The Englicious Glossary includes the new National Curriculum glossary terms, which are shown against a white background. However, there's much more to be found here:

  • we have added many entries that we feel are important, but cannot be found in the NC Glossary (e.g. connective), and
  • in many cases we have added information to the (often very brief) NC entries that need further explanation (e.g. clause and phrase).

Please note that in line with our practice throughout the site, we use capital letters for function terms such as Subject, Direct Object, Indirect Object, Modifier, etc. Although this convention is not followed in the documentation published by the Department for Education we have also done so in the text that forms part of the National Curriculum Glossary.

Tip: Within our units and resources, Glossary items appear highlighted within the text. When you hover over them, or click on them in the Slideshow, a popup is generated.


The simple form of an adjective (or adverb): the form that is not comparative or superlative. For example, in the following sequence the first form is the absolute form: great - greater - greatest.

abstract noun

A noun with an abstract (non-material) meaning, e.g. imagination, unhappiness, truth. Abstract nouns contrast with concrete nouns like rock or blackbird, which refer to things that can be perceived by the senses.


Features of pronunciation which identify where a person is from, either regionally or socially.

accusative case

The form taken by certain pronouns when they function as Object (Direct Object or Indirect Object) or after a preposition. E.g. them, me in The dog chased them, The baby smiled at me. Sometimes called the objective case. Contrasts with the nominative case, e.g. they, I.


A type of initialism in which the combined initials of the new word are pronounced as ordinary words. Examples include NATO, but not UN, because in the latter, each letter is pronounced separately. See also initialism.

action verb

A category of verb based on meaning. Action verbs denote physical actions, such as whacked, sprint, scribbling and moved.


An active verb has its usual pattern of Subject and Object (in contrast with the passive).

  • Active: The school arranged a visit.
  • Passive: A visit was arranged by the school.

Active voice is the more common pattern, which contrasts with the passive voice. In an active clause the agent is expressed as the Subject, e.g. My sister painted the fence. When an active clause is changed into a passive one, the patient becomes the Subject: The fence was painted by my sister.


Adjectives are typically placed before a noun or after verbs such as be, seem and appear.

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.
  • The pupils did some really good work. [adjective used before a noun, to modify it]
  • Their work was good. [adjective used 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.

Not adjectives:

  • The lamp glowed. [verb]
  • It was such a bright red! [noun]
  • He spoke loudly. [adverb]
  • It was a French grammar book. [noun]

See also: adjective phrase, possessive adjective.

adjective phrase

A phrase headed by an adjective. Examples (with the Head underlined) are messy, very enthusiastic, quite fond of dogs. Note that the National Curriculum stipulates that phrases should have at least two words, though it concedes in the entry for noun phrases that "Some grammarians recognise one-word phrases."

adjective test

  • Express an attribute of a person or thing.
  • Can be in an attributive position before the noun.
    • an old car
  • Can be in a predicative position after the verb.
    • the car is old


A functional label sometimes used for a constituent in a phrase or clause which is often optional and is not dependent on the presence of a particular kind of Head. The term used here for an Adjunct within a clause is Adverbial, e.g. yesterday in I went to the beach yesterday.


Adverbs often modify verbs, and can also modify adjectives, other adverbs, or entire clauses.

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.

  • Usha soon started snoring loudly. [adverbs modifying the verbs started and snoring]
  • That match was really exciting! [adverb modifying the adjective exciting]
  • We don't get to play games very often. [adverb modifying the other adverb, often]
  • Fortunately, it didn't rain. [adverb modifying the whole clause 'it didn't rain' by commenting on it]

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.

Not adverbs:

  • Usha went up the stairs. [preposition phrase as adverbial: modifies leaves]
  • She finished her work this evening. [noun phrase used as adverbial]
  • She finished when the teacher got cross. [subordinate clause used as adverbial]

On the distinction between adverb and Adverbial, see the entry on the latter.

adverb phrase

A phrase headed by an adverb. Examples (with the Head underlined) are angrily, very quickly, fortunately for him.


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.

  • The bus leaves in five minutes. [preposition phrase as adverbial: modifies leaves]
  • She promised to see him last night. [noun phrase modifying either promised or see, according to the intended meaning]
  • She worked until she had finished. [subordinate clause as adverbial]

What exactly is the difference between adverb and Adverbial? The former is a word class label, whereas the latter is a function label. Adverbials are the optional units in a clause which provide an answer to one or more of the questions 'when did this occur?', 'where did this occur?', 'why did this occur?', or 'how did this occur?'. So in the sentence Harriet did well in the SPaG test we say that the word well is an adverb which functions as an Adverbial. Here are some further examples, with the Adverbials highlighted:

  • Last week, we finished all the work quickly. [noun phrase and adverb phrase functioning as Adverbial]
  • The police drove very fast. [adverb phrase functioning as Adverbial]
  • She hurriedly finished her meal in the restaurant. [adverb phrase and prepositional phrase functioning as Adverbial]

A linking Adverbial is an Adverbial that links a sentence, clause, etc. to another bit of text. Here are some examples:

  • Early application from students abroad is advised. However, where there is time to do so, students who are uncertain about their qualifications should write in the first instance to the Assistant Registrar, to check that they are eligible for consideration.
  • By April eighty-seven, Dr. Reeves noticed that the floor of the eye socket was sinking. Nevertheless, on the eighteenth of May she resumed work as a nursing auxiliary in the out-patients department of Pembury Hospital.

A fronted Adverbial is an Adverbial that is placed at the start of a sentence or clause. The National Curriculum demands that a comma is placed after fronted adverbials. Here are some examples:

  • Reluctantly , we left the theatre.
  • In the evening, we had a party on the beach.


A short element which is added to a word to create a different word form or a new word. For example, adding -ise to terror makes the word terrorise. An affix can be either a prefix, added at the beginning of a word, or a suffix, added at the end.


A semantic role which indicates the ‘doer’ of an action described by a verb phrase in a sentence or clause. It can be expressed in different ways. For example, Fiona is the agent both in Fiona drove the bus and in The bus was driven by Fiona.

agentless passive

A passive clause which has no by-phrase or agent, such as All the chocolate was eaten, which does not tell us who did the eating. An agentless passive may be used because the speaker does not know who the agent is, thinks it unimportant to specify the agent, or wants to avoid specifying the agent.


A term for the way one grammatical element matches ('agrees') with another in some way, usually used for Subject-verb agreement, where a present tense verb changes form depending on the number (singular vs. plural) of the Subject. E.g. The baby cries (singular) vs. The babies cry (plural).


Two words are antonyms if their meanings are opposites.

  • hot - cold
  • light - dark
  • light - heavy


The apostrophe, written ', is one of the 9 main punctuation marks in English.

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)
  • I'm going out and I won't be long. [showing missing letters]
  • Hannah's mother went to town in Justin's car. [marking possessives]


The articles are the, a, and an.

The articles the (definite) and a or an (indefinite) are the most common type of determiner.

  • The dog found a bone in an old box.


Aspect is a grammatical notion, and refers to the way in which the unfolding of situations over time is encoded in language, typically through the use of grammatical patterns involving auxiliary verbs. For example, They are discussing it uses progressive aspect and presents the action as ongoing.

Some grammarians refer to the perfect construction as 'perfect aspect', as in They have discussed it, which indicates that the action occurred before the present, but has relevance in the present. Other grammarians refer to perfect constructions as 'perfect tense'.

aspectual auxiliary

An auxiliary verb that is used to mark aspect. The verb be is an aspectual auxiliary, e.g. in the past progressive construction They were watching TV.

Some grammarians say that the perfect construction represents aspect as well. In that case, have is an aspectual auxiliary, e.g. in He has sold his car.

attributive position

The position before the Head noun in a noun phrase which is held by a modifying element such as an adjective. For example, in a helpful person the adjective helpful is in attributive position. See also predicative position.

auxiliary verb

The auxiliary verbs are be, have and 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
  • They are winning the match. [be used in the progressive]
  • Have you finished your picture? [have used to make a question, and the perfect]
  • No, I don't know him. [do used to make a negative; no other auxiliary is present]
  • Will you come with me or not? [modal verb will used to make a question about the other person's willingness]

Auxiliary verbs 'help' the main verb they precede by adding further shades of meaning such as aspect or modality. E.g. They are leaving; She has finished; We should help him.

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