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

Special | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | ALL

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A

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

 


adverb

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

C

cohesion

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.

collocation

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:

nouns

  • classroom
  • daylight
  • credit card
  • rush hour

adjectives

  • 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'.


F

finite subordinate clause

A subordinate clause which contains a finite (tensed) verb.

finite subordinate clause main clause
Even though Bogota has a population of 11 million people, it does not have a train or metro network.
Since it is a public holiday, there won't be too much traffic on the roads.

 

Compare these to non-finite subordinate clauses, which do not contain a finite verb: 

non-finite subordinate clause main clause
Despite having many beautiful beaches, there is not much tourism in the region.

finite verb

A finite verb is one that occurs in a position in a sentence that shows tense. Therefore, finite verbs can change their form by inflection:

  • He wants to study at the best university in his country.

In the example above 'wants' is finite because it is showing the present simple tense and third person by adding an 's'. However, 'to study' cannot change form and is an example of a non-finite verb in this context.


G

gerund

A noun formed with '-ing' which is used to make a noun phrase or part of a noun phrase. The gerunds in the sentences below are highlighted with italics.

  • Smoking is bad for you.
  • We spent the whole day making desserts.
  • Winning the lottery has always been my number one dream.

I

infinitive

The most simple form of the verb. This is nearly always in its present simple form, e.g.

  • go, have, want

Or we say the infinitive 'with to' for

  • to go, to have, to want

intransitive verb

An intransitive verb is a verb which cannot be immediately followed by an object noun phrase:

  • My friends have arrived.
  • He died suddenly.
  • They escaped from prison.

On the other hand, transitive verbs must be immediately followed by a noun:

  • She wrote a letter.

Online dictionaries usually indicate whether a noun is transitive [T] or intransitive [I]. Some verbs can be both depending on the sense and context that they are being used in.


L

linking word

Linking words, also known as connectors, help to link ideas expressed in clauses or sentences together.

Example linking words although, however, even so, as a result, therefore, as long as etc.

Adding a linker to the improves the cohesion by connecting the ideas expressed in the sentences more explicitly:

  • We do not have much money. My wife still wants to buy a car.
  • Despite not having much money, my wife still wants to buy a car.

M

main clause

A clause which consists of at least a subject and verb and which can stand alone, e.g. it does not require another clause for it to be complete, unlike a subordinate clause which does. Some common patterns:

main clause
Many plant and animal species are dying.

 

main clause conjunction main clause
Many plant and animal species are dying and this is a tragedy.

 

subordinate clause main clause
As the temperature of the world continues to increase, many plant and animal species are dying.

modal verb

A kind of verb that reflects functions like possibility, obligation, advice, predictions etc. These verbs are always followed by an infinitive without 'to'.

  • We should leave now.
  • We must buy a new car.
  • We will go shopping tomorrow.
  • We could go to the cinema this evening.

N

non-finite clause

A subordinate clause which does not contain a finite verb. Here are some of the main kinds:

non-finite subordinate clause with gerund main clause
Knowing what my friend is like, he'll probably arrive late.
Despite having many beautiful beaches, there is not much tourism in the region.

 

non-finite subordinate clause with past participle main clause
Painted by Picasso in 1937, Guernica portrays the horrors of war.

 

verbless non-finite subordinate clause main clause
In the 1960s in my country, there was a lot of political unrest.

 

Compare these to finite subordinate clauses which contain a finite verb:

finite subordinate clause main clause
Even though Bogota is a city of 11 million people, it does not have a train or metro network.

non-finite verb

A verb in a sentence that cannot be changed (inflected) for tense, person etc. These verbs usually follow finite verbs. In the following sentence 'have' is finite and 'been' and 'planning' are non-finite:

  • I have been planning to move abroad for a while now.

noun clause

A kind of finite subordinate clause that functions as the object of certain verbs (e.g. believe, hope) adjectives (e.g. clear, evident) or nouns (fact, shame). As they are finite, they always have a subject and verb and sometimes an object. They are often introduced with 'that'. The noun clauses are highlighted in the sentences below:

  • I have no doubt that the unemployment rate will continue to rise.
  • It is certain that there will be more people studying online courses in the coming years.
  • I believe anyone can achieve high marks at school if they work hard.
  • It is a shame that many young people find it difficult to get a job these days.

 


noun phrase

 A word or group or words that acts as a subject or object within a sentence.

Noun phrases in subject position:

  • Simon likes reading.
  • Smart phones are becoming increasingly popular.
  • My friend's house is huge.
  • Money does not grow on trees.
  • Happiness is something that cannot be bought.
  • The government of my country is very right wing.
  • Putting off doing homework until the last minute is never a good idea.
  • The film that I watched last night was really enjoyable.

Noun phrases in object position:

  • Many people in my country love cooking.
  • Children eat too much fast food nowadays.
  • We heard a loud bang.
  • Many people across the world still suffer from poverty.
  • His poor grades were caused by his lack of interest in academic subjects.

 


O

object

A noun phrase that usually follows a verb to show that it is the receiver of an action. However, in a passive sentence, the object is put before the verb. The object is highlighted in italics below:

Active

  • My father built our house.

Passive

  • Our house was built by my father.

P

past participle

The form of a verb that occurs in perfect tenses and in non-finite subordinate clauses to show that something has finished or in passive sentences. In the sentences below, the past participle is in italics:

  • I have already eaten.
  • Oil is produced in my country.
  • Built in the 19th century, the Eiffel tower is the most iconic building in France.

preposition phrase

A phrase which starts with a preposition and contains a noun phrase.

preposition phrase
preposition noun phrase
to school
with my computer
for the population of my country
in a few years time

pronoun

A word used to replace a noun, often to avoid repeating it, e.g. 'he', 'they', 'them' 'it', 'me' etc.


proper noun

A noun which refers to a particular person, place or thing. Proper nouns must be capitalised. Here are some examples:

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

R

register

Refers to whether language is formal, informal or neutral (can be used in both formal and informal contexts). Here are some examples:

  • Formal: adhere to the rules
  • Neutral: follow the rules
  • Informal: stick to the rules

relative clause

Relative clauses add extra information about somebody or something we have already mentioned. There are two main kinds. Defining relative clauses identify which particular person or object we are talking about:

  • I do not agree with people who support bull fighting. (we are picking out one group from all people)
  • What happened to the scarf that I gave you? (we are picking out one particular scarf)

Non-defining relative clauses do not pick out a smaller set from a larger set, but just add extra information. they are usually separated with commas:

  • Crime in my country, which has always been high, has actually started to fall in recent years.
  • Our country has seen sustained economic growth recently, which is a great relief.

relative pronoun

a pronoun that introduces a relative clause: that, which, who, whom, whose, where, when and why. The relative pronouns are marked in italics below:

  • The school that I went to closed down last year.
  • Pass me the book whose cover is torn.

S

subject

A thing or idea that goes before the verb because it performs the action expressed in the verb. In passive sentences this is reversed and the subject receives the action. In the following examples, the subject is highlighted with italics.

Active

  • My wife enjoys eating fast food.
  • Hot weather really improves my mood.
  • The lack of rain this year is really causing problems in my country

Passive

  • My house was built in the 1950s
  • Oil is produced in my country

 


subordinate clause

A clause that adds information about a main clause. It therefore cannot stand alone without a main clause. These are often introduced with linking words:

subordinate clause main clause
Having completed my Master's in the UK, I decided to try to find a job there. 
Although I have studied hard, I am very nervous about the exam.
In spite of the bad weather, I still went for a jog.
As soon as I finish reading this book, I will find another by the same author.

subordinating conjunction

A linking word which introduces a finite subordinate clause:

subordinating conjunction finite subordinate clause main clause
Even though it has a population of 11 million people, Bogota does not have a train or metro network.
Since it is a public holiday, there won't be too much traffic on the roads.

 

main clause subordinating conjunctions finite subordinate clause
I need to practice my writing every day so that I get a high score in the exam.
I will return to my country as soon as I finish my university course.


T

transitive verb

A verb which must immediately be followed by an object noun phrase. In the following sentences the transitive verb is highlighted in bold and the object noun phrases in italics. 

  • He wrote a letter.
  • She drives a fast car.
  • He reads a lot of books.

On the other hand, intransitive cannot be followed by an object noun phrase:

  • He died suddenly.

Online dictionaries usually indicate whether a noun is transitive [T] or intransitive [I]. Some verbs can be both depending on the sense and context that they are being used in.


U

uncountable noun

A noun which you are not able to count and which therefore does not take a plural form:

  • In my country, there is a lot of unemployment. 

NOT

  • In my country, there is a lot of unemployments. x

V

verb phrase

There are two definitions of verb phrase that people use. One is to describe a phrase which is made completely of verbs. For example the phrases highlighted in italics in the following sentence:

  • I have decided to go to France for my holiday this year.
  • He might have been driving his car.

Sometimes people use the term verb phrase to refer to a verb and any object that follows it:

verb phrase
verb noun phrase
eat a huge dinner
seek employment
have an argument with my best friend


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