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ELT Concourse

Grammar for an initial training course: an exemplified glossary


Seeing the wood for the trees

This is one of several glossaries on the site.
For the full list, use this link: Glossaries Index.

In 1586, William Bullokar published A Brief Grammar of English and since then innumerable other grammars have appeared and continue to appear.  The following does not add substantially (or at all) to an area of serious study that has been in train for 450-odd years.
What it is intended to do is list the most important concepts concerning English grammar which you are likely to encounter on an initial training course in English Language Teaching and give you examples of each area.
A shorter version of this forms part of A Candidate's Guide to CELTA which is available free on this site from this link.

There is a much fuller glossary in the in-service section.  You can access it here.

This is an alphabetic list with links to more detail either in the initial-plus or in-service training sections of the site.
The initial-plus guides focus on the essentials only of each area and the in-service guides provide more detail.  If only one link is given, it is to either section.
The links will all open in a new tab.

* precedes a malformed or wrong example
bold italic indicates the example of the form
bold black indicates a cross reference
Essential guides In-service guides
a-adjective A special kind of adjective beginning with a-. These adjectives are always used following the noun (see predicative).  For example:
The dog is asleep
*The asleep dog
Other adjectives in this group include: ablaze, afire, afraid, aglow, alive, alone, awake, aware and more.
Adjective essentials Adjectives
abstract noun A noun referring to an intangible concept.  For example: happiness, economics, love, embarrassment etc.
These nouns are often mass nouns, so we do not usually make them plural.  It is not possible to have *happinesses etc.
The term is often opposed to concrete nouns such as paper, beer, food etc.
Many do not consider the distinction between concrete and abstract nouns is valid.
Nouns essentials Nouns
accent a) a mark above or below a letter to show its pronunciation such as in naïve, façade or café.  Such marks are also called diacritics.  They are used in English on words imported from other languages. Spelling
b) the place in a word where the heaviest stress falls.  Compare, e.g. export (verb) with export (noun).  This is better referred to as word stress. Pronunciation essentials Word stress
c) a particular way of pronouncing a language in a geographical area or social class or the influence of a first language in the pronunciation of a second.  For example,
A Texan accent
An upper-class accent
An Italian accent
active voice A verbal structure in which the subject is the person or thing which performs the action or is in the state.  For example:
John broke the window
The window was filthy
Compare passive voice
Voice essentials
adjective A word which modifies a noun phrase.  There are two fundamental classifications:
an attributive adjective comes immediately before (usually) or after a noun (rarely), for example
The large dog
The president elect
a predicative adjective is linked to the noun with a copular verb as in:
Mary was tired
The door appeared unlocked
Adjective essentials Adjectives
adjective phrase A group of words (a phrase) doing the work of an adjective.  For example:
The children were well fed and happy
She had an interesting, old book with her
Adjective essentials Adjectives
adverb A word which modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb or a verb phrase.  For example:
She walked quickly
The book was very expensive
He drove idiotically fast
He had usually driven to work
Adverb essentials Adverbs
adverb of degree An adverb telling you to what extent.  For example,
I really enjoyed the book
These are sometimes called adverbs of extent.
adverb of frequency A subcategory of adverbs of time.
An adverb telling you how often (often included into the adverb of time category).  There are two sorts: indefinite frequency and definite frequency.  For example,
He usually goes home at 6 (indefinite frequency)
She delivers the papers daily (definite frequency)
adverb of manner An adverb telling you the way something happens.  For example,
It quickly became dark
adverb of place An adverb telling you where or in what direction an action happens or state exists.  For example,
I came inside
She was sitting there
adverb of time An adverb telling you when something happens or a state exists.  For example,
She left then
They stayed late
adverb phrase A group of words doing the job of an adverb.  For example,
They walked home slowly and sadly
adverbial Any word, phrase or clause which modifies a verb phrase.  For example,
He went into town (prepositional-phrase adverbial (adjunct) of place)
I came to see if I can help (non-finite clause adverbial of purpose)
I left when the rain started (finite clause adverbial of time)
Honestly, I don’t know (adverb (disjunct))
Moreover, I don't think anyone knows (adverb (conjunct))
Adverbials essentials Adverbials
agent In passive clauses, the causer or doer of the action.  For example,
The window was broken by them
I had the work done by the garage
Agents are often linked with the preposition by.
See patient
Voice Passive
article A class of determiners which modify noun phrases for number or reference.  There are three in English: a(n) (the indefinite article), the (the definite article) and Ø, the zero article.  For example:
She bought a house on the hill with Ø money from her father
Articles: essentials Articles
aspect How an event or action is perceived relative to time (as opposed to in time).  For example,
He lives in London (continuous aspect)
He was working (progressive aspect)
He has worked (perfect aspect)
He used to work (habitual (past) aspect)
There is not always a one-to-one relationship between aspect and form.  See tense
Tense and aspect essentials Aspect
attributive This describes an adjective which comes directly before or after the noun and is not linked to it by a copular verb.  For example,
The green house
The people responsible
See predicative
Adjective essentials Adjectives
auxiliary verb a) Primary auxiliary verb:
A verb which has no meaning alone but works with main verbs to express aspect or voice.  For example:
I have finished
He was cycling
They were sold
Primary auxiliary verbs Aspect
b) Modal auxiliary verb:
A verb which has no meaning alone but works with main verbs to express the speaker's perception of truth, necessity, obligation etc.  For example,
We should leave
I must go home now
She needn't have troubled
Modal auxiliary verbs Modality map
base form The form of the verb from which other forms are derived.  For example,
speak, write, open, decide etc.
This term is also used to refer to the form of any word from which other words are derived.
For example,
long (base form) and longer (derived form)
decide (base form) and decision (derived form)
Verb essentials
Word formation essentials
Finite vs. non-finite
Word formation
case The form of nouns, pronouns and adjectives which show the relationship to other items.  For example:
She wants to go (subject or nominative case)
I want to talk to them (object or accusative case)
That is mine (possessive or genitive case)
Subjects and objects Case
clause A group of words containing a verb form.  The verb may be finite or non-finite.  For example,
She came because she wanted to help (finite clause)
I came hoping to help (non-finite clause)
Sentence grammar Clause structures
closed-class items Words belonging to classes to which it is very rare to make additions and which can, therefore, in theory, be exhaustively listed: prepositions, determiners, pronouns and conjunctions Word class map
collective noun A noun which refers to a group of things or people.  For example,
The army is helping
The jury are considering the verdict
This expression is sometimes used also for assemblage nouns such as:
A flock of sheep
Collective nouns are often confused with partitives (q.v.) which have an opposite function.
Nouns essentials Nouns
collocation The tendency of words to co-occur.  For example,
He ran a risk
She took a risk
*She made a risk

in which the verbs run and take collocate with risk and vice versa but the verb make does not.
Collocation essentials Collocation
comparative The form which is used to show a greater or lesser degree of a quality.  There are two sorts.  For example,
A bigger house (inflected comparative)
A more beautiful cat (periphrastic comparative)
Comparatives may be made with adjectives or adverbs but most adverbs take the periphrastic forms.
Adjective essentials Adjectives
complement A word or phrase which tells us something about the subject or object of a clause.  For example,
They elected him chairman (a noun telling us about the object, him)
She is happy (an adjective telling us about the subject, she)
John is the manager (a noun telling us about the subject, John)
He called me stupid (an adjective telling us about the object, me)
That is mine (a pronoun telling us about the subject, that)
The house is over the hill (a prepositional phrase telling us about the subject, the house)
Complements are often linked with a copular verb
Copular verbs Verbs and clauses
conditional A clause whose truth is contingent on the truth of another clause.  For example,
Give me the money and I’ll buy it for you
Come if you can spare the time
Should you get lost
, call me
Conditional essentials Condition and concession
conjunction A word to join two ideas (clauses, verbs, nouns etc.).  There are three sorts.  For example,
She went home because she felt ill (subordinating)
We ate bread and butter (coordinating)
They not only cleaned but polished the car (correlating)
Conjunction essentials Conjunction
content word A word which has meaning when standing alone (compare function word).  These are sometimes called lexical words.  For example,
house, bring, pretty, usually, French etc.
Content words are members open classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs.
Word class essentials
continuous An aspect of a verb tense to describe something on-going or happening the background.  For example,
I was sleeping while she was at work
thinks I love her
There is a technical difference between continuous and progressive aspects.
Tense and aspect essentials Time, tense and aspect
copular verb A verb which joins together two nouns, a noun and an adjective, a noun and its complement or a noun and a prepositional phrase.  These are sometimes called linking verbs.  For example,
She became a teacher
They grew tall
She was in the garden
Copular verbs
count noun A noun which can have a plural and take a plural verb.  For example,
The cats are in the house
These are distinguished from mass nouns
Nouns essentials Nouns
demonstrative A class of determiner telling us what noun we are talking about.  For example,
This house
That garden
Those cars
These people
The same words can also be demonstrative pronouns, for example,
Take this
Pass me that
What are those?
Are these OK for you?
Demonstratives essentials Determiners
dependent clause A subordinate clause which depends for its full meaning on another, main, clause.  For example.
She had enough money although she wasn’t rich
Essential sentence grammar Coordination and subordination
determiner A word which comes before a noun to say what we know about it.  For example,
articles: I want to buy a house in the town
demonstratives: I want to buy that house
interrogatives: Which house do you want to buy?
possessives: I want to buy his house
quantifiers: I want to buy two houses
Word class essentials Determiners
direct object The entity on which the verb acts.  For example:
I bought the house
Compare indirect object
Subjects and objects Case
direct speech The actual words spoken.  For example,
He said, “Hello, Mary.”
Reported speech essentials Indirect speech
dynamic a) a use of the verb, distinguished from stative as in, for example,
John is being silly
She is thinking
Kirstin is swimming
Mary is paying attention
Stative vs. dynamic verb use Time, tense and aspect
b) a type of passive clause.  For example,
The garden gets invaded by cats
This is distinguished from a stative passive such as:
The garden was cleared
Voice essentials The passive voice
exclamation A phrase or clause expressing anger, despair, surprise etc.  For example,
How silly of me!
This is also called an interjection.
Word class essentials
finite A form of a verb (or a clause) which is marked for tense, number or person.  For example,
John plays tennis
lost the game
have been to America
Finite forms may also be marked by a zero inflexion as in, for example,
They walk
Compare non-finite
Verb essentials Finite vs. non-finite
function words Words which have no meaning when standing alone but make the grammar work.  The main classes are prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns and determiners.  For example,
at, with, it, this
Word class essentials In-service lexis index
genitive The possessive case.  For example,
The policy of the government
My book
The man's request
The genitive does not only apply to possession, it can also apply to origin or description.
gerund A non-finite verb form which functions as a noun formed from a verb with the suffix -ing.  For example,
I gave up smoking
The form is the same as that of a present participle.
Gerunds and infinitives Catenative verbs
An aspect in English which refers to an event or state which exists or existed (semi-)permanently.  For example,
She used to be quite helpful
tend to eat quite early
is driving to work these days
teaches in this school
would take offence easily
Essentials of tense and aspect Semi-modal auxiliary verbs
idiom A phrase or clause used as a single concept which usually cannot be understood by understanding the words in it.  For example,
It’s turned up its toes (died / become useless)
It's neither here nor there (unimportant)
Idioms essentials Idiomaticity
imperative The form of the verb used to tell someone what to do or make offers.  For example,
Go home
Don’t tell her
Have some more cake
Verb essentials Mood
indirect object When a verb has two objects, the indirect object usually refers to a person who receives or benefits.  For example,
She bought me lunch
I read the child a story

In English the indirect object usually precedes the direct object.
Compare direct object
Subjects and objects Verb and clause types
indirect speech Speech which is reported, not quoted directly.  For example,
He told me to come
She said she felt ill
See direct speech
Reported speech essentials Indirect speech
infinitive A non-finite verb form often preceded by to.  For example,
I came to help
We should go
Infinitive essentials Infinitives
inflexion (also inflection) Changing the form of a word to show grammatical function or other features such as tense, person, case and aspect.  In English, this is often achieved by changes to the endings of words but can affect the central vowels.  For example:
He plays (with the -s inflexion to show third person)
She played (with the -ed inflexion to show past tense)
They came (an inflexion on the central vowel ('o' to 'a'))
The larger problem (inflecting the adjective to show comparative form)
The houses were too expensive (with the -s inflexion to show a plural)
Non-technically, inflexion may be applied to changes in tone, intonation and pitch in speech.
Word formation essentials Word formation
interjection A word class signifying emotional state.  For example,
Word class essentials
interrogative A question form.  For example,
Do you know her?
Don't you like it?
Which do you want?
That's him, isn't it?
That's him?!
Negation and questions essentials Interrogatives
intransitive Describing a verb which cannot have an object.  For example,
They arrived
She talked
He fell
We cannot have:
*They arrived the hotel
*She talked the people
*He fell the river
Verb essentials Verb and clause types
lexeme The technical term, often used loosely for 'word' and referring to a single unit of meaning.  For example,
the Houses of Parliament
Word class essentials In-service lexis index
lexical verb Also called a content or main verb.  A verb that is not an auxiliary and has meaning when standing alone.  For example,
She wept
Lexical or main verb forms In-service verbs index
lexical word A word which carries significance rather than performing a grammatical function.  For example,
She went to the post office
The more usual term is content word.
Compare function word
Word class essentials In-service lexis index
linking verb See copular verb
mass noun A noun which can have no plural and takes a singular verb.  For example,
The milk is in the fridge
All you need is love
Money is important in life

Reading takes up a lot of my time
Compare count noun
Countability Nouns
modal auxiliary verb A verb which tells us how the speaker feels about the main verb.  For example,
I should talk to her (duty or obligation)
It may rain again (possibility)
That must be wrong (truth)
Let me see (permission)
Modal auxiliary verbs Modality map
modification Adding information to an element of a sentence.  For example:
Dogs enjoy games
has three unmodified elements but
My mongrel dogs really enjoy games of fetch
Has the same three elements modified in some way.
Modification essentials Modification overview
morpheme The smallest meaningful unit of language.  There are two sorts.  Bound morphemes always occur with others but free morphemes can stand alone or form part of a word.  For example,
protesting (one free (protest) and one bound (ing) morpheme)
bookkeeper (two free (book and keep) and one bound (er) morpheme)
Word formation essentials Word formation
multi-word verb A verb consisting of more than one word.  There are three sorts.  For example,
I give up (a phrasal verb)
She complained about the service (a prepositional verb)
She caught up with the class (a phrasal-prepositional verb)
Multi-word verbs essentials Multi-word verbs
negative / negation A sentence or verb form which refers to something not happening.  For example,
It didn't rain
I refuse to come
That's impossible
She never comes on time
Negation and questions Negation
non-finite A form of the verb not marked for tense, person or number.  For example,
She wants to help
I watched her enjoying the show
Let me go
Compare finite
Verb essentials Finite vs. non-finite
noun A word for a person, place, thing, feeling or characteristic.  Nouns can be subjects or objects of verbs and prepositions.  For example,
He went to the station
London is my home
Envy is an unpleasant emotion
Peter broke his glasses
Nouns essentials Nouns
noun phrase A group of words acting as a noun.  For example,
The old man sailed the fishing boat
Modification essentials In-service syntax index
object The entity the verb acts on.  For example,
She read a book (direct object)
She told me a story (indirect object)
I got the house painted
Subjects and objects Verb and clause types
open-class items word which belong to classes which in theory are limitless and to which additions can be made when the need arises to express a new idea: nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs Word class map
passive voice A clause in which the subject undergoes the action.  For example,
They were arrested
The house was painted by me
Compare active voice
Voice essentials The passive voice
participles A non-finite form of the verb.  There are two.  For example,
She was beaten (past participle)
He is working today (present participle)
Participles often act as adjectives.  For example,
She is delighted
A falling rock hit the car
Participles essentials In-service verbs index
partitive An expression which refers to part of a larger amount.  For example,
A pile of books
A can of beer
A pane of glass
Partitive expressions are often confused with collective nouns (q.v.) which have an opposite function.
Partitives and classifiers
patient In a passive voice clause, the receiver of the action of the agent.  For example,
John was arrested by the police
It was
his car that was damaged by the bus
Voice essentials The passive voice
perfect An aspect of the verb describing its relationship to another time.  For example,
He has arrived (setting the past in the present)
He had arrived (setting the past in the past)
He will have arrived (setting the past in the future)
Tense and aspect essentials Time, tense and aspect
person A grammatical category which indicates who something is about.  For example,
I came home (first person singular)
She talked to me (first person singular)
We were happy (first person plural)
They helped us (first person plural)
You didn't come (second person plural or singular)
They needed you (second person plural or singular)
She hated the film (third person singular)
The film delighted him (third person singular)
They broke the fence (third person plural)
She gave them the bill (third person plural)
Personal pronouns
personal pronoun A pronoun for a person or persons.  For example,
Give it to me (first-person object pronoun)
Peter did it himself (third person reflexive pronoun)
He came home (third person subject pronoun)
They went to London (third person plural subject pronoun)
That's not mine, it's his (first-and third-person possessive pronouns)
phrasal verb See multi-word verb
phrase A group of words with one grammatical function in a sentence.  For example,
He went to the shops (prepositional phrase)
The three boys left (noun phrase)
They have opened the box (verb phrase)
She was tired but happy (adjective phrase)
They worked extremely hard (adverb phrase)
possessive case See genitive
possessive determiner A type of determiner which refers to origin, possession or description.  For example:
His letter upset me
That's my car over there
The government has its problems
Personal pronouns Genitive
predicative This describes an adjective which is linked to the noun by a copular verb.  For example,
The house is old
She grew angry
See attributive
Adjective essentials Adjectives
prefix A morpheme attached to the beginning of a word which, usually, changes its meaning.  For example,
Word formation essentials Word formation
preposition A word which links the verb to a noun or adverbial.  For example,
He walked across the park
She arrived at six
Prepositions essentials Prepositional phrases
prepositional phrase A group of words which includes the preposition and its complement (or object).  For example,
over the bridge
under the river
primary auxiliary verb An auxiliary verb which forms a tense, voice or aspect with a main verb.  For example,
It was destroyed
I got my car cleaned
I have been to London
Primary auxiliary verbs
progressive The aspect of the verb which shows that something is ongoing.  For example,
I am writing this sentence
Tense and aspect essentials Time, tense and aspect
pronoun A word which stands for a noun.  For example,
Give me it
We talked among ourselves
Personal pronouns Pro-forms
proper noun A noun for a person, place or job.  For example,
The President
Mr Smith
The Alps
Nouns essentials Nouns
quantifier A type of determiner which refers to quantity.  For example:
Give me a few minutes
We don't have a lot of money
Would you like some cake?
Word class essentials Determiners
question tag A phrase attached to the end of a positive or negative sentence to make it a question.  For example,
You are coming, aren’t you?
You aren’t going to eat that, are you?
I don't believe she's coming, i
s she?
Question tags Interrogatives
relative pronoun One of the following which refer to the subject or object of a sentence or to possession: who, whom, which, whose, that.  For example,
He is the man who told me the story (referring to the subject)
He bought the car that he saw on the road (referring to the object)
The rules for the use of relative pronouns are quite complicated.
Relative clause essentials Relative pronoun clauses
reported speech See indirect speech
sentence stress The syllable(s) or word(s) in a sentence where the heaviest stress falls.  This is often, unless a special meaning is intended, on the information towards the end of the utterance, e.g.:
I went home
I went home very late
I went home by bus

Pronunciation essentials Sentence stress
stative Describing a state rather than an action.  For example,
The house is on the hill
He has been the manager for years
She looks unhappy
The door was broken
Compare dynamic
Stative vs. dynamic Time, tense and aspect
structure words See function words
style The level of formality on a cline from very informal to very formal with most language somewhere in between (neutral).  For example,
Pass the salt (informal)
I wonder if I could trouble you for the salt (formal)
Please pass the salt (neutral)
Style and register
subject The doer, animate or otherwise, of the verb.  For example,
She came at six
The wind howled
My car has broken down
Subjects and objects
subordinate clause See dependent clause
subordinator A type of conjunction which introduces a dependent clause.  For example,
She came because I invited her
If you ask me, of course I'll help
conjunctions: the essentials In-service syntax index
suffix A morpheme added to the end of a word which usually affects its word class.  For example,
resentment (a noun from a verb)
slowly (an adverb from an adjective
nationalise (a verb from an adjective)
Word formation essentials Word formation
superlative The form of an adjective or adverb which means the most or least.  For example,
The tallest boy in the class
The most expensively dressed man
The least important point
See comparative
Adjective essentials Adjectives
tense The form of the verb marked for time or aspect.  For example,
He walked (simple past)
She has been walking (present perfect progressive)
Tenses map Time, tense and aspect
transitive Describing a verb which can take one or more objects.  For example,
She smoked cigars
He threw me the book
Compare intransitive
Verb essentials
uncountable See mass noun
verb A word class referring to an event, action or state.  For example:
Peter arrived
Jill was unhappy
It continued raining
Verb essentials
verb phrase A group of words acting as a verb.  For example,
She has taken the car home
Verb essentials In-service syntax index
voice A form of the verb or clause showing the relationship between the subject and the object (active voice).  For example,
John (subject) opened the letter (object)
or the agent and the patient (passive voice).  For example,
The letter (patient) had been written in haste by the manager (agent)
Voice essentials The passive
wh-word The words what, who(m), when, where, why, how and which that act in a variety of grammatical functions.  For example,
Where is your car? (adverbial function)
Who told you? (pronoun function)
When did she go? (adverbial function)
That's the man who told me the story (relative pronoun function)
wh-questions Interrogatives
word class What used to be called parts of speech to classify words by their grammatical function.  There are two main categories:
a) closed-class words to which we can rarely if ever make additions: prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions and determiners.  See function words
b) open-class items to which we can add new members to refer to new or unusual concepts: nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.  See content words
Word class essentials In-service lexis index
word stress The place in a word where the heaviest stress falls.  Compare, e.g. export (verb) with export (noun).  This is sometimes referred to as accent. Pronunciation essentials Word stress

There is a 25-item grammar quiz which tests some of the above, linked from the CELTA index page.