The Englicious Glossary includes the new National Curriculum glossary terms, which are shown against a white background. However, there's much more to be found here:

  • we have added many entries that we feel are important, but cannot be found in the NC Glossary (e.g. connective), and
  • in many cases we have added information to the (often very brief) NC entries that need further explanation (e.g. clause and phrase).

Please note that in line with our practice throughout the site, we use capital letters for function terms such as Subject, Direct Object, Indirect Object, Modifier, etc. Although this convention is not followed in the documentation published by the Department for Education we have also done so in the text that forms part of the National Curriculum Glossary.

Tip: Within our units and resources, Glossary items appear highlighted within the text. When you hover over them, or click on them in the Slideshow, a popup is generated.


Case is a grammatical term for the different forms a pronoun can take depending on their position or role in a sentence. For example, many of the English personal pronouns can occur in the nominative (or subjective) case (e.g. She likes the cat) or in the accusative (or objective) case (e.g. The cat likes her). Pronouns can also take the genitive case, as in Her cat is very lazy.


A clause is a special type of phrase whose Head is a verb. Clauses can sometimes be complete sentences. Clauses may be main or subordinate.

Traditionally, a clause had to have a finite verb, but most modern grammarians also recognise nonfinite clauses.

  • It was raining. [single-clause sentence]
  • It was raining but we were indoors. [two finite clauses]
  • If you are coming to the party, please let us know. [finite subordinate clause inside a finite main clause]
  • Usha went upstairs to play on her computer. [non-finite clause]

A clause is a structure which typically expresses a situation such as an action, process or state of affairs (declarative clause), but it can also be used to ask a question (interrogative clause) or issue a command (imperative clause). One or more clauses can make up a sentence. For example, He will find them is a main clause which stands alone as a sentence. By contrast, that he will find them is a subordinate clause functioning as a Direct Object within the main clause I know that he will find them.

The National Curriculum defines clauses as "a special type of phrase whose Head is a verb". This idea is similar to regarding a group of words whose pivotal element is a noun as a noun phrase, and a string of words whose main element is an adjective as an adjective phrase.

See also: clause type.

clause type

A classification of clauses into four grammatical types: declarative, interrogative, imperative and exclamative (sometimes called sentence moods or sentence functions). Each type is typically associated with a different discourse function: statement, question, directive (or command), and exclamation, respectively. The National Curriculum uses only the latter set of terms for both structure and function.

cleft sentence/construction

Cleft sentences are used to highlight or foreground a particular part of a sentence. For example, if you want to highlight that Tim ate all the biscuits, as opposed to someone else, you can say: Don't accuse me of eating all the biscuits. It was Tim who ate all the biscuits! Ordinary cleft constructions conform to the pattern it + {form of the verb be} + Item in Focus + who/that. Here's another example:

  • It was in Brazil that I was so happy.

This is a cleft version of I was so happy in Brazil.

There's another cleft construction in English called the pseudocleft construction. This is typically introduced by what in the pattern what + Subject + Verb + {form of the verb be} + Item in Focus.

Example: What he likes is cream cakes.


A process of word formation whereby an existing word is shortened to form a new word. For example, telephone is shortened into phone.

closed class

Term applied to a word class which does not readily allow new members to be added, e.g. conjunction, determiner and pronoun. Closed-class words are often grammatical words rather than content words.

closed interrogative

A type of interrogative clause in which an auxiliary verb appears before the Subject. Closed interrogatives are used to ask questions whose answer can be yes or no. See interrogative clause and Subject-verb inversion.


Coherence refers to the semantic relationships that exist within a text between words, phrases, etc. When we talk only of the grammatical links we speak of cohesion.


Cohesion refers to the grammatical relationships that exist within a text between words, phrases, etc. When we talk only of the semantic links, i.e. the meaning links, we speak of coherence.

A text has cohesion if it is clear how the meanings of its parts fit together. Cohesive devices can help to do this.

In the example, there are repeated references to the same thing (shown by the different combinations of bold, capitals, underlining and asterisks), and the logical relations, such as time and cause, between different parts are clear.

A visit has been arranged for YEAR 6, to the Mountain Peaks Field Study Centre, leaving school at 9.30am. This is an overnight visit. The centre has beautiful grounds and *a nature trail*. During the afternoon, THE CHILDREN will follow *the trail*.

cohesive device

Cohesive devices are words used to show how the different parts of a text fit together. In other words, they create cohesion.

Some examples of cohesive devices are:

  • determiners and pronouns, which can refer back to earlier words
  • conjunctions and adverbs, which can make relations between words clear
  • ellipsis of expected words.
  • Julia's dad bought her a football. The football was expensive! [determiner; refers us back to a particular football]
  • Joe was given a bike for Christmas. He liked it very much. [the pronouns refer back to Joe and the bike]
  • We'll be going shopping before we go to the park. [conjunction; makes a relationship of time clear]
  • I'm afraid we're going to have to wait for the next train. Meanwhile, we could have a cup of tea. [adverb; refers back to the time of waiting]
  • Where are you going? [_] To school! [ellipsis of the expected words I'm going; links the answer back to the question]

combining form

See compound.


A label for the main use (or discourse function) of an imperative clause. For example, Close the door! is an imperative clause which would typically be used to instruct the hearer to do (or not do) something.

common noun

Any noun which does not belong to the special class of proper nouns; examples are bus, politician, bravery. Proper nouns are those which refer to specific individuals, places, institutions and so on; examples are Paul, Switzerland, Boots.


The form of adjectives (and some adverbs) that ends in -er (e.g. quieter, faster). Sometimes a periphrastic form is used, e.g. more competent (rather than *competenter). See also superlative.


Complement is often used as a general functional label for any constituent whose presence is required by a verb, noun, adjective or preposition.

A verb's Subject Complement adds more information about its Subject, and its Object Complement does the same for its Object.

Unlike the verb's object, its complement may be an adjective. The verb be normally has a Subject Complement.

  • She is our teacher. [adds more information about the subject, she]
  • They seem very competent. [adds more information about the subject, they]
  • Learning makes me happy. [adds more information about the object, me]

Thus many grammars use the notion Complement in a wider sense as a cover term to denote Direct Objects, Indirect Objects and any other unit that a particular verb (or other element) selects. Under this wider definition, all of the highlighted portions in the sentences below are Complements.

  • Luke crashed his bike in the playground. [noun phrase acting as Direct Object]
  • My company sent me a new smartphone. [pronominal noun phrase acting as Indirect Object and noun phrase acting as Direct Object]
  • They suggested that I should upgrade. [clause acting as Direct Object]
  • We relied on his knowledge of the area. [prepositional phrase acting as Complement of the verb]

On the Englicious site we use Subject Complement and Object Complement as terms for specific functions within the clause.

complex preposition

A preposition made up of more than one word, e.g. because of, on top of.

complex sentence

A sentence containing a main clause with at least one subordinate clause inside it, e.g. I looked after the children while Sam was away. This whole sentence is a main clause which contains a subordinate clause, while Sam was away.In the National Curriculum the term multi-clause sentence is used.


A compound word contains at least two root words in its morphology; e.g. whiteboard, superman.

Compounding is very important in English.

  • blackbird, blow-dry, bookshop, ice-cream, English teacher, inkjet, one-eyed, bone-dry, baby-sit, daydream, outgrow

A root word is also known as a lexical base. Compounds are written in different ways: sometimes as one word, sometimes hyphenated, and sometimes as separate words. A neoclassical compound is a compound consisting of two combining forms derived from classical languages, e.g. bio- + -graphy.

compound sentence

A sentence where two or more main clauses are joined together, e.g. [Sam made a cake] and [Anna bought some biscuits]. The clauses which are joined are ‘equal’ in status, as each could stand alone. The National Curriculum prefers the term multi-clause sentence.

concrete noun

A noun that refers to something that can be directly perceived by the senses, such as baby, frog, or skyscraper. Concrete nouns express a different type of meaning from abstract nouns like sadness.

It is debatable whether non-tangible things that can be perceived by the senses, such as sound, are concrete. Nouns like pain can be seen as having a concrete meaning ("physical pain" perceived by the senses) and an abstract meaning ("emotional pain" not perceived by the senses).


One element in a set of two or more items linked by a coordinating conjunction. E.g. in the sun and the moon the noun phrases the sun and the moon are conjoins linked by the coordinating conjunction and.


A conjunction links two words or phrases together.

There are two main types of conjunctions:

  • coordinating conjunctions (e.g. and) link two words or phrases together as an equal pair.
  • subordinating conjunctions (e.g. when) introduce a subordinate clause.
  • James bought a bat and ball. [links the words bat and ball as an equal pair]
  • Kylie is young but she can kick the ball hard. [links two clauses as an equal pair]
  • Everyone watches when Kyle does back-flips. [introduces a subordinate clause]
  • Joe can't practise kicking because he's injured. [introduces a subordinate clause]

The principal coordinating conjunctions are and, or and but) and some typical subordinating conjunctions are because, when, that, if, whether, for).

The 2016 GPaS test sample papers also refer to conjunctions as joining words.


'Connective' is an old term that has been widely used by teachers for words that can connect units of information in various ways. These include words like however, so and nonetheless, and because, although and after.

In most contemporary discussions of grammar, and in the 2014 National Curriculum, the term 'connective' is not used because the words that have been given this label belong grammatically to different word classes. Instead, we distinguish between subordinating conjunctions, coordinating conjunctions and certain types of adverbs.

Subordinating conjunctions place one clause in a lower (subordinate) relationship to another.

  • He is only six years old, although he is very tall.
  • They devoured the cookies because they were hungry.

On the other hand, coordinating conjunctions link two units of an equal status:

  • novels and plays
  • fast but unsafe

Finally, words that connect sentences or clauses more loosely in terms of their meaning are called (linking) adverbs:

  • Everyone loves vacations in Hawaii. Nevertheless, I would never want to go there myself.
  • I have lots of friends, so I'm very happy.

Note that the adverbs above can be omitted, and the result would still be a grammatical sentence. The conjunctions in the first two examples cannot be omitted without the result becoming a "run-on" sentence. This is just one very good reason why these two types of connective words (conjunctions and adverbs) are not part of a single grammatical category.

Although the label 'connective' can be useful as a general notion that encourages students to think about how they might connect one piece of information to another, we would strongly encourage you to avoid it.

See also Adverbial.


A sound which is produced when the speaker closes off or obstructs the flow of air through the vocal tract, usually using lips, tongue or teeth.

  • /p/ [flow of air stopped by the lips, then released]
  • /t/ [flow of air stopped by the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, then released]
  • /f/ [flow of air obstructed by the bottom lip touching the top teeth]
  • /s/ [flow of air obstructed by the tip of the tongue touching the gum line]

Most of the letters of the alphabet represent consonants. Only the letters a, e, i, o, u and y can represent vowel sounds.

The term 'consonant' is used either for a sound made by bringing the vocal organs together or close to each other, or for a letter used to write a consonant sound: for example, the sound at the start of the word mat is a consonant sound, written with the consonant letter m.

constituency test

A test by means of which a string of words can be shown to behave as a unit, or constituent. See e.g. fronting.


One word or a group of words which grammatically behaves as a unit.


In language, this is our ability to represent and perceive the same thing in infinitely different ways. For example, we can choose to represent something in a very vague way (e.g. something happened) or a very specific way (e.g. a terrible monster appeared out of the wardrobe).

content word

A word with a full meaning content which can be stated separately, such as strawberry, chatter or green. Also called a lexical word. This type of word contrasts with a grammatical word, whose role is mainly to express grammatical relationships or meanings, e.g. of, and or the. Content words are usually open-class words, while grammatical words are usually closed-class words.


See progressive.


A word formation process by which a word takes on a new word class without adding any new elements such as prefixes or suffixes. For example, then noun Facebook quickly gave rise to the verb facebook.


See coordination.

coordinating conjunction

A linking word which connects (‘coordinates’) units which are equal in status. Common examples are and, or, and but. Also called a coordinator.


Words or phrases are coordinated if they are linked as an equal pair by a coordinating conjunction (i.e. and, but, or).

In the examples below, the coordinated elements are shown in bold, and the conjunction is in red.

  • Susan and Amra met in a cafe. [links the words Susan and Amra as an equal pair]
  • They talked and drank tea for an hour. [links two clauses as an equal pair]
  • Susan got on a bus but Amra walked. [links two clauses as an equal pair]

The difference between coordination and subordination is that, in subordination, the two linked elements are not equal.

Not coordination: They ate before they met. [before introduces a subordinate clause]

In coordination, elements or strings of elements (conjoins) are juxtaposed by means of a coordinating conjunction. E.g. Bulgaria and Greece.


Another term for coordinating conjunction; a linking word which connects units which are equal in status. Common examples are and, or, and but.


See linking verb.

copular verb

See linking verb.

core modal

A subset of modal verbs that is considered the most typical and most important. The core modals are: will, would, can, could, will, may, might, shall, should, must, and ought (to).


A collection of extracts of naturally occurring spoken or written language, often in computerised form. It can include written language and/or transcribed spoken language.

count noun

A type of noun which can be counted, like computer (one computer, two computers, three computers, etc.). In contrast, there are non-count nouns like software which can't be counted.
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