In the UK schooling system, whether at 11+, 13+, GCSE, A Level and beyond – formal grammar does play a large part of English Literature and Language studies. This is something that I remember personally struggling with at school. Trying to remember what exactly made up a clause, and whether this or that word was a preposition, conjunction or verb (let alone modal, auxiliary, active or passive) always felt like a struggle. As an adult (and English teacher!), the grammar gremlins still occasionally loom large. The key here though, is practice. It is one thing to read and understand the definitions of these terms, but another thing to embed them into your daily reading and writing.

To help, I’ve created a glossary of some of the most common grammatical terms. These will be useful to all levels (even adults studying English as a Foreign Language), as understanding what they mean will help when reading any formal explanations, essay-based analysis or quick-fire tests. Read over these terms, create your own flashcards and watch videos to fully understand and memorise their meanings. Then have a go at identifying them in practice. I’ve provided some questions below – but use whatever book (newspaper or magazine article) that you’re reading at the moment. As they say, a little a day keeps the grammatist away…


Nouns………. A person, place, thing, or idea… Careful though, there are more than one type…
Common Nouns……….Things, Animals, groups of people etc. – the most common type of noun, just look around you and name what you can see or think of.
Concrete Nouns……….Things that physically exist – i.e. a “unicorn” would be a common noun, but not a concrete noun.
Abstract Nouns……….Ideas, Emotions, and things you can’t touch – like love, anger, generosity or democracy.
Proper Nouns……….Names and Places – like Amelia, Chloe, Ellen or Paris, Prague and Poland. Generally things with a capital letter.
Pronouns……….A substitute for nouns… i.e. she, him, I, you, we, it… etc.
Possessive Pronouns……….Pronouns which show ownership… i.e. his, her, ours, their, mine… etc.
Verb……….Doing words – what the subject of a sentence is going… i.e. running, walking, listening
Adverbs……….Gives additional information about verbs… i.e. he was running quickly, walking slowly, listening intently…
Fronted Adverbials……….Words or phrases placed at the beginning of a sentence, used to describe the action that follows. i.e. After breakfast, Amelia went outside to play.
Auxiliary Verbs……….Helping verbs – placed in front of other verbs. i.e. We “are” running, or We “have” ran.
Modal Auxiliary Verbs……….Helping Verbs again – but ones which express possibility. i.e. We “could” run; we “can” run, we “might” run, or we “must” run.
Active Verbs……….When the verb is clearly the subject, or ‘the doer,’ of the sentence… i.e. “The Lion Roared”
Passive Verbs……….When it’s not clear who the subject of the sentence is… i.e. “Roaring was heard”
Adjectives……….Giving additional information about nouns i.e. – magenta, red, soft, spiky, beautiful or tall.
Prepositions……….Defines positions and relations to things i.e. afterwards, before, above, under, near, on top or next to.
Determiners……….Words that refer to nouns – i.e. “the”, “a”, “some”, “every”
Conjunction……….Any words that join clauses together in a sentence. – and, but, although, despite.
Coordinating Conjunctions……….Words that join phrases or clauses together – as equal parts of the sentence. i.e. – “I went home and went to bed”
Subordinating Conjunctions……….Linking the second part of a sentence to the first “main part” i.e. – “I went home because I was tired” or “I went home even though my friends asked me to stay”.
Interjections……….Sudden interruptions – Oi! You!
Declaratives……….Statements – I do declare
Interrogatives……….Questions – What’s an interrogative?
Imperatives……….Commands (bossy words) i.e. Do your homework, tidy your room.
Exclamatives……….Anything with an exclamation mark – Simple!
Simple Sentences……….A sentence with only one main clause (i.e. as long as its got a subject and a verb) – “I ran to the shops” – or just “I ran”
Compound sentences……….Two clauses joined with a conjunction (i.e. a sentence with more than one subject or predicate) – “I ran to the shops and I bought some bread”
Complex Sentences……….A main clause and a subordinate clause (i.e. the second part wouldn’t make sense on its own) –  “I ran to the shops despite my back injury”
Minor Sentence……….Lacking a subject and verb – but still understood. i.e. – “Yes, indeed.”
Colloquial……….Short, informal words used in everyday speech. i.e. – “yeah”, rather than yes. Or “mates”, rather than friends.
Lexis……….Just another word for vocabulary.

If this is completely new to you, or you feel like you’re struggling to understand some of these terms, BBC Bitesize have a fantastic and approachable video guide to some of the main grammatical features, including verbs, pronouns, adverbs, passive verbs, modal verbs, prepositions, relative clauses, conjunctions and adverbials.


Right. Feeling ready to put all this into practice? Have a go at the questions below, with a sentence by sentence analysis of the opening to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Chapter Two: Fire on the Mountain). Good luck, and let me know how you get on!

By the time Ralph finished blowing the conch, the platform was crowded.

  • Spot the noun(s)…
  • Spot the verb(s)…
  • Spot the fronted adverbial…

There were differences between this meeting and the one held in the morning.

  • Spot the determiners…

The afternoon sun slanted in from the other side of the platform and most of the children, feeling too late the smart of sunburn, had put their clothes on.

  • Spot the adjectives…
  • Spot the preposition…
  • Spot the auxiliary verb(s)…
  • Spot the coordinating conjunction…

The choir, less of a group, had discarded their cloaks.

  • Spot the determiner…
  • Spot the possessive pronoun…
  • What type of noun is “choir”?

Ralph sat on a fallen trunk, his left side to the sun.

  • What’s the smallest part of this sentence that you could make? i.e. the smallest clause?
  • Spot the proper noun…
  • Spot the concrete noun…

On his right were most of the choir; on his left the larger boys who had not known each other before the evacuation; before him small children squatted in the grass.

  • Spot the prepositions…
  • Spot the adjectives…
  • Spot the verb(s)….
  • Spot the common noun(s)

Silence now.

  • Is this a Phrase, a Clause, or Sentence?
  • What type of noun is “silence”?

Ralph lifted the cream and pink shell to his knees and a sudden breeze scattered light over the platform.

  • Spot the coordinating conjunctive…
  • Spot the verbs….
  • Spot the proper noun….
  • Spot the abstract noun…
  • Spot the preposition…

He was uncertain whether to stand up or remain sitting.

  • Spot the pronoun…
  • Spot the auxiliary verb…
  • Spot the conjunction…

He looked sideways to his left, toward the bathing pool.

  • Spot the adverb…
  • Spot the possessive pronoun…
  • Spot the determiner…

Piggy was sitting near but giving no help.

  • Spot the auxiliary verb…
  • Spot the preposition…

Ralph cleared his throat.

  • What type of sentence is this?
  • Label each word in this sentence… what are they classed as?

“Well then.”

  • Is this a phrase, clause or sentence?
  • Bonus: Why is dialogue important for a story…?

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