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
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
adjective A word that describes or modifies a noun
An adjective can follow a noun as a complement
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
adverb A word that modifies a verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, phrase, clause, or sentence.
Adverbs usually indicate time, place, or manner
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
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
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
article One of three words (a, an, the) used with a noun to indicate definiteness
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
cardinal number A number of the kind used in simple counting
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
An adjective clause modifies a noun or pronoun
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
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
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
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
compound subject Two or more nouns or pronouns usually joined by and that function as the subject of a clause or sentence
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
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
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
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
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
demonstrative pronoun One of four words—this, that, these, and those—that are classified as pronouns when they function as nouns
direct object A word, phrase, or clause denoting the goal or result of the action of the verb
direct question A question quoted exactly as spoken, written, or imagined
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
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
idiom A common expression that is grammatically unusual
imperative The form, or mood, of a verb that expresses a command or makes a request
indefinite pronoun A pronoun (such as something, anyone, everybody) that designates an unidentified person or thing
indicative The form, or mood, of a verb that states a fact or asks a question
indirect object A grammatical object representing the secondary goal of the action of its verb
indirect question A statement of the substance of a question without using the speaker's exact words or word order
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
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
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
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
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
nonrestrictive clause (nonessential clause) A subordinate or dependent clause, enclosed by commas, that could be omitted without changing the meaning of the main clause
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
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
objective A form, or case, of a pronoun indicating its use as the object of a verb or preposition
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
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
person A characteristic of a verb or pronoun that indicates whether a person is speaking (first person) , is spoken to (second person)