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Grammar Bites


This is a Glossary, with definitions of all the language terms in SMALL CAPITALS in the Grammar Bites.

Word Definition
-ing form Go, going; leave, leaving; put, putting etc. We call it the -ing form because sometimes it's the present participle of a verb (She's swimming), and sometimes it's a noun (Swimming is fun; I like swimming). When it's USED AS a noun, it's also called a gerund.
Adjective A word which describes a noun: red, big, slow, happy, interesting, good-looking...
Adjectives often go before a noun: a big man, a nice house, or after be: Michael is hungry, she is 18 years old.
Adverb An adverb modifies the meaning of a verb (slowly, happily, sometimes, only...), or a whole sentence (frankly, however...).
Affirmative Affirmative is "saying yes": I agree; negative is "saying no": I don't agree; interrogative is asking a question: do you agree?.
Article Articles are a, an and the. We use them to say whether something is "new" in the conversation (use a, an or a plural noun with zero article), or whether it's "old": something we know about, or we've been talking about (use the). We also use some (unstressed) as an article with plural nouns when something is "new" in the conversation.
The definite article is the, the indefinite articles are a, an, and some (unstressed).
Auxiliary verb The three auxiliary verbs, be, have and do. help to form tenses, questions, negatives, and tag questions.
Chameleon A word which changes meaning according to the context.
Clause Part of a sentence, usually with a subject and a finite verb: I saw the coat that Sam wanted to buy..
Colloquial ADJECTIVE which describes ordinary, informal conversation. Colloquial language is INFORMAL
Complement In the sentence, Jack is tall, the SUBJECT is Jack, and the complement is tall. Jack and tall are the same person.
Conditional A sentence with if or unless, in which the truth of one clause depends on the truth of the other clause. The three most common types of conditional sentence are these. 1 Real: I will come if I have time. 2 Imaginary: I would come if I had time. 3 Impossible: I would have come if I had had time. There are a number of other variations.
Conjunction See LINKER.
Continuous See PROGRESSIVE.
Contracted See CONTRACTION.
Contraction Contractions are: I'm, he's (is or has), you're, we're, they're, I've... can't, won't, shouldn't, mustn't... We use contractions mostly in INFORMAL and NEUTRAL language.
Copula Copulas are: be (be good), become (become tired), get (get dark), go (go mad), turn (turn green) and more...
Countable Some things you can count (countable), and some you can't (uncountable). You can count pens (one pen, two pens), people (one person, four people), ideas (one idea, many ideas). You can count most things. But there are some things that you can't count, like music (you can have two songs, or two pieces of music, but not two musics)or air, water, meat and many others. Some words, like meat or cheese, can be used countably or uncountably.
Determiner Determiners say something general about the noun they're attached to, such as definite or indefinite (a, the); near or further away (this, that...); quantity (no, few, some, many...) and more...
Descriptive v. prescriptive This is about two ways of looking at grammar.
The descriptive approach describes the way language is used, with geographical / social / contextual differences noted, together with language change. Descriptive linguists are wary of making judgements about language use.
The prescriptive approach attempts to apply fixed rules to language, sometimes derived from earlier usage, sometimes from the usage of another language (eg Latin). Prescriptivists are quick to make judgements about language use.
Modern linguists take a descriptive approach.
Description We use it is and they are to describe or give names to things: "What is it?" "It's a camel." Compare EXISTENCE.
Dynamic Dynamic verbs have a beginning and an end; "Hwe got up and left the room. Most verbs are dynamic, but some can also be USED AS stative verbs. See also STATIVE.
Existence We use there is and there are to say that something is present, or available: "There's a man outside", or "There are two seats over here." Compare DESCRIPTION.
Formal Language which is appropriate for use with strangers, superiors etc. and is commonly used in writing.
Frozen Language which is appropriate for use in notices ("No Parking") or legal documents.
Identification We use it to identify, whether it's a thing or a person, and whether it's singular or plural: "Who's that?" "It's me". "What's that noise?" "It's the two cats." "Look, it's Sammy".
Inappropriate Most language use is appropriate to the time and place where it is used, but sometimes native speakers use language in ways which other native speakers do not accept.
Informal Language which is friendly, chatty, suitable language for family and friends.
Interrogative See AFFIRMATIVE
Invisible See visible
Linker Words that join two words or CLAUSES together, such as and, but, so, because, when, while... Also called CONJUNCTION
Modal verb There are 10 main modal verbs: shall, should; will, would; can could; may, might, must, ought to. They function as auxiliaries, and modify the meaning - or 'mood' - of the verb they are attached to. See also SEMI-MODAL VERB and AUXILIARY VERB
Neutral Language which is appropriate for most situations.
Non-restrictive See RESTRICTIVE
Non-defining See RESTRICTIVE
Noun Nouns are words like book, chair, woman..., or furniture, luggage, news..., or Tony, Buckingham Palace, (the) Alps...
Nouns are often the subject or the object in a sentence. If you can say Bla-bla is a..., then bla-bla is being USED AS a noun.
Progressive Progressive (or continuous) tenses are: Present, she is working hard, Past, she was working when I walked in, Perfect, she has been working for years. See also SIMPLE.
Pronoun Pronouns are words we use instead of nouns. I, you, he, we etc are always pronouns; this, that, few, many etc can be USED AS pronouns.
Relative clause Examples: the man who spoke to me was French; The book (that) I am reading is fascinating.
Relative pronoun Here are the words which can be USED AS relative pronouns: who, that, whom, which, whose.
Restrictive There are two kinds of RELATIVE CLAUSE: restrictive (or defining), which identifies or limits in some way what we're talking about, and non-restrictive (or non-defining), which doesn't identify, but tells something more about the person or thing. Examples: 1 Restrictive: I know a man who can jump two metres. 2 Non-descriptive: Usain Bolt, who won the 100m at the 2012 Olympics, is from Jamaica.
Semi-modal verb The three semi-modal verbs, need, dare and used to, are sometimes USED AS main verbs and sometimes as modal verbs
Simple Simple tenses are: Present, she works every day, Past, she worked every day, Perfect, she has worked for years. See also PROGRESSIVE.
Stative Stative verbs are verbs which have no obvious beginning or end: I am a man. She knows me. I understand what you're saying. We usually use stative verbs in SIMPLE tenses. See also DYNAMIC.
Subject In Jack is tall, the subject is Jack. In It is dark, the subject is It. In The two men ran home, the subject is The two men.
The Switch Here's an example of the Switch:
Have means "take, eat etc" (have a coffee); have got means "possess" (I've got $10). Have can also mean "possess", but have got can't mean "take, eat etc".
More? Go to general articles
Uncountable See COUNTABLE
Used as Is home a noun? Most people say "yes". The right answer is "maybe" They always home in on the truth (verb). They have a home in Manchester (noun). Let's go home (adverb). What's your home address? (adjective). The same word can do different jobs in a sentence, depending on what the word is "used as". This is very common in English, where nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs often don't look different.
Visible Visible means it's concrete and you can see it; invisible means it's an idea or a theory, and you can't see it.