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Grammar Glossary

In these definitions, words in bold indicate terms defined elsewhere in this glossary. For the sake of readability, only selected cross-referenced terms are in bold. Italics mark examples; words of particular relevance in these examples are underlined.

Absolute phrase: A noun phrase, often followed by a participle, used adjectivally or adverbially: His projector having failed, the speaker improvised for the audience.

Action verb: A verb that indicates action: run, walk, speak, read, fly, and sail are all action verbs. Some action verbs are not actions in the usual sense: pause, consider. Compare linking verb. Do not confuse with active verb.

Active verb: A transitive verb in the active voice, describing an action performed by the subject upon a direct object: The explosion shattered the windows. Compare passive verb. Do not confuse with action verb.

Active voice: A quality of transitive verbs, present when the subject of the verb is actively performing an action upon a direct object. Transitive verbs and the sentences that contain them can be said to be in the active or the passive voice. Compare passive verb and passive voice.

Adjectival: A term applied to any word, phrase, or clause that functions as an adjective.

Adjective: A word that modifies a noun or pronoun: a small red convertible. One of the eight parts of speech.

Adverbial: A term applied to any word, phrase, or clause that functions as an adverb.

Adverb: A word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. One of the eight parts of speech.

Antecedent: The noun that is placed by a pronoun: George explained why he was late.

Appositive: A noun phrase that renames or provides supplemental information about another noun phrase; the appositive usually appears immediately after the noun phrase: The club expelled that dull fellow, the grammarian.

Articles: The three words a, an, and the, considered here as a special class of adjectives.

Auxiliary verb: When a simple predicate contains more than one verb, the words before the main verb are auxiliary verbs: I can juggle.

Case: A quality (or inflection) of English pronouns that indicates the function of the pronoun in a sentence. English pronouns can be in the nominative, objective, or possessive case. Also see person.

Clause: A unit of language that contains a subject and a predicate. See dependent clause and independent clause. All complete sentences contain at least one clause.

Common noun: A noun that indicates a general class of persons, places, or things, instead of a particular member of that class. They are typically not capitalized. Examples: city, state, man. Compare proper noun.

Comparison: The three forms of many adjectives and adverbs, reflecting comparative degrees of quality or intensity: The forms are the positive degree (clumsy, careless), used to describe one person or thing; the comparative degree (clumsier, more careless), used to compare two; and the superlative degree (clumsiest, most careless) to compare three or more. See also regular adjective and regular adverb.

Complement: The noun or adjective that follows a transitive verb or a linking verb and completes the sense of the verb. There are five kinds: the direct object, indirect object, object complement, predicate adjective, and predicate nominative. Nominals and adjectivals can also be complements.

Complete predicate: The verb of a clause, with all its complements and modifiers. Your paternal grandmother, Mrs. Crowder, is a friend of mine. Compare complete subject and simple predicate.

Complete subject: The simple subject of a sentence, with all its modifiers and associated words (like adjectives, adjectivals, and appositives). Your paternal grandmother, Mrs. Crowder, is a friend of mine. Compare complete predicate and simple subject.

Complex sentence: One of four classifications of sentences based on grammatical structure, a complex sentence contains only one independent clause, and one or more dependent clauses: If you have never seen a complex sentence, you are reading one right now. Compare simple, compound, and compoundcomplex sentences.

Compound pronoun: A two-part pronoun, which may be personal pronouns followed by a second element like -self (myself, yourself, yourselves), or interrogative pronouns followed by -ever (whoever, whomever, whatever). See also reflexive pronoun.

Compound sentence: One of four classifications of sentences based on grammatical structure, a compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses, and no dependent clauses; the clauses are joined by one or more coordinating conjunctions: This is an independent clause, and this is another one. Compare simple, complex, and compoundcomplex sentences.

Compound structure: A grammatical structure consisting of two or more grammatically equivalent units of language, joined by coordinating conjunctions: Zombies and grammarians terrify me. Compare compound sentence.

Compoundcomplex sentence: One of four classifications of sentences based on grammatical structure, a compoundcomplex sentence contains two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses. If you have never seen a compoundcomplex sentence, you are reading one right now, and I hope you appreciate it. Compare simple, complex, and compound sentences.

Conditional mood: One of the moods of verbs, the conditional mood expresses (by means of modal auxiliaries) necessary, possible, or permitted actions that may be performed at another time: I could say more about moods, but you would not appreciate it.

Conjunctions: Words (including coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions) that connect one unit of language with another. One of the eight parts of speech.

Conjunctive adverb: An adverb that signals a relationship between the idea of its own clause and the idea of a preceding clause: e.g., therefore, thus, on the contrary, and many more. Conjunctive adverbs are not conjunctions; they do not, by themselves, join clauses.

Coordinating conjunction: A class of seven conjunctions that join one unit of language with an equivalent unit, to create a compound structure, including compound sentences. They are also called the "FANBOYS conjunctions": for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Compare correlative coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.

Correlative coordinating conjunction: A class of conjunctions, just four phrases, each consisting of two to four words, that function like coordinating conjunctions: They are either/or, neither/nor, both/and, and not only/but also.

Correlative subordinating conjunctions: A sub-class of subordinate conjunctions that introduce subordinate clauses.

Dangling participle: A participle that does not clearly or logically modify a nearby noun: Honking wildly, Jerome watched the car careen by.

Declarative sentence: A sentence that makes a statement of fact (I can juggle vases) in contrast to sentences that ask questions, give commands, or make speculations. Compare interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences.

Definite article: The article the, used to indicate a definite noun phrase, one that is already known to the listener: Give me the vase now. See indefinite article.

Demonstrative pronoun: Four pronouns -- this, that, these, and those -- that call attention to the antecedents in the immediate physical or verbal context: That is my bicycle.

Dependent clause: A unit of language that contains a subject and a predicate, but cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence: e. g., After we went to the concert, we came home. The nominal clause, the relative clause, and the subordinate clause are all dependent clauses. Compare independent clause.

Descriptive grammar: An approach to language that describes the ways language is actually used by speakers, including speakers of non-standard dialects. Descriptive grammar does not make explicit judgements about what is right or wrong in a sentence.

Direct object: A complement for a transitive verb that receives the action of the verb: I can juggle vases.

Eight parts of speech: See parts of speech.

Elliptical clause: A clause in which one or more grammatically necessary words (e.g., the subject, auxiliary verbs, or the main verb) are implicit: Montrose sings as poorly as I [sing].

Exclamatory sentence: A sentence, often grammatically incomplete, that expresses emotion: What now? What the heck?

Form: A word that may perform any of several functions, depending on its context: e.g., a particular noun (a form) can function as a subject, an appositive, a direct object, an indirect object, an object of a preposition, or others.

Fragment sentence: A grammatically incomplete sentence. A fragment may lack a subject or a predicate, or (in writing) it may be a dependent clause punctuated like a complete sentence. Although it is usually written in error, a deliberate fragment, used carefully, can be an effective stylistic device.

Function: The grammatical role that a word plays in a particular sentence: e.g., a noun (a form) can function as a subject, direct object, indirect object, or in other ways.

Gender: The inflection of pronouns that reflects the sex of the antecedent of the pronoun: In English, the genders of pronouns are masculine, feminine, and neuter, and are present only in the third-person singular personal pronouns and in third-person singular reflexive pronouns.

Gerund: A kind of verbal, a present participle that is used nominally, as in: Juggling is his hobby.

Grammar: A system of rules by which we create and comprehend sentences.

Imperative mood: The mood of the verb in imperative sentences, in which the subject and auxiliaries are often implicit: Stop that!

Imperative sentence: A sentence that makes a command: Stop that juggling!

Indefinite article: The articles a and an, used to introduce a nonspecific noun phrase: Do not give that man a vase. See definite article.

Indefinite pronoun: A pronoun that is typically without a specific antecedent: Anyone can dance.

Independent clause: A clause that contains a subject and predicate, and can stand by itself as a complete sentence: e. g., We went home after the concert. Sometimes called a main clause, it does not contain a word (like a subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun) that makes the clause dependent on another clause for grammatical completeness. Compare dependent clause.

Indicative mood: The mood of a verb used in declarative sentences.

Indirect object: A complement of a transitive verb that appears between the verb and the direct object and in some sense receives the direct object: We lent him the vases.

Infinitive verb: A verbal, consisting of a basic form of a verb, and typically preceded by the particle to: e.g., to strive, to seek, to find. Infinitives can be used nominally, adjectivally, or adverbially.

Inflection: Changes in the form of a word that indicate some change in the word's grammatical function. The suffixes in walks, walked, and walking are inflections.

Interjection: A phrase that expresses an emotion or serves some social purpose (e.g., greetings, politeness, agreement, or disagreement), but performs no grammatical function in the sentence. One of the eight parts of speech.

Interrogative adverb: The adverbs when, where, why, and how when used to create a question: What did the man know, and when did he know it?

Interrogative mood: The mood of verbs in interrogative sentences.

Interrogative pronoun: Pronouns used to ask questions, the answers to which will typically be nouns, and the antecedent of the pronoun: What did the man know, and who did he know?

Interrogative sentence: A sentence that asks a question: Has Mr. Morton left? They are often characterized by changes to the typical word order of declarative sentences, and by use of the do auxiliary, interrogative adverbs or pronouns, or tag questions:
Did you do that? What did you do? You did that, didn't you?

Intransitive verb: An action verb that does not have a direct object: Mr. Morton left an hour ago.

Irregular adjective: An adjective whose comparison does not conform to the patterns found in regular adjectives: That is, the comparison is created with other inflections besides the -er and -est suffixes or the adverbs more and most: e.g., the comparison good, better, best is irregular.

Irregular adverb: An adverb whose comparison does not conform to the patterns found in regular adverbs: That is, the comparison is created with other inflections besides the -er and -est suffixes or the adverbs more and most. The comparison badly, worse, worst is irregular.

Irregular plural: A noun whose plural form does not conform to the usual pattern: men, women, children, octopi, and memoranda are irregular plurals.

Irregular verb: A verb whose principal parts do not conform to the pattern of regular verbs: lie, lay, lain are the principal parts of the irregular verb to lie (meaning "to recline").

Linking verb: A verb that appears in a predicate that describes the subject of the sentence. Linking verbs include seem, become, appear, and all forms of be, and take predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives as complements: Mr. Lochenhocher appears angry; he is my neighbor. Compare action verb.

Main clause: See independent clause.

Main verb: The last verb in the simple predicate and the word that specifies the action: I can juggle. Compare auxiliary verb.

Modal auxiliaries: Auxiliary verbs used to create the conditional mood: They are can, could; shall, should; will, would; and must, might, and may.

Modifier: A word that modifies the meanings of other words: adjectives modify the meanings of nouns, as adverbs modify the meaning of verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Mood: The qualities of verbs that are appropriate for declarations, questions, commands, statements of necessity or possibility, and speculations. See conditional, imperative, indicative, interrogative, and subjunctive mood.

Nominal: A term applied to a word, phrase, or clause that performs the function of a noun.

Nominalizer: Any of the words if, that, and whether when used to create a nominal clause: I will know if you begin juggling.

Nominative case: One of the three cases of English pronouns, marking those used as the subject of a clause: I, we, he, she, and they are in the nominative case.

Non-restrictive appositive: An appositive that is not needed to clarify the meaning of the noun it renames. It is usually enclosed in commas:

    My very best friend, Luis, will drive us to the airport.
You have only one very best friend, so Luis merely supplements the meaning of friend. Compare restrictive appositive.

Non-restrictive phrase or clause: A structure that modifies a noun but does not restrict (or limit) its reference. These structures are usually set off from the noun by commas, as with this non-restrictive relative clause:

    Bring me the rake, which is in the garage.
(There is only one rake, and the relative clause provides supplementary information.) The term is also applied to appositives. Compare restrictive phrase or clause.

Noun: A word that indicates a person, place, thing, or idea. Most nouns can be singular or plural; all can be modified by adjectives. See common noun and proper noun.

Noun of direct address: A noun phrase that names the person addressed in the sentence:

    Phineas, you are stepping on my foot!
    Please welcome, ladies and gentlemen, our next speaker.

Noun phrase: A noun and all its modifiers and related structures (like appositives): Birds, the birds, and the terrifying birds in Hitchcock's film are all noun phrases.

Object complement: An adjective or noun phrase that follows a transitive verb and its direct object and describes the direct object in some way: We have made Donald Trump president.

Objective case: One of the cases of English pronouns, marking those used as a direct or indirect object, an object of a preposition, and some other functions: me, us, him, her, and them are all in the objective case. Compare nominative case and possessive case.

Object of a preposition: The noun phrase or pronoun that typically follows a preposition in a prepositional phrase: To Elise, at your service, and in your face. Pronouns will be in the objective case.

Paragraph coherence: The quality of a paragraph that is unified in subject matter and cohesive in the order and content of sentences: All the sentences in the paragraph are clearly on the same topic, all contributing to the point of the paragraph, and each sentence leads logically to the next. I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills. Thoughtfully used, pronouns and antecedents, adverbs, conjunctions, and sentence structure can contribute to coherence. (Do you see why coherence is important?)

Participle: One kind of verbal; the past participle or present participle form of a verb, used adjectivally:

    Past participle: Thrilled, Jerome sped down the street in his new car.
    Present participle: Honking wildly, Jerome drove his new car to his parents' home.
Compare the dangling participle.

Particle: As the term is used here, a particle is the first part of an infinitive verb (to rise, to fall), or the second part of a phrasal verb (write in, write out, pass out, come to). These particles always resemble prepositions, but are not prepositions (or adverbs, or any other part of speech). They are considered part of the infinitive or phrasal verb.

Parts of speech: The eight categories of words into which all the words in a sentence can (theoretically) be placed: adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, nouns, prepositions, pronouns, verbs, and interjections.

Passive complements: The complements of passive verbs, including direct objects, predicate adjectives, and predicate nominatives: When Donald Trump was elected President, Mother was given time to recover.

Passive verb: A transitive verb in the passive voice, creating a sentence in which the subject passively receives the action of the verb:

    The windows were shattered by the explosion.
    The explosion was caused by unknown circumstances.
Compare active verb.

Past: The second of the three principal parts of any verb, used to create the past tense: e.g., spoke, sang, shouted.

Past participle: The third of the three principal parts of any verb, used with the auxiliary have to create perfect tenses: have spoken, had sung, will have shouted.

Past tense: The tense created with the second of the three principal parts, the past form: e.g., Yesterday we spoke, we sang, and we shouted.

Person: A quality of personal pronouns and some other pronouns that indicates that a pronoun refers to the speaker (e.g., I, we, myself in the first person), to the audience (you, yourself in the second person), or to a third party (he, she, they, themselves in the third person). Also see case.

Perfect progressive tense: The verb tense consisting of an auxiliary that is some form of have been followed by a main verb that is a present participle: have been explaining, had been defining, will have been clarifying. Compare simple progressive tense.

Perfect tense: The tenses created with the past participle of a verb, preceded by some form of the auxiliary have. These clauses represent the present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect tenses: e.g., Today we have spoken, earlier we had spoken, and soon we will have spoken again.

Personal pronouns: The most commonly used pronouns, they show number, case, person, and gender: e.g., I, me, my; you, yours; she, her, hers.

Phrasal prepositions: A single preposition consisting of two words: e.g., according to, because of.

Phrasal verb: A main verb consisting of two words, the second of which (called a particle) resembles a preposition: call in (to telephone), make up (to reconcile), take off (to leave).

Phrase: A word or series of words used as a single grammatical unit: e.g., a noun phrase or a prepositional phrase.

Possessive case: One of the three cases of English personal pronouns, marking those used to indicate ownership: e.g., my, mine; your, yours; his, her, hers, its; and their, theirs.

Predicate: That portion of any clause that provides information about the subject, describing the subject or indicating the subject's actions.

    Mr. Morton is outrageous.
    Mr. Morton has broken all the vases.
The predicate of any clause contains the complete verb of the sentence, as well as the modifiers and complements of the verb. See complete predicate and simple predicate.

Predicate adjective: A complement: An adjective or adjectival phrase that follows a linking verb and describes the subject: Ed is late.

Predicate nominative: A complement: A noun, a pronoun, or a nominal phrase or clause that follows a linking verb and describes the subject: Ed is the chairman. Sometimes called a predicate noun.

Preposition: A word that typically precedes the object of a preposition (a noun phrase or pronoun) to create a prepositional phrase, used as an adjectival or adverbial modifier: Some common prepositions are of, in, to, at, with, and beside.

Prepositional phrase: A phrase constructed with a preposition and an object of a preposition to create an adjectival or adverbial modifier: In a hurry, to school, by nine o'clock.

Prescriptive grammar: An approach to language that describes how English should be used to conform to the standard dialect of the language.

Present participle: The fourth principal part of any verb, indicated by the -ing suffix: reading, listening, thinking. As a main verb, it is used to create the simple progressive and perfect progressive tenses.

Principal parts: A conventional way of summarizing the forms of a verb used to create tenses: the present, the past, and the past participle. A fourth, the present participle, is sometimes included.

Progressive tense: See simple progressive and perfect progressive.

Pronoun: A word that typically takes the place of a noun that appears elsewhere in the context, as in Mr. Morton broke his own vases. See antecedent. One of the eight parts of speech.

Pronoun agreement: The condition of a personal pronoun when its number and gender is consistent with the number and gender of the antecedent: My daughter actually did her homework.

Proper noun: A noun that refers to a specific person, place, thing, or idea. In English, proper nouns are typically capitalized: Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln. Compare common noun.

Reciprocal Pronoun: The pronouns each other and one another.

Reflexive pronoun: A compound pronoun made up of a personal pronoun and -self, used for emphasis:

    I myself saw it happen.
    Ask Ruthie to do it herself.
In an active voice sentence, reflexive pronouns can be used to indicate an action performed by the subject of the sentence upon the subject: Mr. Morton hurt himself.

Regular adjective: An adjective whose comparison is formed using only the -er and -est suffixes or the adverbs more and most. The comparison silly, sillier, silliest is regular. Compare irregular adjective.

Regular adverb: An adverb whose comparison is formed using only the -er and -est suffixes or the adverbs more and most. The comparison erratically, more erratically, most erratically is regular. Compare irregular adverb.

Regular verb: A verb whose principal parts follow a predictable pattern: The past and past participle forms are identical, and both end in -d (or, in a few cases, -t). Examples: juggle, juggled, have juggled. Compare irregular verb.

Relative adverb: The adverbs where and when, used to create relative clauses that modify nouns of place or time: Lamar, Missouri, is the little town where Harry S. Truman was born. I was born on April 12, the day when Truman was born.

Relative clause: An adjectival dependent clause that is joined to another clause by a relative pronoun or relative adverb: That is the idiot who broke all my vases. He will not live to see the day when I let him in my house again.

Relative pronoun: The pronouns who, whom whose, that, and which, which appear at or near the beginning of a relative clause, as in this sentence.

Restrictive appositive: An appositive that restricts (or limits) the meaning of the noun it renames. It is not enclosed in commas:

    My friend Luis will drive us to the airport.
You have many friends, so Luis restricts the reference of friend. Compare non-restrictive appositive.

Restrictive phrase or clause: A structure that modifies a noun and restricts (or limits) its reference. These structures are usually not set off from the noun by commas, as with this relative clause:

    Bring me the rake that is in the garage.
(Here the situation is that there is more than one rake, and the speaker wants a specific one; the relative clause restricts the range of reference of rake.) Compare non-restrictive phrase or clause. The term restrictive is also applied to appositives.

Sentence: A unit of language that contains at least one independent clause; sentences are the usual focus of grammatical study.

Sentence modifier: A phrase or clause that indicates the writer's attitude or intention about the sentence that contains the modifier; they often resemble adverbs: Tragically, we're nowhere near the end of this glossary.

Sentence structure: A term that often refers to the type and number of clauses a sentence contains, classifying it accordingly as simple, compound, complex, or compoundcomplex. But the term is also used for other features of a sentence: e.g., parallel structure or periodic structure.

Simple predicate: The simple predicate consists only of the main verb and its auxiliary verbs, excluding any modifiers or complements. In the preceding sentence, the simple predicate is consists.

Simple progressive tense: Also called the progressive tense. The verb tense consisting of an auxiliary that is some form of be followed by a main verb that is a present participle: am explaining, was defining, will be clarifying. Compare perfect progressive tense.

Simple sentence: A sentence consisting of just one independent clause and no dependent clauses: Mr. Morton juggles. See also compound, complex, and compoundcomplex sentences.

Simple subject: The noun phrase or pronoun that indicates what (or whom) the clause is about, excluding modifiers or other associated structures: Little Ruthie, the girl next door, is learning the bagpipes. The girl next door, that Ruthie, is driving me crazy. See complete subject and predicate.

Simple tenses: The past, present, and future tenses of a verb, in contrast to the perfect and progressive tenses: I juggle; I juggled, I will juggle.

Subject: That portion of any clause that states what the clause is about:

    Mr. Morton is outrageous.
    Mr. Morton has broken all the vases.
The complete subject of any clause typically contains a noun or pronoun (or some nominal structure) as well as modifiers of the noun. See complete subject and simple subject.

Subject complement: Another common term for the predicate adjective and predicate nominative.

Subject-verb agreement: The condition of a verb when it is consistent with the number and person of the subject of the verb: I juggle, he juggles, they juggle.

Subjunctive mood: The mood of verbs in clauses about hypothetical situations (e.g., wishes, prayers, and speculations), often combined with conditional mood clause: If I were you, I'd stop juggling.

Subordinate clause: An adverbial dependent clause that begins with a subordinating conjunction. Before Ruthie took up the bagpipes, Mr. Lochenhocher was a happy man.

Subordinating conjunction: A class of conjunctions that join an independent clause with a dependent clause to create a complex or compoundcomplex sentence. Compare coordinating conjunction and subordinate clause.

Tag Question: A tag question is added to the end of a declarative sentence with a comma, and it repeats the auxiliary verb and the subject of the declarative. If the declarative is positive (You did forget your textbooks), the tag question is negative (didn't you?). If the declarative is negative (I won't need them), the tag is positive (will I?).

Tense: The quality of verbs, signaled by inflections and auxiliaries, that indicates the point in time when the action took place: e.g., past, present, or future. See simple, perfect, and progressive tenses.

Three principal parts: See principal parts.

Transitive verb: A verb that is performing an action upon a direct object in an active voice sentence, or performing an action upon the subject in a passive voice sentence.

Transposed order: Describes a declarative sentence in which the subject appears after the predicate: Quietly rose the sun. Loudly fell the vases.

Verb: One of the eight parts of speech, verbs indicate actions (e.g., read, write, walk, drive, think, consider) or states of being (e.g., become, seem, and forms of be). Verbs are often said to be the most important part of the sentence because they contain so much information (e.g., tense, voice, mood, as well as the state of being or action expressed in the main verb), and because they are a locus for other important structures (adverbials and complements).

Verbal: A verb form used for another function, as a noun, adjective, or adverb. There are three kinds: the gerund, infinitive, and participle.

Voice: A term applied to transitive verbs and the sentences that contain them: These verbs and sentences are said to be in the active voice or the passive voice, depending on the expressed relationship between the subject of the sentence and its verb: Is the subject actively performing the action (Mr. Morton juggled the vases) or passively receiving it (The vases were juggled by Mr. Morton)?

Glossary definitions reprinted from Brehe's Grammar Anatomy, University System of Georgia, and licensed under Creative Commons AttributionShareAlike 4.0 International License. Reuse of the material in this vocabulary section is subject to the same Creative Commons license.

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