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date: 07 December 2023


Fowler’s Concise Dictionary of Modern English Usage


The principal grammatical terms used in this book are as follows. Further information on some of them, and on other terms, can be found in the main text:

  • active voice

    the form of a verb in which the subject performs the action and the object (if there is one) is affected by the action (The house stands on a corner / France beat Brazil in the final). See also passive voice below

  • adjective

    a word that describes another word, usually a noun or pronoun (the green door / The weather was pleasant / She is French)

  • adverb

    a word that qualifies a verb (She speaks softly), an adjective (rather nice), or another adverb (very quickly)

  • attributive

    denoting an adjective or noun that is put before another word, normally a noun, to qualify or describe it in some way (brown shoes / table lamp)

  • clause

    a group of words normally containing a verb and its subject. A main clause makes sense by itself and can constitute an entire sentence, e.g. The train arrives at 6 o’clock. A subordinate clause is one that qualifies a main clause, e.g. The train arrives at 6 o’clock if it is running on time

  • conjunction

    a word used to join words, phrases, and sentences, such as and, but, and if

  • countable nouns

    nouns that form plurals, e.g. ship, crisis, fellow-traveller, kindness (= a kind act). See also mass nouns and uncountable nouns below

  • determiner

    a word that goes before a noun and determines its status in some way, such as a, the, this, all, and such

  • diphthong

    a vowel in which the sound changes within a syllable, as in coin, day, deer, loud, pain, wear, etc.

  • infinitive

    the simplest uninflected form of a verb (come, make, try, etc.), and the form that appears as the headword in dictionaries. A to-infinitive is this form preceded by to: I want to go to the library

  • inflection

    the change in the form of a word to indicate a change in its grammatical role, e.g. from singular to plural in nouns (book / books, church / churches) and from present tense to past tense in verbs (want / wanted, make / made)

  • interjection

    an exclamation such as ah, gosh, and whoops (often printed with an exclamation mark)

  • intransitive

    denoting a verb that does not take an object (We arrived at noon)

  • main clause

    see clause above

  • mass nouns

    nouns which form plurals with the meaning ‘a type of…’ or ‘a quantity of…’, e.g. bread, medicine, wine. See also countable nouns above and uncountable nouns below

  • modifier

    a word that modifies or qualifies the meaning of another word. Modifiers are usually attributive nouns (table lamp / expiry date) and adjectives (a large cake / the English language), or adverbs (We’re almost ready)

  • noun

    a word that names a person or thing, including common nouns (bridge, girl, sugar, unhappiness) and proper nouns (which name specific persons or things, e.g. Asia, Concorde, Dickens)

  • passive voice

    the form of a verb in which the object of the active verb (see active voice above) becomes the subject and the subject of the active verb is optionally expressed as an agent introduced by the preposition by. The passive voice is illustrated by the sentences Brazil were beaten in the final and Brazil were beaten by France in the final

  • predicative

    denoting a word, especially an adjective, that is used after a linking verb (The food was terrible / They are becoming angry)

  • preposition

    a word that stands before a noun or pronoun (or later in a sentence, referring back to a noun or pronoun) and establishes its relation to what goes before, such as after, on, for, and with (They came after dinner / the man on the platform / What did you do it for?)

  • pronoun

    a word used instead of a noun or noun phrase that has already been mentioned or is known, including the personal pronouns I, you, she, us, etc., the relative pronouns that, which, who, etc., the interrogative pronouns, who, what, etc., and the demonstrative pronouns this, that, those, etc.

  • subordinate clause

    see clause above

  • tense

    the form of a verb in relation to time, e.g. present tense (makes), past tense (made / has made) and future tense (will make / is going to make)

  • that-clause

    a subordinate clause introduced by the conjunction that (I know that it is true)

  • to-infinitive

    see infinitive above

  • transitive

    denoting a verb that takes an object, i.e. has a following word or phrase which the action of the verb affects (They lit a fire)

  • uncountable nouns

    nouns which do not form plurals, e.g. adolescence, heating, richness, warfare. See also mass nouns and countable nouns above

  • verb

    a word that describes an action or state and is normally an essential element in a clause or sentence: She locked the door / We were lucky