Grammar and punctuation
Below is a list of grammatical words and their definitions. You can find the full English National Curriculum here.
An abbreviation is a shortened version of a word or group of words. For example: PTO (Please turn over)
Features of pronunciation vary according to the speaker’s regional and social origin.
An acronym is an abbreviation which is made up of the initial letters of a group of words, and is pronounced as a single word. For example: NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
A poetic form which is organised by the initial letters of a key word, either at the beginning of lines, or with lines arranged around them:
Whistling wildly blowing
In a rain
Direction and round.
Active and passive
Many verbs can be active or passive. For example, bite:
The dog bit Ben. (active)
Ben was bitten by the dog. (passive)
In the active sentence, the subject (the dog) performs the action. In the passive sentence, the subject (Ben) is on the receiving end of the action. The two sentences give similar information, but there is a difference in focus. The first is about what the dog did; the second is about what happened to Ben.
An adjective is a word that describes somebody or something. Old, white, busy, careful and horrible are all adjectives.
Adverbs give extra meaning to a verb, an adjective, another adverb or a whole sentence. Many adverbs are formed by adding -ly to an adjective, for example quickly, dangerously, nicely, but there are many adverbs which do not end in -ly.
In many cases, adverbs tell us:
how (manner) slowly, happily, dangerously, carefully
where (place) here, there, away, home, outside
when (time) now, yesterday, later, soon
how often (frequency) often, never, regularly
An adverbial phrase is a group of words that functions in the same way as a single adverb. For example: by car, to school, last week, three times a day, first of all.
Agreement (or concord)
In some cases the form of a verb changes according to its subject (so the verb and subject ‘agree’).
I am/he is/they are
I was/you were
I like/she likes
I don’t/he doesn’t
A phrase where adjacent or closely connected words begin with the same phoneme: one wet wellington; free phone; several silent, slithering snakes.
A brief written or spoken account of an amusing incident, often used to illustrate a point.
A word with a meaning opposite to another: hot – cold, light – dark, light – heavy. A word may have more than one word as an antonym: cold – hot/warm; big – small/tiny/little/titchy.
An apostrophe is a punctuation mark used to indicate either omitted letters or possession.
I’m (I am) who’s (who is/has)
they’ve (they have) he’d (he had/would)
we’re (we are) it’s (it is/has)
my mother’s car
Joe and Fiona’s house
the cat’s tail
A section added to a document which offers non-essential or illustrative information.
A, an, the are articles.
The people addressed by a text. The term refers to listeners, readers of books, film/TV audiences and users of information technology.
A life story of an individual written by that person. Generally written in the first person.
These are verbs that are used together with other verbs. For example:
we are going
Lucy has arrived
can you play
In these sentences, going, arrived and play are the main verbs. Are, has and can are auxiliary verbs, and add extra meaning to the main verb.
A life-story of an individual written by another author. Generally written in the third person.
The process of combining phonemes into larger elements such as clusters, syllables and words. Also refers to a combination of two or more phonemes, particularly at the beginning and end of words, st, str, nt, pl, nd.
Information about a book, designed to attract readers, usually printed on the back or inside flap of book jacket. Informs the reader about genre, setting, etc
A poem in which the calligraphy, the formation of the letters or the font selected, represents an aspect of the poem’s subject for example a poem about fear might be written in shaky letters to represent trembling.
An individual in a story, play or poem whose personality can be inferred from their actions and dialogue. Writers may also use physical description of the individual to give readers clues about a character.
Writing organised in terms of sequences of events.
A poem with a standard syllable pattern, like a haiku, invented by Adelaide Crapsey, an American poet. Five lines and a total of 22 syllables in the sequence: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2.
A clause is a group of words that expresses an event (she drank some water) or a situation (she was thirsty). It usually contains a subject (she in the examples) and verb (drank/was).
A colon is a punctuation mark used to introduce a list or a following example. It may also be used before a second clause that expands or illustrates the first:
He was very cold: the temperature was below zero.
A comma is a punctuation mark used to help the reader by separating parts of a sentence.
In particular we use commas:
- to separate items in a list (but not usually before and):
My favourite sports are football, tennis, swimming and gymnastics.
I got home, had a bath and went to bed.
- to mark off extra information:
Jill, my boss, is 28 years old.
- after a subordinate clause which begins a sentence:
Although it was cold, we didn’t wear our coats.
- with many connecting adverbs (eg however, on the other hand, anyway, for example):
Anyway, in the end I decided not to go.
The level of understanding of a text.
The reader can read meanings which are not directly explained. For example, the reader would be able to make inferences about the time of year from information given about temperature and weather, and from characters’ behaviour and dialogue.
The reader can offer an opinion on the effectiveness of the text for its purpose.
A word used to link clauses within a sentence. For example, in the following sentences, but and if are conjunctions:
It was raining but it wasn’t cold.
We won’t go out if the weather’s bad.
A connective is a word or phrase that links clauses or sentences. Connectives can be conjunctions (eg but, when,because) or connecting adverbs (eg however, then, therefore).
The term refers to those letters of the alphabet except a,e,i,o,u.
Two consecutive lines of poetry which are paired in length or rhyme.
A dash is a punctuation mark used especially in informal writing (such as letters to friends, postcards or notes).
A dialect is a variety of a language used in a particular area and which is distinguished by certain features of grammar or vocabulary.
A conversation between two parties – may be spoken or written.
Two letters representing one phoneme examples of this: ch/ur/ch.
Direct speech and indirect speech
There are two ways of reporting what somebody says, direct speech and indirect speech.
In direct speech, we use the speaker’s original words (as in a speech bubble). In text, speech marks (‘…’ or “…” — also called inverted commas or quotes) mark the beginning and end of direct speech:
Helen said, ‘I’m going home’.
‘What do you want?’ I asked.
In indirect (or reported) speech, we report what was said but do not use the exact words of the original speaker. Typically we change pronouns and verb tenses, and speech marks are not used:
Helen said that she was going home.
I asked them what they wanted.
In non-standard English, a double negative may be used. For example:
We didn’t see nobody.
I never took nothing.
Such double negatives are not acceptable in standard English.
Preliminary written form of document; a text may develop through a number of drafts before reaching final draft stage, at which time it may be published.
To modify written work, either own or another’s, in preparation for publication.
An ellipsis is the term used for three dots (…) which show that something has been omitted or is incomplete.
Identifying with a character in a story, or an historical figure – the ability to see situations from the other’s point of view.
A poem or story relating the adventures of a heroic or legendary figure, often related to national identity, as Odysseus or Arthur.
The study of the origin and history of words.
An exclamation is an utterance expressing emotion (joy, wonder, anger, surprise, etc) and is usually followed in writing by an exclamation mark (!).
Exclamation mark (!)
An exclamation mark is used at the end of a sentence to indicate strong emotion:
What a pity!
It’s a goal!
A short story which is devised and written to convey a useful moral lesson. Animals are often used as characters, as in Aesop’s Fables.
Text (characters, setting and events) which is invented by a writer or speaker. In some cases, one of these elements may be factual: for example, the setting may be a named city or area; the text may be based on an historical event.
Part of a text, often an appendix, which defines terms the writer considers may be unfamiliar to the intended audience.
Written representation of a sound; may consist of one or more letters; for example the phoneme s can be represented by the graphemes s, se, c, sc and ce as in sun, mouse, city, science.
Japanese form of poetry. The poem has three lines and 17 syllables in total in the pattern 5, 7, 5:
Loving, faithful, fun
Trusting and loyal and true
Words which almost rhyme: polish/relish; pun/man.
Homograph / homonym
Words which have the same spelling as another, but different meaning: the calf was eating/my calf was aching.
Words which have the same sound as another but different meaning or different spelling: read/reed; pair/pear; right/write.
A hyphen is sometimes used to join the two parts of a compound noun, as in golf-ball and proof-read. But it is much more usual for such compounds to be written as single words (eg football, headache, bedroom) or as separate words without a hyphen (golf ball, stomach ache, dining room, city centre).
An idiom is an expression which is not meant literally and whose meaning cannot be deduced from knowledge of the individual words. For example:
You look a bit under the weather this morning.
A compound expression used in Old English and Norse poetry, which named something without using its name, for example mouse catcher = cat. Anglo-Saxons often used kennings to name their swords: death bringer.
A traditional story about heroic characters such as King Arthur, which may be based on truth, but which has been embellished over the years. Also refers to the wording on maps and charts which explains the symbols used.
A five-line comic verse following the syllable pattern 8 8 6 6 8 with the rhyme scheme a a b b a. Early limericks, such as the nonsense verse of Edward Lear, repeat line 1 in line 5. However, recent verse does not always follow this model.
This is where the writer writes about something as if it were really something else. For example, the moon is a giant golfball in the sky.
A device to aid memory, for instance to learn particular spelling patterns or spellings: Big Elephants Can’t Always Understand Small Elephants, or there is a rat in separate.
The modal verbs are:
The smallest unit of meaning. A word may consist of one morpheme (house), two morphemes (house/s; hous/ing) or three or more morphemes (house/keep/ing; un/happi/ness).
An ancient traditional story of gods or heroes which addresses a problem or concern of human existence. May include an explanation of some fact or phenomenon.
Writing organised without reference to time sequence. Typically, writing organised by characteristics and attributes, for example, a report on a town might be organised into population, situation and facilities.
A noun is a word that denotes somebody or something. In the sentence My younger sister won some money in a competition, ‘sister’, ‘money’ and ‘competition’ are nouns. Many nouns can be singular (only one) or plural (more than one). A collective noun is a word that refers to a group, for example crowd, flock, team. Proper nouns are the names of people, places and organisations. These normally begin with a capital letter: Amanda, Birmingham,Microsoft, Islam, November.
Words which echo sounds associated with their meaning: clang, hiss, crash, cuckoo.
A belief held by an individual or group of individuals for which there is insufficient evidence for it to be accepted as fact.
A word or phrase which is the same when read left-right or right-left: madam; mum; dad; eve; pup.
A short story told to illustrate a moral lesson or duty.
A section of a piece of writing. A new paragraph marks a change of focus, a change of time, a change of place or a change of speaker in a passage of dialogue. A new paragraph begins on a new line, usually with a one-line gap separating it from the previous paragraph. Some writers also indent the first line of a new paragraph. Paragraphing helps writers to organise their thoughts, and helps readers to follow the story line, argument or dialogue.
A form of metaphor in which language relating to human action, motivation and emotion is used to refer to nonhuman agents or objects or abstract concepts: the weather is smiling on us today; Love is blind.
A text which aims to persuade the reader. A persuasive text typically consists of a statement of the viewpoint, arguments and evidence for this view, possibly some arguments and evidence supporting a different view, and a final summary or recommendation.
A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a word.
A phrase is a group of words that act as one unit. So dog is a word, but the dog, a big dog or that dog over there are all phrases.
A word made up from blending two others: swurse = swear + curse; picture + dictionary = pictionary; smoke + fog = smog; breakfast + lunch = brunch.
A prefix is a morpheme which can be added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning. For example:
A preposition is a word like at, over, by and with. Prepositions often indicate time (at midnight/during the film/on Friday), position (at the station/in a field) or direction (to the station/over a fence).
There are several kinds of pronoun, including:
- personal pronouns
I, me, you, he, him, she, her, we, us, they, them, it
- possessive pronouns
mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs, its
- reflexive pronouns
myself, herself, themselves
To check a piece of work thoroughly before final publication.
A saying, which may have changed little over time, which states a belief about the world: the early bird catches the worm; too many cooks spoil the broth; the grass is always greener on the other side.
Question mark (?)
A question mark is used at the end of an interrogative sentence (eg Who was that?) or one whose function is a question (eg You’re leaving already?)
A text written to retell for information or entertainment.
An information text organised in a clearly defined way, for example alphabetically, and used for study purposes.
A question which does not require a response.
A rhyme occurs when words share the same stressed vowel phoneme, eg she/tea, way/delay and subsequent consonant(s) eg sheet/treat, made/lemonade and final unstressed vowel eg laughter/after.
A question or statement, sometimes in rhyme, which forms a puzzle to be solved by the reader/listener.
To break a word or part of a word down into its component phonemes, for example: c-a-t
A semi-colon can be used to separate two main clauses in a sentence:
I liked the book; it was a pleasure to read.
This could also be written as two separate sentences:
I liked the book. It was a pleasure to read.
Semi-colons can also be used to separate items in a list if these items consist of longer phrases.
For example: I need large, juicy tomatoes; half a pound of unsalted butter; a kilo of fresh pasta, preferably tagliatelle; and a jar of black olives.
The writer creates an image in readers’ minds by comparing a subject to something else: as happy as a lark.
Read to get an initial overview of the subject matter and main ideas of a passage.
A suffix is a morpheme which is added to the end of a word eg –ed, -ing, -es
Each beat in a word is a syllable. Words with only one beat (cat, fright, jail) are called monosyllabic; words with more than one beat (super, coward, superficiality) are polysyllabic.
Words which have the same meaning as another word, or very similar: wet/damp. Avoids overuse of any word; adds variety.
A brief summary or outline of a paragraph, chapter or book.
Syntax is the study of sentence structure i.e. how words are used together in a sentence.
A tense is a verb form that most often indicates time. English verbs have two basic tenses, present and past.
Three letters representing one phoneme: igh; dge;
A verb is a word that expresses an action, a happening, a process or a state. It can be thought of as a ‘doing’ or ‘being’ word.