Topic: Professional development

Background material for teachers on an array of topics in English language and linguistics. These resources are designed to help teachers feel more confident in their knowledge of the English language, and more adept at leading Englicious lessons, starters, and projects in class.

Want to know more? Or would you like to ask all your questions in a face-to-face session? The Englicious team offers full-day CPD courses entitled English Grammar for Teachers, in conjunction with the UCL Institute of Education and UCL Life Learning. Forthcoming session dates can be found on the IoE and UCL Life Learning websites.

Discourse markers

Discourse markers are usually short words, phrases or clauses that guide the way in which participants in a conversation interact with each other and how they react to each other's contributions. Here are some examples:

yeah, oh, well, ehr, uhm, ah, anyway, definitely, OK, absolutely, mmm, I mean, I think, so

Discourse structure

Speakers and writers often use a range of structures and devices to signpost their arguments. These signposts link what they are saying to what they have said before, and to what they are going to say.

Discourse structure is a term used to describe the way in which an entire text is organised – for example, how language is used in a poem, in a newspaper article, or in a speech designed to read aloud.

Double negatives

Since the 17th century, English grammarians have spoken out against constructions with double negatives. Before the 17th century, double negatives were considered perfectly acceptable in English, like in present-day Spanish, French and many other languages of the world. Even today we're often taught to avoid a double negative.

The idea is that we should try to avoid saying something like:

  • He didn't not get the prize.

This is because in logic, two nots cancel each other out. So the statement above would logically mean:

Expressing time

Grammar is important for expressing information about time. It helps us to locate situations in the past, present or future, and to describe how situations unfold over time.

This is typically done by using different forms of the verb. For example:


We define grammar as the study of the structure of words and sentences. As such it is an abstract system, worthy of study in its own right. However, we also see grammar as a system that is used in a range of contexts to unlock meaning. We want to look at grammar not only in written language, but also in spoken English, in a range of multimodal forms, and in all its rich variety.

Grammar: What grammar isn't

One of the big misapprehensions about the word grammar is that it is all to do with getting things right or wrong. Grammar teaching in the past has often taken a prescriptive turn, and for many people of older generations the memory of grammar tests at school is often a painful one.

Grammatical functions in the clause

The description of word classes, phrases, and clauses in terms of their structure is part of the study of form. We now turn to the study of grammar from the perspective of function: this notion refers to what words, phrases and clauses do as units of language.

Indirect Object

Consider the following example. Here we have two noun phrases which follow the Predicator (the verb).

  • I’ll give [you] [the school’s number]. [W2F-020 #192]

Can you see how they build up the meaning of the clause? Both noun phrases refer to participants in the situation of ‘giving’, but the participants have different roles.

Letters and sounds

We often tend to think about English in terms of the written language, because of its importance in our society and in our education system. However, spoken language is really much more basic to us as human beings:


When we talk (or write), we often make statements of fact about the world: It's hot today; I'm hungry; Tomorrow is my birthday. However, this is not always the case.

We often talk about what is possible or necessary: for example, what might happen or what somebody must do. This kind of meaning is called modality.

Modifiers in phrases

The term modifier is a function label that is used for words or phrases that modify the Head of a phrase. Put differently: a modifier gives more information about the Head; it makes its meaning more specific.

All phrase types can contain modifiers. Here are some examples:

Noun phrase modifiers:

  • big issues
  • small painting
  • very nice passages

Verb phrase modifiers:

Noun phrases

Noun phrases are phrases which have as their Head word a noun or pronoun.


In terms of meaning, nouns are sometimes described as ‘naming words’ – words for people, animals and things. The noun class does include many words of this kind: brother, baby, rabbit, horse, handbag, chair. These all refer to physical beings or objects – they are concrete nouns. But there are also many abstract nouns – nouns with abstract (non-material) meanings, like pleasure, sight, kindness.

Nouns: Concrete and abstract

Strictly speaking, the distinction between concrete noun and abstract noun is not really a matter of grammar, but of semantics. In other words, the decision to label a noun as concrete or abstract is more to do with the word’s meaning than its grammatical form or function.

There is very little, if any, grammatical difference between the ways in which abstract and concrete nouns operate.

Nouns: Count and non-count

Common nouns are either count or non-count. Count nouns can be ‘counted’, as follows:

one pen, two pens, three pens, four pens...

Non-count nouns, on the other hand, cannot be counted in this way:

*one software, *two softwares, *three softwares, *four softwares...

Object Complement

Consider the highlighted phrases in the following examples. How do they contribute to the clauses?

  • She found the maths incredibly hard. [S1A-054#137]
  • I found the changeover a trying time. [W2B-012#101]

These phrases describe the thing picked out by the Direct Object. The maths is described as incredibly hard (for her). The changeover is described as a trying time (for me).

Phrasal verbs

What is a phrasal verb? Phrasal verbs consist of a combination of a verb and another word, which we’ll call a preposition. Some examples are come over, look (something) up. The first word in a verb-preposition combination can be just about any verb. The verbs that most commonly appear in such combinations are listed below:

Phrasal verbs: New phrasal verbs

There are many phrasal verbs that you won’t find in any dictionary. This is because we commonly create new phrasal verbs based on the meanings of existing phrasal verbs. Usually, new phrasal verbs are either transparent or aspectual – new idiomatic phrasal verbs would usually be too difficult for listeners to decode. Perhaps you’ve heard examples like the following:

Phrasal verbs: Three categories

Non-native speakers are often told that their only option is to memorise each phrasal verb individually. Is it really necessary to do all that work? No. Not only is it unnecessary, it’s inefficient. And it’s inefficient for three reasons:


phrase consists of one or more words that belong together. It takes one of the major word class elements (noun, adjective, etc.) as its Head.

Preposing and postposing

As writers and speakers there are many ways in which we can present information to readers or hearers by using different word orders and sentence patterns to highlight different aspects of meaning. This is often referred to as information structuring.

There are many ways we can highlight information. Here we will look at two important ones:

Preposition phrases

A preposition phrase has a preposition as its Head word, usually followed by a noun phrase. Here are some examples of preposition phrases, showing a preposition + noun phrase sequence:

  • in + boxes
  • in + the boxes
  • in + the big boxes under the table

The noun phrase can be a single word or a string of words, as the examples show.

Here are some examples of prepositional phrases in sentences:


Prepositions are a closed class of words. They are generally quite short words that often relate to meanings of place and time.

The following are common prepositions:

  • across, after, at, before, by, during, from, in, into, of, on, to, under, with, without

This is not a complete list. More unusual prepositions can be harder to recognise because they do not have a standard form.

Some prepositions are made up of more than one word.


Pronouns are one of the eight word classes in the National Curriculum. Some linguists would treat pronouns as a subclass of nouns, and there are some good reasons for that, but we adhere to the National Currciulum specifications.

Pronouns can sometimes replace a noun in a sentence:


Englicious contains many resources for English language in schools, but the vast majority of them require you to register and log in first. For more information, see What is Englicious?

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