An active verb has its usual pattern of subject and object (in contrast with the passive).
The surest way to identify adjectives is by the ways they can be used:
• before a noun, to make the noun’s meaning more specific (i.e. to modify the noun), or
• after the verb be, as its complement.
Adjectives cannot be modified by other adjectives. This distinguishes them from nouns, which can be.
Adjectives are sometimes called ‘describing words’ because they pick out single characteristics such as size or colour. This is often true, but it doesn’t help to distinguish adjectives from other word classes, because verbs, nouns and adverbs can do the same thing.
The surest way to identify adverbs is by the ways they can be used: they can modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb or even a whole clause.
Adverbs are sometimes said to describe manner or time. This is often true, but it doesn’t help to distinguish adverbs from other word classes that can be used as adverbials, such as preposition phrases, noun phrases and subordinate clauses.
• She finished her work this evening. [noun phrase used as adverbial]
• She finished when the teacher got cross. [subordinate clause used as adverbial]
An adverbial is a word or phrase that is used, like an adverb, to modify a verb or clause. Of course, adverbs can be used as adverbials, but many other types of words and phrases can be used this way, including preposition phrases and subordinate clauses.
Two words are antonyms if their meanings are opposites.
Apostrophes have two completely different uses:
• showing the place of missing letters (e.g. I’m for I am)
• marking possessives
(e.g. Hannah’s mother).
The articles the (definite) and a or an (indefinite) are the most common type of determiner.
The auxiliary verbs are: be, have, do and the modal verbs. They can be used to make questions and negative statements. In addition:
• be is used in the progressive and passive
• have is used in the perfect
• do is used to form questions and negative statements if no other auxiliary verb is present
A clause is a special type of phrase whose head is a verb. Clauses can sometimes be complete sentences. Clauses may be main or subordinate.
Traditionally, a clause had to have a finite verb, but most modern grammarians also recognise non-finite clauses.
A text has cohesion if it is clear how the meanings of its parts fit together. Cohesive devices can help to do this.
In the example, there are repeated references to the same thing (shown by the different style pairings), and the logical relations, such as time and cause, between different parts are clear.
Cohesive devices are words used to show how the different parts of a text fit together. In other words, they create cohesion.
Some examples of cohesive devices are:
• determiners and pronouns, which can refer back to earlier words
• conjunctions and adverbs, which can make relations between words clear
• ellipsis of expected words.
A verb’s subject complement adds more information about its subject, and its object complement does the same for its object.
Unlike the verb’s object, its complement may be an adjective. The verb be normally has a complement.
A compound word contains at least two root words in its morphology; e.g. whiteboard, superman. Compounding is very important in English.
A conjunction links two words or phrases together.
There are two main types of conjunctions:
• co-ordinating conjunctions (e.g. and) link two words or phrases together as an equal pair
• subordinating conjunctions (e.g. when) introduce a subordinate clause.
A sound which is produced when the speaker closes off or obstructs the flow of air through the vocal tract, usually using lips, tongue or teeth.
Most of the letters of the alphabet represent consonants. Only the letters a, e, i, o, u and y can represent vowel sounds.
Words or phrases are co-ordinated if they are linked as an equal pair by a co-ordinating conjunction (i.e. and, but, or).
In the examples on the right, the co- ordinated elements are shown in bold, and the conjunction is underlined.
The difference between co-ordination and subordination is that, in subordination, the two linked elements are not equal.
A determiner specifies a noun as known or unknown, and it goes before any modifiers (e.g. adjectives or other nouns).
Some examples of determiners are:
• articles (the, a or an)
• demonstratives (e.g. this, those)
• possessives (e.g. my, your)
• quantifiers (e.g. some, every).
A type of grapheme where two letters represent one phoneme.
Sometimes, these two letters are not next to one another; this is called a split digraph.
Ellipsis is the omission of a word or phrase which is expected and predictable.
A word’s etymology is its history: its origins in earlier forms of English or other languages, and how its form and meaning have changed. Many words in English have come from Greek, Latin or French.
Every sentence typically has at least one verb which is either past or present tense. Such verbs are called ‘finite’. The imperative verb in a command is also finite.
Verbs that are not finite, such as participles or infinitives, cannot stand on their own: they are linked to another verb in the sentence.
• I want to do them! [combined with the finite verb want]
A word or phrase that normally comes after the verb may be moved before the verb: when this happens, we say it has been ‘fronted’. For example, a fronted adverbial is an adverbial which has been moved before the verb.
When writing fronted phrases, we often follow them with a comma.
Reference to future time can be marked in a number of different ways in English. All these ways involve the use of a present-tense verb.
See also tense.
Unlike many other languages (such as French, Spanish or Italian), English has no distinct ‘future tense’ form of the verb comparable with its present and past tenses.
See grapheme-phoneme correspondences.
A letter, or combination of letters, that corresponds to a single phoneme within a word.
The links between letters, or combinations of letters (graphemes) and the speech sounds (phonemes) that they represent.
In the English writing system, graphemes may correspond to different phonemes in different words.
Two different words are homonyms if they both look exactly the same when written, and sound exactly the same when pronounced.
Two different words are homophones if they sound exactly the same when pronounced.
A verb’s infinitive is the basic form used as the head-word in a dictionary (e.g. walk, be).
Infinitives are often used:
• after to
• after modal verbs.
When we add -ed to walk, or change mouse to mice, this change of morphology produces an inflection (‘bending’) of the basic word which has special grammar (e.g. past tense or plural). In contrast, adding -er to walk produces a completely different word, walker, which is part of the same word family. Inflection is sometimes thought of as merely a change of ending, but, in fact, some words change completely when inflected.
A verb which does not need an object in a sentence to complete its meaning is described as intransitive. See ‘transitive verb’.
A sentence contains at least one clause which is not a subordinate clause; such a clause is a main clause. A main clause may contain any number of subordinate clauses.
Modal verbs are used to change the meaning of other verbs. They can express meanings such as certainty, ability, or obligation. The main modal verbs are will, would, can, could, may, might, shall, should, must and ought.
A modal verb only has finite forms and has no suffixes (e.g. I sing – he sings, but not I must – he musts).
One word or phrase modifies another by making its meaning more specific.
Because the two words make a phrase, the ‘modifier’ is normally close to the modified word.
• school is modified by primary (to mean a specific kind of school).
A word’s morphology is its internal make-up in terms of root words and suffixes or prefixes, as well as other kinds of change such as the change of mouse to mice.
Morphology may be used to produce different inflections of the same word (e.g. boy – boys), or entirely new words (e.g. boy – boyish) belonging to the same word family.
A word that contains two or more root words is a compound (e.g. news+paper, ice+cream).
• and helpful = help + ful
The surest way to identify nouns is by the ways they can be used after determiners such as the: for example, most nouns will fit into the frame “The ___ matters/matter.”
Nouns are sometimes called ‘naming words’ because they name people, places and ‘things’; this is often true, but it doesn’t help to distinguish nouns from other word classes. For example, prepositions can name places and verbs can name ‘things’ such as actions.
Nouns may be classified as common (e.g. boy, day) or proper (e.g. Ivan, Wednesday), and also as countable (e.g. thing, boy) or non-countable (e.g. stuff, money). These classes can be recognised by the determiners they combine with.
A noun phrase is a phrase with a noun as its head, e.g. some foxes, foxes with bushy tails. Some grammarians recognise one-word phrases, so that foxes are multiplying would contain the noun foxes acting as the head of the noun phrase foxes.
An object is normally a noun, pronoun or noun phrase that comes straight after the verb, and shows what the verb is acting upon.
Objects can be turned into the subject of a passive verb, and cannot be adjectives (contrast with complements).
• Year 2 designed pretty. [incorrect, because adjectives cannot be objects]
Verbs in English have two participles, called ‘present participle’ (e.g. walking, taking) and ‘past participle’ (e.g. walked, taken).
Unfortunately, these terms can be confusing to learners, because:
• they don’t necessarily have anything to do with present or past time
• although past participles are used as perfects (e.g. has eaten) they are also used as passives (e.g. was eaten).
The sentence It was eaten by our dog is the passive of Our dog ate it. A passive is recognisable from:
• the past participle form eaten
• the normal object (it) turned into the subject
• the normal subject (our dog) turned into an optional preposition phrase with by as its head
• the verb be(was), or some other verb such as get.
A verb is not ‘passive’ just because it has a passive meaning: it must be the passive version of an active verb.
• A bus ran over our cat.
• We had an accident. [past tense, active had]
Verbs in the past tense are commonly used to:
• talk about the past
• talk about imagined situations
• make a request sound more polite.
Most verbs take a suffix –ed, to form their past tense, but many commonly-used verbs are irregular.
See also tense.
The perfect form of a verb generally calls attention to the consequences of a prior event; for example, he has gone to lunch implies that he is still away, in contrast with he went to lunch. ‘Had gone to lunch’ takes a past time point (i.e. when we arrived) as its reference point and is another way of establishing time relations in a text. The perfect tense is formed by:
• turning the verb into its past participle inflection
• adding a form of the verb have before it.
It can also be combined with the progressive (e.g. he has been going).
A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that signals a distinct, contrasting meaning. For example:
• /t/ contrasts with /k/ to signal the difference between tap and cap
• /t/ contrasts with /l/ to signal the difference between bought and ball.
It is this contrast in meaning that tells us there are two distinct phonemes at work.
There are around 44 phonemes in English; the exact number depends on regional accents. A single phoneme may be represented in writing by one, two, three or four letters constituting a single grapheme.
A phrase is a group of words that are grammatically connected so that they stay together, and that expand a single word, called the ‘head’. The phrase is a noun phrase if its head is a noun, a preposition phrase if its head is a preposition, and so on; but if the head is a verb, the phrase is called a clause. Phrases can be made up of other phrases.
A plural noun normally has a suffix –
s or –es and means ‘more than one’.
There are a few nouns with different morphology in the plural (e.g. mice, formulae).
A possessive can be:
• a noun followed by an apostrophe, with or without s
• a possessive pronoun.
The relation expressed by a possessive goes well beyond ordinary ideas of ‘possession’. A possessive may act as a determiner.
A prefix is added at the beginning of a word in order to turn it into another word.
A preposition links a following noun, pronoun or noun phrase to some other word in the sentence. Prepositions often describe locations or directions, but can describe other things, such as relations of time.
Words like before or since can act either as prepositions or as conjunctions.
A preposition phrase has a preposition as its head followed by a noun, pronoun or noun phrase.
Verbs in the present tense are commonly used to:
• talk about the present
• talk about the future.
They may take a suffix –s (depending on the subject).
See also tense.
The progressive (also known as the ‘continuous’) form of a verb generally describes events in progress. It is formed by combining the verb’s present participle (e.g. singing) with a form of the verb be (e.g. he was singing). The progressive can also be combined with the perfect (e.g. he has been singing).
Pronouns are normally used like nouns, except that:
• they are grammatically more specialised
• it is harder to modify them
In the examples, each sentence is written twice: once with nouns, and once with pronouns (underlined). Where the same thing is being talked about, the words are shown in bold.
Punctuation includes any conventional features of writing other than spelling and general layout: the standard punctuation marks . , ; : ? ! - – ( ) “ ” ‘ ’ , and also word-spaces, capital letters, apostrophes, paragraph breaks and bullet points. One important role of punctuation is to indicate sentence boundaries.
Received Pronunciation (often abbreviated to RP) is an accent which is used only by a small minority of English speakers in England. It is not associated with any one region. Because of its regional neutrality, it is the accent which is generally shown in dictionaries in the UK (but not, of course, in the USA). RP has no special status in the national curriculum.
Classroom lessons, football commentaries and novels use different registers of the same language, recognised by differences of vocabulary and grammar. Registers are ‘varieties’ of a language which are each tied to a range of uses, in contrast with dialects, which are tied to groups of users.
A relative clause is a special type of subordinate clause that modifies a noun. It often does this by using a relative pronoun such as who or that to refer back to that noun, though the relative pronoun that is often omitted.
A relative clause may also be attached to a clause. In that case, the pronoun refers back to the whole clause, rather than referring back to a noun.
In the examples, the relative clauses are underlined, and the pairs the pronouns with the words they refer back to are in bold.
Morphology breaks words down into root words, which can stand alone, and suffixes or prefixes which can’t. For example, help is the root word for other words in its word family such as helpful and helpless, and also for its inflections such as helping. Compound words (e.g. help-desk) contain two or more root words. When looking in a dictionary, we sometimes have to look for the root word (or words) of the word we are interested in.
The name of a vowel sound that is found only in unstressed positions in English. It is the most common vowel sound in English.
It is written as /ə/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet. In the English writing system, it can be written in many different ways.
A sentence is a group of words which are grammatically connected to each other but not to any words outside the sentence.
The form of a sentence’s main clause shows whether it is being used as a statement, a question, a command or an exclamation.
A sentence may consist of a single clause or it may contain several clauses held together by subordination or co-ordination. Classifying sentences as ‘simple’, ‘complex’ or ‘compound’ can be confusing, because a ‘simple’ sentence may be complicated, and a complex’ one may be straightforward. The terms ‘single-clause sentence’ and ‘multi-clause sentence’ may be more helpful.
Standard English can be recognised by the use of a very small range of forms such as those books, I did it and I wasn’t doing anything (rather than their non-Standard equivalents); it is not limited to any particular accent. It is the variety of English which is used, with only minor variation, as a major world language. Some people use Standard English all the time, in all situations from the most casual to the most formal, so it covers most registers. The aim of the national curriculum is that everyone should be able to use Standard English as needed in writing and in relatively formal speaking.
A syllable is stressed if it is pronounced more forcefully than the syllables next to it. The other syllables are unstressed.
The subject of a verb is normally the noun, noun phrase or pronoun that names the ‘do-er’ or ‘be-er’. The subject’s normal position is:
• just before the verb in a statement
• just after the auxiliary verb, in a question.
Unlike the verb’s object and complement, the subject can determine the form of the verb (e.g. I am, you are).
In some languages, the inflections of a verb include a large range of special forms which are used typically in subordinate clauses, and are called ‘subjunctives’. English has very few such forms and those it has tend to be used in rather formal styles.
A subordinate word or phrase tells us more about the meaning of the word it is subordinate to. Subordination can be thought of as an unequal relationship between a subordinate word and a main word. For example:
• an adjective is subordinate to the noun it modifies
• subjects and objects are subordinate to their verbs.
Subordination is much more common than the equal relationship of co-ordination.
See also subordinate clause.
A clause which is subordinate to some other part of the same sentence is a subordinate clause; for example, in The apple that I ate was sour, the clause that I ate is subordinate to apple (which it modifies). Subordinate clauses contrast with co-ordinate clauses as in It was sour but looked very tasty. (Contrast: main clause)
However, clauses that are directly quoted as direct speech are not subordinate clauses.
A suffix is an ‘ending’, used at the end of one word to turn it into another word. Unlike root words, suffixes cannot stand on their own as a complete word.
A syllable sounds like a beat in a word. Syllables consist of at least one vowel, and possibly one or more consonants.
Two words are synonyms if they have the same meaning, or similar meanings. Contrast antonym.
In English, tense is the choice between present and past verbs, which is special because it is signalled by inflections and normally indicates differences of time. In contrast, languages like French, Spanish and Italian, have three or more distinct tense forms, including a future tense. (See also: future.)
The simple tenses (present and past) may be combined in English with the perfect and progressive.
• Estudió. [past tense]
• Estudiará. [future tense]
A transitive verb takes at least one object in a sentence to complete its meaning, in contrast to an intransitive verb, which does not.
A type of grapheme where three letters represent one phoneme.
The surest way to identify verbs is by the ways they can be used: they can usually have a tense, either present or past (see also future).
Verbs are sometimes called ‘doing words’ because many verbs name an action that someone does; while this can be a way of recognising verbs, it doesn’t distinguish verbs from nouns (which can also name actions). Moreover many verbs name states or feelings rather than actions.
Verbs can be classified in various ways: for example, as auxiliary, or modal; as transitive or intransitive; and as states or events.
A vowel is a speech sound which is produced without any closure or obstruction of the vocal tract.
Vowels can form syllables by themselves, or they may combine with consonants.
In the English writing system, the letters a, e, i, o, u and y can represent vowels.
A word is a unit of grammar: it can be selected and moved around relatively independently, but cannot easily be split. In punctuation, words are normally separated by word spaces.
Sometimes, a sequence that appears grammatically to be two words is collapsed into a single written word, indicated with a hyphen or apostrophe (e.g. well-built, he’s).
Every word belongs to a word class which summarises the ways in which it can be used in grammar. The major word classes for English are: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, determiner, pronoun, conjunction. Word classes are sometimes called ‘parts of speech’.
The words in a word family are normally related to each other by a combination of morphology, grammar and meaning.