Reference Books

English Terminology

Test Yourself Here
a..d | e..h | i..l | m..p | q..t | u..z
Term Definition
Abbreviation A short way of writing a word or group of words.

For example: BBC is short for British Broadcasting Corporation

Mr. is short for mister
Abstract Noun An abstract noun is the name we give to an emotion or idea; something which is experienced as an idea and not as something we sense through touch, sight, hearing etc.

For example: doubt, size, history

See also concrete noun.

The way in which people in a particular area, country or social group pronounce words.

(Also a symbol used on the letters of some words borrowed or adopted into English from other languages, to show you how to pronounce it. For example: fiancé).

Acronym A word formed from the initial letters of a group of words.

For example:

UNICEF stands for United Nations International ChildrEn's Fund

Radar stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging
Active Voice

In the active voice, the subject is the person or thing which performs the stated action

For example: When changed into the active, the passive sentence; 'The cat was chased by the dog' becomes 'The dog chased the cat'.

See also Passive Voice.

Adage A saying, which has obtained credit by long use. Or in a more negative way, an old saying, which has been overused or is considered a cliché.

A word which is used to describe people, things, events etc. Adjectives are used with nouns and pronouns.

See also comparative adjectives and superlative adjectives.

More on this...

Adverb A word which is used to say for example, when, where or how something hapens.

More on this...
Adverbial An adverbial is a word or expression in the sentence that functions as an adverb; that is, it tells you something about how the action in the verb was done.
Affix A syllable (not a word in itself) which can be added to a word or phrase to produce another word or phrase (see also prefix and suffix).
Agent noun

An agent noun defines who or what is carrying out the action of a verb. It is usually spelt with the suffix -er.

For example: "The driver was drunk when he crashed the car."


A story, play, poem, picture or other work in which the characters and events represent particular qualities or ideas, related to morality, religion or politics.

For example:

"The Long Walk is an allegory for the lives of the 1.1 billion people who currently live without access to clean water, many of whom spend whole days walking miles to collect 20 litres of dirty water for their family's cooking, washing, drinking and cleaning needs."

Alliteration The use of the same consonant or vowel at the beginning of each word or stressed syllable in a phrase, often used in tongue twisters.

For example: "Around the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran."
Allophone In phonetics, an allophone is one of several similar speech sounds (phones) that belong to the same phoneme.
Allusion A passing reference to or obscure mention of someone or some event.
Ambigram An ambigram, also known as an inversion, is a graphical figure that spells out a word not only in its form as presented, but also in another direction or orientation. This is typically when viewed as a mirror-image or when rotated through 180 degrees. The word usually is not a palindrome, although it may be. Sometimes the word spelled out from the alternate direction may be a different one, but for mirror-image ambigrams the canonical form spells out the same word.
Anagram A re-arrangement of the letters of a word or phrase which produces another word or phrase.

For example: "Florence Nightingale" becomes, "Flit on, cheering angel."
Analogy A comparison made to show similarity, especially used to clarify something unfamiliar by comparing it with something familiar.
Anecdote A short, usually humorous, story.

An antanaclasis is a pun in which a word is repeated with a different meaning each time.

For example: Your argument is sound, nothing but sound.

(Benjamin Franklin)

Antecedent A word or phrase to which a pronoun refers in a sentence.

For example: People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. (Peopleis the antecedent of who.)

Where animals or inanimate objects are portrayed in a story as people, such as by walking, talking, or being given arms, legs, facial features, human locomotion or other anthropoid form.

(Not to be confused with personification.)

Antithesis Words arranged to stress a contrast.

For example: To err is human, to forgive divine.
Antonym A word whose meaning is directly opposite to another word.
For example: Big is the direct opposite of small (and vice versa).
Apposition A second description of a person or thing placed side by side with the first, each having grammatically the same value.
For example: Elizabeth, Queen of England, knighted him.
Article Articles are the little words that modify nouns. A, an and the are the three articles they are also adjectives as they modify nouns.

See also definite article and indefinite article.

Note: (In choosing which article to use it is important to understand the difference between countable and non countable nouns.)
Aspirate To pronounce a word with the sound 'h'.
Assonance The use of the same vowel sound with different consonants or the same consonant with different vowels in successive words. Often used in poetry.

For example: mystery/mastery or time/light.
Auxiliary Verb A verb that has no meaning itself but helps to make the meaning of another verb. They are often called helping verbs.

For example: was in "I was eating." or do in "I do agree."

See also Modal verb.
Case The grammatical function of a noun or pronoun, thankfully almost extinct in the English language.
Clause A group of words with a subject and predicate but not necessarily expressing a complete idea - i.e. the words do not necessarily make a sentence. (See also main clause, subordinate clause and coordinate clause.)
Cliché A cliché is a phrase used over and over and over and over, to the point that it becomes trite or irritating.

A cognate is a word that has the same origin, or that is related in some way, to a word in another language. Watch out for false cognates though - false friends.

Collective nouns Collective nouns (sometimes known as group terms) are the names given to a whole group of nouns. They are usually singular, and have no capital letters.

For example: Furniture, traffic, food
Collocation The grouping together of things in a certain order. As in the grouping together of words to form a sentence.
Comparative Adjective To compare two things or people we use comparative adjectives.

For example: Mount Everest is higher than Mount Snowdon.

Longer adjectives often use more in front of the simple form to produce the comparative.

For example: Learning Chinese is more difficult than learning English.
Complement A noun or adjective forming the predicate of a verb that cannot govern a direct object.

For example: He is silly.
Complex sentence A sentence made up of one main clause and at least one subordinate clause.
Compound Pronoun Sometimes personal pronouns are turned into compound pronouns by adding the suffix 'self' or 'selves'. This is done in sentences where the subject and object are the same person or people.

For example: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.
Compound-complex sentence

A sentence made up of more than one main clause and at least one subordinate clause. It is the combining of a compound sentence with a complex sentence.

Compound sentence A sentence made up of two or more independent clauses but no subordinate clauses.
Concrete Noun The name of something or someone that we can experience through our senses, sight, hearing, touch etc.

For example: book, table, dog, teacher

See also abstract noun.
Conjugation The inflection of verbs. In English there are two general areas in which conjugation occurs; for person and for tense.
Conjunction Conjunctions join words or sentences together.

For example: although, and, but, or, when, because.
Connotation An association suggested by a word or phrase.
Consonant All the letters of the alphabet except a,e,i,o and u (see also vowel).
Context The part of something written or spoken which helps ascertain its meaning.
Contrast The bringing together of opposing views, ideas etc.
Coordinate clause One of two or more clauses in a sentence joined by conjunctions.

A copula is a word that is used to describe its subject, or to equate or liken the subject with its predicate. In many languages, copulas are a special kind of verb, sometimes called copulative verbs or linking verbs.

The most basic copula in English is to be; there are others (remain, seem, grow, become, etc.).

Couplet A stanza consisting of two successive lines of verse; usually rhyming.
Declarative (See indicative).
Declension The inflection of nouns or adjectives (see also inflection).
Definite article The is the definite article, because it refers to a specific thing.

For example: The book is on the table.

It is also used to refer to something in the abstract.

For example: The European Union has expressed concern over the continuing damage to the environment.
Denotation The explicit meaning of something.
Dependent Clause See subordinate clause.
Determiner A determiner is word (such as this or that), an article or a number that refers to a noun phrase.

For example:

Look at this picture.
Look at that UFO!

Spoken language that is characteristic of a particular area, community or group, often with relatively minor differences in vocabulary, style, spelling and pronunciation.

For example: "The Liverpudlian dialect, Scouse, can be difficult to understand."


The pronouncing of two successive vowels as separate sounds, often marked by the sign (") over the second vowel.

For example:

Chloë, aërated

Diction 1. The use of words in writing or speech.
2. The way in which someone speaks.
Dictionary A reference book listing words alphabetically with their meanings.
Didactics The art or science of teaching.

In phonetics a diphthong is a vowel sound in which the tongue changes position to produce the sound of two vowels. Diphthongs are represented by two phonetic symbols.

For example:
[au] as in house
[ai] as in kite
[ei] as in same

Double Entendre A double entendre is a phrase or word used to "convey an indelicate meaning". A double entendre is often used to express potentially offensive opinions without the risks of explicitly doing so.
Double Negative

A double negative occurs when two forms of negation are used in the same sentence.

For example: I didn't do nothing = I did do something = a confession.

Elision aka "Running words together". Elision is the omission of one or more sounds (such as a vowel, a consonant, or a whole syllable) in a word or phrase, making it easier for the speaker to pronounce.
Ellipsis / . . .

When you see three spaced "full-stops / dots / periods (AmE)" in a row, you are in the presence of an ellipsis. What this means is that something has been left out of the sentence. Usually it means part of a direct quotation is missing, but I sometimes use it for effect to show that I haven't quite come to a conclusion about something and am letting the reader fill in the missing information . . .

In order to use it correctly (although many people, including myself don't usually bother) you should put a space between the periods. When speaking some people might say "dot dot dot".

Elocution The art of using clear pronunciation and good breathing to control the voice.
Emphasis The extra force that you give to a word or part of a word when you are saying it.


The running on of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, couplet or stanza.
Enumeration Forming a numbered list or listing words that illustrate a situation or an idea.
Enunciation Pronouncing words or parts of words clearly.
Epenthesis Adding one or more sounds to a word. Sometimes it is part of the pronunciation of the word, sometimes it is used for poetic effect, sometimes it is unwanted.
Epigram A short and witty saying or poem.

For example:
"With friends like you, who needs enemies?"
Epithet An adjective.
Erratum A mistake in a printed or written document.
Etymology The study of the origin of words.

Words that are used to disguise a nasty fact with a nice name.

For example:
"He's passed away." is a euphamism for "He's died."


A short moral story (often with animal characters).

For example:-

"Aesops Fables are short tales mainly from the animal kingdom, with a little moral message at the end."

False Friend

A false friend is a word which is often confused with a word in another language because the two words look or sound similar, but which has a different meaning.

Future Tense Used to show things that will happen in the future. Unlike many other languages, English has no future form of the verb itself. To show the future tense, you have to use auxilliary verbs.

For example: I will do my homework tomorrow.
Gender The distinction of nouns according to sex .

(Luckily not something people learning English have to worry about much.)
Gerund A noun formed from a verb by adding -ing.

For example: Parking is forbidden. (Park, in this case, is a verb.)
Gobbledygook / Gobbledegook Pretentious language, full of jargon, often spoken by politicians who are never content to use one word when three or four will do. Also used to describe nonsensical language, something that resembles language but has no meaning, or encrypted text.
Government In linguistics and grammar - The relationship between a word and its dependents.
Grammar The rules that say how words are combined, arranged and changed to show different meanings.
Homophone A word that sounds like another word but has a different spelling and meaning.

For example: The bear was bare.
Homonym A word that looks the same as another but has a different meaning.

For example: Bear - means to carry and a large dangerous animal.
Idiom An expression used by native speakers of a language that should never be literally translated.

For example: It was raining cats and dogs. (means it was raining a lot!)

A verb is in the imperative mood when we're feeling bossy and want to give a directive, strong suggestion, or order.

For example: Do your homework!

Indefinite article The indefinite articles are a and an. They are used to express a general thing. A is used before singular countable nouns that begin with consonants.

For example: A book.

An is used before singular countable nouns that begin with vowels:

For example: An umbrella.

or vowel-like sounds.

For example: An X-ray.
Independent clause See main clause.

A verb is in the indicative mood when it makes a statement (declarative) or asks a question (interrogative). Most sentences use this mood.

For example: Do you try to give examples?

Yes, I try to give examples.

Indirect object The person or thing towards whom an action is directed.

For example: I gave her the money.

The basic form of a verb that usually follows 'to'.

For example: In the sentences 'I had to go' and 'I must go', 'go' is the infinitive form.

Inflection The change made in the form of words to show what grammatical part they play in a sentence.

For example: Himis formed from the inflection of he.
Innuendo An innuendo is an indirect remark about somebody or something, usually suggesting something rude.
Inversion See ambigram.
Interjection A short word showing emotion or feeling.

For example: Hooray!
Interrogative (See indicative).
Intransitive Verb An intransitive verb doesn't need an object.

For example: The dog sits.
Irony A reversal of the literal meaning of words, where there is a contrast between what is said and what is meant.

Specialised language concerned with a particular subject.

For example: "The world of computing and the Internet is full of jargon."


The inability to remember a word (tip of the tongue phenomena).

For example: "It's on the tip of my tongue, but I just can't remember what it is called."


A lexicographer is a person who compiles dictionaries

(Now you know who to blame.)


The practice of compiling dictionaries.


A lexophile is a lover of words.

For example: "My name is Lynne, and I'm a lexophile."


Lingo refers to language, especially the kind of language peculiar to a particular group of people or region.

For example: "If you go to a SciFi convention and you don't speak the lingo, you are going to miss out on loads of fun."

See also jargon or dialect.


The obsession with recalling a certain word

Someone who is obsessed with words.

For example: "My name is Lynne, and I'm a logomaniac."

Main clause A clause that can stand alone as a sentence (also known as independent clause).

An attempt to use a difficult word and getting it wrong, usually with humorous consequences! Named after the character Mrs. Malaprop who was notorious for doing this in Sheridan's The Rivals.

Metaphor A figure of speech - a metaphor calls one thing by the name of another because of some imagined likeness.

For example: "He is a fox."; means he is crafty and clever.

Re-arranging the sounds or syllables in a word, or of words in a sentence. Most commonly it refers to the switching of two or more adjacent sounds.

For example: except <> expect

Mixed Metaphor Using together metaphors that don't match and end up sounding stupid.

For example: He's a dark horse and he can paddle his own canoe.
Modal Verb An auxiliary verb that expresses possibility, permission, intention and prediction. Modal verbs include (can, might, may, must, need, ought, should, will, shall and do).

Words like very, slightly, rather, quite etc. are modifiers. They are used to give the idea of degree (how much) to gradable adjectives and adverbs.

For example: In winter London is cold. - In winter Moscow is very cold.


Nothing to do with being in a good mood or a bad mood. English verbs have three moods: indicative (declarative / interrogative), subjunctive, and imperative.

Noun A word which can be used with an article, most often the name of people or things.

See also , abstract noun, agent noun, collective noun, concrete noun, proper noun.
Noun Phrase A noun phrase is a group of words in a sentence which together behave as a noun.
Nuance A very slight difference in meaning, or sound.
Object If the subject of a sentence is doing something to someone, that someone or something becomes the object of the sentence.
Onomatopoeia Any word whose sound is like the sound or noise it is describing.

For example: click, hiss, buzz, bang
Oxymoron The combining of words that contradict each other.

For example: bitter sweet.
Palatal Any sound involving the hard palate, especially the tongue touching or moving toward the hard palate.
Palindrome A word or sentence (ignoring punctuation) that reads the same backward or forwards.

For example: Madam I'm Adam.
Parable A story in prose or verse that is told to illustrate a religious, moral or philosophical idea.

For example: "Lord of the Rings is a parable of the Second World War."
Paradox A contradictory statement that is or may be true.

For example: The pen is mightier than the sword.
Paraphrase To express something using your own words without changing its meaning.
Parody A composition that mimics the style of another composition in a humorous way.

The form of a verb that usually ends in '-ed' or '-ing' and is used to form some tenses and as an adjective:

For example: 'He's sleeping' and 'I've already eaten', the words 'sleeping' and 'eaten' are both participles.

Past Tense Shows things that happened in the past.
Passive Voice

In the passive voice, the grammatical subject is the person or thing which experiences the effect of an action, rather than the person or thing which causes the effect:

For example: When changed into the passive, the active sentence; 'The dog chased the cat' becomes 'The cat was chased by the dog'.

See also Active Voice.

Pedagogy The principles, practice or profession of teaching.
Personal Pronoun Personal pronouns are often used as the subject of a sentence.

For example: I, you, he, she, it, we, they
They can also be used as the object of a sentence.

For example: me, you, him, her, it, us, them

See also compound pronouns
Personification I

Where inanimate objects or abstract concepts are seemingly endowed with human self-awareness; where human thoughts, actions, perceptions and emotions are directly attributed to inanimate objects or abstract ideas.

For example: The clouds were weeping.

Personification II

Where an abstract concept, such as a particular human behavior or a force of nature, is represented as a person.

For example: To the Greeks, the god Poseidon was the personification of the sea and its power over man.

Phoneme In phonetics a phoneme is a basic, theoretical unit of sound that can change the meaning of a word. The difference may not even be audible to native speakers.
Phonetics Phonetics (from the Greek φωνή (phonê) "sound" or "voice") is the study of the physical sounds of human speech.
Phrase A group of words forming a sentence but without a finite verb.
Phylum A group of languages related by descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family.
Possessive Pronoun Possessive pronouns are used in place of nouns that show possession. Such nouns always have an apostrophe (').

For example: David's book.

These are the possessive pronouns:

mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs

For example:

Q) Is this David's book?
A) No it's mine. His is under the chair.
Predicate The part of a sentence that tells you about or describes the subject.
Prefix An affix attached to the beginning of words.

For example: Take the words appeared, interested and valuable, add dis -, un - , in - and you get disappeared, uninterested, invaluable.
Preposition A word which is used before a noun, a noun phrase or a pronoun, connecting it to another word
Present Tense Used to show things that are happening now or around now.
Pronoun A word used in place of a noun, like I, me, he, him, you, it etc..

See also compound pronoun, personal pronoun, possessive pronoun.
Proper noun The personal name of people or places, they are usually used without articles. Always starts with a capital letter.
Your own name is a proper noun. Official titles are also proper nouns.

For example: Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Minister, President etc...
See also noun.
Prose Any spoken or written language that is not poetry.
Prosody The rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech.
Pseudonym False name
Pun A play on words different in meaning but the same in sound, often used to produce an amusing effect (used a lot by Shakespeare).

For example: A cannon ball took off his legs, so he laid down his arms.
Quantifier Quantifiers (some, many, much, a lot etc.) are like articles in that they precede and modify nouns. A quantifier shows how much or how many things there are in a sentence.

For example:

There are lots of trees in Germany.

Note: In choosing which quantifier to use it is important to understand the difference between countable and non countable nouns.
Quotation A passage or expression that is quoted or cited.
Register Words can be formal or informal, register refers to the degree of formality of a word.
Repetition The repeating of words, phrases, lines, or stanzas.
Rhetoric The art of using language as a means to persuade someone to your way of thinking.
Rhetorical Question A rhetorical question is a question that does not require an answer, because only one answer appears possible.

For example:

Who does not love his country?
Salutation A greeting, in particular a formal greeting used in a letter.
schwa The phonetic symbol that looks like an upside down e (ə) is used to represent an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic transcription, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but bət. The funny thing is the schwa doesn't use a schwa - ʃwɑ:.

A sentence is a group of words, usually containing a verb, which expresses a thought in the form of a statement, question, instruction or exclamation.
When written a sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop (.), question mark (?) or exclamation mark (!).
A sentence can be simple, complex, compound or compound complex.

Simile A simile compares one thing to another, because of some imagined likeness.

For example: The ice was hard as stone.
Simple Sentence The most basic type of sentence, which contains only one clause.
Spoonerism Getting the initial letters of words mixed up.

For example: Dr Spooner (guess who it was named after) was heard to say about a student "He hissed all his lectures."
Stanza A fixed number of lines of verse forming a unit of a poem.
Subject The person or thing doing the action in a sentence is the subject. This can be either a noun or a pronoun.

A verb is in the subjunctive mood when we're wishing for something, doubting something, or even fearing something is true.

For example: If only we had read the instructions.

I'd think carefully about that if I were you. (Were is in the subjunctive.)

As Somerset Maugham put it:-

"The subjunctive mood is in its death throes, and the best thing to do is put it out of its misery as soon as possible."

Subordinate clause A clause with an adjectival, nominal or adverbial function, unable to serve as a sentence in its own right. (Also known as a dependant clause.)
Suffix An affix attached to the end of a word.

For example: Take the words thin, scholar and bear, add the suffixes - ness, - ship, - able and you get thinness, scholarship, and bearable.
Superlative Adjective When comparing three or more things or people, superlative adjectives are used. Most of these are formed by adding st or est to the adjective.

For example: The cheetah is the fastest land animal.

Longer adjectives often use most in front of the simple form to produce the superlative.

For example: Claudia Schiffer was voted the most beautiful woman in the world.
Synonym A word that means the same or nearly the same as another word.

For example: handsome = good-looking / breakable = fragile.
Syntax The part of grammar that deals with the way words are arranged in sentences.
Tautology Unnecessary repetition.

For example: I have been all on my own by myselffor hours.
Tense The verb tense shows the time when an action takes place. (The word tense comes from the Latin word tempus, meaning time.)

See also - present tense, past tense, future tense
Transitive Verb A transitive verb needs an object to complect the sentence.

For example: I can't find my book.
Valediction The act of saying farewell.
Verb Almost every sentence needs a verb. They are sometimes called doing words, because they show what is happening.

For example: I write to my mother every week.

See also - auxiliary verbs, intransitive verbs, modal verbs, transitive verbs.
Vowel The letters a,e,i,o and u (see also consonant).
Waffle To speak or write in a vague and wordy manner. Often followed by on.

For example: He waffled on about his work for hours.


Teacher Karen Teacher Karen