Skip to main content

Grammar Terms



In order to use English successfully in a university situation, it is very important to have a good understanding of how English grammar works.

If you are planning to use grammar books or self-study materials, it is important to know what the many different grammatical terms and expressions in dictionaries and grammar books actually mean. They are a very useful shortcut, designed to help you to find out what you need to know. It is also important to be able to use the correct grammar terms when you are asking your English tutor any questions- this makes life a lot easier for them and for you.


1. What words are used to talk about English grammar? 




What words are used to talk about English grammar?


Below is a simplified glossary of the most common grammar terms that you will come across in English grammar reference books. Common abbreviations are provided if they are used, and meanings are given beside them in the table.

Please note that the abbreviations may differ according to the particular book you are referring to.


Grammar term


Adjective (adj.)

An adjective is word used to describe a noun (e.g. good, bad, enjoyable, tedious.)

Adverb (adv.)

An adverb is a word that describes how the verb is performed (e.g. quickly, slowly, carefully).


A clause is a minimal group of words that makes sense in English. A clause often, though not always, contains a subject. It will generally contain a verb, and often it contains an object or another structure as well. A clause can be independent (this is known as a 'main clause') or dependent on the other part of the sentence (known as a 'subordinate caluse').

Countable Noun

(N. Count)

A countable noun is a noun that can be counted in terms of number (e.g. a table, a chair).

Definite article

The definite article ('the') is used together with a noun when the reference is specific.


This is the 'ing' form of the verb that is used after certain prepositions (e.g. by) and after certain verbs (e.g. to enjoy).

Indefinite article

The indefinite article ('a', 'an') is used together with a noun when the reference is not specific. 'A' or 'An' cannot be used before an uncountable noun.

Infinitive (inf.)

This is the basic form of the verb that has not been changed to indicate the person (e.g. (to) play, to enjoy).

Intransitive verb (v.i.)

This is a verb that has no object after it (e.g. to die).

Modal verb

A modal verb is a special kind of verb (known as an auxiliary verb) which describes the way a speaker feels about a situation (e.g. whether the speaker thinks that the situation is possible or impossible, advisable or inadvisable). Common examples are 'can', 'could', 'may', 'might'. 'must', 'have to', 'should', 'will', 'would', etc.

Noun (n.)

A noun is the name of a person, place, thing or abstract quality (e.g. kindness).

Object (o.)

An object is a person or thing that 'receives' the action.

Passive voice

This is a type of sentence where the focus is on the object that 'receives' the action, and the action itself (not the subject, as is usually the case).

Phrasal verb

This is a verb that contains one or two particles after it (e.g. to get on with, to put up with, etc). The meaning is often idiomatic.


This is a small word which is used with place (e.g. 'at home'), time (e.g. 'in the afternoon'), after certain verbs (e.g. it depends on) and with particular expressions (e.g. let's get down to business)

Relative word

This a word like 'who', 'whom', 'which' and 'whose' which indicates relationships and belonging.


A sentence is a group of words with at least one main (independent) clause. The shortest sentence must contain at least a subject and verb (e.g. 'He arrived').


A subject is a person or thing that 'does' the action.


Tenses are used to refer to different time frames (past, present and future). There is no simple relationship between tense and time in English.

Transitive verb (v.t)

This is a verb that is followed by an object (e.g. to watch).

Uncountable Noun

(N. Uncount.)

An uncountable noun is a noun that cannot be counted in terms of number (e.g. water, oil).

Verb (v.)

A verb generally indicates an action (e.g. play, happen) but can also refer to mental processes (e.g. 'think', 'consider', 'imagine') and verbal processes (e.g. 'write', 'conclude', 'emphasise').

back ^


The text was prepared by Dr Gerard Sharpling.