Glossary of Grammatical Terms


Active Voice

An active clause has the basic form: "John wrote the essay." Compare this with the passive voice: "The essay was written." Some verbs do not occur regularly in the active form in academic texts.

Adjectival Group

An adjectival group is typically a group with an adjective as its head. That adjective is likely to be modified either before the adjective (premodification) or after the adjective (postmodification or qualification) or both. Pre-modifier are always adverbs - "e.g. extremely, rather, too, very". Postmodifiers are often adverbs or prepositionalphrases. For example, in the adjectival group "very difficult indeed", " difficult" is an adjective in the head position. It is premodified by "very" and postmodified or qualified by "indeed".


Adjectives are words such as "beautiful", "ugly", "new" or "old". They usually denote qualities or have a descriptive meaning. The most typical position for an adjective is between a determiner and a noun. Typical forms of adjective endings are: "-able/-ible", "-ish/-like", "-ful/-less", " -ous" or "-y". Adjectives may display inflection for degree: "-er" & "-est".

They have two main functions: as modifiers of nouns in nominal groups, and as Head of an adjectival group. Adjectives are commonly used in academic texts (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999, p. 506). According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, (1999, p. 65), approximately 20% of lexical words in academic texts are adjectives, 55% are nouns, 20% are adjectives, 15% are verbs and 10% are adverbs.


Adjunct is a functional element of clause structure. A typical structure of a clause is SPCA - subject, predicator, complement, adjunct.Adjunct is typically realised by an adverbial group. Adjuncts provide optional information and types of adjunct include circumstantial adjunct, stance adjunct, and connective adjunct.


Typical adverbs are words such as "hopefully" or "recently". However, other words, such as "now", "then", "always", "often"  are also classified as adverbs. Many adverbs have the "-ly" ending.

There are three main positions for adverbs: before the subject of the sentence, between the subject and the predicator, at the end of the clause.

Traditionally adverbs are divided into 5 main categories: 1. circumstantial adverbs (of time, place, manner etc) ("tomorrow, then, sooner, later, ..., here, there, outside, down, through, near, far, ..., carefully, quietly, academically, ..."), 2. stance adverbs ("certainly, apparently, wisely, hopefully, thankfully, ...") , 3. degree adverbs ("most, least, ...quietly, fairly, roughly, more or less, enough, too, ...", 4. focussing adverbs "just, hardly, only, even, ..."), 5. connective adverbs ("first, furthermore, altogether, otherwise, or rather, ...".

Adverbs are relatively common in academic texts. According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, (1999, p. 65), approximately 10% of lexical words in academic texts are adverbs, 55% are nouns, 20% are adjectives, and 15% are verbs.

Adverbial Group

An adverbial group is typically a group with an adverb as its head. That adverb is likely to be modified either before the adverb (premodification) or after the adverb (postmodification or qualification) or both. For example, in the adjverbial group "more fluently than before", "fluently" is an adverb in the head position. It is premodified by "more" and postmodified or qualified by "than before".


An affix is a morpheme added to the beginning or end of a word to create another word. Affixes in English can be prefixes (before the original word) or suffixes (after the original word). In other languages there are infixes which occur within the word ("drink" - "drank", "swim" - "swam"?) and circumfixes, which are around the word.


An agent is the performer of an action. In a simple clause, the agent may be the grammatical subject, but this is not necessarily the case. In a passive clause, the agent is often signalled by "by ...". However, in academic texts, the short passive - without the agent - is much more common than the long passive - with the agent.


In English and many other languages, certain words need to change their form when used with other words. They need to agree. For example a verb needs to change its form ("eat" or "eats") depending on which word functions as its subject: "I eat" or "He eats".


Anaphoric reference is when a general word refers back in the text to a more specific word. For example, in the sentence "John told me where he was going", "he" refers anaphorically to " John". In order to understand a sentence such as "He did that there", you need to understand what "he" "that" and "there" refer back to. Anaphora is an important part of cohesion, and most EAP courses pay attention to it.

Anaphoric Noun

Anaphoric nouns (Francis, 1986) are nouns such as "view" in the following quotation:

"This led many later Greek thinkers to regard musical theory as a branch of mathematics. This view, however, was not universally accepted, the most influential of those who rejected it being Aristoxenus of Tarentum (fourth century BC)."

or "process" in the following extract:

"Genetics deals with how genes are passed on from parents to their offspring. A great deal is known about the mechanisms governing this process."

They play an important role in the organisation of arguments in texts and are very useful in showing the connection between sentences and therefore in making sure that the paragraph flows. Other nouns typically used in this way are: "account, advice, answer, approach, argument, assertion, assumption, claim, comment, conclusion, criticism, description, difficultly, discussion, distinction, emphasis, estimate, example, explanation, fall, finding, idea, improvement, increase, issue, observation, proof, problem, proposal, reference, rejection, report, rise, situation, suggestion, view, warning".

Alexander, Argent & Spencer (2008, pp. 70-71) call them general nouns.

Apposition, in apposition

Apposition is a grammatical construction in which a sequence of units - usually nominal groups - are placed next to each other, with one element modifying the other. The units are said to be in apposition. In the following sentence "the Director of the Berlitz School at Bordeaux" has the same reference and is in apposition to "Dr. Maurice Aumont".

"Dr. Maurice Aumont, the Director of the Berlitz School at Bordeaux, looked after him in an efficient and kindly way."

Appositive postmodification is common in academic texts, accounting for over 15% of all postmodifiers (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p.639) . They are usually used to modify a proper noun or a technical name and are commonly given in parentheses.

"In arid country the weaver birds (small passerines related to sparrows) tend to be seasonally and sexually dimorphic."


The articles are "a/an" and "the". They are a type of determiner. They are usually referred to as definite article "the" or indefinite article "a/an". "The" is more than twice as common as "a/an" in academic texts (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999, p. 267).


Aspect refers to the way an action denoted by a verb should be viewed with respect to time. Perfective aspect is realised by "have" + past participle of a verb. Progressive aspect is realised by "be" + present participle of a verb. Verbs with no perfective or progressiveaspect are labelled simple - present progressive, past perfect, past simple, present simple. You might somtimes read or hear simple past or simple present but it is confusing.

According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 461) verbs in their simple form account for 94% of verb use in academic texts; progressive aspect for 2% and perfective aspect for 6%. On a short course, it would not seem to be an efficient use of time to concentrate on these forms.

Auxiliary Verb

An auxiliary verb is a type of non-lexical verb. They have mostly grammatical functions, helping to form complex verbal groups. Examples are "do", "have", may", " can". Auxiliary verbs are normally categorised into two groups: 

  1. the PrimaryAuxiliaries - "do, be, have" - with mainly grammatical functions
  2. the ModalAuxiliaries - "can, should, may, might, etc", expressing a range of meanings