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Glossary of grammar terms

A Blog Post of Useful Grammar Terms
Published by Julia Lane

Clear sentences tell stories! Subject = the main character. Verb = the action. 


Subject (the main character or actor) must contain a noun or a pronoun that functions as a noun. Pronouns are personal, reflexive/intensive, indefinite, demonstrative, interrogative, relative, or reciprocal.

Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns. Some pronouns can act as adjectives; proper adjectives are formed from proper nouns (like "apple cart").

Prepositions express relationships in space, time, or other senses between words or phrases within a sentence.


Predicate (verb, action) must contain at least one main verb. It may also contain an auxiliary verb carrying tense and/or mood. Verbs can be linking, transitive, or intransitive

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They answer questions like how, when, where, why, to what extent?

Prepositions express relationships in space, time, or other senses between words or phrases within a sentence. (Yes, prepositions are everywhere!)

Conjunctions connect words, phrases, or clauses.

  • coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS!)* and correlative conjunctions connect to equivalent structures
  • subordinating conjunctions link independent and dependent clauses
  • conjunctive adverbs show relations between independent clauses. Conjunctive adverbs like howevertherefore, and consequently are often used in academic writing.

*FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). Not fan boys:

stick figures holding flags

Sentence components


Phrases are groups of words lacking either a subject or a predicate or both. They function as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. 

  • Verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) are derived from verbs but act as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. They look like verbs, but they aren't. Yes: this can be confusing. 
  • Absolutes consist of a noun or pronoun and a participle ("ing/ed"), along with objects or modifiers, and they modify an entire sentence.
  • Appositives “rename” or add more information about a preceding noun or pronoun (such as "Attila, my uncle's toy poodle, tried to bite me.") 


Clauses are groups of words containing both a subject and a predicate. Did you know there are 5 kinds of clauses? Great factoid for breaking the ice at a party!

  • Independent clauses can stand on their own as sentences or be joined with a coordinating conjunction and comma.
  • Dependent clauses cannot stand alone because they begin with a subordinator or a relative pronoun.
  • Noun clauses can function as subjects, direct objects, subject complements, or objects of prepositions.  Embedded within another clause, they usually begin with a relative pronoun or when, where, whether, why, how. 
  • Adjective clauses modify nouns and pronouns in another clause; most begin with relative pronouns.
  • Adverb clauses modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs and always begin with a subordinating conjunction. 


- Amanda Goldrick-Jones, PhD 

SLC Writing Services Coordinator 


Image credits: 

cheer by Eucalyp from the Noun Project