Glossary of common grammatical terms



The name of a person, place, thing or concept. Examples are: house, teacher, Italy, love, etc.

A “concrete noun” is something you can see or touch: house or teacher.

An “abstract noun” is something that you cannot see or touch: fear or cold.

A “count” or “countable noun” is something that you can count, such as car, euro, table, cup.

An “non-count” or “uncountable noun” is something that you cannot count, such as water, cheese, music, information.


An adjective describes a noun (and sometimes – rarely – pronouns). Examples are: heavy, yellow, quick, Welsh and so on.


Often referred to in simplistic terms as a ‘doing word’. Examples include run, sit, sing, live, believe, fight.


Adverbs show (1) how activities/actions (etc.) happen (e.g. Their excitement built up gradually), and (2) add extra meaning to adjectives (it was very cold last winter). Examples are: slowly, quietly, well, often, very, etc.


The form of a verb that shows us when the action or state happens (past, present or future).


Infinitives are unconjugated forms of verbs, typically interpreted as the “to” form, for example, “to eat”, “to drink”, “to sleep”. E.g,

‘TO EAT’ (infinitive)

I eat

You eat

He eats

We eat

They eat


A word like at, to, in, over etc. They show a relationship of time, place, direction (and so on) between two or more things:

The book is on the table.

– on shows the relationship between the book and the table.

Get some milk before you come home.

before shows the relationship between getting the milk and getting home


A word like I, me, you, he, him, it etc, that replaces a noun.

A: The dog in the yard is mine.

B: Do you know who it belongs to?


Active Voice

In an active (voice) sentence, the subject does the action, and the structure/feeling is active:

The bird flew away, the girl bought a handbag.


The “indefinite” article is a (a house), and an (an egg). The “definite article” is the.

Auxiliary Verb

A verb that is used to assist a “main” verb (an infinitive or a participle). Be (He is talking) and have (I have broken my leg) are auxiliary verbs which focus on certain aspects of the situation, continuing action (the continuous) in the first example and a present result based on an action that happened in the past in the second (the perfect).

Do (Do you know where the butter is?; She does indeed know where to go), can, might, should, must and others are modal auxiliary verbs – they show a certain type of feeling (mood > modal) towards the action. Do focuses on truth/reality (asking questions, giving negatives [Don’t go!], emphasising reality), can on ability (she can swim), might on possibility (it might rain tonight), should on advice (you should exercise more), and so on.


A group of words that are based around a verb – a sentence or a “sub-sentence”, for example:

The train chugged happily along the tracks.

The plane that crashed into the sea was radio controlled.


A word used to connect words, phrases and clauses (for example: and, but, if, when, etc.).


The basic form of a verb used as an order: Go!, Be good!, Drop it!


An exclamation inserted into an utterance without grammatical connection (for example: oh!, ah!, ouch!, well!).

Modal Verb

An auxiliary verb like can, may, must, should etc that modifies the main verb and expresses possibility, probability etc. It is also called “modal auxiliary verb”.


a) The noun or pronoun that receives the action of the verb: He ate an apple. The “direct object” is the word directly affected by the action, while the “indirect object” is the one that receives the object being affected (confused?) – He gave his sister (indirect object) an apple (direct object).

b) The word that comes after a preposition (or is otherwise directly affected by a preposition): The worm is in the apple; He gave the apple to his sister; Who did he give the apple to?


The -ing and -ed/-en(etc.) forms of verbs. The -ing form is called the “present participle”. The -ed /-en(etc.) form is called the “past participle”. The “past participle” is often irregular, while the –ing form is always regular.

Infinitive (present participle) -ing form (past participle) -en/-ed(etc.) form
sing singing sung (she has sung a song)
break breaking broken (she has broken the record)

Part Of Speech

A major type of word (eight are normally specified for English, but this can vary from book to book) – noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction and interjection.

Passive Voice

In the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb, for example The apple was eaten (see Active Voice).


Any group of words that goes together, but not as a Clause, such as in town, on the shelf, the big, bad wolf, he is running away, and so on.


Each sentence has two parts, the subject and the predicate, the predicate is what we say about the subject.

The shirt is green.

A nice little sailing skiff glided past the stern of the liner.

The man
at the door is a policeman.


A group of words that express a complete idea in itself – and which ends in a full-stop/period (.) [or a question mark (?) or an exclamation mark(!)]. A sentence can be a statement, question, negative statement, exclamation, command, supposition, and so on. Normally sentences are made of the subject and predicate, though depending on the type of talking, either can be left out.

In simple terms, a sentence contains a subject (normally) and a verb (normally), ends with a full stop/period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!), and starts with a capital / big letter. and a subject.


The subject is the topic of the sentence, what we are talking about.

The book is about the American Civil War.

The cat caught the mouse and ate it.

There was a shady apple tree growing in the garden.

The window is broken.

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