Grammar Glossary

Grammar Glossary
This glossary provides definitions and discussions of grammatical and grammar-related terms. Examples are enclosed in angle brackets.
abbreviation A shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole (such as amt. for amount, or c/o for care of). See also acronym.
absolute adjective An adjective that normally cannot be used comparatively .
Many absolute adjectives can be modified by adverbs such as almost or near . Many adjectives considered to be absolute are in fact often preceded by comparative adverbs . In such cases, more means "more nearly" and less "less nearly."

acronym (initialism) A word or abbreviation formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the major parts of a compound term, whether or not it is pronounceable as a word (such as TQM for Total Quality Management, or UNPROFOR for United Nations Protection Force).

active voice A verb form indicating that the subject of a sentence is performing the action
; compare passive voice.

adjective A word that describes or modifies a noun .
An adjective can follow a noun as a complement . It can also modify noun phrases and noun clauses .

An indefinite adjective designates unidentified persons or things .

An interrogative adjective is used in asking questions .

A possessive adjective is the possessive form of a personal pronoun .

A relative adjective (which, that, who, whom, whose, where) introduces an adjectival clause or a clause that functions as a noun .

Adjectives used together can be described as coordinate adjectives when they share equal relationships to the nouns they modify
, and as noncoordinate adjectives when the first of two adjectives modifies the second adjective and the noun together . See also absolute adjective; attributive; demonstrative adjective; predicate adjective.

adverb A word that modifies a verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, phrase, clause, or sentence.
Adverbs usually indicate time, place, or manner . They can connect statements
and can tell the reader what the writer thinks about what is being said . They can modify verbs , adjectives , participles , adverbs , particles , indefinite pronouns , cardinal numbers , and prepositional phrases . Occasionally they modify a preceding noun , and some adverbs of place and time can serve as the objects of prepositions . See also auxiliary verb; sentence adverb; split infinitive.

agreement A grammatical relationship that involves the correspondence in number either between the subject and verb of a sentence or between a pronoun and its antecedent.
When a subject is composed of two or more singular nouns joined by and, the plural verb is usually used .

When singular nouns are joined by or, the singular verb is usually used . When the negative neither . . . nor is used with singular nouns, it usually takes a singular verb . But when neither . . . nor is used with nouns of differing number, the noun closest to the verb usually determines its number . Similar rules apply to either . . . or.

Insertions set off by commas, dashes, or parentheses should not affect agreement .

In constructions like "A bunch of the boys were throwing around a basketball" or "Only a fraction of the deposits are insured," the verb is usually plural. See also collective noun.

When an amount of money, a period of time, or some other plural noun phrase of quantity or measure forms the subject, a singular verb is used .

Singular nouns joined by or can use either a singular or a plural pronoun, whichever sounds best .

The indefinite pronouns anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody, everyone, neither, nobody, none, no one, somebody, and someone are used with singular verbs , but are commonly referred to by they, their, them, or themselves .

antecedent A word, phrase, or clause to which a subsequent pronoun refers .

appositive A word, phrase, or clause that is equivalent to an adjacent noun
Restrictive and nonrestrictive appositives play different roles in a sentence and are traditionally distinguished by their punctuation. A nonrestrictive appositive is generally set off with commas. A restrictive appositive uses no commas and indicates that one out of a group is being identified (in this case, one daughter from among two or more). See also nonrestrictive clause; restrictive clause.

article One of three words (a, an, the) used with a noun to indicate definiteness or indefiniteness

attributive A modifier that immediately precedes the word it modifies .
Nouns have functioned like adjectives in this position for many centuries. Even plural attributives such as physics laboratory, Civil Liberties Union, mathematics book, weapons system, communications technology, and singles bar are common.

auxiliary verb A verb (such as be, have, can, do) that accompanies another verb and typically expresses person, number, mood, or tense . See also verb.

cardinal number A number of the kind used in simple counting ; compare ordinal number.

case In English, a form of a noun or pronoun indicating its grammatical relation to other words in a sentence. See nominative; objective; possessive. See also genitive.

clause A group of words having its own subject and predicate but forming only part of a compound or complex sentence.
A main (or independent) clause could stand alone as a sentence . A subordinate (or dependent clause) requires a main clause .

An adjective clause modifies a noun or pronoun . An adverb clause modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb . A noun clause can be a subject, object, or complement . See also sentence; subordinate clause.

collective noun A singular noun that stands for a number of persons or things considered as a group (such as group, company, army).
Collective nouns have been used with both singular and plural verbs. When the group is considered as a unit, the singular verb is used . When the group is thought of as a collection of individuals, the plural verb is sometimes used . Singular verbs are more common in American English and plural verbs more common in British English. See also agreement; notional agreement.

A collective noun followed by of and a plural noun follows the same rule as collective nouns in general

Writers should take care to match their pronouns and verbs: singular with singular , and plural with plural .

The names of companies and other organizations are generally treated as singular .

comma fault (comma splice, comma error) The use of a comma instead of a semicolon to link two independent clauses (as in "I won't talk about myself, it's not a healthy topic"). Though fairly common in casual writing, comma splices are not seen in edited prose.

comparison Modification of an adjective or adverb to show different levels of quality, quantity, or relation. The comparative form shows relation between two items, usually by adding -er or more or less . The superlative form expresses an extreme among three or more items, usually by adding -est or most or least . See also absolute adjective.

complement A word or expression by which a predicate is made complete .

compound A combination of words or word elements that work together in various ways .
Compounds are written in one of three ways: solid , hyphenated , or open . The choice among these styles for a given compound represents one of the most common of all style issues. A dictionary will list many compounds, but will usually omit those whose meanings are obvious. New compounds can be patterned on similar compounds that do appear in dictionaries.

compound subject Two or more nouns or pronouns usually joined by and that function as the subject of a clause or sentence . See also agreement; collective noun.

conjunction A word or phrase that joins together words, phrases, clauses, or sentences.
Coordinating conjunctions (such as and, because, but, or, nor, since, so) join elements of equal importance, to show similarity , to exclude or contrast
, to offer alternatives , to propose reasons or grounds , or to specify a result .

Correlative conjunctions (such as either . . . or, neither . . . nor) are used in pairs and link alternatives or equal elements .

Subordinating conjunctions (such as unless, whether) join subordinate clauses to main clauses and are used to express cause , condition , manner , purpose , time , place , or possibility .

conjunctive adverb A transitional adverb (such as also, however, therefore) that expresses the relationship between two independent clauses, sentences, or paragraphs.
Conjunctive adverbs are used to express addition , emphasis , contrast , elaboration , conclusion , or priority .

contact clause A dependent clause attached to its antecedent without a relative pronoun such as that, which, or who
The predicate noun clause not introduced by that is more common after some verbs (such as believe, hope, say, think) than others (such as assert, calculate, hold, intend).

contraction A shortened form of a word or words in which an apostrophe usually replaces the omitted letter or letters (such as dep't, don't, could've, o'clock, we'll).
Contractions involving verbs used to be avoided, but today they are often recommended to help writers avoid sounding too formal.

count noun A noun that identifies things that can be counted
; compare mass noun.

dangling modifier A modifying phrase that lacks a normally expected grammatical relation to the rest of the sentence (as in "After years lying under the dust, he discovered the stack of old photographs").
The common participial phrase usually begins with a participle; in "Happening to meet them there, I invited them to sit with us," the subject, "I," is understood to be present in the preceding phrase, which modifies it. But a writer may accidentally let a participial phrase modify a subject or some other noun in the sentence it was not intended to modify; the result is a dangling participle. Thus in "Turning the corner, a large red building appeared," it is the building that may seem to be turning the corner.

Dangling participles are usually hardly noticeable except to someone looking for them. The important thing to avoid is creating an unintended humorous effect (as in "Opening up the cupboard, a cockroach ran for the corner").

dangling participle See dangling modifier.

demonstrative adjective One of four adjectives—this, that, these, and those—which points to what it modifies in order to distinguish it from others ; compare demonstrative pronoun.

demonstrative pronoun One of four words—this, that, these, and those—that are classified as pronouns when they function as nouns ; compare demonstrative adjective.

direct object A word, phrase, or clause denoting the goal or result of the action of the verb <"Do it now," he said>; compare indirect object.

direct question A question quoted exactly as spoken, written, or imagined ; compare indirect question.

direct quotation Text quoted exactly as spoken or written ; compare indirect quotation.

double genitive A construction in which possession is marked both by the preposition of and a noun or pronoun in the possessive case.
In expressions like "that song of Ella Fitzgerald's" or "a good friend of ours," the possessive relationship is indicated by both of and the genitive inflection (Fitzgerald's, ours), even though only one or the other is strictly necessary. However, this construction is standard in all kinds of writing. See also genitive.

double negative A clause or sentence containing two negatives and having a negative meaning.
Today the double negative (as in "They didn't have no children" or "I can't get no satisfaction") is associated with uneducated speech and is generally avoided.

gender A characteristic of certain nouns and pronouns that indicates sex (masculine, feminine, neuter) .

genitive A form, or case, of a noun or pronoun that typically shows possession or source
The genitive is usually produced by adding -'s or a phrase beginning with of.

The genitive has other similar functions as well; these include the subjective , objective , descriptive , and appositive genitives. See also double genitive; possessive.

gerund (verbal noun) A verb form having the characteristics of both verb and noun and ending in -ing .
A gerund can be preceded by a possessive noun or pronoun . See also possessive; possessive with gerund.

idiom A common expression that is grammatically unusual or that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words .

imperative The form, or mood, of a verb that expresses a command or makes a request ; compare indicative; subjunctive.

indefinite pronoun A pronoun (such as something, anyone, everybody) that designates an unidentified person or thing . See also agreement; notional agreement; pronoun.

indicative The form, or mood, of a verb that states a fact or asks a question ; compare imperative; subjunctive.

indirect object A grammatical object representing the secondary goal of the action of its verb ; compare direct object.

indirect question A statement of the substance of a question without using the speaker's exact words or word order ; compare direct question.

indirect quotation A statement of the substance of a quotation without using the speaker's exact words ; compare direct quotation.

infinitive A verb form that may behave like both a verb and a noun and is usually used with to . See also split infinitive.

infinitive phrase A phrase that includes an infinitive and its modifiers and complements .

inflection The change in form that words undergo to mark case, gender, number, tense, person, mood, voice, or comparison . See also case; comparison; gender; mood; number; person; tense; voice.

initialism See acronym.

intensifier A linguistic element used to give emphasis or additional strength to another word or statement

interjection An exclamatory or interrupting word or phrase .

interrogative pronoun One of the pronouns what, which, who, whom, and whose, used to introduce direct and indirect questions .
Who is often substituted for whom to introduce a question, even when it is the object of a preposition .

intransitive verb A verb not having a direct object ; compare transitive verb.

linking verb A verb that links a subject with its predicate (such as is, feel, look, become, seem) .

main clause See clause.

mass noun A noun that denotes a thing or concept without subdivisions ; compare count noun.

modifier A word or phrase that qualifies, limits, or restricts the meaning of another word or phrase. See adjective; adverb.

mood The form of a verb that shows whether the action or state it denotes is conceived as a fact or something else (e.g., a command, possibility, or wish). See indicative; imperative; subjunctive.

nominative A form, or case, of a noun or pronoun indicating its use as the subject of a verb ; compare objective; possessive.

nonrestrictive clause (nonessential clause) A subordinate or dependent clause, enclosed by commas, that could be omitted without changing the meaning of the main clause ; compare restrictive clause. See also appositive.

noun A word that can serve as the subject of a verb, can be singular or plural, can be replaced by a pronoun, and can refer to an entity, quality, state, action, or concept >.
Nouns are used as subjects , direct objects , objects of prepositions
, indirect objects , retained objects , predicate nouns , objective complements , and appositives . See also collective noun; count noun; mass noun; proper noun.

noun phrase A phrase formed by a noun and its modifiers .

number A characteristic of a noun, pronoun, or verb that signifies whether it is singular or plural. See singular; plural.

object A noun, noun phrase or clause, or pronoun that directly or indirectly receives the action of a verb or follows a preposition . See direct object; indirect object.

objective A form, or case, of a pronoun indicating its use as the object of a verb or preposition ; compare nominative; possessive.

parallelism Repeated syntactical similarities within a sentence, such as adjacent phrases and clauses that are equivalent, similar, or opposed in meaning and identical in construction .
Faulty parallelism occurs when different constructions are used within a sentence where you would ordinarily expect to find similar constructions. It often involves the words and, or, either, or neither. In the sentence "To allow kids to roam the streets at night and failing to provide organized activities have been harmful," an infinitive phrase (To allow kids to roam . . . ) and a participial phrase (failing to provide . . . ) are treated as parallel when they are not. Replacing the infinitive with a participle achieves this parallelism (Allowing kids to roam . . . and failing to provide . . . ).

participial phrase A participle with its complements and modifiers, functioning as an adjective .

participle A verb form having the characteristics of both verb and adjective
. The present participle ends in -ing ; the past participle usually ends in -ed ; the perfect participle combines having with the past participle . See also auxiliary verb; dangling modifier; possessive.

parts of speech The classes into which words are grouped according to their function in a sentence. See adjective; adverb; conjunction; interjection; noun; preposition; pronoun; verb.

passive voice A verb form indicating that the subject of a sentence is being acted upon.
Though often considered a weaker form of expression than the active voice, the passive nevertheless has important uses—for example, when the receiver of the action is more important than the doer , when the doer is unknown or is understood , or when the speaker or writer wants the doer to remain anonymous ; compare active voice.

person A characteristic of a verb or pronoun that indicates whether a person is speaking (first person) , is spoken to (second person) , or is spoken about (third person) . See also number.

personal pronoun A pronoun that refers to beings and objects and reflects person, number, and often gender.
A personal pronoun's function within a sentence determines its case. The nominative case (I, we, you, he, she, it, they) is used for pronouns that act as subjects of sentences .

The possessive case (my, mine, our, ours, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, their, theirs) is used for pronouns that express possession or a similar relationship .

The objective case (me, us, you, him, her, it, them) is used for pronouns that are direct objects, indirect objects, retained objects, or objects of prepositions . See also indefinite pronoun; pronoun.

phrase A group of two or more words that does not contain both a subject and a verb and that functions as a noun, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, or verb .
There are seven basic types of phrases. An absolute phrase consists of a noun followed by a modifier (such as a participial phrase) and acts independently within a sentence without modifying a particular element .

A gerund phrase includes a gerund and its modifiers, and it functions as a noun .

An infinitive phrase includes an infinitive and may function as a noun, adjective, or adverb .

A participial phrase includes a participle and functions as an adjective .

A verb phrase consists of a verb and any other terms that either modify it or complete its meaning . See also noun phrase; participial phrase.

possessive A form, or case, of a noun or pronoun that usually indicates ownership ; compare nominative; objective. See also double genitive; genitive; possessive with gerund.

possessive with gerund Use of a possessive form before a gerund.
In "the reason for everyone['s] wanting to join," either the possessive or the common form of everyone can be used. The possessive is required only when the -ing word is clearly a noun . The possessive is quite common with proper nouns but rare with plurals .

predicate The part of a sentence or clause that expresses what is said of the subject .

predicate adjective An adjective that follows a linking verb (such as be, become, feel, taste, smell, seem) and modifies the subject .

prefix An affix attached to the beginning of a word to change its meaning ; compare suffix.

preposition A word or phrase that combines with a noun, pronoun, adverb, or prepositional phrase for use as a modifier
Sentences may end with a preposition; in fact, many sentences almost require the preposition at the end .

prepositional phrase A group of words consisting of a preposition and its complement .

pronoun Any of a small set of words that are used as substitutes for nouns, phrases, or clauses and refer to someone or something named or understood in the context. See demonstrative pronoun; indefinite pronoun; interrogative pronoun; personal pronoun; reciprocal pronoun; reflexive pronoun; relative pronoun. See also agreement.

proper adjective An adjective that is derived from a proper noun and is usually capitalized .

proper noun A noun that names a particular being or thing and is usually capitalized .

reflexive pronoun A pronoun that refers to the subject of the sentence, clause, or phrase in which it stands, and is formed by compounding the personal pronouns him, her, it, my, our, them, and your with -self or -selves .

relative pronoun One of the pronouns (that, which, who, whom, and whose) that introduce a subordinate clause which qualifies an antecedent
The relative pronoun who typically refers to persons and some animals
; which refers to things and animals ; and that refers to persons, animals, and things .

Whom is commonly used as the object of a preposition in a clause that it introduces . However, who is commonly used to introduce a question even when it is the object of a preposition .

restrictive clause (essential clause) A subordinate clause that is not set off by commas and that cannot be omitted without changing the meaning of the main clause . See also appositive; nonrestrictive clause.

sentence A group of words that usually contains a subject and a verb, and, as written, ends with a period, question mark, or exclamation point. A simple sentence consists of one main or independent clause . A compound sentence consists of two or more main clauses . A complex sentence consists of a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses . See also clause; subordinate clause.
A declarative sentence makes a statement . An exclamatory sentence expresses strong feeling . An interrogative sentence asks a question . An imperative sentence expresses a command or request .

sentence adverb An adverb that modifies an entire sentence, rather than a specific word or phrase within the sentence .

split infinitive An infinitive in which an adverb or adverbial phrase comes between to and the verb .
Grammarians used to disapprove of the split infinitive, but they rarely do so today. It is useful when a writer wants to emphasize the adverb. See also infinitive.

subject A word or group of words representing the entity about which something is said .

subject-verb agreement See agreement.

subjunctive The form, or mood, of a verb that expresses a condition contrary to fact or follows clauses of necessity, demand, or wishing ; compare imperative; indicative.

subordinate clause A clause that is attached to a main clause and functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb . See also clause; sentence.

suffix An affix attached to the end of a word to modify its meaning ; compare prefix.

superlative See comparison.

tense The characteristic of a verb that expresses time present , past , or future .
Auxiliary verbs (be, have) are used to indicate time relations other than the simple present, past, and future tenses. The progressive tenses express action either in progress , in the past , or in the future . The perfect tenses may express action that began in the past and continues in the present , that was completed before another past action , or that will be completed before some future action .

transitive verb A verb that acts upon a direct object ; compare intransitive verb.

verb A word or phrase that is used to express action, occurrence, or state of being . See also auxiliary verb; linking verb; mood; tense; voice.

voice The property of a verb that indicates whether the subject acts or is acted upon. See active voice; passive voice.

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