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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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.


  • 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


  • 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.


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.


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. 


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


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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