7.1 Glossary - Key language concepts

Understanding words used to describe language and grammar will help you to improve your understanding of English more rapidly. This is a glossary of the most important terms used on this course.

Browse the glossary using this index

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abstract noun

Abstract nouns refer to ideas or qualities, rather than a physical entity (concrete noun). The following are examples of abstract nouns:

  • belief
  • dedication
  • romance
  • unemployment
  • communication



An adverb is a word that gives additional information about an action or idea. They fall into several categories:

Category Example
manner carefully; slowly
frequency always; often
time and place now; here
relative time already; recently; soon
degree extremely; rather; very
quantity a lot; a little
focusing even; also; only; particularly
marking attitude apparently; fortunately

Source: Grammar for English Language Teachers p.29 (c) Cambridge University Press.

adverbial clause

A type of subordinate clause that adds information to a main clause. These clauses can be finite or non-finite. In the following examples, adverbial clauses are shown in italics:

  • I always complete essays with great care and detail.
  • Although there are arguments both for and against the issue, I think the arguments against are stronger.
  • I will go and study in England as long as I achieve 6.5 in the IELTS exam.
  • Before making a decision, I always ask my wife for her opinion.

auxiliary verb

These are verbs that help to make tenses, negative statements, questions etc. In English, 'be', 'have' and 'do' are auxiliary verbs. Here are the most basic rules:

  • be (e.g. am, is, are, was, were) + ing = continuous aspect
  • have/has/had + past participle = perfect aspect
  • don't/didn't + infinitive = simple aspect



Cohesion refers to how well linked together ideas expressed in clauses, sentences and paragraphs are. It is an important assessment area in the IELTS writing exam. Cohesion is often achieved through the use of cohesive devices. The following sentences are not well linked together:

  • My name is Simon. I am twenty years old. I am already married.

Adding basic cohesive devices changes this:

  • My name is Simon and I'm twenty years old. Although I'm only twenty, I'm already married.

cohesive devices

These are words that help to link ideas expressed in clauses and sentences together.

Linking words although, however, even so, as a result, therefore, as long as etc.
Referring words it, they, them, those, this, the latter etc.

They allow sentences to link together smoothly and allow the writer to avoid sounding repetitive. Compare these sentences:

  • Many teenagers drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol is bad for teenagers. Parents do not do enough to stop teenagers drinking alcohol.
  • Many teenagers drink alcohol. Although this is bad for them, their parents do not do enough to stop them from doing it.


A combination of words in a language, that happens very often and more frequently than would happen by chance.

For example, blonde + hair is a collocation. However, yellow + hair is not a collocation. Another example of a collocation is show + increase, e.g. The chart shows an increase in the number of students applying for university last year. However, present + increase is not a collocation and is therefore not accurate vocabulary usage.

A collocation dictionary allows you to search the different collocations that a word has.

common noun

a word that refers to an object which is not the name of a particular person, place or thing

  • a cat, a bag, shoes, ideas

Compare these to proper nouns which refer to the names of people, places and things and must be capitalised:

  • Great Britain, Costa Rica, South Africa, Asia
  • the University of Cambridge, the River Thames, the White House
  • Monday, February

compound word

A word formed by putting more than one word together. Here are some examples:


  • classroom
  • daylight
  • credit card
  • rush hour


  • part-time
  • stress-related
  • long-distance

coordinating conjunction

Words that connect two main clauses together or add extra information to a particular phrase. Here is an example of conjunctions being used to add additional information to phrases:

  • She's brave but sensible.
  • Crime and immigration are the two biggest political issues in my country.

Here is an example of coordinating conjunctions connecting two main clauses:

main clause conjunction main clause
There is high unemployment in my country and this causes many problems.
We should go to the library or search for the materials we need on the internet.
The internet has made communication faster but there are many negative aspects to it as well.


The main coordinating conjunctions are 'and', 'but' and 'or'.

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