs to know in order to competently form sentences in a language.

H

I

Imperative mood: the mood of a verb when its clause makes a command or a request—e.g., Read me that book.

Indicative mood: the mood of a verb when its clause states a fact or opinion or asks a question—e.g., Grammar is easy.

Indirect object: a noun or pronoun denoting a person or thing acted upon indirectly by the action of a verb—e.g., I gave the book to him.

Infinitive: the uninflected form of a verb, usually preceded by to. Infinitives are usually nouns—e.g., To write well is not easy.

Intensifier: an adverb that amplifies the meaning of the adjective it modifies—e.g., veryquiterather.

Interjectiona short word or phrase that suddenly and briefly expresses an emotion or reaction—e.g., ohwowahem.

J

K

L

M

Modifier: a word or phrase, especially an adjective or adverb, that modifies the meaning of another word or phrase.

Moodthe quality of a verb that expresses the speaker’s attitude toward the likelihood, existence, or desirability of the verb’s action. In English, the three moods are indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.

N

Nominative case: a noun’s or pronoun’s case when it is the subject or complement of a verb.

Nouna word denoting anything that can be named, usually an object, person, place, idea, or action.

Number: the quality of a noun, pronoun, or verb that indicates whether it refers to a single person or thing or more than one.

O

Objecta noun or pronoun that receives the action of a verb.

Objective case: a noun’s or pronoun’s case when it is the object of a verb, preposition, or infinitive.

P

Participlean -ed or -ing verb form used as an adjective or to form the progressive aspect or perfect tense.

Past participle: the participial form of a verb usually identical to the past-tense form (ending in -ed)—though there are many irregular past participles.

Perfect participle: a participle taking the form of having plus the past participle—e.g., having hadhaving gone.

Person: the quality of a clause that indicates whom the speaker is speaking about.

Phrasea group of two or more words that function together yet have no subject or predicate.

Possessive case: a noun’s or pronoun’s case when its relationship to another element in the sentence is one of ownership, association, or belonging.

Predicate: the part of a clause that tells what the subject does, what is done to the subject, or what is being said about the subject.

Prefix: a letter or group of letters added to the beginning of a word or word element to change its meaning.

Prepositiona word that links a noun or pronoun to another type of word.

Present participle: a participle ending in -ing.

Pronouna word that stands in for a noun.

Q

R

S

Second person: the person of a clause when the speaker is speaking of the person spoken to.

Sentencea group of words expressing a complete thought and containing at least one independent clause.

Standard: generally favored by editors and professional writers in moderately formal to very formal language registers.

Subject: the person, place, or thing about which something is said in a clause.

Suffix: a letter or group of letters added to the end of a word or word element to change its meaning.

Style: a conventional or customary manner of presenting language. Different publishers, publications, editors, and authors may have different style preferences.

Subjunctive mood: the mood of a verb when its clause, which is necessarily dependent, addresses conditions that are contrary to fact—e.g., If I were good at grammar, I’d be a better writer. 

Superlative: indicating that something, when compared with two or more other things, has a quality to the greatest or least degree. For example, fastestprettiest, and most equitable are superlative adjectives. Superlative adverbs usually take most.

T

Tense: the quality of a verb that expresses when the action occurred, occurs, or will occur.

Third person: the person of a clause when the speaker is speaking of someone who is neither the speaker nor the one spoken to.

U

Usage: the way in which words and phrases are used by speakers of a language.

V

Verba word or phrase denoting an action.

W

X

Y

Z

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