Glossary of Terms


Glossary or reference key for terms used on website English for Foreigners Online

This glossary of terms is a reference key to help explain some of the confusing jargon used through the English for Foreigners Online website.  This list is not a complete list of terminology concerning grammar.  I recommend the book Practical English Usage for a more comprehensive list of terminology.

Terms used in grammar

Acronym – An acronym is an abbreviation that forms a word. For example, the first letter of each letter ‘Dead On Arrival’ is the acronym DOA.

Adjective – A word that describes a noun or pronoun. For example, ‘a red potato’, the word red describes the noun potato.

Adverb – A word or phrase that changes or adds to an adjective, verb or another adverb or phrase.  An adverb expresses a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc.  For example, ‘she gently tucked her son into bed’.  The word gently describes the verb tucked.

Appositive – A noun phrase that redefines or clarifies its antecedent.  For example, ‘The Americal Wigeon, a type of duck, lives in North America.’  The noun phrase ‘a type of duck’ clarifies ‘The American Wigeon.’

Article – An article is a kind of adjective that is always used with and gives some information about a noun. There are only two articles a and the, but they are used very often and are important for using English accurately.

Conjunctions – Conjunctions are words that connect phrases, or clauses in a sentence or words that coordinate words in the same clause, for example, e.g., and, but, if.

Coordinating Conjunctions – Are conjunctions that join two words, phrases or clauses of equal value.  For example, ‘To be or not to be’.

Infinitive – the most basic form of a verb.

Interjection – an abrupt remark, for example, an aside or interruption.  For example, “Oh!, dear me!”

Noun – a word, other than a pronoun, used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things (common noun); or to name a particular person, place or thing (proper noun).  Nouns can function as the subjects of verbs, or objects of verbs or prepositions.

Participle – a word formed from a verb and used as an adjective.

Phrases – part of speech without both a subject and verb, that function as a single part of speech.

Predicate – the part of a sentence, or clause, that tells us what the subject does or is. Something that is affirmed or denied of the subject of a proposition.  For example, is the sentence ‘The exam was difficult‘.  The predicate ‘was difficult’ tells us about the subject ‘the exam.’

Preposition – relates a noun to the rest of the sentence.

Preterite – a verb tense describing things that happened in the past.

Pronoun – substitute a noun or a noun phrase, they are also known as antecedents and are used to avoid repetition in a sentence.   There are twelve types of pronouns.

Transition words – a part of speech that is used to connect words, phrases, or sentences.  They help the reader to connect an idea to another, hence creating cohesion within the text.

Verbs – a word used to describe an action, state or occurrence. A verb forms the main part of the predicate of a sentence.

Terms used in language

Idioms – are culturally specific sayings; they convey some idea or principle.

Proverbs – Proverbs are long idioms containing one or several complete sentences.

Aphorism – Similarly to proverbs.  A pithy observation that contains a general truth.

Platitude – a proverb that has been said so often that it is no longer interesting or thoughtful.

Jargon – special words or expressions that have specific professional meaning.

Slang – very informal language, often restricted to a context or group of people.

Terms in writing

Passive voice – a sentence where the subject undergoes the action of the verb.

Meta-discourse – writing about what you are going to say in the sentence.  Meta-discourse is extraneous, unnecessary, and insulting to the reader.

Terms to describe Tense

Present Simple – Subject + Verb + es/s. He brushes his teeth.

Present Continuous – Subject + is/am/are + Verb + ing. I am brushing my teeth.

Present Perfect – Subject + has/have + Verb. He has made his bed.

Present Perfect Continuous – Subject + has/have + been + Verb(+ing) + since/for. He had been living there for two years.

Past Simple Tense – Subject + has/have + Verb. He has made his bed.

Past Continuous – Subject + was/were + Verb. He was watching television.

Past Perfect – Subject + had + Verb. I had finished washing the clothes.

Past Perfect Continuous – Subject + had + been + Verb(ing). He had been watching television.

Simple Future – Subject + will/shall + Verb. I shall watch the television.

Future Continuous – Subject + will/shall + be + Verb(ing). He was watching television.

Future Perfect – Subject + will have + Verb. He will have played tennis.

Future Perfect Continuous – Subject + will have + been + Verb(ing). He will have been watching television for 30 minutes.

Past Future – Subject + would + VerbI would leave in one hour.

Past Future Continuous – Subject + should/would + be + Verb(ing). I would be leaving in one hour.

Past Future Perfect – Subject + should/would + have + Verb. She said that she would be leaving in one hour.

Past Future Perfect Continuous – Subject + should/would + have + been + Verb. She said that she would have been leaving in one hour.

Terms used in Punctuation

Ellipse Marks – Three dots.  Elipses are used for shortening a quote.  Use three dots when omissions occur.  For example, “Four score and seven years ago…”

Semicolons – Semicolons are a comma with a full stop above.  It is stronger than a comma. Use a semicolon to separate two strong clauses in a sentence. For example, “Call me tomorrow; I will fill you in on the details.”

Colons – A Colon finishes a clause while continuing the sentence with a list.

Apostrophes – Use an apostrophe with contractions at the place of the omission. For example, don’t, isn’t. Use an apostrophe to show possession. For example,  the girl’s hat.

Hyphens – It is not always clear when to use a hyphen to separate a compound noun.
Parentheses – Parentheses encapsulate words or figures that support a statement.

Types of Phrases 

Prepositional phrase – made up of a preposition and a noun.

Appositive phrase – renames another noun or pronoun. For example, “John, my uncle.” ‘John’ is the noun and my uncle’  modifies the noun.

Gerund phrase contains a gerund (verb + ing), modifiers and other related words linked to the gerund. A gerund acts as a noun.

Participle phrasea group of a present-participle (verb + ing) or a past participle verb, modifiers and other linked words; they act as a noun or adjective and are separated by commas.

Noun phrase – functions as a syntactic unit; using conjunctions, prepositions, specifiers, and modifiers.

Verb phrase – is made up of a verb root and a preposition or particle which follows the verb.

Adjective phrase – act as an adjective in a sentence.

Adverb phrase – act as an adverb in a sentence.

Infinitive phrase –  contains an infinitive and modifiers or words related to the infinitive.

Absolution phrase – consists of a noun or pronoun, a participle, and linked modifiers.

Recommended Reading

Practical English Usage Reference key for terms used on websitePractical English Usage is a comprehensive guide to terms and difficult to understand concepts in English Grammar

Aaron Skudder


  1. Hello Aaron, thanks for enlightening us more with all the internet and website terminologies to increase our literacy in it. Often when I just got started in the net especially the  business aspect, I got into the serious problem of figuring out what was what because I just couldn’t grasp what was going on the net. But with time, I got familiar with everything and now, you have even opened my eyes to some other terms that I never knew of before. Thanks

  2. This is a very useful post on a glossary of terms on a website and something that I have bookmarked for some of the people that are working for me. Many do have a grasp on the English language but there is a segment that needs just a site and post like this.

    It can be hard to pick up all the jargon and terms for any line of work, and the online marketing world that includes a website is no different. I like to provide resources that will help with the learning curve for these types of employees. At the same time, I do not want to have this be a show stopper so it helps me and the employee.

    Is the link that you included a free site or must you pay? I have some other resources too that help my new employees that need it (classes on Business English) but it costs money (there is no problem in investing in my employees if they qualify). It would be good to know for reference whether your site costs anything. 

  3. Hello Aaron,
    I really love your site I am a person that I need to manage correctly with the English language. 

    It is not my native language, so I see your site can help me a lot. I find it interesting to know the terms used in English, for foreigners online.

    I will read your site more carefully since you have a lot of information that I want to discover. Any concerns I will surely have will let you know. 

    Thank you. Claudio

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