Glossary of Grammar Terms

This is a very short explanation of many of the grammatical terms used in this website. It is not intended to be very detailed, as there are many other good resources available.

Please see the relevant sections of the website for further explanations of some of the terms, or refer to an English learner's dictionary (e.g. the Cambridge, Macmillan or Oxford learner's dictionaries). Michael Swan's book Practical English Usage also has more detailed explanations.


A word which describes, or adds detail to, a noun. e.g. good, bad. In English, adjectives go before nouns. e.g. a good assignment


A word which describes, or adds detail to, a verb. e.g. write quickly, arrive late, get up early


A word that goes before a noun and indicates if it is indefinite (a/an/0) or definite (the). See the section on this website on articles for a fuller explanation. If you have an adjective between the article and the noun and it needs an indefinite article, you need to choose the indefinite article which matches the opening sound of the adjective. e.g. an essay/a good essay, a report/an early report


The way in which time is experienced. Aspect combines with different tenses:

simple - they attend, they attended, they will attend

continuous/progressive - they are attending, they were attending, they will be attending

perfect - they have attended, they had attended, they will have attended


A group of words with a subject and a verb which can be part of a sentence or can form a whole sentence by itself.

e.g. Professor Grahamarian marked the assignment. This is a single clause which forms a whole sentence.

e.g. Professor Grahamarian marked the assignment and he gave it a high grade. This sentence is made of two clauses linked by the word and.


b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z. Words that start with a consonant sound take a in the singular. e.g. a letter, a book. However, a word may start with a consonant but have a vowel sound. In that case it takes an in the singular. e.g. an hour (the letter h is not pronounced)


Countable nouns can take a or an in the singular and can be made plural. e.g. a report, two reports

Ergative verb

A verb which can be active, passive or in the middle (i.e. not active or passive, but in between the two). (Please see the passive voice section of this website for more information.)

e.g. Bobby opened the door. (active)

The door opened. (middle)

The door was opened by Bobby. (passive)


The part of a verb that does not change in English and is used in dictionary definitions. It often, but not always, has the word to before it. When following a modal verb, for instance, it does not have to. e.g. We have to write a report. We must submit the assignment by Friday.

A kind of auxiliary verb used before an infinitive. e.g. can, could, may, might, must, should, will, would. Modal verbs do not take the word to before an infinitive. e.g. I must write an essay. They will go tomorrow.


The way a verb is used to express an action, a command or a doubt. Indicative, imperative and subjunctive are all types of mood. e.g. I prepared (= indicative mood) a presentation. infinitive (=imperative mood) a presentation! If I were (=subjunctive mood) you, I wouldn't do a presentation. The indicative mood in English can be in any tense and is what we see as a 'normal' verb form. The imperative in English always takes the same form as the infinitive, without 'to'. The subjunctive mood in English is not often indicated by a change in the verb form.


A word which names something. e.g. cat, person, essay, report, theory.


The person or thing to which something happens or is done. e.g. I wrote an essay.

An object can be direct (e.g. My lecturer marked the report) or indirect (The waiter served the singer a drink.) You could rewrite the indirect example with the word to: The waiter served a drink to the singer. In this sentence, the waiter is the subject, a drink is the direct object (the thing that the waiter served) and the singer is the indirect object (the person to whom the waiter served the drink).

Part of speech

The way words are divided in English grammar books and explained in dictionaries. e.g. adjective, noun, verb


A word used to refer to pronouns and verbs to show who is doing an action.

First person singular - I go

First person plural - we go

Second person singular - you go

Second person plural - you go

Third person singular - he, she, it goes

Third person plural - they go


A small word that shows a relationship between two nouns (e.g. an essay on linguistics) or a verb and a noun (e.g. to write about linguistics). (Please see the prepositions section of this website for more information.)


A word in the place of another noun.

Subject pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, they

Object pronouns: me, you, him, her, it, us, them

Possessive pronouns: my, your, his, her, its, our, their


The person or thing that does something. e.g. I wrote an essay. The tutor marked my report. The graduation ceremony was very impressive.


The time when an action takes place - present, past, future. e.g. they attend, they attended, they will attend  (Please see the tenses section of this website for more information.)


Uncountable nouns cannot be made plural or take the words a or an. e.g. teaching, learning, research, information

Sometimes you will see an uncountable noun with the word a. e.g. an education. In that case, it means a form of something. e.g. Learning to use the university computer system was an education [=a form of education] in itself. You may use an uncountable noun in the plural if it refers to a container of something. e.g. two coffees (=two cups of coffee)


An action word. e.g. write, submit


1. The way in which a writer shows their own style, thoughts and opinions. (There is a longer explanation of the writer's voice in the essay writing section of this website.)

2. Active/Passive. The active voice tells you what the subject of a sentence does (e.g. Robin started the group project). The passive voice changes the focus of your sentence. You can use a passive when you want to emphasise the action itself, when the reader does not need to know who did an action, or when you do not want to emphasise who did an action. (There is a longer explanation of active and passive voice in the passive voice section of this website.)


a, e, i, o, u. Words that start with a vowel sound take an in the singular. e.g. an essay, an oral presentation, an article. However, a word may start with a vowel but have a consonant sound. In that case it takes a in the singular. e.g. a university