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.


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).
  • He is walking to school. [present participle in a progressive]
  • He has taken the bus to school. [past participle in a perfect]
  • The photo was taken in the rain. [past participle in a passive]

The present participle is sometimes called the -ing participle or gerund participle. The past participle is also called the -ed participle. A present participle clause (also called an -ing-clause) is a clause with a present participle as its Head verb. Example:

  • Chewing on a sandwich, Pete tried to make a phone call at the same time.

A past participle clause (also called an -ed clause) is a clause with a past participle as its Head verb. Example:

  • Kate flung herself onto the sofa, exhausted by a long day's work.


This word class label is given in some frameworks to the preposition-like elements in phrasal verbs, e.g. up in look up.


'Passive' is a term applied to a special pattern (or voice) used in a sentence or clause, formed with the auxiliary verb be followed by a verb in the -ed participle form, as in The fence was painted by my sister. Compare this with the more usual active pattern, as in My sister painted the fence. In the active example, the agent or 'doer' of the action (my sister) is expressed as the Subject; but in the passive example, the patient of the action (the fence) becomes the Subject.

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.

Contrast active.

A verb is not ‘passive’ just because it has a passive meaning: it must be the passive version of an active verb.

  • A visit was arranged by the school.
  • Our cat got run over by a bus.

Active versions:

  • The school arranged a visit.
  • A bus ran over our cat.

Not passive:

  • He received a warning. [past tense, active received]
  • We had an accident. [past tense, active had]

past participle

See participle.

past perfect

A verb construction which conveys that the situation described by the verb started in the past and was still relevant at a given later point in the past. The English past perfect is conveyed using the auxiliary verb have in the past tense combined with a past participle.

past progressive

A verb construction conveying that the action described by the verb was ongoing in the past. The English past progressive is conveyed using the auxiliary verb be in the past tense combined with a present participle.

past tense

The past tense is a grammatical marking on verbs. (See also inflection.) E.g. the verb in She sounded tired is a past tense form (compare the present tense form in She sounds tired).

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.

  • Tom and Chris showed me their new TV. [names an event in the past]
  • Antonio went on holiday to Brazil. [names an event in the past; irregular past of go]
  • I wish I had a puppy. [names an imagined situation, not a situation in the past]
  • I was hoping you'd help tomorrow. [makes an implied request sound more polite]


A semantic role which indicates the ‘undergoer’ of a situation in a sentence or clause. It can be expressed in different ways. For example, the dog is the patient in both Julie has washed the dog and The dog has been washed.


The perfect construction is composed of a form of have followed by an past participle, e.g. has cooked, have walked, had eaten.

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.
  • She has downloaded some songs. [present perfect; now she has some songs]
  • I had eaten lunch when you came. [past perfect; I wasn’t hungry when you came]

It can also be combined with the progressive (e.g. he has been going).

Many grammars refer to the perfect construction as a type of aspect.


A three-level grammatical system which applies particularly to certain kinds of pronoun. For example, I (the speaker/writer) is a first person pronoun, you (the addressee) is a second person pronoun, and he/she/it are third person pronouns. A noun phrase like the chair also belongs to the third person. See also personal pronoun.

personal pronoun

One of a group of pronouns used to refer mainly to people, but also to things. They can be classified by person, e.g. I (speaker/writer: first person), you (addressee: second person), she/he/it (others: third person).


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.

  • The word cat has three letters and three phonemes: /kæt/
  • The word catch has five letters and three phonemes: /kaʧ/
  • The word caught has six letters and three phonemes: /kɔ:t/


Phonetics is the study of how speech sounds are made and perceived. This involves describing, classifying and transcribing sounds. Phoneticians make use of the International Phonetic Alphabet, a system for transcribing all of the sounds found in the languages of the world. Phoneticians also study the speech variation of different accents and dialects.


Phonology is concerned with how speech sounds are put together and how they are stored in the mind.

phrasal verb

A complex transitive or intransitive verb that consists of two parts: a verb and a preposition, e.g. look up (transitive; e.g. He looked up the word / He looked the word up), give up (intransitive; e.g. She gave up.).


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.

  • She waved to her mother. [a noun phrase, with the noun mother as its Head]
  • She waved to her mother. [a preposition phrase, with the preposition to as its Head]
  • She waved to her mother. [a clause, with the verb waved as its Head]

We distinguish noun phrases, verb phrases, adjective phrases, prepositional phrases and adverb phrases (though note that the term ‘verb phrase’ is not used in the National Curriculum). You can think of the Head of a phrase as the most important element that tells you what the phrase is a 'kind of'. For example, a neighbour from hell is a kind of neighbour, and an unbelievably weird story is a kind of story. Phrases may include other elements which function as Modifier of the Head. For example, in the phrases above from hell and unbelievably weird are Modifiers.

Note: the National Curriculum does not regard single words as phrases, so that in Cats hate dogs, both cats and dogs are simply nouns, not noun phrases, and in I am happy, happy is an adjective, not an adjective phrase. The programme specifications state that: "

The National Curriculum refers to 'clauses' as a type of 'phrase'. This may at first seem a little bit puzzling, but if you think of a clause as a grouping of words whose pivotal element (i.e. Head) is a verb, then it begins to makes sense. Some grammarians prefer to distinguish between 'verb phrases', which do not include a Subject, and 'clauses', which do include a Subject.


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).

  • dogs [more than one dog]
  • boxes [more than one box]
  • mice [more than one mouse]

A term describing a form of a noun or pronoun which refers to more than one person or thing. Singular and plural are contrasting values of number. For example, roses is a plural form which contrasts with the singular form rose.


A form of noun (with ' or 's added) or pronoun that is often used to show possession.

A possessive can be:

  • a noun followed by an apostrophe, with or without s
  • a possessive pronoun.
  • Tariq’s book [Tariq has the book]
  • The boys’ arrival [the boys arrive]
  • That essay is mine. [I wrote the essay]

The relation expressed by a possessive goes well beyond ordinary ideas of ‘possession’. A possessive may act as a determiner.

  • His obituary [the obituary is about him]

The meaning of a possessive is not always 'possession' in a literal sense, e.g. John's arrival.

See also possessive adjective.

possessive adjective

Many websites on English grammar make mention of possessive adjectives. They use this term for words like my, his, her, our, your, etc. which always occur before nouns, typically to indicate possession. This would seem to make sense. After all, there is a similarity between the following:

  • my daughters


  • lovely daughters

However, the fact that my and lovely both occur before the noun daughters does not mean that they are both adjectives.

Adjectives are often said to be describing words: they ascribe a property to the noun that they accompany ('being lovely'). By contrast, words like my, his, her, etc. have a 'specifying' or 'identifying' function. They belong to the class of determiners, along with a, the, this, that, those, etc. Compare the following:

  • a cat


  • the cat

If you and I are talking, and I use the former phrase then I'm talking about a cat that is not known to you: it has as yet not been identified. The property of not being identifiable is called 'indefiniteness'. Conversely, the property of being identifiable is called 'definiteness'. So, when I use the phrase the cat in a conversation with you then you are familiar with (or I'm assuming that you are familiar with) the particular cat I'm talking about: it is an identifiable cat. Similarly, when I use the phrase my daughters then the individuals I'm talking about are identifiable to you.

Adjectives are grammatically different from determiners: typically they have comparative and superlative forms: lovely, lovelier, loveliest, and they are often gradable: very lovely. However, determiners cannot be modified in this way. We can't say my-er, my-est or very my.

possessive pronoun

See: pronoun.


A Modifier which comes after the Head word in a phrase, for example with curly hair in the noun phrase the boy with curly hair.


A strategy for information structuring involving moving an element (typically a long noun phrase) to a later point in a clause than its expected position. For example, a short Direct Object normally comes immediately after the verb, as in I wrote the date in my diary, but a long Direct Object is sometimes moved to a later position, as in I wrote in my diary all the dates I needed to remember.


The study of language use, especially the effects of context on interpretation.


A functional syntactic label which denotes all the linguistic material to the right of the Subject. See also predicative position.

Predicative Complement

A general term often used to cover the functions of Subject Complement and Object Complement within the clause.

predicative position

The position that immediately follows a linking verb. For example, in the sentence He is helpful the adjective helpful is in predicative position. See also attributive position.


A function label applied to the verb in a clause. For example, in The children fed the ducks, the verb fed has the function of Predicator. The term is therefore on par with terms like Subject and Object.


A prefix is added at the beginning of a word in order to turn it into another word.

Contrast suffix.

  • overtake, disappear

See also affix.


A Modifier which comes before the Head word in a phrase, such as the adjective trendy in the noun phrase trendy clothes.


An information structuring strategy where a grammatical element is moved earlier in the clause to highlight it. For example, instead of saying I could come on Thursday, a speaker might say On Thursday I could come, stressing the date to the hearer.


A member of a closed word class, including of and in, which grammatically link other elements together, and generally expresses relations in space, in time, or in the mind.

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.

  • Tom waved goodbye to Christy.
  • She’ll be back from Australia in two weeks.
  • I haven’t seen my dog since this morning.

Contrast: I’m going, since no-one wants me here! [conjunction: links two clauses]

preposition phrase

A preposition phrase has a preposition as its Head followed by a noun, pronoun or noun phrase.

  • He was in bed.
  • I met them after the party.

On the Englicious site we generally use the term prepositional phrase, by which we mean the same as preposition phrase.

prepositional Object

See Object.

prepositional phrase

Another term for preposition phrase.

prepositional verb

A verb that takes a preposition phrase as its Complement, e.g. rely on something, look at something, etc.


A prescriptive approach to language tells people how they should speak and write. It contrasts with a descriptive approach, which aims to describe how people actually do use language.

present participle

See participle.

present perfect

A verb construction conveying that the action described by the verb started in the past but is still relevant now. The English present perfect is conveyed using the auxiliary verb have in the present tense combined with a past participle.

present progressive

A verb construction conveying that the action described by the verb is ongoing in the present. The English present progressive is conveyed using the auxiliary verb be in the present tense combined with a present participle.

present tense

The present tense is a grammatical marking on verbs which often, but not always, expresses present time. (See also inflection.) E.g. the verb in She sounds tired is a present tense form (compare the past tense form in She sounded tired).

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.

  • Jamal goes to the pool every day. [describes a habit that exists now]
  • He can swim. [describes a state that is true now]
  • The bus arrives at three. [scheduled now]
  • My friends are coming to play. [describes a plan in progress now]


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).

  • Michael is singing in the store room. [present progressive]
  • Amanda was making a patchwork quilt. [past progressive]

The progressive can also be combined with the perfect (e.g. he has been singing).

  • Usha had been practising for an hour when I called. [past perfect progressive]

The progressive construction conveys aspect, in that it indicates that a situation is viewed as an ongoing process.


A closed class of words, including he, I and you, which can generally stand in for a noun phrase.

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 (in red). Where the same thing is being talked about, the words are shown in bold.

  • Amanda waved to Michael. She waved to him.
  • John’s mother is over there. His mother is over there.
  • The visit will be an overnight visit. This will be an overnight visit.
  • Simon is the person: Simon broke it. He is the one who broke it.

Note that pronouns often occur not just in similar positions to nouns, but also in similar positions to entire noun phrases, e.g.

  • The children went to the park. ~They went to the park.

As well as personal pronouns like they and him, there are many other types of pronoun, including demonstrative pronouns (this, these, that), e.g. that is amazing!, indefinite pronouns (who, which, what, etc.) and reciprocal pronouns (each other, one another). Who and that are relative pronouns when they relate to an antecedent (e.g. That is the fox that we saw last night)

Some pronouns can change their form depending on their function. For example, in Subject position we have I, she, he, we, they, who, whereas in Object position we have me, her, him, us, them, whom. This is a distinction of case.

proper name

A noun phrase which is used to name a particular person, organisation, place, time, event, etc., such as Edward the Confessor, Winchester Cathedral, the United Kingdom, the House of Commons. It can consist of a proper noun on its own, such as Timmy, London, Oxfam.

proper noun

A special subclass of noun whose members refer to specific people, places, organisations and so on, e.g. Sarah, Liverpool, Microsoft. Other, ordinary nouns (like dog or happiness) are called common nouns. See also proper name.

pseudocleft sentence

A sentence which conforms to the following pattern: Wh-item + ... + {form of be} + Focus, as in

  • What Janice did was laugh out loud.

Compare with cleft sentence.


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.

  • “I’m_going_out,_Usha,_and_I_wont_be_long,”_Mum_said.
Englicious (C) Survey of English Usage, UCL, 2012-21 | Supported by the AHRC and EPSRC. | Privacy | Cookies