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.


The name of a vowel sound that is found only in unstressed positions in English. It is the most common vowel sound in English.

It is written as /ə/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet. In the English writing system, it can be written in many different ways.

  • /əlɒŋ/ [along]
  • /bʌtə/ [butter]
  • /dɒktə/ [doctor]

semantic role

The participant role which an element plays in the situation described by a sentence or clause, such as agent or recipient. These roles concern meaning and are distinct from grammatical functions such as Subject. For example, Tom plays the role of agent in both Tom painted the fence and The fence was painted by Tom.


The study of meaning. It covers the meanings of words and their combinations into larger units (phrases, clauses and sentences).


The sentence is the largest unit of grammar, which in the written language begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop.

A sentence is a group of words which are grammatically connected to each other but not to any words outside the sentence.

The form of a sentence’s main clause shows whether it is being used as a statement, a question, a command or an exclamation.

A sentence may consist of a single clause or it may contain several clauses held together by subordination or co-ordination. Classifying a sentence as a simple sentence, complex sentence or compound sentence can be confusing, because a ‘simple’ sentence may be complicated, and a ‘complex’ one may be straightforward. The terms single-clause sentence and multi-clause sentence may be more helpful.

  • John went to his friend’s house. He stayed there till tea-time.
  • John went to his friend’s house, he stayed there till tea-time. [comma splice]
    • This is a ‘comma splice’, a common error in which a comma is used where either a full stop or a semi-colon is needed to indicate the lack of any grammatical connection between the two clauses.
  • You are my friend. [statement]
  • Are you my friend? [question]
  • Be my friend! [command]
  • What a good friend you are! [exclamation]
  • Ali went home on his bike to his goldfish and his current library book about pets. [single-clause sentence]
  • She went shopping but took back everything she had bought because she didn’t like any of it. [multi-clause sentence]

See also clause type, command, exclamation, question, statement.

simple past

The basic presentation of the past tense verb, with no auxiliary verbs expressing aspect (i.e. progressive or perfect).

simple present

The basic presentation of the present tense verb, with no auxiliary verbs expressing aspect (i.e. progressive or perfect).

simple sentence

A sentence containing only one main clause, with no subordinate clauses inside it, e.g. Kate visited her cousins yesterday. It may also be referred to as a single-clause sentence. This terminology is preferred in the National Curriculum.

single-clause sentence

The term preferred in the National Curriculum for a sentence consisting of a single clause. Also called simple sentence. For example, in He went to school on the bus, there is only one main verb (went) and therefore one clause. By contrast, a multi-clause sentence contains more than one clause.


A term describing a form of a noun or pronoun which refers to a single person or thing. Singular and plural are contrasting values of number. For example, banana is a singular form which contrasts with the plural form bananas.

speech verb

A category of verb based on meaning. Speech verbs denote ways of speaking, such as whispered, muttered, shouted and argue.

split digraph

See digraph.

Standard English

Standard English can be recognised by the use of a very small range of forms such as those books, I did it and I wasn’t doing anything (rather than their non-Standard equivalents); it is not limited to any particular accent. It is the variety of English which is used, with only minor variation, as a major world language. Some people use Standard English all the time, in all situations from the most casual to the most formal, so it covers most registers. The aim of the national curriculum is that everyone should be able to use Standard English as needed in writing and in relatively formal speaking.

  • I did it because they were not willing to undertake any more work on those houses. [formal Standard English]
  • I did it cos they wouldn’t do any more work on those houses. [casual Standard English]
  • I done it cos they wouldn’t do no more work on them houses. [casual non-Standard English]

Note that standards change, and that Standard English in Shakespeare's time, or in Dickens's time, was different from Standard English today. Likewise, Standard English in 200 years will be different from Standard English now.

Likewise, standards vary around the world. American English and British English do have some significant differences, such that what is standard in America may be non-standard in the UK.


A label for the main use (or discourse function) of a declarative clause. For example, We danced all night is a declarative sentence which would typically be used as a statement. However, statements can also be used in different ways. For example, the following is an example of a sentence that has the structure of a statement, but is used as a question: You like fried bananas?. See also clause type, command, directive, question.


A syllable is stressed if it is pronounced more forcefully than the syllables next to it. The other syllables are unstressed.

  • about
  • visit

The emphasis that a speaker places on a word or syllable of a word makes the word or syllable louder, higher, and/or longer than other words or syllables. Words have characteristic stress patterns: for example, tiger is stressed on the first syllable while about is stressed on the second syllable.


The Subject of a verb is normally the noun, noun phrase or pronoun that names the ‘do-er’ or ‘be-er’. The Subject’s normal position is:

  • just before the verb in a statement
  • just after the auxiliary verb, in a question.

Unlike the verb’s Object and Complement, the Subject can determine the form of the verb (e.g. I am, you are).

  • Rula’s mother went out.
  • That is uncertain.
  • The children will study the animals.
  • Will the children study the animals?

'Subject' is a function label for an element in the clause which often identifies the agent that carries out the action expressed by the main verb. However, not all Subjects denote agents (e.g. in Linda felt tired, Linda is not really a 'do-er' - she is not carrying out an action), so the Subject is better defined in terms of grammatical properties. These include its typical position in the clause, and the way it shows agreement with the verb in person and number.

Subject Complement

A function label for an element in the clause which comes after a linking verb and describes a person or thing picked out by the Subject. E.g. This soup is delicious; Sarah is a good swimmer. See also Complement, Object Complement.

Subject-verb inversion

A special ordering where a verb comes before the Subject instead of after it. For example, in the interrogative clause Have you told her?, the auxiliary verb have occurs before the Subject you.

subjective case

See nominative case.


In some languages, the inflections of a verb include a large range of special forms which are used typically in subordinate clauses, and are called 'subjunctives'. English has very few such forms and those it has tend to be used in rather formal styles.

  • The school requires that all pupils be honest.
  • The school rules demand that pupils not enter the gym at lunchtime.
  • If Zoë were the class president, things would be much better.

Subjunctive verbs are triggered by adjectives such as necessary, imperative, crucial, or by verbs such as demand, require, insist, etc. When the subjunctive verb has a third person singular subject, it does not take the -s inflection.

  • I insist that he leave at once.
  • We stipulated that she take a French course.

Many grammarians now take the view that English does not have a subjunctive mood.


See subordination.

subordinate clause

A clause which is subordinate to some other part of the same sentence is a subordinate clause; for example, in The apple that I ate was sour, the clause that I ate is subordinate to apple (which it modifies).

  • That’s the street where Ben lives. [relative clause; modifies street]
  • He watched her as she disappeared. [Adverbial; modifies watched]
  • What you said was very nice. [acts as Subject of was]
  • She noticed an hour had passed. [acts as Object of noticed]

Subordinate clauses contrast with coordinate clauses as in It was sour but looked very tasty. (Contrast: main clause)

However, clauses that are directly quoted as direct speech are not subordinate clauses.

  • Not subordinate: He shouted, “Look out!”

A subordinate clause does not function as a sentence on its own but functions instead as part of a larger clause. For example, in the sentence I believe that we will have a hot summer the clause that we will have a hot summer is a subordinate clause functioning as part of the larger main clause: it is the Direct Object of the verb believe.

subordinating conjunction

A word that links a subordinate clause with the clause it is dependent on, e.g. that, because, when, although, if. Also called subordinator.


The relationship between two elements of unequal grammatical status, often linked by a subordinate conjunction.

A subordinate word or phrase tells us more about the meaning of the word it is subordinate to. Subordination can be thought of as an unequal relationship between a subordinate word and a main word. For example:

  • an adjective is subordinate to the noun it modifies
  • Subjects and Objects are subordinate to their verbs.
  • big dogs [big is subordinate to dogs]
  • Big dogs need long walks. [big dogs and long walks are subordinate to need]
  • We can watch TV when we’ve finished. [when we’ve finished is subordinate to watch]

Subordination is much more common than the equal relationship of coordination.

See also subordinate clause.


Another term for subordinating conjunction: a word that links a subordinate clause with the clause it is dependent on, e.g. because, when, although, that, if. When a subordinator is left out, but could be inserted, we speak of a zero subordinator, e.g. I thought ø you had left, where ‘ø’ indicates the zero subordinator.


A suffix is an ‘ending’, used at the end of one word to turn it into another word. Unlike root words, suffixes cannot stand on their own as a complete word.

Contrast prefix.

  • callcalled
  • teachteacher [turns a verb into a noun]
  • terrorterrorise [turns a noun into a verb]
  • greengreenish [leaves word class unchanged]

See also affix.


The form of adjectives (and some adverbs) that ends in -est (e.g. quietest, fastest). Sometimes a periphrastic form is used, e.g. most competent (rather than *competentest). See also comparative.


A syllable sounds like a beat in a word. Syllables consist of at least one vowel, and possibly one or more consonants.

  • Cat has one syllable.
  • Fairy has two syllables.
  • Hippopotamus has five syllables.


Two words are synonyms if they have the same meaning, or similar meanings. Contrast antonym.

  • talkspeak
  • oldelderly

syntactic distribution

This term refers to the arrangement of words and other units of language in clauses and phrases and the relationships that obtain between them.


The study of sentence structure. It concerns how words combine to form larger units: phrases, clauses and ultimately sentences.
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