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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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.




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:


  • My father built our house.


  • Our house was built by my father.


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


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



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.

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