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grammar terms

Here is a list of grammar terms and their definitions.

adjective

Identifies, describes, limits or qualifies a noun or pronoun. For example, awesome, best, both, happy, our, this, three, whose and yellow are adjectives.

adverb

Identifies, describes, limits or qualifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb or a group of words. For example, almost, also, eloquently, not, often, rapidly, really, someday, thus and very are adverbs.

antecedent

Is a noun, noun phrase or pronoun referred to by a pronoun. The antecedent usually comes before the pronoun replacing it. For example, Lexus is the antecedent of one in the sentence I wanted a Lexus for my birthday, but did not get one.

case

Indicates how a noun or pronoun functions in a sentence. Personal pronouns have three cases: subject (for a subject or subject complement), object (for the object of a verb or preposition) and possessive. For example, for the pronoun he, he is the subject case, him is the object case, and his is the possessive case. Nouns and indefinite pronouns generally have two cases: the common case for both subject and object (e.g. writer, someone) and the possessive (e.g. writer’s, someone’s).

clause

Consists of a group of related words containing a subject and a predicate. For example, there are two clauses in the sentence Although we looked for errors, we found none. Note that Although we looked for errors is a dependent clause (i.e. it cannot stand alone) and we found none is an independent clause (i.e. it can stand alone).

collective noun

Represents a group of people, animals or objects. Collective nouns are singular in form and take a singular verb when they refer to the group as a single unit. Common collective nouns include audience, government, herd and public.

compound adjective

Identifies, describes, limits or qualifies a noun or pronoun. Contains more than one word (e.g. bone-chilling).

compound noun

Combines two or more words that are then used as a single concept.

  • hyphenated compound connects the words with a hyphen (e.g. free-for-all).
  • open compound remains as separate words (e.g. decision making).
  • solid compound fuses the words together (e.g. housekeeper).

compound subject

Consists of two or more parts joined by a conjunction (e.g. Jack and Jill, either you or I). If its parts are joined with and, the compound subject is usually plural, except when the parts form a single unit (e.g. drinking and driving) or refer to the same person or thing (e.g. senior writer and editor). If a compound subject contains or or nor, the verb agrees with the part nearest the verb.

conjunction

Links words, phrases or clauses.

  • coordinating conjunction connects elements of equal rank such as two nouns (e.g. bread and butter), two adjectives (e.g. short and sweet), two clauses (e.g. the party was over, so they went home). And, but, or, nor, for, so and yet are the coordinating conjunctions.
  • correlative conjunction consists of two elements that work together (e.g. either…or, neither…nor, not only…but also).
  • subordinating conjunction begins a dependent (or subordinate) clause and joins it to an independent (or main) clause (e.g. John woke the children after he ate breakfast). After, although, because, if, when and while are a few examples of the many subordinating conjunctions.

conjunctive adverb

Joins two clauses together. Some of the most common conjunctive adverbs include consequently, furthermore, hence, however, nevertheless, nonetheless and therefore. Conjunctive adverbs are not strong enough to join two independent clauses without the aid of a semicolon.

definite article

Precedes a noun and restricts its meaning by referring to a specific thing (e.g. the server crashed) or person (e.g. the minister spoke briefly). The word the is the only definite article in the English language.

direct object

Receives the action of a transitive verb. The direct object answers the question what? or whom? after the verb. For example, the noun report is the direct object in the sentence I handed in my monthly report. It answers the question I handed in what?

ellipsis (plural: ellipses)

  • The omission of a word or words needed to grammatically complete a phrase, clause or expression.
  • Set of three dots […] indicating an omission.

elliptical clause

Is a grammatically incomplete clause because some key words have been omitted, usually to avoid repetition. Generally, the meaning can easily be understood from the context. For example, after reading that Jean has five dollars; Mary, three, most people will understand that Mary has three dollars, even though the words has and dollars have been omitted from the elliptical clause. When an ellipsis is marked by a comma within the second clause, the clauses must be separated by a semicolon, as in the example given.

gender

Refers to the classification of nouns and pronouns as masculine (e.g. man, he), feminine (e.g. woman, she) and neuter (e.g. laptop, it).

gerund

Is a verb form ending in -ing that acts as a noun. For example, the gerund smoking acts as a noun in the sentence Smoking can be hazardous to your health.

indefinite article

Precedes a noun (either a thing or a person) whose specific identity is unknown to the reader (e.g. a pilot project, an auditor). The words a and an are the only two indefinite articles in the English language.

indirect object

Names the person or thing affected by the verb. The indirect object answers the question to whom?, for whom?, to what? or for what? For example, the noun Liette is the indirect object in the sentence Don gave Liette a set of fishing lures. It answers the question To whom did Don give a set of fishing lures?

infinitive

The unconjugated, uninflected base or stem form of a verb, often preceded by to. For example, to consider, to extinguish, to be and to drink are infinitives.

interjection

Expresses surprise or sudden, strong emotion. Some commonly used interjections are darn; hey, you; oops; rats; uh-uh; and wow. The interjection, which is generally followed by an exclamation or a question mark, is often placed at the beginning or the end of a sentence.

intransitive verb

Does not require a direct object to complete its meaning. Examples of intransitive verbs include growl (e.g. The bear is growling), crash (e.g. My computer crashed) and ring (e.g. The bell rang).

linking verb

Does not express an action. A linking verb connects the subject to its subject complement. The verbs be (e.g. My team leader is efficient), become (e.g. Julia became a doctor) and seem (e.g. The customer seems satisfied) are all examples of linking verbs. Verbs of sensing (look, feel, smell, sound, taste) can also be used as linking verbs: e.g. This stew smells good.

noun

Designates an idea (immortality), a person (astronaut, Gretzky), a place (penalty box), a thing (canoe), an entity (Group of Seven), a quality (determination) or a point in time (tomorrow).

noun phrase

Consists of a noun or pronoun and all of its modifiers, including articles, adjectives and other nouns (e.g. a shiny new Lexus, a glass of chocolate milk, the emergency room).

number

Refers to the form of a noun, pronoun, demonstrative adjective or verb indicating whether it is singular (e.g. book, it, this, is) or plural (e.g. books, they, these, are).

participle

Is a verb form that works with a helping (auxiliary) verb to create compound verb tenses or stands alone as an adjective.

  • past participle often ends in -ed (e.g. produced), but may be formed irregularly (e.g. eaten).
  • present participle ends in -ing (e.g. reading).

person

Refers to the form of a verb or pronoun indicating whether the subject is speaking (first person—I am, we are), spoken to (second person—you are) or spoken about (third person—he, she, or it is; they are).

phrase

Consists of a group of related words that does not have a subject, a predicate or both. Different types of phrases (e.g. noun phrase, verb phrase, prepositional phrase) frequently function as single parts of speech (e.g. noun, verb, adverb). In the sentence They were arguing in a heated manner, the prepositional phrase in a heated manner acts as an adverb modifying the verb phrase were arguing.

predicate

Makes a statement about the subject. The predicate consists of the verb and its objects, complements and modifiers. For example, handed in my application for the job is the predicate of the sentence I handed in my application for the job.

preposition

Precedes a noun or pronoun to form a phrase that identifies, describes, limits or qualifies a part of a sentence. Common prepositions include about, before, except, for, into, near, of, to, underneath and via. A preposition may follow a verb to form a phrasal verb: e.g. make use of (something), run into (someone).

prepositional phrase

Begins with a preposition; may include articles, adjectives or adverbs; and ends with a noun or pronoun (or a word or word group acting as a noun). Here are some examples: for Sue, between us, in a surprisingly short time, without looking, by whatever means are available.

pronoun

Generally acts as a substitute for a noun. The words I, you, it, me, them, mine, yours, herself, ourselves, someone, anything, few, each other, who and which are all examples of pronouns.

relative pronoun

Relates a clause to its antecedent. For example, in the sentence The book that won the award is non-fiction, the relative pronoun that introduces the relative clause that won the award and relates it to its antecedent the book. That, which, who and whoever are all relative pronouns.

subject

Names what or whom a sentence is about. A subject is always a noun (or noun phrase), a pronoun, or a word or word group acting as a noun (such as a gerund or a noun clause). For example, the pronoun I is the subject of the sentence I handed in my application for the job. The noun clause Whatever you want to do is the subject of the sentence Whatever you want to do is fine with me.

subject complement

Follows a linking verb (e.g. be, become, seem) and completes the meaning of the subject by renaming it (e.g. supervisor in Janet is my supervisor) or describing it (e.g. tired in Jack seems tired). A subject complement may be a noun, a pronoun or an adjective.

transitive verb

Requires a direct object to complete its meaning. Some transitive verbs may also take an indirect object. The verbs find (e.g. You found your keys), glue (e.g. He glued the parts together), and put (e.g. I put the file on the desk) are all examples of transitive verbs.

verb

Expresses an action (break, call, tremble, skate), an occurrence (happen, occur) or a state of being (appear, become, seem). Auxiliary (or helping) verbs are placed in front of a main verb to form a verb phrase. They have several functions; for example, they may help to create a different tense (e.g. will and be in the verb phrase will be going) or add an idea (e.g. the idea of obligation expressed by must in the verb phrase must go).

verb phrase

Consists of a verb and its auxiliaries. A verb phrase may also act as a predicate. For example, can swim is a verb phrase made up of the verb swim and its auxiliary can. This verb phrase also functions as the predicate in the sentence Rajiv can swim.