English Grammatical Terms


On the assumption that the reader can speak correct English but is unfamiliar with formal grammar, the technical terms will not be strictly defined but briefly described and followed by illustrative examples where appropriate. These terms are gathered together thematically under three headings — Sentence Elements, Parts of Speech, and Finite Verb Forms — and then followed by an alphabetical list of other common terms that do not fit under these headings.

NB: These notes are about English grammar: the grammar of Sanskrit is rather different — do not confuse the two. The purpose of these notes is to briefly illustrate the technical terms and concepts of English grammar, which may be used to demonstrate similar or contrasting concepts in Sanskrit grammar.


1. Sentence Elements

A sentence comprises one or more of five elements, each of which may comprise one or more words:

(S) in English grammar this is considered the main element or focus of the sentence, and the rest of the sentence (the predicate) is considered to be a statement about the subject. It expresses the agent of an active verb. For example: Jack and Jill (S) went up the hill (predicate).

(V) this expresses the activity of the sentence; it agrees with the subject in person and number. It is the most essential word, and every grammatically complete sentence must have one explicitly stated: even the subject may be implied, as in the command “Run!”. For example: The children (S) are playing (V).

There are two types:
Direct Object
(Od) expresses that which is directly acted upon by the verb.
Indirect Object
(Oi) is the recipient or beneficiary of the activity.
She (S) gave (V) the food (Od) to the dog (Oi).
He (S) built (V) the dog (Oi) a kennel (Od).

This completes the sense expressed by the verb. There are two types:
Subject Complement
(Cs) used with intransitive verbs, or transitive verbs in the passive voice, expressing an attribute of the subject.
Object Complement
(Co) used with transitive verbs in the active voice and expressing an attribute of the direct object of the sentence.
Love (S) is (V) blind (Cs).
He (S) became (V) a doctor (Cs).
The judge (S) set (V) the prisoner (Od) free (Co).
They (S) elected (V) him (Od) chairman (Co).

(A) these express a wide range of meaning (time, place, manner, etc.) related to the activity of the sentence as a whole. Unlike the other elements, there may be several of these in one simple sentence.
Again (A) it (S) rained (V) steadily (A) all day (A).

2. Parts of Speech

There are nine types of word called Parts of Speech. These are:

Used to name a person or thing. There are two types:
Proper Nouns
Name a person, place, etc., and are usually written with an initial capital letter:
John and Mary went to London on Tuesday.
Common Nouns
Name general things, both concrete and abstract:
The love of money is the root of all evil.

Used instead of a noun to designate a person or thing without naming it:
He kissed her when they met; she enjoyed it.

Note: nouns and pronouns are categorized according to number, gender and case.

Qualifies a noun or pronoun:
The happy dog wagged its long tail at the familiar figure.

A name for the three adjectives “a”, “an”, “the”:
A boy gave an apple to the teacher.

“Governs” a following noun or pronoun, expressing its relation to another noun or pronoun or to the verb:
As the sun rose in the East, the girl stepped from the house into the garden.

Connects one word or phrase or sentence, with another:
Jack and Jill wanted to go, but were detained.

An exclamation expressing emotion:

Qualifies a verb or adjective or another adverb:
The very tall man spoke quite softly.

Expresses the activity of the sentence:
He built a house. They dig a hole. She was here.

3. Finite Verb Forms

The activity of the sentence is expressed by the verb. There are three types: transitive, intransitive, and auxiliary.

A verb taking an object is called transitive (the “energy” of the activity is transferred to the object, as it were), and one that doesn’t is called intransitive. Verbs are typically one or the other, but some may be used either way:

Transitive He beat the drum.
Intransitive I live.
Either The children are playing [a game].

The main verb may be accompanied by one or more auxiliary verbs used to express tense or mood:

I had slept.
I will sleep.
I must have been sleeping.

The verb is the dynamic part of the sentence, animating the relatively static nouns etc. As such it is the most flexible of the parts and appears in a wide variety of forms to express its manifold potential. Among these are:

The verb form indicating the grammatical person (first, second, third) of the subject of the sentence:
I am here.
You are there.
He is everywhere.

The verb form indicating the grammatical number (singular, plural) of the subject of the sentence:
He stands here.
They stand there.
Note: the verb agrees with the grammatical subject in person and number.

The verb form indicating various times (past, present, future) at which the action is perceived as taking place:
He stood.
He stands.
He will stand.

The verb form expressing the activity as:
  • Indefinite: The degree of completeness of the action is not specified.
  • Continuous: The action is not yet complete but still continuing.
  • Perfect: The action is in a completed or perfect state.
  • Perfect Continuous: Combining the force of the previous two.
These four are shown in order, in the past, present, and future respectively:
Indefinite Continuous Perfect Perfect Continuous
Past He stood. He was standing. He had stood. He had been standing.
Present He stands. He is standing. He has stood. He has been standing.
Future He will stand. He will be standing. He will have stood. He will have been standing.

The verb form indicating an (emotional) quality or manner of the activity. There are three basic moods:
Asserts a statement as a fact; it may also express a condition or question:
He stands.
If he stands.
Did he stand?
Expresses a command, advice, or entreaty:
Follow the instruction of your teacher.
Help me!
Expresses an action, not as a fact, but as a condition, desire, or purpose:
Were he here…
May you live long.
He eats that he may live.

The verb form indicating the relation of the subject to the activity as:
e.g. He opened the door.
e.g. The door was opened by him.

4. More Grammatical Terms

A verbal element joined to a word to form a new word, for example: heroine, unhappy. See Prefix, Suffix.

One who instigates or causes or performs the activity of the verb; the role of the semantic subject of the sentence.

See Concord.

A noun or pronoun is in apposition with another when it refers to the same person or thing and is mentioned immediately after it (often offset by commas) to identify or describe it.
John, my neighbor, called to see me.
I spoke to my neighbor, John.

One of the forms of a noun or pronoun, which expresses its relation to some other word, and (loosely) the relation itself. English uses two cases: the unmarked common case, and the genitive case. For just six pronouns the common case is split into subjective and objective: I/me, we/us, he/him, she/her, they/them, and who/whom.

A combination of words having a subject (stated or implied) and a predicate. See also Compound and Complex Sentence

Complex Sentence
A construction having more than one clause, one being the main clause and the other(s) subordinate clause(s) which form sentence element(s) of the main clause.
Show (S) me (Oi)
[what (Od) you (S) did (V)](Od).
Compare with Compound Sentence.

Compound Sentence
A construction having more than one clause which are coordinate, i.e. two or more simple sentences linked together with conjunction(s) to form one larger complex sentence.
John rang the bell. I opened the door.
I opened the door when John rang the bell.
Compare with Complex Sentence.

The agreement between words in case, number, gender, and person, and in particular between the grammatical subject and the verb.
The window is open.
The windows are open.
See Number above.

The change of form of verbs to express tense, mood, etc. See Finite Verb Forms above.

The change of form of nouns and pronouns to express different grammatical relations. See Case.

The facts relating to the formation and derivation of words; the expounding of the elements of a word with their modifications of form and sense.
See Interjection above.

Finite Verb
Expresses the activity of a clause or sentence. See Verb entries above: here, here, and here.

In English, nouns and pronouns express natural (as opposed to grammatical) gender, i.e. the masculine gender denotes a male, feminine denotes a female, neuter denotes neither sex, and common denotes either or both. Examples of this last are: I, doctor, committee.

A grammatical form of a noun or pronoun, expressing its relation to another word as source, possessor, etc. The form usually manifests with an “apostrophe-s”:
The book’s author.
The author’s book.
It may generally be rephrased with the preposition “of”:
The author of the book.
The book of the author.

A non-finite verb form that functions as a noun. It usually ends in “-ing”.
Writing a textbook is more difficult than teaching orally.

The rules describing the best use of language.

A non-finite verb form that functions as a noun or adjective or adverb; it names the activity in the most general sense. It is usually preceded by “to”.
He likes to read.
You need not read this.
He considered the matter to have been settled.

The change of word form to express different grammatical relations, including the declension of nouns and pronouns, the conjugation of verbs, and the comparison of adjectives and adverbs.

The study of word structure, primarily affixes and inflection. English makes little use of this to express grammatical meaning.

Non-finite Verb
A verb which has been turned into another Part of Speech; it may express aspect and voice. See Gerund, Infinitive, Participle.

The property in words of expressing that one (singular), or more than one (plural) person or thing is spoken of.

A non-finite verb form that functions as an adjective. It participates in the nature of a verb expressing aspect and voice, and may take an object, and in the nature of an adjective in qualifying a noun.
Having heard this he went away.
The three classes of pronouns and corresponding verb forms denoting the person speaking (first person), the audience addressed (second person), and the rest of the world (third person). See Pronoun and Person above.

The science of vocal sounds (especially of a particular language) that deals with their production and representation.

A group of words which operate together as an element of a sentence.
“turning left”participial phrase
“on a hill”adverbial phrase
“because of”prepositional phrase

A verbal element joined to the beginning of a word to qualify its meaning.

Describes transitive verbs where the subject and direct object refer to the same thing or person; also pronouns so used (especially ending in “-self”).
He saw himself in the mirror.

Relating to significance or meaning. For example, with a passive verb, the grammatical subject expresses the semantic object.

A combination of words forming at least one clause. It is meaningful by itself. See also Complex Sentence.

Simple Sentence
A series of words in connected speech or writing, forming the grammatically complete expression of a single thought. A combination of words forming only one clause. See also Complex Sentence.

A verbal element joined to the end of a word to form a new word.

The study of sentence structure, primarily the conventions of arrangement by which the connection and relationship of words are shown.

See Finite Verb and Non-finite Verb.

A minimal element of speech having meaning as such. By itself it expresses a universal concept; in a sentence it denotes a specific thing, attribute, relation, etc.