This glossary provides definitions and examples of basic components of English grammar.
Use the navigation links on the left to learn about specific subjects.
Action verbs specify the action performed by the subject.
"John ran to the store."
"Mary swims very well."
Adjective Adjectives modify nouns and have three forms or degrees:
Positive - new
Comparative - newer
Superlative - newest
Adverbial Particle Adverbial particles are prepositions that are considered part of the verb
because they change the meaning of the verb. Some verbs allow one or more words
between the verb and the particle.
Example: "Turn off the lights.",
"Turn the lights off."
Adverb Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
Example: "Mary walks gracefully".
"She is very pretty".
Article English has three articles:
the - The "definite" article refers to specific objects.
a, an - The "indefinite" articles refer to unspecified members of a class.
The article "a" is used before a word starting with a consonant sound and "an"
is used before a word starting with a vowel sound.
Examples: "the mouse", "a mouse", "an orange mouse",
"an honor" (H is silent), "a horse" (H is aspirated).
Auxiliary Verb Auxiliary verbs are used with other verbs to express moods or tense. Common auxiliary verbs are:
will, would, may, might, shall, should, can, could, must
"Mary will sing.", "Mary can sing."
Compound Sentence Compound sentences consist of two or more simple sentences separated by conjunctions.
Example: "John is already here and Mary is coming soon."
Conditional Sentence Conditional sentences are used to describe the consequences of a specific action, or
the dependency between events or conditions. Conditional sentences
consist of an independent clause and a dependent clause.
Consonants and Vowels English uses 26 letters: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
AEIOU are vowels.
BCDFGHJKLMNPQRSTVWXYZ are consonants.
Declarative Sentence Declarative Sentences are used to form statements. Declarative sentences consist of a subject and
a predicate. The subject may be a simple subject or a compound subject.
<Declarative Sentence> = <subject> <predicate>
Example: "This is a declarative sentence."
Formal Description A Formal Description is like a mathematical formula that when applied to words produces
a correctly formed sentence structure. The expression
<noun phrase> = "the" <specific proper noun>
means that you can create a "noun phrase" by first writing the article "the" and then writing a
specific proper noun.
Example: "the Grand Canyon".
Gender Gender is the classification of nouns and pronouns according to distinctions in sex. There are
four genders: Masculine, Feminine, Common, and Neuter. Masculine gender denotes the male sex.
Feminine gender denotes the female sex. Common gender denotes either sex. Neuter gender denotes
the absence of sex.
Imperative Sentence Imperative sentences are used in commands. Imperative sentences consist only of predicates with
verbs in infinitive form. The implied subject is "You". Frequently, imperative sentences are
terminated with an exclamation point.
Examples: Come here!
Don't drive outside your lane.
Interjections Interjections express strong feeling or emotion and have no grammatical relation to any other word
in a sentence. Some common interjections are: Oh, Alas, Aha, Bah, Whew.
Examples: "Aha! I found it!".
Interrogative Sentence Interrogative sentences are used to form questions. Interrogative sentences
frequently start with auxiliary verbs, or pronouns and adverbs such as "Who", "What",
"Where", "When", and "Why". Interrogative sentences are terminated by a question mark.
Examples: Where are you?
Will John come for dinner?
Irregular Noun The plural form of a noun is generally formed by adding an "s" or "es" ending to the singular form.
Irregular nouns do not follow this rule.
Examples: maximum, maxima
Irregular verb Irregular verbs do not have a predictable pattern of conjugation.
Compare Verb and the Verb "to be" below.
Linking verbs associate attributes (adverbs or adjectives) with a subject. Common linking verbs are:
be, look, become
"John is smart."
"Mary became angry."
"The patient looked pale."
A noun usually denotes a thing, place, person, quality, or action.
Common nouns refer to ordinary things (mouse, tree, computer), whereas
proper nouns refer to persons, specific things or specific places
(John, the Brooklyn Bridge, Texas). Proper nouns are generally capitalized.
Nouns have two common forms: singular and plural. Singular nouns refer to
one object (book), plural nouns refer to two or more objects (books).
Each noun form has a corresponding possessive form that is used to refer to the
properties of the object ("the book's pages" means the pages of the book). Nouns also have "gender" which is a classification according
to distinctions in sex.
Personal pronouns stand in the place of a person's name.
In the sentence "John went home.", the word "John" may be replaced with the personal pronoun "he".
Personal pronouns have four cases: nominative (subjective), objective,
possessive adjectives (genitive), and possessive. Pronouns have also "person" (1st, 2nd, or 3rd),
"number" (singular or plural), and "gender" (masculine, feminine, or neuter) attributes.
Personal Pronouns - Nominative (Subjective)
The nominative pronouns are used in the subject of a sentence.
Example: You have a book.
he, she, it
Personal Pronouns - Objective
Objective pronouns are used in the object of a sentence.
Example: Give me the book.
Personal Pronouns - Possessive adjectives (Genitive)
Possessive adjectives are sometimes called attributive possessive pronouns.
They generally modify noun phrases.
Example: This is my book.
Personal Pronouns - Possessive
Possessive pronouns are nominal in nature and they occur in the object of a sentence.
Example: This book is mine.
The predicate is the part of the sentence that contains a verb or
verb phrase and its complements. The predicate of the sentence "John cried" is "cried".
The predicate of the sentence "Mary will give me a letter." is "will give me a letter".
The subject is the part of the sentence which performs an action or which is associated with the action.
The subject of the sentence "John cried" is the proper noun "John". The subject of the sentence
"Lions and tigers growled." is the compound subject "lions and tigers".
Verb Phrases are sequences of auxiliary and action verbs that may show tense, mood, aspect, and voice.
The future tense, for example, is constructed by placing "will" before an infinitive form of a verb
as in "She will study tomorrow". Aspect refers to the manner
in which the verb action is experienced. An example of present perfect aspect
is "John has lived in Paris".
Verb tense is an inflectional form of a simple verb or verb phrase expressing a specific time distinction.
For details, see the description of Predicate.
The Verb "To Be" The verb "to be" is the most irregular verb in English. It is used as a linking verb to show the existence or condition of the subject. It is also used as an auxiliary verb to form the passive voice.
It is conjugated as follows:
The form "ain't" is considered substandard; do not use it. Use "isn't", "aren't", "am not", or
another appropriate form instead.
English has five vowels: AEIOU. The consonants W and Y are called semivowels because they
can act as vowels in certain words. Vowels are sometimes categorized as short and long. A short vowel
has generally a single tone, e.g., the A in "cat", whereas a long vowel usually has a diphthong sound, e.g.,
the A in "cake". Although English orthography is very irregular, many words double a consonant
or use consecutive consonants
after a vowel to indicate that the vowel is short. For example "boss" or "Boston" have short Os,
and "rack" has a short A.
The long vowel is normally indicated by following the vowel with a single consonant and another vowel,
e.g., the A in "raking", or by using a terminal E
which is called a "silent E". The A in "rake" and the O in "tone" are examples of long vowels.
See also consonant.