Glossary of grammatical terms

This glossary provides explanations of the meanings of grammatical terms as they are used in the OED, with examples from the dictionary.

absolute (absol.)

The term absolute refers to the use of a word or phrase on its own when it would usually be accompanied by another word or phrase.

Examples in the OED:

• In the OED, absolute (abbreviated absol.) describes nouns which stand alone when they are usually used as modifiers. For example, NEW HALL n. is used as a modifier ‘designating china or porcelain produced at New Hall, Shelton, Staffordshire’, as in ‘New Hall porcelain is difficult to identify.’ New Hall can also occasionally be used on its own, not as a modifier, for example in ‘four milk white cups and saucers which..might be early New Hall.’ This use is described as ‘Also absol.: New Hall ware.’
• Similarly, Asperger’s syndrome (at ASPERGER n.) can be abbreviated as Asperger’s, as in ‘people with Asperger’s do struggle’; this use is described as ‘in the genitive, used absol.’

[In unrevised OED entries, the label absol. is used in various additional ways, especially:

To describe uses such as the rich in ‘the rich are different from you and me.’ Adjectives normally modify nouns (e.g. ‘the rich people’ or ‘those people are rich’), but in ‘the rich are different from you and me’, rich does not modify another noun, but instead functions as a noun. In revised OED entries, such uses are treated as nouns.
– To describe an intransitive use of a verb when the direct object is implied or understood. For example, in ‘I like to bake’, bake is intransitive, but we can infer a direct object such as ‘bread’ or ‘cakes’ (that is, ‘I like to bake’ means ‘I like to bake cakes, bread, etc.’). In revised OED entries, such uses are described as intransitive.]

abstract

An abstract noun denotes something immaterial such as an idea, quality, state, or action (as opposed to a concrete noun, which denotes a physical object, place, person, or animal).

Examples in the OED:

• ABIDING adj. 2 is defined as ‘Lasting, enduring; long-lived; permanent. Now usually modifying an abstract noun.’ Examples with abstract nouns include ‘abiding memories’ and ‘abiding love’.
• At PITH n., the branch with ‘Abstract uses’ includes senses such as ‘physical strength or force’ (as in ‘Mr. Starrs’s pith and vigor belie his 60ish age’) and ‘succinctness, conciseness’ (as in ‘He writes with pith and humour’).

[In unrevised OED entries, abstract is often abbreviated as abstr.]

accusative

In some inflected languages, the accusative case is used to indicate nouns and pronouns (as well as adjectives used to modify them) which function as the direct object of a verb.

Old English, which was an inflected language, possessed an accusative case, and it survived into the Middle English period, but then fell almost entirely out of use. The nearest equivalent in modern standard English, the objective case, is marked only in the objective pronouns me, him, etc., which are used as direct objects in sentences such as ‘I like him’. The objective pronouns reflect a merger of the accusative and dative forms.

Examples in the OED:

  • WEND v.1 8a, ‘To betake oneself; to make one’s way’, includes a note commenting: ‘In Old English with reflexive pronoun in the accusative or (as with other verbs of motion) in the dative.’ This applies to uses such as hine (the accusative form of he in Old English) in ‘He wende hine lithwon fram him & weop’ (meaning ‘He moved away from them a little and wept’).
  • HIM pron. 1b, ‘As the object of a preposition’, includes a note commenting: ‘Also with prepositions that originally took a complement in the accusative in Old English, replacing hine (see HINE 1b)’. This reflects the merger of the dative and accusative case in the pronouns (in Old English dative him and accusative hine).

active

In an active sentence or clause, the grammatical subject typically refers to the person or thing which carries out or causes the action expressed by the verb.

 

For example, ‘My dog broke your vase’, ‘The authorities will prosecute trespassers’, ‘John speaks Spanish’, and ‘The wind howled’ are all active sentences. Many types of active sentence can be converted into passives, for example ‘Your vase was broken by my dog’ (see passive).

 

The verb form used in an active clause is called an active verb: for example, broke is active whereas was broken is passive.

Example in the OED:

  • Active uses are sometimes mentioned by way of contrast with passive uses. For example, SPOUSE v. 1 covers the use ‘as an active verb’ in the sense ‘To give in marriage’, as in ‘I haue spoused you to one husband.’ This sense is now obsolete, but the corresponding passive sense ‘To be married or betrothed to’ is still current, as in ‘Ogden was twice spoused to Indian women.’

adjective

An adjective is a word expressing an attribute and qualifying a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun so as to describe it more fully. For example, the underlined words in the following are adjectives: the old man; a delicious piece of cake; nuclear weapons; she is sensible.

 

The category of adjectives is one of the parts of speech.

 

See also participial adjective, possessive adjective.

Examples in the OED:

  • Entries for adjectives have the part-of-speech label adj., for example CHEERFUL adj., RENDERED adj. Some entries are divided into more than one part of speech: for example, ROBOTLIKE adj. and adv. is divided into a section showing its use as an adjective (as in ‘some little robot-like noise’, where it is an adjective modifying the noun noise) and a section showing its use as an adverb (as in ‘he plodded robotlike through college’, where it is an adverb modifying the verb plod).
  • At EYE n.1 1c, examples such as ‘dazzling blue eyes’ and ‘the frank brown eyes’ are described as being ‘modified by an adjective (as blue, brown, etc.)’.

adverb (adv.)

An adverb is a word which modifies the meaning of a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a whole clause or sentence, and which typically expresses manner (e.g. he spoke quietly), degree (e.g. she is very clever), or a circumstance such as place, direction, or time (e.g. come here; they arrived yesterday).

 

In English, adverbs (especially adverbs of manner) are often formed from adjectives with the addition of the suffix -ly, e.g. angrily (from angry), nicely (from nice), and strangely (from strange). Some adverbs have the same form as the related adjective: for example fast is an adjective in ‘a fast car’, and an adverb in ‘she drives fast’.

 

In English, adverbs of direction are frequently used with verbs to form phrasal verbs, for example run away, fall down, take off, heat up. Words like down, off, and up can also take noun phrases as complements, in which case they are prepositions: for example, down is an adverb in he fell down but a preposition in he fell down the stairs.

 

The category of adverbs is one of the parts of speech.

 

See also adverbial, sentence adverb.

Examples in the OED:

  • Entries for adverbs have the part-of-speech label adv., for example CHEERFULLY adv., ASHORE adv. Entries for phrases functioning as adverbs are also labelled , for example TOP TO TAIL adv., AD INFINITUM adv. Some entries are divided into more than one part of speech: for example, ROBOTLIKE adj. and adv. is divided into a section showing its use as an adjective (as in ‘some little robot-like noise’, where it is an adjective modifying the noun noise) and a section showing its use as an adverb (as in ‘he plodded robotlike through college’, where it is an adverb modifying the verb plod).
  • RENDERED adj. 3b, ‘In a work of art, piece of music, etc.: depicted, represented; executed, performed’, is described as ‘With modifying adverb’, because in this sense rendered is always modified by an adverb, as in ‘<<<<<<<<a carefully rendered little head’, ‘a beautifully rendered hunting scene’.
  • ZOOM v. 1, ‘<<<<<To move or travel very quickly…’, is described as ‘<<<<<Frequently with adverbs and prepositions indicating the direction of travel’. Examples with adverbs include ‘Trams zoom along’ and ‘Hewitt soon zoomed away on the right’, while examples with prepositions include ‘<<<<<<<<<>>><A couple of humble-bees <zoomed> against the window pane>.’
  • In phrasal verbs sections, combinations of verbs and adverbs are described as ‘With adverbs in specialized senses’, for example to power down and to power up at POWER v.

adverbial | adverbially

1. If a word or phrase is adverbial, or is used adverbially, it is used as or like an adverb.

2. An adverbial is one of the five possible elements of a sentence or clause, the others being subject, verb, object, and complement. An adverbial frequently takes the form of an adverb (e.g. happily, often, there), adverb phrase (e.g. quite happily, very often, over there), or prepositional phrase (e.g. with happiness, at the weekend, on a bench). Like adverbs, adverbials typically express manner, time, or place. Adverbials are often optional, and their position in a sentence is usually flexible, as in ‘I visited my parents at the weekend’/‘At the weekend I visited my parents.’

Examples in the OED:

  • 1. One of the senses of the phrase kind of is ‘Used adverbially: in a way, in a manner of speaking; to some extent or degree, somewhat; in some way, somehow.’ In this use, kind of functions like an adverb in that it modifies adjectives and verbs, for example in ‘It’s kind of terrible’ and ‘You kind of feel sorry for him.’
  • Adverbial is used in the OED to describe compounds in which the first element is a noun or adjective functioning like an adverb. For example, NIGHT n. contains a compounds section with the heading ‘Adverbial, in the sense “by night”, “during the night”.’ The compounds include night-haunted (‘some night-haunted ruin’) and night-warbling adj. (‘the night-warbling frogs’), in which night behaves like an adverb in that it modifies the adjectives haunted and warbling.
  • TRAIN v.1 sense 14To go by train, travel by railway’ is described as ‘Usually with adverbial’, because in this sense train is usually used with adverbials expressing direction or destination, as in ‘The men..all trained from Winchester to Farnham.

agent noun

An agent noun is a noun that is derived from a verb and denotes the person or thing that carries out the action expressed by that verb. In English, agent nouns are formed by adding the suffixer or -or to a verb, for example teacher, fastener, editor, accelerator.

Examples in the OED:

  • CUSTOMARY n. 5b is defined as ‘Modifying an agent noun: that habitually does the action specified.’ Examples include customary offender (a person who habitually offends) and customary smoker (a person who habitually smokes).
  • At CHOCOLATE n. C2, compounds such as chocolate lover (a person who loves chocolate) and chocolate maker (a person who makes chocolate) are described as ‘with agent nouns’.

agree | agreement

Grammatical agreement refers to the fact of two (or more) elements in a clause or sentence having the same grammatical person, number, gender, or case. In modern English, the main type of agreement takes place between the subject and the verb of a clause. For example, in ‘This apple tastes delicious’, both the subject (This apple) and the verb (tastes) are in the singular form: they have singular agreement. In ‘These apples taste delicious’, both the subject (These apples) and the verb (taste) are in the plural form: they have plural agreement.

 

Sometimes a noun (or sense of a noun) has a plural form, but agrees with a singular verb. For example, in ‘Politics is interesting’, the plural noun politics is the subject of the singular verb form is: it has singular agreement. By contrast, in ‘His politics are fascistic’, politics is the subject of the plural verb form are: it has plural agreement.

 

In some varieties of English, collective nouns, which have a singular form but a collective meaning (for example audience, family, and team) may be used with either singular or plural agreement. For example, in British English it would be acceptable to say either ‘The team has lost’ (singular agreement) or ‘The team have lost’ (plural agreement); in American English, however, the latter is much less common.

 

Examples in the OED:

  • CUSTOM n. 3b is defined as ‘In plural (with singular or plural agreement). The government department or agency which levies and collects customs duties, and which controls the flow of goods into and out of a country.’ In this sense, the plural form customs is used, but the agreement may be either singular (as in ‘Customs has widened its net’) or plural (as in ‘Canadian customs are notoriously hard-assed about drugs’).
  • In English, adjectives can often be converted into nouns referring to groups of people, for example the rich, the poor, the needy. These often have plural agreement, which is specified in OED. For example, RIGHT-THINKING n. is defined as ‘With plural With the. Right-thinking people as a class’, with examples such as ‘If the right-thinking are to achieve their great aim of abolishing war [etc.]’.

anaphoric

An anaphoric word or phrase is one which refers back to a word or phrase previously used in a text or conversation. Pronouns are frequently used anaphorically: for example, in ‘Clare arrived late, so I was really annoyed with her’, her is anaphoric, referring back to Clare.  A related term is cataphoric, which describes words or phrases which refer forward.

Examples in the OED:

  • THEY pron. 2 is defined as ‘In anaphoric reference to a singular noun or pronoun of undetermined gender: he or she’, covering examples such as ‘When somebody becomes prime minister they’re immediately put on a pedestal’. Here, they refers anaphorically to
  • TIME n. 2 is defined as ‘A particular period indicated or characterized in some way, either explicitly (usu. with of) or by anaphoric reference (as at the time, etc.).’ The type with of includes examples such as ‘In the time of our childhood…’ The type with anaphoric reference includes examples such as ‘We had a happy childhood. At that time…’, where that time refers anaphorically to a happy childhood.

antecedent

An antecedent is a word or phrase which is referred back to by a pronoun or other pro-form. For example, in ‘Michael took the children with him’, Michael is the antecedent of the pronoun him. Specifically, an antecedent is a word or phrase referred back to by a relative pronoun or other relative word. For example, in ‘I went to get my coat, which I had left in the hall’, my coat is the antecedent of the relative pronoun which.

Example in the OED:

  • HE pron. II covers uses of he ‘as antecedent pronoun with postmodifying clause or phrase.’ Examples include uses of he followed by a relative clause: for example, in ‘He who communicates information affects its impact’, he is the antecedent of the relative pronoun

anticipatory

In a sentence such as ‘It is nice to meet you’, it is the grammatical subject but stands in for or ‘anticipates’ the semantic subject, which is the clause ‘to meet you’: the sentence could be rephrased as ‘To meet you is nice’. When used in this way, it is described as anticipatory. The anticipated clause is typically an infinitive (as in ‘It is nice to meet you’) or a that-clause (as in ‘It is nice that you could come’).

 

It is sometimes used as an anticipatory object: that is, as a direct object which anticipates a following clause. For example, in ‘I took it that he wasn’t too happy about the prospect’, it anticipates the clause that he wasn’t too happy about the prospect.

Examples in the OED:

  • At CUSTOMARY adj. 4a there is a note ‘In later use frequently in predicative use with it as anticipatory subject and infinitive as complement’, referring to examples such as ‘It was customary to have very long troops of kindred and friends at the betrothal
  • RUMOUR v. 2a is described as ‘Frequently in passive with anticipatory it as subject and subordinate clause’, referring to examples such as ‘It was rumoured amongst the common People‥that the Plague was in the City.

 

See also impersonal, non-referential.

apodosis and protasis

Conditional sentences such as ‘If I had more money, I would buy it’ are made up of two clauses: one clause, which usually begins with if, expresses the condition (in this case, ‘If I had more money’) and the other clause expresses the consequence (in this case, ‘I would buy it’). The clause expressing the condition is called the protasis, and the clause expressing the consequence is called the apodosis.

Examples in the OED:

  • DO v. 32b(b) describes the use of did in place of an if-clause ‘in the protasis of a conditional sentence’, giving examples such as ‘my dear friend, did I want your aid I would accept it.’
  • CAN v.1 16 describes the use of could ‘in the main clause (apodosis) of a conditional sentence’, giving examples such as ‘I could get that open if I had my metal card’ and ‘we could have gone public if we wanted to.’

apposition

When two or more grammatical units (especially nouns or noun phrases) in a sentence refer to the same person or thing, and (typically) have the same role within the sentence, they are said to be in apposition. For example, in ‘Her father, the vicar, would have been shocked’, the noun phrases ‘Her father’ and ‘the vicar’ are in apposition: they refer to the same person, and both function as the subject of the sentence.

Example in the OED:

  • At TOWN n., sense 4c is defined as ‘In apposition to a place name, as London town, Dublin town, etc.’ The quotation paragraph illustrating this sense includes further examples, such as Liverpool town and Oxford town.

appositive

An appositive compound is one in which the compound ‘X-Y’ means ‘both X and Y’ (i.e. the two elements are in apposition). Such compounds can be either nouns or adjectives.

Examples in the OED:

  • Appositive compounds are often nouns, in which both the first and second elements are nouns. For example, BABY n. contains a compounds section with the heading ‘Appositive’, including baby girl (a girl that is a baby), baby sister (a sister that is a baby), and baby bird (a bird that is a baby). Other examples of appositive compounds are actor-manager (a person who is both an actor and a manager), pianist-composer (a person who is both a pianist and a composer), and fridge-freezer (an appliance possessing separate refrigerator and freezer compartments).
  • Appositive compounds can also be adjectives, in which both the first and second elements are adjectives: for example, rhythmic-melodic (both rhythmic and melodic), metaphysical-epistemic (both metaphysical and epistemic).

article

An article is one of a small set of words (in English, the, a, and an) which limit the application of nouns. Articles are either definite or indefinite. The main function of the definite article (in English, the) is to specify the noun given, while the indefinite article (in English, a or an) marks a noun as being generic.

Examples in the OED:

 

  • The examples at EASTWARD 2 are described as ‘With definite article’. In these examples, eastward occurs with the, as in ‘A small river dropped over a steep cuesta a quarter-mile to the eastward.
  • KNOWLEDGE 4c is described as ‘Also with indefinite article’, because knowledge can occur with a in uses such as ‘I had been born with a knowledge of its sleights and deceptions.’
  • The examples at CHURCH n.1 1b are described as ‘Without article’. In these examples, church occurs without the or a, such as ‘people going in and out of church’ or ‘time spent in church’.
  • NOUVEAU ROMAN, n. is described as ‘Occasionally with French definite article’ because this noun, borrowed from French, can occur with French le (‘the’), as in the example ‘The novelists of le nouveau roman devise the techniques and situations.’

 

See also determiner.

attributive

  1. An attributive noun or phrase modifies another noun or phrase.
  2. An attributive adjective directly modifies a noun or noun phrase, usually preceding it (e.g. ‘a warm day’) but sometimes following it as a postmodifier (e.g. ‘the astronomer royal’). Attributive adjectives are contrasted with predicative adjectives, which are linked to a noun or noun phrase by a verb (e.g. ‘the day was warm’).

Examples in the OED:

  • 1. FOOTBALL n. has several compounds sections described as attributive, covering uses of football modifying another noun, e.g. football team and football tournament.
  • The definition of just the facts ma’am is followed by ‘Also attributive’ because this phrase is also used as a modifier, as in a just-the-facts-ma’am historian.
  • 2. POOR adj. in the sense ‘That provokes sympathy or compassion’ (in quotations such as ‘He looked dreadfully weak still, poor fellow!’) is labelled attributive, because poor in this sense is not used predicatively (you would not say, with the same meaning, ‘That fellow was poor’).

auxiliary verb | auxiliary

An auxiliary verb is one of a small category of verbs which have a grammatical rather than a lexical role; they are used in combination with other verbs, for example to form particular tenses and constructions. For instance, have is an auxiliary verb (forming the perfect) in ‘They have sold their house’, where it is used in combination with the main verb sold. By contrast, have is a main verb in ‘They have a lovely house’, where it has lexical meaning (‘own, possess’) and is not used to support another verb.

 

In English, the primary auxiliary verbs are be, have, and do; modal verbs such as can, must, etc., are also a type of auxiliary verb.

 

An auxiliary verb is sometimes referred to simply as an auxiliary.

Examples in the OED:

  • DO v. is divided into two sense branches: I. ‘As a main verb’ and II. ‘As an auxiliary.’ The latter shows the various uses of do as an auxiliary verb, for example in many types of negative sentences (e.g. ‘If you do not give a plain answer‥you will be committed’, in which it supports the main verb give) and questions (e.g. ‘What do you mean?’, in which it supports the main verb mean).
  • WANT v. sense 7b is defined as ‘In passive without auxiliary verb. In advertisements, notices, etc.: sought, required.’ This sense covers uses such as ‘Wanted, experienced Advertising Assistant’, where wanted is in the passive but without the auxiliary verb be which is usually used to form the passive. (The example with the auxiliary verb be would be ‘An experienced Advertising Assistant is’)

bare infinitive

 

See infinitive.

base form

The base form of a verb is the form without any inflections: for example, walk is the base form, and the inflected forms are walked, walks, and walking.

Examples in the OED:

  • MUST- comb. form is defined as ‘Prefixed to the base form of a verb, forming nouns and adjectives which denote things that are essential, obligatory, or highly recommended.’ An example is ‘the must-mention statistics’, where must is prefixed to the base form of the verb’
  • USE v. 21b(c) describes uses ‘In negative contexts in base form with do-construction (did not use to)’, for example ‘It didn’t useto be like this’. The form here is the base form use, whereas related constructions show the past tense form used, as in ‘It used to be like this’ or ‘It used not to be like this’.

 

More generally, the base form of a word is the main part to which other elements (such as prefixes and suffixes) may be added. For example, child is a base form, to which may be added the suffix –ish, to form childish.

case

 

A case is an inflected form of a noun, pronoun, or adjective which expresses its grammatical relationship with other words. For example, the fact that a noun is in the nominative case indicates that it is the subject of the verb.

 

Old English had four full cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative, as well as traces of instrumental and locative cases. However, this case system largely disappeared during the Middle English period, and the functions served by cases in Old English are mostly performed by other means in Modern English. The only survivals of the case system are the inflected forms of pronouns (e.g. he, him, his) and the possessive marker ’s in, for example, John’s book, which is the modern equivalent of the old genitive case ending -es.

cataphoric

A cataphoric word or phrase is one which refers forward to a word or phrase used subsequently in a text or conversation. Pronouns are frequently used cataphorically: for example, in ‘If you see him, please tell Bob to call’, him is cataphoric, referring forward to Bob. A related term is anaphoric, which describes words or phrases which refer back.

Example in the OED:

  • KNOW v. 11e is defined as ‘With it, that, the fact, etc., used anaphorically or cataphorically in place of a fact referred to.’ An example is ‘The Prime Minister doesn’t know it yet but he’s going to get a visit’, in which it is cataphoric, referring forward to he’s going to get a visit.
  • ANY pron. 2a is defined as ‘With anaphoric or cataphoric reference: one or some (of that previously or subsequently mentioned).’ An example is ‘If you have any, you should sell your rings’, in which any is cataphoric, referring forward to rings.

causative

A causative verb (or sense of a verb) is one that expresses causation: for example, raise can be described as a causative verb (as it means ‘cause to rise’) and spill is causative in ‘I spilled the milk’ (meaning ‘I caused the milk to spill’).

Example in the OED:

  • SEE v. 23c is defined as ‘Of a time, place, or other context: to be the setting in which (an event, development, etc.) takes place. In later use sometimes with causative sense: to result in (an event, development, etc.).’ An example of the causative sense is ‘An injury-time goal saw the team go out to Levski Sofia’: the goal by the other team was the cause of the loss.

clause

A clause is a grammatical unit which typically contains a verb (or verb phrase), and which may be a complete sentence in itself or may form part of a sentence.

 

For example, the sentence ‘I like folk music’ consists of one clause, while the sentence ‘I like folk music but I’m not keen on jazz’ consists of two clauses linked by but. Clauses (specifically, subordinate clauses) often function as direct objects, for example in ‘She admitted that she wasn’t keen on jazz.

 

See also main clause, non-finite, relative clause, that-clause.

Examples in the OED:

  • At AUGUR v. 1, meaning ‘to predict; to anticipate’, there is a set of quotations described as ‘With clause as object’. For example, in ‘I do not pretend to augurwhat the courts will do’, the clause ‘what the courts will do’ functions as the direct object of
  • AND conj.1 ** describes uses ‘Connecting coordinate clauses or sentences’. An example containing several clauses linked by and is ‘He saw the priest bend downand kiss the altar and then face about and bless all the people.’

cognate object

When the direct object of a verb is related to that verb in both form and meaning, it is a cognate object. For example, in she sang a beautiful song and I dreamed a dream, the nouns song and dream are cognate objects, as they are related to the verbs sing and dream.

Example in the OED:

  • LAUGH v. 4b is defined as ‘With cognate object. To emit (a laugh or laughter).’ Examples include ‘Theodore laughsa big wheezy laugh’ and ‘Laugh out whatever laughter at the hearth rings clear.’ The nouns laugh and laughter are both related to the verb laugh: they are cognate objects.

collective noun

A collective noun is a noun which, in its singular form, refers to a group of people or things considered collectively. Collective nouns in English include audience, committee, family, parliament, and team. 

Example in the OED:

  • THROUGH prep. 2 is defined as ‘With plural or collective noun as complement: between or among (the individual people or things in a group or mass)…’ In this sense, through may be followed either by a plural noun (e.g. ‘The slippery savage‥was bounding through the trees’) or a collective noun (e.g. ‘She slipped through the crowd’).

 

[In unrevised OED entries, collective nouns are often labelled collect. In revised entries, the collective nature of such nouns is generally expressed in the wording of the definitions, as at AUDIENCE n. 7a: ‘…the assembled listeners or spectators at a public performance or event (as a play, film, lecture, etc.) considered collectively.’]

collocation | collocate

When two or more words are juxtaposed, especially when they are habitually juxtaposed, they are said to collocate or to be in collocation. A pair or group of words that are habitually juxtaposed is a collocation, or fixed collocation.

Examples in the OED:

  • LAUGH v. P1i is described as ‘In collocation with cry, as one of two equally appropriate responses to a situation, event, etc.’ The examples show various uses in which laugh collocates with cry, g. ‘The viewer does not know whether to laughor cry’ and ‘I’m so relieved I could laugh or cry.’
  • HAPPY adj. 2, in the sense ‘Of an event or period: marked by good fortune; fortunate, lucky, auspicious; prosperous; favourable, propitious’, is said to be ‘Now only in certain fixed collocations (as happy accidenthappy coincidencehappy position).’
  • At LONGCOAT n. 1, ‘Any of various garments covering the upper body and reaching below the waist’, there is a comment: ‘Perhaps not a fixed collocation in some early quots.’ That is, some of the early uses of longcoat or long coat may not be fixed uses referring to a specific type of garment, but may simply mean ‘a coat that is long’.

combination

A combination is any word or phrase made up of two or more words or elements. One word or other element may be described as in combination with another.

 

See also compounds and special uses.

Examples in the OED:

  • In the compounds section of PRESS v.1, one section is defined as ‘In combination with adverbs forming adjectives with the sense “that can be pressed down, in, on”, etc.’ This describes compounds such as press-on (in e.g. ‘press-on lid’) and press-down (in e.g. ‘press-down key’).
  • KING n. P3 covers ‘Phrasal combinations with of and following noun’, such as king of the castle, King of kings, and king of the hill.
  • At EVER adv. 6 it is noted that ever is also appended to pronouns and other words to give a generalized or indefinite force, and that ‘these combinations are now always written as single words’, as in however, whatever, whoever, etc.

 

[In unrevised OED entries, combination is often abbreviated as comb.]

 

combining form (comb. form)

A combining form is an element used in combination with another element (either at the beginning or the end) to form a new word.

Examples in the OED:

  • The adjective ANGLO-AMERICAN is formed by attaching the combining form ANGLO- to the adjective
  • The noun BIOLOGY is made up of two combining forms: BIO- and -LOGY.

 

[The difference between a combining form and a prefix or suffix has been drawn in different ways by different authorities. In the OED, a combining form carries full meaning on its own and typically functions like a noun or an adjective. Combining forms are often Latin or Greek in origin.]

common noun

A common noun is a noun which is not a name of an individual person, place, etc., but instead refers to a class of people, animals, places, things, etc., or any example of that class, or to an abstract concept or quality. Examples of common nouns in English include man, giraffe, countryside, mountain, automobile, time, beauty, and sadness.

 

Compare proper noun | proper name.

Examples in the OED:

The term common noun is sometimes used in the OED by way of contrast with proper noun.

 

  • The use of tomfool ‘as a common noun’ meaning ‘a foolish or stupid person’ is treated at TOMFOOL n. 1b. An example is ‘Any tomfool can pull people in once.’
  • BRUIN n., meaning ‘a bear’, is described as ‘formerly chiefly as a proper name, now more usually as a common noun’. One of the examples in which it is used as a common noun is ‘The bruin was feeding on the lower end of an avalanche slide.’

comparative

A comparative adjective or adverb is one which expresses a higher degree of the quality or attribute denoted by an adjective or adverb.

 

In English the comparative degree is usually expressed by adding –er (e.g. faster) to the adjective or adverb, or by using more as a modifier (e.g. more polite). However, in some cases it is expressed by a word from a different root (e.g. better is the comparative of good, and worse is the comparative of bad).

 

Compare positive, superlative.

Example in the OED:

  • At WAY adv. 2c, ‘by a great amount; much, far’, uses ‘preceding too or a comparative adjective or adverb’ are exemplified. An example in which way precedes a comparative adjective is: ‘You’re way prettier than she is.’ An example in which it precedes a comparative adverb is: ‘Arrive way sooner.’

 

[In unrevised OED entries, comparative is sometimes abbreviated as compar.]

complement

  1. A complement is a word, phrase, or clause that completes the meaning of another word. For example, in ‘She is fond of chocolate’, the phrase of chocolate is the complement of fond; in ‘He resented the fact that she was always late’, the clause that she was always late is the complement of fact.
  2. More specifically, a complement may be a noun, adjective, or phrase which describes or refers to the subject of the clause, and is linked to the subject by a copular verb such as be, become, or For example, in ‘Jane is a dentist’, a dentist is the complement (describing the subject Jane); in ‘The answer seemed obvious’, obvious is the complement (describing the subject the answer). Such complements are subject complements.Similarly, a complement may be a noun, adjective, or phrase which expresses the state or condition of the object of the clause resulting from the action of the verb. For example, in ‘They elected her president’, president is the complement (describing the object her); in ‘Chocolate usually makes children happy’, happy is the complement (describing the object children). Such complements are object complements.

Examples in the OED:

  1. The phrase to death at DEATH n. P1a is defined as ‘As complement expressing a physical consequence: so that the person or animal in question dies.’ This covers uses such as starve to death, in which to death is the complement of starve.
  2. LOOK v. 11b is defined as ‘With various complements. To have the appearance, or give the impression, of being; to seem to the sight or to the mind.’ This covers uses of look with various subject complements including adjectives (‘It looksgood to me’), nouns (‘The sports ground looked a treat’), and phrases (‘Henry looked in great anxiety’).
  3. At NICKNAME v. 2, ‘To give a nickname to (a person); to call by a nickname’, there is a group of quotations described as ‘With complement’. An example is ‘The satirists of the age nicknamed him Lord Allpride’, where Lord Allpride is the object complement of
  4. [In unrevised OED entries, complement is sometimes abbreviated as compl.]

complementary

A complementary compound is a compound (usually an adjective) in which the first element expresses the complement of the verb underlying the second element. The first element is usually an adjective and the second element is usually a present participle relating to appearance or impression, e.g. -looking, -seeming, –sounding. For example, strange-looking means ‘that looks strange’ (in which strange is the complement of look).

Example in the OED:

  • CHEERFUL adj., has a ‘Special uses’ section with the heading ‘Complementary’. Included here are cheerful-looking (that looks cheerful) and cheerful-sounding (that sounds cheerful), as well as quotations for cheerful-seeming (that seems cheerful) and cheerful-appearing (that appears cheerful).

compound | compounding

A compound is a word or lexical unit formed by combining two or more words (a process called compounding). Compounds may be formed in many ways: common types in English include noun + noun (e.g. bookcase), adjective + noun (e.g. blackbird), noun + adjective (e.g. tax-free), noun + past participle (e.g. handmade), and verb + adverb (often based on phrasal verbs, e.g. lookout).

 

Some compounds are typically spelled as single words (e.g. blackbird, handmade), some as separate words (e.g. atom bomb, living room), and some with hyphens (e.g. tax-free, mother-in-law). With many compounds there is variation among these options.

Examples in the OED:

  • In the OED, compounds are treated as entries in their own right if they are particularly significant, for example because they have been in use for a long time, are widely used, or have several meanings. For example, there is a separate entry for ATOM BOMB n., and the ‘Origin’ section notes that it is formed ‘by compounding’: that is, by combining the two nouns atom and bomb.

 

  • Other compounds are covered under the first element of the compound, either at the most relevant sense, or in a separate section towards the end of an entry with the heading ‘Compounds’. For example, the entry FOOTBALL n.  has a large compounds section including football club, football team, football player, football-crazy, and many others.

 

For specific classifications of compounds in the OED, see appositive, attributive, complementary, instrumental, locative, objective, parasynthetic, and similative.

concrete

A concrete noun denotes a physical object, place, person, or animal (as opposed to an abstract noun, which denotes something immaterial such as an idea, quality, state, or action).

Example in the OED:

  • At PITH n., the branch with ‘Concrete uses’ includes senses such as ‘the soft internal tissue of a plant part’ (as in ‘Peel the oranges with a sharp knife, discarding all the bitter white pith’).

 

[In unrevised OED entries, concrete is often abbreviated as concr.]

conditional

A conditional clause is a clause, typically beginning with if or unless, which expresses a condition. For example, in ‘If my car breaks down again, I will have to buy a new one’, the clause if my car breaks down again is a conditional clause. A sentence or statement which contains a conditional clause may be described as a conditional sentence or statement.

Examples in the OED:

  • AGREEABLE adj. 3, ‘Of a person: willing to agree to something’, is described as ‘In later use chiefly in conditional statements.’ An example is: ‘Well, sir, if Ann’s agreeable, I say ditto.’
  • BE v. P3d describes the use of were it not for and if it were not for in forming ‘conditional clauses expressing exception’. An example of a conditional clause introduced by if it were not for is: ‘A small-print floral dress in lilac—very like a housecoat print, if it were not for the exotic background of inky black.’

conjunction (conj.)

A conjunction is a word used to connect other words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. And, but, or, if, when, although, because, and unless are all common conjunctions in English. Some conjunctions consist of more than one word, for example as soon as; these may be described as compound conjunctions.

 

The category of conjunctions is one of the parts of speech.

Examples in the OED:

  • Entries for conjunctions have the part-of-speech label conj. For example, the use of unless as a conjunction, as in ‘I am never angry with anybody unless they deserve it’, is treated at UNLESS conj.
  • ACCOUNT n. P1d(b) describes the use of the phrase on account as a ‘compound conjunction’ meaning ‘on account of the fact that; because’, giving examples such as ‘the priests said give her work on account she was a charity’.

construction

A construction is any group of words functioning together grammatically. For example, the string of words want to come is a construction consisting of a verb and an infinitive; the phrase be going to in ‘I’m going to leave now’ is a construction used to express future time; and the phrase Maureen’s coat is a genitive construction.

Examples in the OED:

  • The phrase by a long shot at LONG SHOT n. 2b, ‘by a considerable amount, by far; at all, to any extent’, is described as ‘Chiefly used emphatically in negative constructions’, as it is normally used in patterns such as not by a long shot.
  • If a word is normally used with another grammatical element, a use of that word on its own may be described as ‘Without construction’. For example, BELONG v. is normally followed by a prepositional phrase (e.g. ‘This hat belongs to me’) or adverb (e.g. ‘She doesn’t belong here’). In uses like ‘People also feel they want to belong’, there is no following preposition or adverb, and this use is described at sense 4c.: ‘Without construction. Of a person: to have the right personal or social qualities to be a member of a particular group; to fit in.’

 

[In unrevised OED entries, construction is sometimes abbreviated as const.]

construed (const., constr.)

In unrevised OED entries, the abbreviations const. and constr. are often used to indicate that a word is construed with – that is, combined grammatically with – another word or phrase. For example, in the unrevised version of OBLIVIOUS adj., uses such as ‘he was soon oblivious of this’ were described as ‘Const. of’. In the revised version, they are described as ‘With of’.

copular verb | copula

A copular verb links the subject of a sentence with a complement (usually a noun or adjective) which describes or gives more information about the subject. For example, in the sentence ‘Jane is a dentist’, the verb is (a form of be) is a copular verb, linking the subject (Jane) with a complement (a dentist) which tells us more about Jane. The main copular verb in English is be; others include become (e.g. in ‘Jane became a dentist’), remain (e.g. in ‘it remained a mystery’), seem (e.g. in ‘everything seems in order’), taste (e.g. in ‘this soup tastes awful’), and the like.

 

A copular verb is sometimes referred to simply as a copula.

Examples in the OED:

  • Branch III. of BE v. is described as ‘With adjective, noun, or adjectival phrase, acting as simple copula: stating of what sort or what something is.’ This branch covers uses of be such as ‘I might not be unhappy’, ‘they are two months old’, and ‘my Disorder was a Haemorrhage’. (Other branches show non-copular uses of be, for example its use in the sense ‘exist’, as in ‘I think, therefore I am’, and its use as an auxiliary verb, as in ‘The bells were ringing’.)
  • At the phrase on the (also one’s) way at WAY n.1 P2g, there is a section described as ‘As the predicate of to be (or occasionally another copular verb).’ Most of the examples show the phrase following be (for example ‘The young men‥were on their way home’ and ‘The scheme was well on its way towards realization’) but other copular verbs are possible (for example, one could say ‘The scheme seemed well on its way towards realization’).

count noun

A count noun is a noun which typically has both a singular form and a plural form, can be used with a numeral, and in the singular must be used with an article or other determiner.

 

Car, strawberry, and laptop are all typically count nouns: you can say I have one car, We had strawberries for dessert, or She was working on her laptop (but you would not say I have car, We had strawberry for dessert, or She was working on laptop). Compare mass noun.

 

Some nouns can be used either as a count noun or as a mass noun. For example, noise is a count noun in ‘I can hear a strange noise’, but a mass noun in ‘Stop making noise’.

Examples in the OED:

  • The use of knavery to mean ‘an act that is characteristic of a knave’ is treated at KNAVERY n. 1b, where the definition is introduced by ‘as a count noun’. One of the examples quoted is ‘<<<<<<<<there are men and women living on crusts in garrets because of his knaveries’.
  • The use of blood to mean ‘<<<<<<<<<<<<<<the blood of an individual, species, etc.’ is treated at BLOOD n. 1a, where the definition for this strand is introduced by ‘also (as a count noun)’. One of the examples of this use is ‘<<<<<<<<<<<<<at marriage, their bodies were cicatrised and bloods mixed’.

 

[In unrevised OED entries this term is not used, but nouns of this type are sometimes described as ‘with a and plural’.]

dative

In some inflected languages, the dative case is typically used to indicate nouns and pronouns (as well as adjectives used to modify them) which function as the indirect object of a verb.

 

Old English, which was an inflected language, possessed a dative case, and it survived into the Middle English period but then fell almost entirely out of use. The nearest equivalent in modern standard English, the objective case, is marked only in the objective pronouns me, him, etc., which are used as indirect objects in sentences such as ‘I gave him the book’. The objective pronouns reflect a merger of the dative and accusative forms.

Examples in the OED:

  • ABOW v. 1b, ‘To bow down to, to pay homage to’, is noted as being constructed ‘in Old and early Middle English with dative’. This applies to examples such as þam deofle ‘to the devil’ in ‘næfre þam deofle ne abugan to forwyrde’ (meaning ‘never bow down to the Devil to its [i.e. the soul’s] destruction’).
  • SHOW v. 3a, ‘To expose or exhibit to view’, is described as ‘Often with the viewer as indirect object (in Old English in dative)’. The Old English example ‘He sceolde‥sceawan him alle þa ðing’ (meaning ‘He was‥to show him all the things’) contains the dative pronoun

declarative

A declarative sentence or clause typically makes a statement, and has basic word order, with the subject followed by the verb. For example, ‘I must leave now’ is a declarative sentence. Declaratives are contrasted with interrogatives (such as ‘Must you leave now?’) and imperatives (such as ‘Leave now!’).

Example in the OED:

·       At DO v., examples such as ‘He did design a new house’ are described as showing do ‘In affirmative declarative sentences’, while examples such as ‘I don’t see smoking as a ritual’ are described as showing do ‘In negative declarative sentences’.

definite article

see article.

demonstrative

A demonstrative is one of a small set of words which limit the application of nouns by indicating the person or thing referred to. In modern standard English, the demonstratives are this, these, those, and that. There are two main types of demonstratives: demonstrative pronouns (which stand in place of a noun, as in ‘this is my book’) and demonstrative determiners (which precede a noun, as in ‘this book is mine’).

Examples in the OED:

  • The examples at ALL adv. 1b.(b) are described as ‘With it or a demonstrative pronoun as the subject of the verb’. Examples with a demonstrative pronoun as subject include ‘This is all Cherokee to me’ and ‘This is all the labour of his hypocritish emissary’.
  • THEY adj. 1 is described as a ‘demonstrative determiner’ because it has the same function as the demonstrative determiner those in certain contexts, for example in ‘they ribbons do flare out’ and ‘I thought it was they raiders coming to get us’.

 

See also determiner, pronoun.

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, the term demonstrative adjective is used: see note at determiner.]

determiner

A determiner is a word which precedes a noun and limits the application of that noun, for example the in ‘the park’, some in ‘some cheese’ and both in ‘both boys’.  Articles (the, a, and an) and demonstratives (this, these, that, and those) are specific types of determiners.

Examples in the OED:

  • MULTIPLICITY n. 7 is divided into examples ‘With determiner’ and those ‘Without determiner’. Examples with determiner include ‘a multiplicity of tasks’, ‘Such multiplicity of words’, and ‘A few large bells would be preferable to this multiplicity of smaller ones’; an example of a use without determiner is ‘We shall not want multiplicity of notes’.
  • NURSE n.1 9 is described as ‘Used without determiner to denote a particular nurse’. An example is ‘A doctor can tell a client: “Nurse will see you right away”’.

 

[OED entries for determiners have the part of speech adj. (determiner), as historically there is in many cases indeterminacy between adjective and determiner. In unrevised entries, determiners are usually described simply as adjectives.

 

In some grammars, the term determinative is used.]

direct object

See object.

direct question

A direct question is a question which is quoted as actually spoken (that is, in direct speech), rather than being reported.

 

For example, in ‘“What did the doctor say?” asked Sue’, what did the doctor say? is a direct question because it is quoted. As an indirect question this would be: ‘Sue asked what the doctor said.’

Example in the OED:

  • At ASK v. 3a, examples are given of uses ‘with indirect or direct question as the second object’. An example with a direct question is: ‘then I asked him, “Is this goodbye?”.’

direct speech

Direct speech is speech which is quoted as actually spoken, rather than being reported (see indirect speech). Speech of this type is typically indicated using quotation marks.

For example, in ‘“I demand my rights,” roared Paul’, I demand my rights is direct speech because it is quoted without modification. In indirect speech this would be: ‘Paul roared that he demanded his rights.’

Example in the OED:

  • MISGUESS v. 2a is described as sometimes occurring ‘with clause or direct speech as object’. An example with direct speech is: ‘“You’re having a baby!” her mother, longing for a grandchild, joyously mis-guessed.’

double object

In some contexts, a verb may take both a direct object and an indirect object. For example, in ‘I gave the children their dinner’, their dinner is the direct object and the children is the indirect object. This pair of objects may be referred to as a double object.

Example in the OED:

  • ASK v. 3 is defined as ‘With double object (the person and the matter in question).’ An example is ‘I ask him what that entailed’: what that entailed is the direct object, and him is the indirect object.

dual

In modern English, nouns and pronouns may be either singular, referring to one person or thing (child, table, I, he, etc.) or plural, referring to more than one person or thing (children, tables, we, they, etc.). Some languages also have a dual category which distinguishes two people or things as opposed to one or to more than two. In Old English and early Middle English, there was a dual category of pronouns: for example, the pronoun WIT pron. was a dual pronoun meaning ‘we two’.

element

An element is a word, combining form, prefix, or suffix which is a component part of a larger construction (a compound word, a clause, etc.).

Examples in the OED:

In the OED, element most often refers to a component part of a compound. For example, ABIDING adj. 3 describes uses of abiding ‘As the second element in compounds forming adjectives’, with the sense ‘remaining true to, standing by (what is denoted by the first element)’. The quotation paragraph includes the compound adjectives Constitution-abiding, rule-abiding, and code-abiding.

ellipsis | elliptical

Ellipsis occurs when a word or group of words is omitted from a sentence or utterance but is understood from the context. A sentence or use of words involving ellipsis is described as elliptical.

Examples in the OED:

  • KNOW v. 11g(b) is defined as ‘In elliptical use: to have knowledge of a fact previously mentioned or contextually implied.’ An example is ‘I do not care how they travel, and I do not want to know.’ The fuller form of this sentence would be ‘I do not care how they travel, and I do not want to know how they travel’: the final clause is omitted as it can be understood from the context.
  • At GONNA v., meaning ‘am/is going to’, sense 2a(a) covers uses with a subject, e.g. ‘what I gonna do’ (with the subject I). Sense 2a(b) covers uses ‘with ellipsis of subject’: for example, in ‘Gonna be a burner today’, the subject (it) is omitted.

feminine

In modern English, feminine forms are those which refer to females: the pronouns she, her, hers, herself, the possessive adjective her, and a few suffixes such as -ess.

 

In languages with grammatical gender, feminine nouns and related words often refer to females but do not necessarily do so. Old English had three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and while many feminine nouns referred to women or female animals (for example cwen ‘woman’, ‘queen’), others did not (for example tunge ‘tongue’).

filler

A filler, or conversational filler, is a word or phrase used without lexical meaning, simply to fill in what might otherwise be an unwanted pause in an utterance or conversation.

Examples in the OED:

  • AH int. 7 is defined as ‘As a conversational filler, expressing hesitation, inarticulacy, etc.’, with examples as ‘Of course—ah—as I said—it wouldn’t be much—but—ah—it should care for the—ah—bank loan.’
  • I mean at MEAN v.1 is defined as ‘used parenthetically in conversation (or in writing imitating conversational style) as a filler, with little or no explanatory force.’ One of the examples given is ‘Well I mean a lot of these things that are happening, well they just don’t quite ring true’, where there is no sense that the speaker is explaining what he means: I mean is simply filling in a pause.

finite

A finite verb form is one that is marked for tense. For example, in ‘The children ate’, ate is a finite verb, marked for past tense. Finite verbs are often used in combination with non-finite verbs: for example, in ‘The children were eating’, the verb phrase were eating is made up of the finite verb were (which is the past tense plural form of be) and the non-finite verb eating (the present participle of eat).

 

A clause which contains a finite verb (even if it also contains a non-finite verb) is a finite clause. For example, ‘The children were eating’ is a finite clause.

Example in the OED:

  • At as though at AS adv. and conj. P2b, uses such as ‘as thoughMagnus was more afraid of Harold than of Sweyn’ and ‘I thanke you as much as though I did’ are described as ‘With finite clause’, as the clauses contain verbs that are marked for tense (was and did). These contrast with uses ‘With non-finite clause’, for example ‘as though performing an incantation’.

first person

Pronouns in the first person indicate the person (or group of people) speaking or writing. The first person pronouns (and related possessive adjectives) in modern standard English are I, me, my, mine, myself; we, us, our, ours, ourselves. See also person, second person, third person.

 

In many languages, and in English in earlier periods, verbs also take different person forms. In modern English, the only verb which has a different form for the first person is be, with the first person singular present form am (as in ‘I am’).

Examples in the OED:

  • ME pron. is described as ‘The objective case of the first person pronoun I.’
  • The phrase what do you say (if)…, meaning ‘how about…?’, is described as ‘typically with a first-person pronoun as the grammatical subject of theif-clause’. That is, typical uses are with I, as in ‘What do you say if I go run-hunting with you?’ or with we, as in ‘what do you say if we make a bargain?’

gender

In some languages, nouns, pronouns, and related words are classified into categories called genders, which are distinguished by particular inflections. Grammatical genders include masculine, feminine, and neuter, but they are usually only loosely associated with particular sexes, and many words have a grammatical gender which does not correspond to the sex of the referent. For example, Old English wifmann ‘woman’ had masculine gender.

 

Old English possessed three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. However, the loss of the case system in Middle English meant that the distinctions between grammatical genders vanished almost completely.

 

Modern English is said to possess natural (rather than grammatical) gender, in that third person pronouns and possessive adjectives are classified according to the sex of the referent: he/she/it, his/her/its, etc.

genitive

In some inflected languages, the genitive case is used to indicate possession, close relationship, and similar concepts. Old English, as an inflected language, possessed a genitive case, which is reflected in modern standard English in pronouns and determiners (e.g. his, our) and in the ’s in, for example, John’s book, which is the modern equivalent of the old genitive case ending -es. These survivals of the genitive case in modern English are generally classified as possessive.

Examples in the OED:

  • MASTER n. 15b, in the form master’s (meaning a master’s degree) is analysed as ‘in the genitive, used
  • FIREMAN n. has a compounds section with the heading ‘With the first element in the genitive (fireman’s).’ This contains lemmas such as fireman’s axe and fireman’s lift.

gerund

A gerund is a word (in modern English, ending in -ing) which derives from a verb and has some verb-like properties but also some noun-like properties. For example, in ‘Eating your dinner noisily is impolite’ the gerund eating functions like a noun in that it is the subject of the sentence, but is similar to a verb in that it takes a direct object (your dinner) and is modified by an adverb (noisily).

 

A gerund is similar to a verbal noun, but a verbal noun does not have the verb-like properties that a gerund does.

Examples in the OED:

  • At the phrase with a view to (VIEW n. P3b) meaning ‘with the aim or object of; with the intention to’, there is a section describing uses ‘followed by a gerund or (occasionally) verbal noun’. In ‘her father sent off some pictures of her to a modelling agency, with a view to establishing her as an actress’, the phrase is followed by a clause beginning with a gerund (establishing).
  • LIKE v.1 4c describes the sense ‘to enjoy, have a taste for, or take pleasure in (an action, activity, condition, etc.)’ as ‘with gerund or verbal noun as object’. ‘I don’t like being recognised in the street’ is an example of its use with a gerund.

 

See also present participle and participial adjective.

 

[Unrevised entries use expressions with ‘gerundial’ and ‘gerundially’ that mean ‘(used) as a gerund’, and in both revised and unrevised entries ‘gerundial’ and ‘gerundival’ are used to designate phrases, clauses, etc., which begin with gerunds.]

head

The head of a grammatical phrase is the principal and typically obligatory part of that phrase. For example, the noun dress is the head of the noun phrase her long white dress; the adjective good is the head of the adjective phrase quite surprisingly good.

Example in the OED:

  • A adj. 1b describes uses of a ‘Following a determiner or adjective and preceding the noun head.’ For example, in ‘Is he really that big a sap?’, a directly precedes the noun sap, which is the head of the noun phrase that big a sap.

imperative (imper.)

An imperative form of a verb is used to express a command, request, or entreaty.

 

In English, the base form of a verb is used as the imperative, and imperative clauses typically lack a grammatical subject. For example, ‘Come here!’ is an imperative clause, and the verb come is in the imperative.

 

The imperative is one of the grammatical moods.

Examples in the OED:

  • The phrase to get real at REAL adj.2 P6 is described as ‘Now frequently in imper., used to suggest that an idea or statement is foolish, overly idealistic, or quite wrong.’ An example of imperative use is ‘“Shit, Jo. I didn’t know he meant anything to you.” “Get real. He doesn’t.”’
  • YE pron. 2 is defined as ‘Used after an imperative, with singular or plural reference.’ Examples include ‘Hear ye! Hear ye!’ and ‘Go ye unto the villages’, in which ye follows verbs in the imperative (hear and go).

impersonal (impers.)

When a third person singular verb (such as thinks or owes) is used without a grammatical subject, it is described as impersonal. Impersonal verbs are mainly found in Old and Middle English, and later in archaic use.

Examples in the OED:

  • The obsolete verb AGRISE has a sense defined as ‘ To terrify’. This is illustrated with quotations such as ‘him agros’: him is not the grammatical subject (the subject form would be he), but instead refers to the person affected; ‘him agros’ means ‘it was terrifying to him’.
  • METHINKS v. is labelled Methinks, which was originally written as two words, me thinks, comes from the obsolete verb THINK v.1 meaning ‘to seem, appear’ (etymologically distinct from its homonym in current use, THINK v.2). Me is not the grammatical subject (the subject form would be I), and methinks means ‘it seems to me’; when Gertrude says ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks’ (Hamlet iii.2), she means ‘it seems to me that the lady protests too much’. Methinks has survived as an archaism in modern English, partly because it is easily reinterpreted as meaning ‘I think’.

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, verbs with it as subject are described as impers. when it has no lexical meaning (e.g. in ‘it seems she is late’ or ‘it is raining’). In OED3 the terms anticipatory it and non-referential it are used.]

indefinite

 

  1. The indefinite article in English is a or an: see article.

 

  1. A pronoun is indefinite when it does not refer to a specific person or thing, but has vague, generic, or undefined reference. For example, something in ‘I heard something’ and one in ‘One should drink in moderation’ are indefinite pronouns.

Example in the OED:

  • The definition of the phrase to do (something) about (at ABOUT adv., prep.1, adj., and int. P2) includes ‘with what or indefinite pronoun as object’, because the direct object of do in this phrase is always either what or an indefinite pronoun such as something, anything, or nothing, as in ‘Do let us try to do something about these young men.’

indicative

The indicative is the most commonly used grammatical mood, used to express factual statements and beliefs (as opposed to commands, wishes, conditions, etc.). Statements such as ‘The children were playing’, ‘I am hungry’, ‘James left early’, ‘The prime minister made a terrible mistake’, and so on, are all in the indicative.

Examples in the OED:

The term indicative is usually used by way of contrast with other grammatical moods such as the subjunctive.

 

  • At AFRAID adj. A. 1d(a) it is stated that the indicative (instead of the subjunctive) is used after to be afraid that in order to portray a feared situation as more factual or real: ‘with indicative, indicating an unpleasant probability or contemplated reality.’ Examples include ‘He was afraid that he was suffering from a brain-tumor’ and ‘Sarah was afraid that she had provoked a wild goose chase.’

indirect object

See object.

indirect passive

In the sentence ‘The teacher gave the children new books’, new books is the direct object of give, and the children is the indirect object. There are two ways of changing this sentence into a passive. The first is the usual type of passive in which the direct object becomes the subject: ‘New books were given to the children [by the teacher].’ The second type is the indirect passive, in which the indirect object becomes the subject: ‘The children were given new books [by the teacher].’

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, indirect passive is used to mean prepositional passive.]

indirect question

An indirect question is a question which is reported in indirect speech, rather than being quoted as actually spoken (i.e. in direct speech). Compare direct question.

 

For example, in ‘Jane asked what the doctor said’, what the doctor said is an indirect question because it is a report of the question Jane asked. As a direct question this would be: ‘“What did the doctor say?” asked Jane.’

Example in the OED:

  • At ASK v. 3a, examples are given of uses ‘with indirect or direct question as the second object’. An example with an indirect question is: ‘“He was in ‘a crew’”, he says. I ask him what that entailed.’

indirect speech

Indirect speech is speech which is reported and modified in person, tense, etc., rather than being quoted as actually spoken (see direct speech).

 

For example, in ‘Paul roared that he demanded his rights’, that he demanded his rights is indirect speech because it is a report of what Paul roared. In direct speech this would be: ‘“I demand my rights,” Paul roared.’

Example in the OED:

  • At ANSWER v. 1b(b), uses ‘with direct or indirect speech’ are exemplified. An example with indirect speech is: ‘It was answered to him thatthe Abbot must stay in his monastery of St. Edmund’s.’

infinitive

The infinitive form of a verb is the basic form, unmarked for tense, person, or number. In English, the infinitive is often preceded by to (in which case it is sometimes called a to-infinitive), as in these examples:

I want to leave.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

 

The infinitive may also be used without to (in which case it is sometimes called a bare infinitive), for example after modal verbs and certain other verbs:

You must leave.

Help me open this.

 

Infinitives can function in various ways in a sentence, for example as grammatical subject (as in ‘To err is human’), object (as in ‘I want to leave’), or complement (as in ‘This is difficult to understand’). An infinitive can introduce an infinitive clause, as in ‘to understand her meaning’, which can likewise function as a subject, object, complement, etc.

Examples in the OED:

In the OED, infinitive is used as the default term to refer to the infinitive with to; to-infinitive is used if there is a contrast with the bare infinitive.

 

  • AFRAID adj. 1c is defined as ‘With infinitive: in fear of the consequences (to oneself) of doing something; not having courage’ Examples include ‘He was afraidto go home’ and ‘Perhaps she has a Spanish lover and is afraid to tell you.’
  • At NEED v.2 10, uses such as ‘We neednot be anxious about their feelings for us’ are described as ‘With bare infinitive’. Uses such as ‘Wintu speakers need not to bother with tense’ are described as ‘With to-infinitive.’
  • At REFUSE v.1 I, ‘To decline to do something’, a group of examples are described as ‘With infinitive clause as object.’ These include ‘My trembling Limbs Refuse to bear their Weight’ and ‘She refused to admit fags were bad for her.’

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, the term simple infinitive is used instead of bare infinitive.]

inflection | inflected | inflectional

In some languages, the form of a word varies according to its grammatical function (e.g. whether a noun is singular or plural, or whether a verb is in the present or past tense). These forms are called inflections, and a word which possesses such forms is said to be inflected. For example, in English the word walked is inflected, showing the past tense form of walk; the suffix -ed is an inflectional suffix.

 

Old English possessed a large number of inflected forms: for example, forms for case, gender, and number in nouns, pronouns, and adjectives; and forms for tense, person, number, and mood in verbs. However, as the language changed, many of these word forms became difficult to distinguish from each other, and other means of expressing the grammatical relationships between words became more important, such as word order and the use of prepositions and auxiliary and modal verbs. In modern English, verbs are still inflected for tense (walk/walked), and to a limited extent for person and number (walk/walks; was/were); pronouns inflect for case (I/me, he/him, etc.), number (I/we), and gender (he/she/it); some adjectives inflect for comparative and superlative forms (-er, -est); and nouns inflect for number (banana/bananas). However, the old case system has mostly disappeared, as have the three grammatical genders, and the surviving inflections are far fewer in number than before.

In the OED, case-inflected forms of pronouns are all treated as separate words (e.g. HE pron., HIM pron.), whereas verb, noun, and adjective inflections are normally treated as part of the same word.

instrumental

  1. An instrumental compound is a compound (usually an adjective) in which the first element expresses the means by which the action expressed by the second element is carried out, or the cause of the state of affairs expressed by the second element. For example, God-given means ‘given by God’, candlelit means ‘lit by a candle or candles’, grass-covered means ‘covered with or by grass’, work-weary­ means ‘weary because of work’, and love-blind means ‘blind due to love’.
  2. In some inflected languages, the instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate the means by which something is done. Old English did not possess an instrumental case except for residual case forms of pronouns and adjectives, and any traces were subsequently lost along with almost all of the case system.

Examples in the OED:

  • ALCOHOL n. contains a compounds section with the heading ‘Instrumental’. Examples given include alcohol-fuelled (‘fuelled by alcohol’) and alcohol-laced (‘laced with alcohol’).
  • GOVERNED adj., ‘that is or has been governed’, is used both attributively and ‘as the second element in instrumental compounds’. The quotation paragraph includes examples of such compounds, such as throttle-governed (‘controlled by means of a throttle’) and hell-governed (‘ruled by hell’).

intensifier

An intensifier is a word, phrase, or prefix which gives force or emphasis. Intensifiers are often adverbs (e.g. very, extremely, utterly) or adjectives (e.g. complete in ‘He’s a complete fool’).

Examples in the OED:

  • MURDEROUSLY adv. is defined as ‘As an intensifier: to a great or overpowering extent; extremely’, with examples such as ‘Cash money was still murderously scarce.’
  • FRIGHTSOME adj. is defined as ‘Causing fright; frightening, frightful. Also in weakened use as an intensifier.’ For example, in ‘The eery black an’ frightsome night’, frightsome means ‘frightening’, but in ‘If we could work it we’d get frightsome big bags o’ game’, frightsome is an intensifier meaning ‘very’, ‘extremely’.

interjection

An interjection is a word which functions independently of other words and typically represents an exclamation or command. Examples in English include alas, eureka, hush, and oops.

 

The category of interjections is one of the parts of speech.

Examples in the OED:

  • Entries for interjections have the part-of-speech label int. For example, the use of Mamma mia as an interjection, as in ‘Mamma mia! The cost of it!’, is treated at MAMMA MIA int. (and n.). The use of hard cheese as an interjection, as in ‘ “Hard cheese!” condoled Mr. Davenant’, is treated at HARD CHEESE n. (and int.) 2, with the wording ‘also as ’.
  • LOL n.2 describes the use of the noun to mean ‘an instance of the written interjection “LOL”’.
  • WHOA v. 1a describes the sense ‘to call out “whoa” as a general interjection expressing surprise, delight, etc.’

 

[Unrevised OED entries sometimes describe words as ‘used interjectionally’, meaning ‘used as an interjection’, but in revised entries interjections are given the part-of-speech label int.]

interrogative

An interrogative is a word, clause, or sentence used to ask or express a question.  For example, the question ‘Who is responsible?’ is an interrogative sentence. In ‘I asked who was responsible’, who was responsible is an interrogative clause. Interrogative words include who, what, when, where, which, and how: for example, in ‘Who is responsible?’, who is an interrogative pronoun.

Examples in the OED:

  • JUDGE v. 1d is defined as ‘With interrogative clause as object. To determine, tell.’ For example, in the sentence ‘I leave yourselves to judge which kind of a farmer you are’, the clause which kind of a farmer you are is an interrogative clause, expressing the question ‘Which kind of farmer are you?’
  • The phrase to have the heart at HEART n. P3e(a) is described as ‘In later use chiefly in negative and interrogative contexts.’ An example of the phrase in an interrogative context is the question ‘Did I really have the heartto deny them a grandfather?’

intransitive

A verb is intransitive when it does not take a direct object. An intransitive verb may stand alone, or it may take a complement (for example, a prepositional phrase, adverb, or adjective).

 

When a verb does take a direct object it is transitive.

Examples in the OED:

In the OED, transitivity labels are applied to senses of verbs and phrasal verbs. The following are examples with the label intransitive.

 

  • ‘Take a minute to drift off and daydream’ (at DAYDREAM v. 1): daydream stands alone without a complement.
  • ‘I paid for it. I didn’t quibble about the price’ (at QUIBBLE v. 2a): quibble is complemented by the prepositional phrase about the price.
  • ‘That should give the rhubarb time to cool off’ (at COOL v.1 1): cool is complemented by the adverb off.
  • ‘The whole situation is so terrifying that I feel sick’ and ‘To make him feel a coward’ (at FEEL v. 5c): feel is complemented by the adjective sick in the first example, and by the noun a coward in the second. (Note that coward in this example is, even though a noun, not a direct object but a subject complement: see complement.)
  • ‘Tigers will bluff-charge the same way bears do’ (at BLUFF-CHARGE v. 1): bluff-charge is complemented by the adverbial phrase the same way.
  • ‘No harm shallhappen you’ (at HAPPEN v. 1c): happen is complemented by the indirect object you (meaning ‘to you’), and there is no direct object. This type of construction is most common in earlier periods of English.

locative

  1. A locative compound is a compound in which the first element (typically a noun), indicates where some action or process is carried out (typically one expressed or implied by the second element, often a past participle or other word derived from a verb). Such compounds are most commonly adjectives.
  2. In some inflected languages, the locative case is a grammatical case used to indicate location or position. Old English did not possess an independent locative case, and any traces were subsequently lost along with almost all of the case system.

Example in the OED:

  • HOME n.1 and adj. contains a compounds section with the heading ‘Locative, combining with participles to form adjectives with the sense “in one’s home country”, “at home, esp. as opposed to in a shop, factory, or similar establishment”’. Examples include the adjectives home-baked (baked at home), home-based (based at home), and home-staying (staying at home).

main clause

A main clause is a clause which is not subordinate to or dependent on another clause.

 

A main clause may:

  • form a complete sentence in itself, e.g. ‘I like folk music.’
  • be coordinated with another main clause, e.g. ‘I like folk music but I’m not keen on jazz.
  • be used with a subordinate clause. The underlined clauses in the following are the main clauses:

After we had lunch, we went back to work.

I am glad that you came.

He sat in the garden, reading the paper.

If you see anything suspicious, report it to the police.

Example in the OED:

  • At the phrase when the going gets tough, the tough get going at GOING n. P4, it is noted that there is also ‘variation of the main clause, frequently with humorous intent.’ The main clause here is the tough get going, and examples with variations of this clause include ‘When the goinggets tough, the tough eat chocolate’ and ‘when the going gets tough, the tough go to Baghdad’.

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, the term principal clause is used instead of main clause.]

main verb

  1. A main verb is a verb which carries lexical meaning and may be used on its own without another verb; the term is usually used in contrast with auxiliary verb. For example, have is a main verb in ‘They have a lovely house’, where it means ‘own, possess’ and is not used to support another verb. By contrast, have is an auxiliary verb (forming the perfect) in ‘They have sold their house’, where it is used in combination with the main verb sold.
  2. Another meaning of main verb is a verb in a main clause as opposed to a subordinate clause. For example, in ‘I frowned, not understanding him’, frowned is the main verb because it is in the main clause ‘I frowned’; understanding is not the main verb because it is in the subordinate clause ‘not understanding him’.

Examples in the OED:

  • 1. DO v. is divided into two sense branches: I. ‘As a main verb’ and II. ‘As an auxiliary’. The former shows the various uses of do as a main verb, in senses such as ‘perform, carry out’ (e.g. ‘The researchers did experiments on mice’, in which did is the only verb). By contrast, branch II shows uses of do with a grammatical function in combination with other verbs (g. in questions such as ‘What do you mean?’, in which it supports the main verb mean).
  • OUT adv. 5b covers uses such as murder will out and the truth will out, and describes these as ‘With modal auxiliary… With main verb implied.’ The normal phrasing of the truth will out would be the truth will come out, with will as a modal verb and come as the main verb. In the idiomatic expression the truth will out, the main verb come is omitted but implied.
  • 2. MY adj. 1c is defined as ‘Modifying a verbal noun, gerund, or gerundival clause, forming an embedded phrase corresponding to a clause consisting of I and a main verb.’ For example, in ‘she was afraid of my seeing your letters’, my seeing your letters is a subordinate clause corresponding to the main clause I saw your letters, in which saw is a main verb.

masculine

In modern English, masculine forms are those which refer to males: the pronouns he, him, his, himself, and the possessive adjective his.

 

In languages with grammatical gender, masculine nouns and related words often refer to males but do not necessarily do so. Old English had three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and while many masculine nouns referred to men or male animals (for example cyning ‘king’), others did not (for example wifmann ‘woman’ and stan ‘stone’).

mass noun

A mass noun is a noun which does not have a plural form, and cannot be used with a numeral. It can be used without an article or other determiner.

 

Furniture, traffic, and welfare are all typically mass nouns: you can say welfare is important, I have some furniture, or because of the traffic (but you would not say ‘a welfare is important ’, ‘I have three furnitures’, or ‘because of the traffics’). Compare count noun.

 

Some English nouns can be used either as a mass noun or as a count noun. For example, noise is a mass noun in ‘Stop making noise’, but a count noun in ‘I can hear a strange noise’.

Examples in the OED:

  • The use of film to mean ‘the making of films considered as an art form, genre, or industry’ is treated at FILM n. 10b, where the definition is introduced by ‘as a mass noun’. One of the examples quoted is ‘in other respects too film has developed like other industries’.
  • The use of toilet roll to mean ‘toilet paper in the form of a roll’ is treated as part of TOILET ROLL n. 2, where the definition for this strand is introduced by ‘<also (as a mass noun)’. One of the examples of this use quoted is ‘snap off handfuls of toilet roll’.

modal verb | modal auxiliary verb | modal auxiliary

Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary verb used to express meanings such as necessity, possibility, and obligation. The main modal verbs in modern English are can/could, may/might, must, shall/should, will/would. Other verbs such as ought and need share some characteristics with modal verbs.

 

A modal verb is sometimes referred to as a modal auxiliary verb or a modal auxiliary.

Examples in the OED:

  • The entry for MUST v.1 begins with a statement that it is ‘A modal auxiliary’.
  • ASK v. 17b covers the senses ‘to invite to do something’ and ‘to request permission (of)’, and notes that in these senses ask is used ‘With if or whether and modal verb.’ Examples include ‘She asked Rebecca if she could come to tea at their house’ and ‘I blew the gaff by asking the lady if I might speak to Mr Hanley.’

modify | modifier

A modifier is a word, phrase or clause which limits or qualifies the meaning of another word, phrase, or clause. For example, in school tripschool modifies trip; in just next to himjust modifies next to; in city of dreaming spires, of dreaming spires modifies city.

Modifiers may be described more specifically as premodifiers or postmodifiers, depending on whether they come before or after the modified word, phrase, or clause.

Examples in the OED:

  • CHEESE n. 3a is defined as ‘With modifier. A conserve of the specified fruit or nut, having the consistency of soft cheese.’ In this sense, cheese is always modified by another word, for example in ‘quince cheese’ and ‘almond cheese’.
  • At RIGHT-DOWN adv., a distinction is made between sense 1 ‘Modifying a verb: without any limitation or reserve; completely, absolutely; outright’ (with examples such as ‘I right down enjoyed it’) and sense 2 ‘Modifying an adjective: completely, thoroughly; downright’ (with examples such as ‘right-down silly’, ‘right-down honest’).

 

[In unrevised OED entries, the term qualify is generally used instead of modify.]

mood

The mood of a verb refers to whether the clause in which it occurs expresses a fact, command, hypothesis, etc. For example, the indicative is used to express fact or strong belief, the imperative to make commands, the interrogative to indicate questions, and the subjunctive to express hypothesis or non-factuality.

morpheme

A morpheme is a unit of language that cannot be analysed into smaller units. English morphemes include prefixes, suffixes, word stems, and combining forms. For example,  misspellings contains four morphemes: the prefix mis-, the stem spell, and two suffixes, -ing and the plural suffix -s. Words can also consist of a single morpheme, such as know, residue, and over.

Examples in the OED:

  • At MOUSE n. the etymology section notes that occasionally, and especially in regional use, the plural of mouse is formed by ‘addition of a regular plural morpheme to the singular stem (mouses, mousen)’, rather than by mutation of the stem vowel (mice).
  • At PLEASE v. there is a note that ‘The β form [ple] apparently results from reanalysis of the present subjunctive [please] as if ending in the 3rd person singular morpheme [-s].’
  • The word homeward contains two morphemes: home and the suffix –ward. At HOMEWARD adv. and adj. there is a note explaining that Middle English forms with an a, such as hammard, are due to the shortening of the first vowel ‘before the consonant cluster mw within the compound (i.e. across the morpheme boundary).’

neuter

In languages with grammatical gender, neuter nouns and related words often refer to inanimate objects but do not necessarily do so. Old English had three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and while many neuter nouns referred to inanimate objects (for example scip ‘ship’), others did not (for example wif ‘woman’).

nominal relative | nominal relative clause

A nominal relative clause is a type of relative clause which functions in some ways like a noun phrase. It is introduced by a word (called a nominal relative) which acts like a noun and a relative pronoun (or other relative word) together.

 

For example, in ‘Whoever did that should be punished’, whoever did that is a nominal relative clause, functioning in the same way as a noun phrase such as the person who did that. The nominal relative whoever is a relative pronoun which also contains the meaning of the noun it refers to (i.e., ‘the person’). Other examples of nominal relative clauses are: ‘I do what I like’ (= I do the things that I like) and ‘This is where she lives’ (= This is the place where she lives).

 

The main words which can function as nominal relatives in English are what, whatever, when, whenever, where, wherever, which, whichever, who, whom, whoever, and whomever.

Example in the OED:

  • AS conj. 8e covers the obsolete use ‘Before a nominal relative clause: as being he who, that which, etc.’ An example is ‘so consequently before Christ, as who sitteth by God the father’: who sitteth by God the father is a nominal relative clause, with who having the sense ‘he who’.

nominative

In some inflected languages, the nominative case is used to indicate nouns and pronouns (as well as adjectives used to modify them) which function as the subject of a verb. Old English possessed a nominative case, but the loss of the case system in Middle English means that in modern standard English it is marked only in the pronouns which denote the subject of a verb, such as I, he, she, etc. In the context of modern English, these are now generally regarded as belonging to the subjective case, and the term ‘nominative’ is no longer widely used in this context.

Examples in the OED:

  • HAVE v. 47 contrasts the familiar construction he had better, formed ‘with have and the nominative’, with an earlier construction of equivalent meaning, him were better, formed with be and the dative.
  • WOE adj. similarly contains a comment that I am wo developed out of an earlier construction me is wo by a process in which an original dative was converted into a nominative.

non-finite

A non-finite verb form is not marked for tense. In English, infinitives (such as to eat) and participles (such as eating and eaten) are non-finite. They are often used in combination with finite verbs: for example, in ‘The children were eating’, the verb phrase were eating is made up of the finite verb were (which is the past tense plural form of be) and the non-finite verb eating (the present participle of eat).

 

A clause containing only a non-finite verb is called a non-finite clause. Such clauses are subordinate clauses (dependent on another part of the sentence): for example, in ‘Before leaving the house, I checked all the windows’, before leaving the house is a non-finite clause, containing the non-finite verb leaving.

Examples in the OED:

  • NOT adv. 5 covers uses ‘Preceding a non-finite verb’, including uses with infinitives (e.g. ‘Miss..begged me notto turn’), and uses with participles (e.g. ‘A mind not hardened by impenitency’).
  • At as though at AS adv. and conj. P2b, uses such as the following are described as ‘With non-finite clause’: ‘as thoughto better observe this Parsi lingering outside’ (with the infinitive to observe), ‘as though performing an incantation’ (with the present participle performing), and ‘as though done by a sharp pruning knife’ (with the past participle done). By contrast, uses such as ‘as though Magnus was more afraid of Harold than of Sweyn’ (with the past-tense verb was) are described as ‘With finite clause’.

non-referential

In a sentence such as ‘It is raining’, it is the grammatical subject but does not refer to anything: its function is grammatical rather than semantic. When used in this way, it is described as non-referential. It can also be used as a non-referential object, for example in the idiomatic phrase hold it! (meaning ‘wait’). There can also be non-referential, for example in ‘There’s no-one in the room.’

Examples in the OED:

  • At FOG v.1 1b, uses such as it is fogging are described as ‘With non-referential it as subject’.
  • At HAVE v., phrases such as to have it in for are in a section with the heading ‘Phrases with non-referential it as object’.

 

See also anticipatory, impersonal.

noun (n.)

A noun is a word which can function as the subject or object of a verb, or as the object of a preposition, and which typically denotes a person, place, or thing: tomato, happiness, manager, and London are all examples of nouns in English. Nouns can generally be modified by determiners or adjectives, and can often be used in the plural.

The category of nouns is one of the parts of speech.

 

See also agent noun, collective noun, common noun, count noun, mass noun, proper noun, verbal noun.

Examples in the OED:

  • Entries for nouns have the part-of-speech label n., for example ANTEATER n., COMMITMENT n., QUANTUM THEORY n., MAORI DOG n. Some entries are divided into more than one part of speech: for example, GERMAN n. and adj. is divided into a section showing its use as a noun (as in ‘the Evangelical Germans’) and a section showing its use as an adjective (as in ‘the German children all play together’).
  • ABHOR v. 2 is described as ‘With noun or noun phrase as object’. In ‘He absolutely abhors visiting’, visiting is a noun functioning as the direct object of the verb abhor.
  • One of the senses of THROUGH prep. is described as ‘With plural or collective noun as complement’, referring to examples such as ‘bounding through the trees’ and ‘She slipped through the crowd.’

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, nouns are referred to as substantives.]

noun phrase

noun phrase is a group of words consisting of a noun or pronoun along with any modifiers of that noun or pronoun (such as determinersadjectivespostmodifying phrases, etc.). A noun phrase functions in a sentence exactly like a noun. The underlined phrases in the following are examples of noun phrases: ‘That’s the most popular summer sport’, ‘The news of his death came as a great shock’, ‘Did you see anything interesting?’

Example in the OED:

  • WORTH adj. 1(a) is described as ‘With noun or noun phrase as complement.’ An example of worth with a noun phrase is ‘It is worth ten pieces of gold’: ten pieces of gold is a noun phrase consisting of the noun pieces premodified by ten and postmodified by the phrase of gold.

number

Number is a grammatical category used to classify word forms according to how many people or things they refer to. In modern English, the two number categories are singular and plural. See also dual.

object | direct object | indirect object

An object is a noun, noun phrase, pronoun, or clause which forms the complement of a transitive verb and typically refers to something or someone that is affected by the action denoted by that verb.

 

There are two main types of object: direct object and indirect object.

 

A direct object typically refers to something or someone that is directly affected by the action denoted by the verb: for example all the cake in John ate all the cake.  In English, the direct object usually comes after the verb.

 

A direct object may also be used together with an indirect object, which typically refers to the recipient or goal of the action denoted by the verb: for example Louise in Give Louise some cake. In English, the indirect object usually comes after the verb and before the direct object.

 

See also prepositional object.

Examples in the OED:

In the OED, object is used as the default term to refer to the direct object; direct object is used if there is a contrast with indirect object.

 

  • BLUE-RINSE v. is defined as ‘To treat (hair) with a blue rinse. Also with person as object.’ This means that the direct object of blue-rinse usually denotes hair (as in ‘He had prepared for his performance by blue-rinsing his hair’) but it may also denote a person (as in ‘He has evidently just blue-rinsed Mrs Irons’).
  • At AUGUR v. 1, ‘To predict, to anticipate’, there is a set of quotations described as ‘With clause as object’. For example, in ‘I do not pretend to augurwhat the courts will do’, the clause ‘what the courts will do’ functions as the direct object of
  • At ME pron.1, sense 1 gives examples of me ‘As direct object of a verb’, including ‘Hear me, for I will speak’ and ‘He..hauled me to my feet’. By contrast, sense 2 gives examples of me ‘As indirect object’, including ‘Dalek..sold me two ounces of Colombian gold reefer’ (where two ounces of Colombian gold reefer is the direct object, and me is the indirect object).
  • SECURE v. 3f is defined as ‘With direct and indirect object. To make sure that (a person) obtains something.’ For example, in ‘This would secure him a promotion’, a promotion is the direct object, and him is the indirect object.

objective

  1. When a word functions as the object of a sentence or clause, it is in the objective case. In modern English, pronouns have different forms depending on case, and the main objective pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, and Objective pronouns are contrasted with subjective pronouns such as I, he, etc. (Note that you and it have the same form in both the subjective and objective case.)

 

  1. An objective compound is a compound noun or adjective in which the first element is a noun and the second element is a present participle, verbal noun, or agent noun, and which can be rewritten as a clause in which the first element is the object of the verb underlying the second element.

Examples in the OED

  • CHOCOLATE n. and adj. contains a compounds section with the heading ‘Objective’. The compounds listed there include chocolate lover (a person who loves chocolate), chocolate maker (a person who makes chocolate), chocolate making (the action or process of making chocolate), and chocolate seller (a person who sells chocolate).

 

  • PRAYER n.1 contains a compounds section with the heading ‘Objective’. The compounds listed there include prayer-answering (that answers prayers), prayer-hearing­ (that hears prayers), and prayer-inventor (a person who invents prayers).

optative

The optative is a form used to express wish or desire. For example, ‘Long live the Queen!’ has optative meaning, expressing the wish that the Queen will live for a long time.

 

In the OED, the term optative is often used in conjunction with subjunctive.

Example in the OED:

  • ROT v. 6 is defined as ‘In imprecations or expressions of irritation or impatience, chiefly in optative subjunctive.’ An example is ‘God rot the lot of them!’, which has the sense ‘I wish that God would rot the lot of them!’

parasynthetic

A parasynthetic compound is one created by two or more processes of word formation operating together. In English, it usually denotes an adjective formed using both compounding and derivation.

Examples in the OED:

  • Most parasynthetic adjectives in English are of the form ‘X-Yed’, where X is an adjective, Y is a noun, and the suffix -ed means ‘having or provided with ——’; the suffix applies to the entire adjective + noun compound, and not just to the noun to which it is attached. For example, BLACK adj. has a special uses section with the heading ‘Parasynthetic’, containing adjectives such as black-haired. Black-haired is formed from the compound black hair and the suffix -ed, and means ‘having black hair’. Further examples of this type are brown-eyed, long-armed, high-backed.
  • The first element can also be a noun (e.g. in balloon-shaped, ‘having a balloon shape’, and rosewood-coloured, ‘having a rosewood colour’) or an adverb (e.g. in strongly-legged, ‘having strong legs’).

parenthetical | parenthetically

A parenthetical word, phrase, or clause is inserted into a sentence as an explanation or afterthought, and is usually marked off by brackets, commas, or dashes. Such a word, phrase, or clause is said to be used parenthetically.

Examples in the OED:

  • GASP int. is defined as ‘Used parenthetically to express mock horror, shock, surprise, dismay, etc.’ The illustrative quotations include uses of gasp inside brackets, e.g. ‘Let’s examine this point in the context of (gasp!) a hypothetical’,  and uses inside dashes, e.g. ‘ A column about the couple’s decision to—gasp—date other people.’
  • KNOW v. 7d, ‘To be familiar with the habits, preferences, behaviour, etc., of (a person)’, is described as ‘Chiefly in introductory or parenthetical statements, as you know me, knowing you, etc.’ An example in a parenthetical statement is ‘If you’ve read as far as this—which I rather doubt, knowing you—you will probably wonder what I’m getting at.’

part of speech

A part of speech is a category to which words are assigned based on their similar grammatical functions. The eight major parts of speech used in the OED are noun (n.), adjective (adj.), pronoun (pron.), verb (v.), adverb (adv.), preposition (prep.), conjunction (conj.), and interjection (int.).

 

OED entries show abbreviated part-of-speech labels next to the entry word, for example MILK n., NECESSARY adj., S/HE pron.2, HATE v., CHEERFULLY adv., ON prep., OR conj.1, and SHAZAM int. Some entries are divided into more than one part of speech.

participial adjective

A participial adjective is an adjective that is derived from, and identical in form with, a present participle or a past participle. Examples of participial adjectives in English are knitted in a knitted sweater and interesting in an interesting idea.

Examples in the OED:

  • ENGLISH adj. Special uses 1b shows uses of English ‘With participial adjectives’, such as English-born and English-educated.
  • STRONG adv. Compounds shows uses of strong ‘With present participial adjectives’, such as strong-growing and strong-smelling, and ‘With past participial adjectives’, such as strong-made and strong-set.

 

[It is often difficult to draw a distinction between participial adjectives and the participles from which they are derived. Earlier editions of the OED treated participial adjectives as a separate part of speech from other adjectives, but in the revised edition such words are treated as adjectives.]

participle | past participle | present participle

A participle is a form of a verb used with auxiliary verbs in complex constructions or alone in non-finite clauses. There are two types of participle, past and present.

 

Past participles are used to form the perfect (for example taken in they had taken the train) and the passive (for example denied in the allegations were denied). They are also used alone in non-finite clauses (e.g. in Puzzled, he stared out of the window). In English, past participles often have the same form as the past tense of the verb, often ending in -ed (e.g. walked, denied); others end in -en (e.g. taken, eaten); and others have irregular forms (e.g. been, gone, swum) or are identical with the base form (e.g. hit, put).

 

Present participles are used to form progressive constructions (e.g. thinking in I am thinking). They are also used alone in non-finite clauses (e.g. in Thinking, he stared out of the window). In English, present participles end in -ing.

 

Participles may also be used as adjectives (as in a knitted jumper, an interesting idea) in which case they are called participial adjectives.

Examples in the OED:

  • RETURN v. 1c, having the overarching definition ‘To come or go back to a place or person’, illustrates the construction ‘In past participle with to be’. Examples include ‘They saw much of the Lambs, who lived close by and were just returned from a visit to Coleridge at Keswick’ and ‘Is she returned from lunch yet?’
  • FULLY adv. 1b(a), having the overarching definition ‘In a full manner or degree;…completely, entirely’, shows examples ‘Modifying a verb (frequently a past participle).’ Examples with past participles include ‘they were fully prepared’ and ‘day had fully dawned’.
  • DRUM-FISH v. (defined as ‘to fish for drum-fish’) is described as occurring ‘chiefly as present participle’. Examples include ‘A number of fishermen were drum-fishing’ and ‘Senator Quay..was discovered..knee-deep in the surf at Atlantic City, drum-fishing.

passive

In a passive sentence, the grammatical subject typically refers to the person or thing which undergoes or is affected by the action expressed by the verb. For example, ‘Your vase was broken by my dog’ is a passive sentence: your vase is the grammatical subject, and the vase has undergone the breaking.

 

You can often convert an active sentence into a passive sentence, by making  the direct object of the active verb the grammatical subject of the passive verb, and either expressing the subject in a phrase with by or omitting it altogether. For example:

Active: My dog broke your vase.

Passive: Your vase was broken [by my dog].

 

Active: The authorities will prosecute trespassers.

Passive: Trespassers will be prosecuted [by the authorities].

 

In English, passives are usually made by combining a form of the verb be with a past participle, for example was broken, be prosecuted, is made, are changed. Passives can also be formed with the verb get, as in ‘Your vase got broken.’

 

See also indirect passive, prepositional passive.

Examples in the OED:

  • Since passive uses are a regular feature of English, they are mentioned in the OED only if especially common or noteworthy.
    • LONGLIST v.,To place on a longlist’, is described as ‘Usually in passive.’ Passive uses are the norm (e.g. ‘The novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize’), although active uses are possible (you could say, for example, ‘The judges longlisted thirty novels’).
    • SPREAD v. 12b is defined as ‘In Of people, animals, etc.: to be scattered, dispersed, or distributed over or throughout an area.’ All the examples of this sense show passive use, for example ‘The Rook is spread over the greater part of Europe’ and ‘the Monophysites‥were spread throughout Syria, Anatolia and Egypt.’
  • If a sentence is not grammatically passive but has a meaning similar to that of a passive, it can be described as ‘with passive meaning’. For example, you can say ‘I boil-washed the shirts’ (active) or ‘The shirts were boil-washed’ (passive); you can also say ‘These shirts boil-wash well’, which is not passive in form but is passive in meaning (= ‘These shirts can be boil-washed’). At BOIL-WASH v., this type of use is noted: ‘Also occasionally intransitive with passive meaning.’

passive infinitive

An infinitive such as to eat or to question may be used in a passive form: to be eaten or to be questioned. Such forms are called passive infinitives. Passive infinitives often function as complements of adjectives or objects of verbs, for example ‘It was strange to be questioned’ or ‘These apples need to be eaten.

Example in the OED:

  • At REMAIN v. 2b, ‘To be left outstanding after the rest has been done or dealt with in some way’, there is a set of examples described as ‘With infinitive (now frequently passive infinitive), expressing what still needs to be done.’ This covers uses such as ‘Much remains to be learned’, ‘The headlands will remain to be ploughed separately’, and also the phrase to remain to be seen.

past participle

See participle.

past tense

The past tense of a verb typically expresses an action that happened in the past or a state that previously existed. For example, in ‘Susan helped her brother’, helped is the past tense form of the verb help, and expresses an action that took place in the past. In ‘Joshua was happy’, was is a past tense form of the verb be and expresses a previous state.

 

In English, past tense forms of regular verbs end in -ed, for example helped, walked, completed. There are also many irregular past tense forms: for example, ran is the past tense form of run, did is the past tense form of do, and was and were are past tense forms of be.

Example in the OED:

  • At the phrase to fall off the back of a lorry (also truck, etc.) at FALL v., there is a note ‘Chiefly in the past tense or the perfect.’ The majority of example sentences at this sense show the verb fall in its past tense form fell, as in ‘it fell off the back of a lorry’ and ‘it fell off of a truck’.

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, the term preterite is used instead of ‘past tense’.]

perfect

The perfect is a verb construction which typically indicates that an action took place or a situation existed before some stated or implied time. In modern English, the perfect consists of a form of the auxiliary verb have plus a past participle; for example, ‘Sasha has decided what to paint, ‘she had left by the time he arrived’, ‘you will have completed the task by Thursday’, and ‘having done all we could, we left the problem to them’.

 

In earlier periods of English, the perfect was often formed of the auxiliary verb be (rather than have) plus a past participle, for example ‘He is arrived’ (meaning ‘He has arrived’). See BE v. 16b.

Examples in the OED:

  • The phrase to have got on at GET v., meaning ‘to be wearing’, is described as a use of get ‘In the perfect’. In uses such as ‘She had got a new cotton blouse on’, had got is a perfect construction, formed of have and the past participle of get.
  • At SPRING v.1 9b(a), ‘Of a mast, boom, etc.: to split, to crack’, it is noted that in this sense spring is ‘Chiefly in the perfect (in early use formed with to be).’ Early examples mainly show perfect constructions formed with be, g. ‘The mast is sprung’, while modern examples show perfect constructions formed with have, e.g. ‘The mast has sprung’.

periphrasis | periphrastic

Periphrasis refers to the use of two or more words to express a meaning which could otherwise be expressed by a single word: for example, the phrase have a bath (equivalent to the single word bathe) is periphrastic. Specifically, periphrasis refers to the use of two or more words to express a grammatical relation which could otherwise be expressed by inflection: for example, more heavy (equivalent to the single word heavier) is periphrastic, as is did go in ‘She did go’ (equivalent to the single word went in ‘She went’).

Example in the OED:

  • Several senses of DO v. are described as ‘As periphrastic auxiliary’. For example, do is periphrastic in ‘Do not speak’, where it forms a negative construction. (The equivalent non-periphrastic form, which is now archaic, is ‘Speak not’.)

person

Person is a grammatical category used to classify word forms according to whether they refer to the speaker(s)/writer(s), the addressee(s), or a third party. In modern English, pronouns (and related possessive adjectives) have different forms according to person. For example, I is a first person pronoun, you is a second person pronoun, and he, she, and it are third person pronouns.

 

In English in earlier periods (as in many other languages), verbs were also marked for person. In modern English, there are few remaining distinctions of this kind: the main exception is in third person singular verbs in the present tense, which are usually marked by the addition of -s or -es. That is, we say he/she/it runs, but I run, you run, we run, they run, etc.

personal pronoun

A personal pronoun is a pronoun denoting one of the three grammatical persons. The personal pronouns in modern standard English are I, me, we, us (first person, referring to the speaker(s) or writer(s)); you (second person, referring to the addressee(s)); and he, him, she, her, it, they, them (third person, referring to a third party).

 

Related to personal pronouns are reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, etc.), possessive pronouns (mine, yours, etc.), and possessive adjectives (my, your, etc.).

Examples in the OED:

  • ON prep. 2f covers a group of senses ‘Usually with a personal pronoun, indicating the possessor of some (permanent or temporary) attribute.’ Examples under the various senses include ‘got a pen on you?’, ‘the hunger was on him’, and ‘she had a face onher that’d fade flowers.’
  • At LOT n. 16, meaning ‘a group of people’, there is a sense described as ‘Used for emphasis after a plural personal pronoun. Esp. in you lot.’ Examples include you lot, us lot, and them lot, as in ‘So, us lotstick to ourselves, them lot do likewise.’

phrasal verb

A phrasal verb consists of a verb and an adverb or preposition (or sometimes both), functioning together as a single semantic and grammatical unit.  Often the meaning of a phrasal verb is not obvious from the meanings of the component words, as in the following examples (in which the underlined groups of words are phrasal verbs):

 

His car broke down.

They took out a loan.

Look it up in the dictionary.

Shall I see to lunch?

She has always looked down on me.

I’ll take it up with the relevant authorities.

Examples in the OED:

  • Idiomatic phrasal verbs are usually treated in a separate section towards the end of a verb entry, with the heading ‘Phrasal verbs’. Such sections are often divided into uses ‘With adverbs in specialized senses’ and uses ‘With prepositions in specialized senses’. For example, the phrasal verbs at LIVE v.1 are grouped into two such divisions: the former includes for example to live in (e.g. ‘The nurse girl‥didn’t live in’), to live up (e.g. ‘Those who lived it up in the cocktail lounges’), and to live up to (e.g. ‘the pressure to live up to his reputation’); the latter includes for example to live through—(e.g. ‘he lived through some anxious moments’) and to live with—(e.g. ‘You make the wrong choice, you got to live with it’).
  • Phrasal verbs are frequently converted into nouns and adjectives: for example, a person who calls something off is a caller-off; if your roof falls in it is a fallen-in roof; you can wash up the dishes or do the washing-up. In OED, the definitions of such nouns and adjectives often make reference to the relevant phrasal verbs: for example, LOOKING n. C2 is described as ‘With following adverb, forming nouns of action corresponding to phrasal verbs (see LOOK v.), as looking back, looking out, etc.’ One example is ‘He did it ill, with constant exasperating stoppings and lookings-back.’

phrase (phr.)

  1. A phrase is a group of words expressing a single notion or acting together as a unit.
  2. There is also a more specific grammatical meaning of phrase: a grammatical unit at a level between a word and a clause, and typically functioning in the same way as a word on its own. For example, an adjective phrase consists of an adjective and any modifying adverbs or complements (e.g. quite difficult), and a verb phrase consists of a main verb and any auxiliary verbs (e.g. must have gone). See also noun phrase, prepositional phrase.
  3. (Technically, a grammatical phrase may consist of a single word – that is, furniture is a noun phrase consisting of the noun furniture – though for ease of understanding the term phrase is usually used in the OED to refer to combinations of two or more words.)

Examples in the OED:

  • Idiomatic phrases are often placed in a separate section (with the heading ‘Phrases’) towards the end of an entry. For example, the phrases to mind one’s own business, to get down to business, business as usual, business before pleasure, and any other business are all covered in the Phrases section at BUSINESS n.
  • Phrases are sometimes treated as separate entries, in which case they have the part-of-speech label This is frequently the way that foreign phrases are treated when they are borrowed in their entirety into English, e.g. C’EST LA VIE phr. and TEMPUS FUGIT phr.

pleonasm | pleonastic

Pleonasm is the use of more words in a phrase or clause than are necessary to express the meaning, typically because one word or phrase expresses an idea already expressed by another word or phrase. For example, the clause ‘to see with the eyes’ is pleonastic: ‘to see’ requires the eyes, so the phrase ‘with the eyes’ is not necessary to express the meaning. Pleonasm is sometimes regarded as a fault of style, but it may also be used for emphasis or clarity, as in ‘Look with your eyes, not with your hands.’

Examples in the OED:

  • Phrases such as to see with one’s own eyes and the obsolete phrases to see with eye, to see with sight, and variants can be found at SEE v. Phrases 1, where they are called ‘pleonastic or emphatic phrases with eye (or †sight).’
  • The construction to enter in is covered at ENTER v. 15a(c), as in the example ‘they had to enter in through the kitchen.’ The definition describes this use of enter as ‘With pleonastic or emphatic in‘. The adverb in is pleonastic because to enter already means ‘to come or go in’.
  • Compounds such as fellow companion, fellow partner, and fellow compatriot are covered at FELLOW n. Compounds 1d, where fellow is defined as ‘Pleonastically modifying nouns which themselves imply companionship or participation.’

plural

A plural form of a noun is generally used to refer to more than one person, thing, or group.  In modern English, the plural of a noun is usually formed by adding -s or -es to the singular (as in table tables, box → boxes); sometimes there is a change in the final letter(s) (as in family families, hoof hooves); and some plural forms are irregular (child children, mousemice, etc.) or unchanged (aircraft, mackerel, etc.).

 

Pronouns referring to more than one person or thing are plural (we, us, they, etc.) as are corresponding possessive adjectives and some determiners (our, their, these, etc.). In many other languages, and in English in earlier periods, other types of adjectives also have distinct singular and plural forms, but this distinction is not generally made in modern English except in some foreign loanwords.

 

Verbs also have singular and plural forms. Most verbs in modern English are only marked for singular and plural in the third person present tense forms, i.e. he/she/it runs (singular) vs. they run (plural). See also agreement.

Examples in the OED:

  • Irregular plural forms are specified in the ‘Inflections’ section and/or in the ‘Forms’ near the beginning of an entry. For example, the plural of reindeer is usually reindeer, although reindeers does occur. The Inflections section at REINDEER n. reads ‘Plural unchanged, (rare) reindeers’, while the Forms section at MALTESE n. notes the unchanged plural form Maltese as well as obsolete plural forms such as Malteses.
  • At SPORT n. C1c, ‘Designating clothing, shoes, etc., for informal or sporting wear’, compounds ‘With the first element in plural form’, as sports clothes, sports skirt, etc., are treated separately from those ‘With the first element in singular form’, as sport shoe, sport skirt, sport suit, etc.
  • A sense specific to the plural form papers is included at PAPER n. 10: ‘A newspaper or journal. Also in plural, with the: newspapers collectively; the press.’
  • THEY pron. is described as ‘The subjective case of the third person plural pronoun; the plural of he, she, or it.’
  • The irregular plural forms of BE v. are specified in the Inflections section, as ‘Present indicative:..2nd singular and plural are’, ‘past indicative..2nd singular and plural were’, etc.

positive

A positive adjective or adverb is one which is in its unmarked basic form, simply expressing a quality or attribute, rather than a higher degree or the highest degree of that quality or attribute (see comparative, superlative). An example of a positive adjective is happy. Happier is the related comparative adjective and happiest is the related superlative adjective.

Example in the OED:

  • At MUCH 1c, meaning ‘very’,  uses ‘modifying a positive adjective or adverb’ are exemplified. An example in which much modifies a positive adjective is ‘She’s not much old’, and an example in which it modifies a positive adverb is ‘I don’t know the road much well.’ This construction is now rare except in U.S. regional use, whereas uses modifying comparative adjectives and adverbs (e.g. much older and much better) are widespread.

possessive

The term possessive usually appears in possessive pronoun or possessive adjective in designating possession or a close relationship of a particular type. Possessive can also be used as a general term for any member of the set of words expressing possession, including genitive constructions.

Example in the OED:

  • KINDRED n. 2a, ‘A person’s relatives or kinsfolk collectively’, is described as ‘usually with possessive’. In this sense, kindred is usually used either with a possessive adjective (e.g. ‘The mouldering relics of my kindred’) or in a genitive construction (e.g. ‘the lord’s kindred’).

 

[In unrevised OED entries, possessive is sometimes abbreviated as poss. or possess.]

possessive adjective

A possessive adjective is a word related to a possessive pronoun and used before a noun to indicate possession. The main possessive adjectives in modern English are my, our, his, her, its, and their, as in ‘these are my books’.

Examples in the OED:

  • HOME AFFAIRS n. 2 is described as occurring ‘With possessive adjective’. In ‘bend my Genius to my Home-Affairs’ and ‘conducting his home affairs’, home affairs occurs with the possessive adjectives my and his, respectively.
  • BOTH C. adj. 4b is described as ‘Preceding a plural possessive adjective’. This is seen in the following examples where both comes before the plural possessive adjectives their and your: ‘He could put an end to both their agony right now’ and ‘It’s both your fault!’

 

See also pronoun and possessive pronoun.

 

[In some unrevised OED entries possessive adjectives are referred to as possessive pronouns.]

possessive pronoun

A possessive pronoun is a type of pronoun which indicates possession. The main possessive pronouns in modern English are mine, ours, yours, his, hers, and theirs, as in ‘these books are mine’.

Example in the OED:

  • The definition of HERS pron.1 states that it is ‘the possessive pronoun corresponding to HER adj.2’. This is illustrated in the examples ‘fifty of the pictures are hers’ and ‘They must be hers of her own right.’

 

See also pronoun and possessive adjective.

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, the term possessive pronoun is used to refer to possessive adjectives.]

postmodify | postmodifier

A postmodifier is a word, phrase or clause which comes immediately after another and limits or qualifies its meaning. For example, in city of dreaming spires, of dreaming spires postmodifies city; in something strange, strange postmodifies something; in chicken jalfrezi, jalfrezi postmodifies chicken.

Examples in the OED:

  • BANKRUPT adj. 2a, ‘Entirely lacking in a specified good quality, value, etc.’, is described as ‘With modifying adverb or postmodifying of– or in-phrase’. Examples with postmodifying phrases include ‘bankrupt of ideas’ and ‘bankrupt in character’.
  • MANQUÉ adj. is defined as ‘As postmodifier. That might have been but is not, that has missed being’. For example, in ‘Casaubon..is an intellectual manqué’, the adjective manqué postmodifies the noun intellectual.

 

See also modifier and premodifier.

predicate

The predicate of a sentence or clause is the part which is not the subject: it typically contains a verb and any objects, complements, and adverbials. For example, in ‘we ate breakfast’, we is the subject and ate breakfast is the predicate; in ‘sarcasm is the lowest form of wit’, sarcasm is the subject and is the lowest form of wit is the predicate.

Example in the OED:

  • NO adj. 2a is described as ‘Negating a (usually singular) noun in a predicate’, covering uses such as ‘that is no joke’, and ‘she was no coward’: is no joke and was no coward are the predicates in these sentences.

 

See also predicative.

predicative

  1. A predicative adjective is linked to the word it modifies by a verb such as be, become, or seem: for example, warm in ‘the day was warm’ is predicative. Predicative adjectives are contrasted with attributive adjectives, which directly modify nouns or noun phrases (for example, warm in ‘a warm day’).

 

See also complement, copula.

2. Nouns can also be described as predicative when they function as complements (as in ‘she was president’, ‘the people elected her president’) rather than, for example, subjects (as in ‘the president arrived’) or objects (as in ‘he visited the president’).

See also predicate.

 

[In unrevised OED entries, predicative is usually abbreviated as pred.]

Examples in the OED:

  1. ALONE adj. has a heading ‘Chiefly in predicative use’ because alone is usually used in sentences such as ‘they were alone’ or ‘she felt alone’; attributive uses such as ‘an alone person’ are much less common.
  2. PERSONA NON GRATA n., ‘an unacceptable or unwelcome person’, is described as ‘in predicative use’ because it occurs only in sentences such as ‘he had become a persona non grata in all editorial offices of Russia’; it would be unusual to say, for example, ‘A persona non grata came into the room’.

prefix

A prefix is an element added to the beginning of a word or stem to form a new word. The main function of a prefix is to change the meaning of the word it attaches to.

 

Compare suffix.

Examples in the OED:

  • The adjective and adverb OUTBOUND was historically formed by attaching the prefix OUT- to the adjective BOUND (adj.1). This changes the meaning of BOUND (adj.1) by providing a sense of direction.
  • The verb UNPACK is formed of the prefix UN- (prefix2) and the verb PACK. The prefix changes the meaning of the verb.

 

[The difference between a prefix and a combining form has been drawn in different ways by different authorities. In the OED, a prefix typically functions like a preposition or an adverb, unlike a combining form.]

premodify | premodifier

A premodifier is a word, phrase or clause which comes before another and limits or qualifies its meaning. For example, in school tripschool premodifies trip; in just next to himjust premodifies next to; in all you can eat buffet, all you can eat premodifies buffet.

Examples in the OED:

  • MARCHER n. 1b, ‘A person who takes part in a protest or demonstration march’, is described as ‘Frequently with premodifier’, because the purpose of the protest or demonstration is often specified by a preceding word, for example in ‘hunger marcher’ and ‘anti-bomb marcher’.
  • HEART adv. meaning ‘Heartily, from the heart;.. utterly, completely’, is described as ‘Only as a premodifier of adjectives’: that is, heart as an adverb is only ever placed before adjectives, for example in ‘I felt heart sorry’ and ‘I was heart afraid’.

 

See also modifier and postmodifier.

preposition (prep.)

A preposition is a word which typically precedes a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun and expresses a relationship between it and another word in the sentence. After, at, by, for, from, in, on, to, and with are all common prepositions in English. Prepositions often express position (e.g. ‘her bag was under the chair’), direction (e.g. ‘he looked at me’), or time (e.g. ‘they arrived on Sunday’). Some prepositions are made up of more than one word, for example out of and up to.

 

In English, prepositions are often used idiomatically with verbs to form phrasal verbs, for example fall for (meaning either ‘be taken in by’ or ‘fall in love with’) and see to (meaning ‘attend to, deal with’).

 

The category of prepositions is one of the parts of speech.

 

See also prepositional object, prepositional passive, prepositional phrase.

Examples in the OED:

  • Entries for prepositions have the part-of-speech label prep., for example INCLUDING prep., ON prep., OUT OF prep. Some entries are divided into more than one part of speech: for example, THROUGH prep. and adv. is divided into a section showing its use as a preposition (as in ‘We went through a long passage’) and a section showing its use as an adverb (as in ‘Let me through’).
  • ZOOM v. 1, ‘<<<<<To move or travel very quickly…’ is described as ‘Frequently with adverbs and prepositions indicating the direction of travel.’ Examples with prepositions include ‘A couple of humble-bees zoomed against the window pane’, while examples with adverbs include ‘Trams zoom along’.
  • In phrasal verbs sections, combinations of verbs and prepositions are described as ‘With prepositions in specialized senses’. These combinations are presented with dashes to indicate that a prepositional object of the verb follows: for example to live through— (‘he lived through some anxious moments’) and to live with— (‘Virgil asked me to live with him two months ago’) at LIVE v.1.

prepositional object

A prepositional object is a word or phrase (typically a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun) which forms the complement of, and usually follows, a preposition. For example, in ‘The bag is under the table’, the table is the prepositional object of under; in ‘Listen to me’, me is the prepositional object of to.

Example in the OED:

  • At the phrase to do without at DO v. PV1, sense 2 is described asWith prepositional object implied by the context: to manage without something’. In this phrase there is usually a prepositional object of without (for example butter in ‘She could do without butter’), but this sense covers uses in which the prepositional object is omitted (as in ‘She learned to do without’).

prepositional passive

In the sentence ‘Everyone laughed at the idea’, the idea is the prepositional object of at. It is possible to change this sentence into a passive sentence in which the prepositional object becomes the subject: ‘The idea was laughed at by everyone’, or simply ‘The idea was laughed at’. This type of passive is called a prepositional passive.

Example in the OED:

  • ACCOUNT v. 3e is defined as ‘ With for. To establish or confirm the whereabouts of a person or thing. Usually in prepositional passive.’ An example is ‘We were able to confirm that all people were accounted for’ (i.e. someone accounted for all people).

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, prepositional passive constructions are referred to as indirect passives.]

prepositional phrase

A prepositional phrase is a group of words consisting of a preposition and its object (typically a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun). For example, under the table, on Sunday, throughout the entire meeting, and beside me are all prepositional phrases.

Examples in the OED:

  • At STICK n.1 P20, the sticks is defined as ‘a remote, thinly populated, or rural area; the backwoods; the country. Chiefly in prepositional phrases, esp. from the sticks, (out) in the sticks.
  • SKIVE v.3 3a in the sense ‘shirk, play truant’ is described as ‘Also with off (in prepositional phrase specifying the activity, duty, etc.)’. This covers uses such as ‘skive off work’ and ‘skive off school’, in which off work and off school are prepositional phrases.

present participle

See participle.

present tense

The present tense of a verb typically expresses an action that is happening now or is habitually performed, or a state that currently exists. For example, in ‘David calls Rosie’, calls is a present tense form of the verb call, and expresses an action that is taking place in the present. In ‘Anika is calm’, is is a present tense form of the verb be and expresses a current state.

 

In modern English, the present tense form of most verbs is identical to the verb’s base form except in the third person singular, which usually takes the ending -s or -es. For example, we say ‘I run’ for the first person singular but ‘she runs’ for the third person singular of run. The irregular verb be has the forms am, are, and is in the present tense.

Example in the OED:

  • SAY v.1 22, ‘Of a sum of money: to stand as a bet or wager (that the specified outcome is the case)’, is described as ‘Usually in the present tense’. In ‘A fiver says he does!’ and ‘A dollar says you don’t have the nerve’, says is the third person singular present tense form of say.

 

See also tense.

pro-form

A pro-form is a word (or combination of words) which stands in for a more specific word or expression. Pronouns (such as I, me, he, him, etc.) are a type of pro-form. Other pro-forms in English include the verb do in uses such as ‘He started laughing, and I did too’ (where did stands in for started laughing) and the adverb so in uses such as ‘“Is Susan coming?” “I hope so”’ (where so stands in for that Susan is coming).

Example in the OED:

  • At SAY v.1, ‘To make (an utterance or comment); to utter (words)’, there is a group of senses described as ‘With a pro-form in place of the reported speech or declaration.’ Examples include uses with pronouns (e.g. ‘Mauleverer only saidthat to tease you’ and ‘She paused, not knowing what to say’) and uses with the adverbs so or thus (e.g. ‘It’s very nice of you to say so’ and ‘Thus saying, they withdrew a little way’).

progressive

The progressive is a verb construction that expresses an ongoing state or an action that is in progress at a given time. In English, progressive constructions consist of a form of the auxiliary verb be plus a present participle; for example, ‘James is making dinner’, ‘she was reading’, and ‘we were living in San Francisco at the time’.

Examples in the OED:

  • COME v. 12b, ‘To be due (to a person) as something owed, earned, or deserved’, is described as ‘In the progressive’. Quotations at this sense, such as ‘collect what was coming to me’ and ‘if he had what’s coming to him’, illustrate the verb come in progressive constructions.
  • At PULVERIZE v. 1a, there is a note explaining that one of the 17th century quotations, ‘I was so careful to keep the Stone from touching Iron, when it was pulverising’, is ‘intransitive in the progressive with passive meaning’. Here, the progressive construction in the stone was pulverising has a sense equivalent to a passive construction, and means ‘the stone was being pulverized’. This use of the progressive was common in earlier periods of English.

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, the term continuous is used instead of progressive.]

pronoun (pron.)

A pronoun is a word which functions like a noun and refers to something or someone mentioned elsewhere in the discourse (for example, in ‘Michael took the children with him’, the pronoun him refers back to the noun Michael) or identifiable from context or usage (for example, if a person in a shop points to a pair of shoes and says ‘I’d like those’, it is clear that the pronoun I refers to the speaker and the pronoun those refers to the shoes).

 

The category of pronouns is one of the parts of speech.

 

There are several types of pronoun: see indefinite, interrogative, personal, reflexive, and relative. See also subjective and objective.

Examples in the OED:

  • Entries for pronouns have the part-of-speech label pron., for example ANYONE pron., MYSELF pron. Some entries are divided into more than one part of speech: for example, THINE adj. and pron. is divided into a section showing its use as a possessive adjective meaning ‘your’ (as in ‘Drink to me, onley, with thine eyes’) and a section showing its use as a pronoun meaning ‘yours’ (as in ‘For thyne is the kyngedome and the power, and the glorye’).
  • GET v. 15d, ‘To understand (a person, the meaning of something)’, is described as ‘Frequently..with a pronoun as object’, because in this sense the direct object is often a pronoun such as it, that, me, or you, as in ‘Do you get it?’, ‘I don’t get you‘.

proper noun | proper name

A proper noun (or proper name) is a name used for an individual person, animal, organization, title, place etc. Proper nouns are usually written with an initial capital letter. Examples in English include Richard, Belgium, the United States (of America), (Mount) Everest, Oxfam, Romeo and Juliet, The Daily Telegraph, and July. Compare common noun.

 

The terms proper noun and proper name are often used interchangeably, but proper noun is sometimes used specifically to refer to names consisting of a single noun (such as Richard or Belgium), whereas proper name refers to names more generally, irrespective of whether they consist of a single noun or a noun phrase (such as the United States (of America) or Romeo and Juliet).

Examples in the OED:

  • The use of tomfool ‘as a proper noun’ meaning ‘the type of a foolish, stupid, or half-witted person’ is treated at TOMFOOL n. 1a, where one of the examples given is ‘You talk like Tom Fool.’
  • BRUIN n., meaning ‘a bear’, is described as ‘formerly chiefly as a proper name, now more usually as a common noun’. One of the examples in which it is used as a proper name is: ‘I want to behold Bruin right in his pig red eye so I’ll never have to be so scared again.’

protasis

See apodosis and protasis.

quasi-

In some unrevised OED entries, quasi- (meaning ‘having some but not all of the properties of’, ‘almost, virtually’) is used to modify grammatical terms. For example, a sense of a noun might be described as ‘quasi-adj.’, indicating that the noun is being used as if it were an adjective, or is very close to being an adjective. In revised entries, this term is not used: a word behaving as an adjective, for example, is treated as an adjective.

reflexive

  1. A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun which refers back to the subject of the verb. The main reflexive pronouns in English are those ending in -self or -selves (myself, himself, themselves, ), but the objective personal pronouns (me, him, them, etc.) also have reflexive uses, especially in earlier periods of English.
  2. A verb is reflexive when it takes a reflexive pronoun as its direct object.

Examples in the OED:

  • 1. OURSELVES pron. has a section with the heading ‘Reflexive uses’, with quotations such as ‘We may as well amuse ourselves’, in which ourselves refers back to the subject
  • US pron. has a group of senses described as ‘Reflexive’, with quotations such as ‘We flung us on the windy hill’ and ‘Let’s have us a Diet Coke’.
  • 2.
    • Reflexive uses of verbs are transitive (because of the direct object), so are labelled both reflexive and transitive in the OED.
      • 3a, ‘To take pride in or congratulate oneself’, is labelled transitive (reflexive), because the object is always a reflexive pronoun, as in ‘I prided myself on being unflappable’.
      • OVERFATIGUE v., ‘To fatigue too much; to overtire’, is labelled ‘transitive… Frequently reflexive’ because the object is often a reflexive pronoun (as in ‘Night workers‥over-fatigued themselves’), although other types of object are also used (as in ‘Don’t over-fatigue the Spirits’).
    • Verbs are sometimes used with a reflexive pronoun implied or understood, and these may be described as ‘with reflexive meaning’. For example, at FILTHY v., ‘To make filthy’, there is a note explaining that one of the quotations is ‘intransitive with reflexive meaning’. The quotation is ‘They haue rather filthied then washed’, where the reflexive pronoun themselves is understood, i.e. ‘They haue rather filthied themselves then washed

     

    [In unrevised OED entries, uses of intransitive verbs with reflexive meaning are described as intransitive for reflexive (‘intransitive for reflexive’).]

relative

A relative pronoun is a pronoun which introduces a subordinate clause giving more information about the person or thing referred to by that pronoun. A clause introduced by a relative pronoun is called a relative clause.

 

In modern English the relative pronouns are who, whom, which, and that. For example, in ‘This is the man who called yesterday’, who called yesterday is a relative clause introduced by the relative pronoun who.

 

Other types of words may also introduce relative clauses. For example, where and when can be used as relative adverbs, in sentences such as ‘This is the house where I grew up’.

Example in the OED:

  • At THEY pron. 5, uses such as ‘they that walked in darkness…’ and ‘theywho know right and wrong..’ are described as uses of they ‘Followed by a relative clause’.

 

[In unrevised OED entries, relative is sometimes abbreviated as rel.]

second person

Pronouns in the second person indicate the person (or group of people) being addressed. The second person pronouns (and related possessive adjectives) in modern standard English are you, your, yours, yourself, and yourselves.

 

In earlier periods of English (as in many other languages) there were two distinct sets of second person pronoun and possessive adjective forms: thee (and related thou, thy, thine, and thyself) used to address a single person; and you and its related forms used to address a group of people, or to address a single person respectfully or formally. In modern standard English, you is the only surviving form and is used with both singular and plural reference, although distinct plural forms have developed in different varieties of English, as yous, you-all, etc.

 

In many languages, and in English in earlier periods, verbs also take different person forms.

 

See also person, first person, third person.

Examples in the OED:

  • THOU pron. is described as ‘The subjective case of the second person singular pronoun.’
  • At MUST v.1 3a, in the sense ‘expressing necessity’, there is a note commenting that ‘In the second person,must now chiefly expresses a command or an insistent request or counsel.’ That is, uses such as ‘you must stay a minimum of seven days’ express a command.

sentence adverb |sentence adverbial

A sentence adverb is an adverb which is more detached from the rest of the clause or sentence than other adverbs, and is typically used to express the attitude of the speaker or writer to the given statement, or to claim that the statement is being made in a particular way, for example sadly in Sadly, the forests are now under threat’, as it conveys the opinion of the speaker or writer that the situation expressed in the forests are now under threat is sad. By contrast, sadly is not a sentence adverb in ‘She smiled sadly’, where it modifies smiled and means ‘in a sad way’.

 

A sentence adverbial is a phrase which functions in the same way as a sentence adverb, for example like it or not or to be honest.

Example in the OED:

  • LUCKILY adv. 2 is defined as ‘As a sentence adverb: fortunately; as a result of good luck’, with examples such as ‘Luckily there was a passenger on board who had piloted before.’

similative

  1. A phrase or expression in which something is likened to something else is termed similative.
  2. A similative compound is one in which the second element is likened to the first in some way. Similative compounds are usually adjectives, with the first element being a noun and the second element an adjective (typically one denoting an attribute or property, such as colour or size): for example sky-blue, jet-black, and mountain-high. Some similative compounds are nouns, with both the first and second element being nouns.

Examples in the OED:

  1. Some of the more fixed, or otherwise noteworthy, instances of similative expressions are recorded in the OED: for example, at BAD, adj., the definition for bad halfpenny reads ‘used in similative expressions to refer to the unwelcome return of someone or something’, and is illustrated by quotations such as ‘returned, like the bad half-penny’ and ‘As a bad ha’penny is returned to its owner, so have I returned to you.’
  2. AIR n. contains a compounds section with the heading ‘Similative’. The compounds listed include the adjectives air-clear (as clear as air), ­air-sweet (as sweet as air), and air-thin (as thin as air).
  3. MILK n. contains a compounds section with the heading ‘Similative’, and a compound noun listed is milk-bloom (a bloom resembling that of milk).

simple

A simple word, phrase, sentence, or grammatical construction is one that is not complex, or that is made up of only one element. Specifically:

 

  1. A simple object or complement consists of a word (or a word and its modifiers) as opposed to a clause.
  2. A simple tense is formed by a verb used on its own. In English, the two simple tenses are the simple present (e.g. walk in I walk to work) and the simple past (e.g. walked in I walked to work). These simple tenses are contrasted with constructions involving auxiliary verbs, such as the perfect (e.g. the present perfect in I have walked to work) and the progressive (e.g. the past progressive in I was walking to work).
  3. A simple word consists of a single unit or element. Simple words are usually contrasted with compounds or prefixed words. For example, boat is a simple word, in contrast with the compound steamboat.

Examples in the OED:

  1. PROPHESY v. 2a, ‘To predict or foretell…’, is divided into two sections, (a) ‘With simple object’ and (b) ‘With clause as object’. An example in (a) is ‘he prophecied fair weather’, where the direct object is the noun phrase fair weather. An example in (b) is ‘I prophesy that I shall die to-night’, where the direct object is the clause that I shall die to-night.
  2. At JUST 3b, ‘very recently, in the immediate past’, there is a note that in U.S. usage, just is ‘now frequently with simple past in place of the present perfect.’ An example is ‘My intro letter from Cowell to Copland just came’, where came is in the simple past tense; the version with the present perfect would be ‘My intro letter from Cowell to Copland has just come.’

singular

A singular form of a noun is used to refer to one person or thing, or to a group of people or things regarded as a single or collective unit. For example, table, child, and family are singular (tables, children, and families are the corresponding plural forms), as are rice and luck (which are typically mass nouns and therefore do not usually take a plural form).

 

Pronouns referring to one person or thing are singular (I, me, he, it, etc.) as are corresponding possessive adjectives and some determiners (my, his/her/its, this, etc.). In many other languages, and in English in earlier periods, other types of adjectives also have distinct singular and plural forms, but this distinction is not generally made in modern English except in some foreign loanwords.

 

Verbs also have singular and plural forms. Most verbs in modern English are only marked for singular and plural in the third person present tense forms, i.e. he/she/it runs (singular) vs. they run (plural). See also agreement.

Examples in the OED:

  • The singular form of a noun is usually the headword form in the OED (for example OFFICE n., SPORT n.). Where the headword is in the plural form, singular forms are specified in the ‘Inflections’ section and/or in the ‘Forms’ section near the beginning of the entry, and at any relevant senses. For example, SCISSORS n. is generally a plural noun, but it can sometimes be used in the singular (e.g. ‘If there be any superfluous substance, it can be cut off with a scissor’): such uses are covered at sense 1a, described as ‘In singular form’.
  • OFFICE n. 7b is defined as ‘In singular or plural. A privy, a lavatory.’ Office may be used in this sense either in the singular form office (e.g. ‘I went to the usual office at the end of the passage’) or in the plural form offices (e.g. ‘The bathroom’s to the right and the usual offices next to it’), with no change in meaning.
  • At SPORT n. C1c, ‘Designating clothing, shoes, etc., for informal or sporting wear’, compounds ‘With the first element in singular form’, as sport shoe, sport skirt, sport suit, etc., are treated separately from those ‘With the first element in plural form’, as sports clothes, sports skirt, etc.
  • The irregular singular forms of BE v. are specified in the Inflections section, as ‘Present indicative:..1st singular am’, ‘past indicative..1st and 3rd singular was’, etc.

special use

In the OED, a special use of an adjective is a use of that adjective in a fixed collocation with a noun or other word.

Examples in the OED:

  • Special uses of adjectives are treated in a separate section towards the end of an entry. For example, at HAPPY adj., special uses include happy camper (‘a content or satisfied person’), happy medium n. (‘the avoidance of extremes of behaviour’), and happy pill n. (‘a pill intended to produce or induce happiness; spec. a tranquillizer or stimulant’).

stem

A stem is the root, base, or main part of a word to which other elements, such as prefixes or suffixes, may be added.

Examples in the OED:

  • WELL adv. C6 is defined as ‘Forming adjectives with a verb stem and the suffix -able, as well-orderable, well-wipeable, etc.’ For example, well-orderable is formed on the verb stem order, to which the adverb well and the suffix -able are attached.
  • -ERATI comb. form is defined as ‘Forming nouns (often humorous nonce-words) designating elite or prominent groups of people who are associated with what is specified by the stem word.’ For example, lounge-erati is formed by attaching the combining form -erati to the noun stem lounge.

 

See also suffix, prefix, combining form.

subject

The subject of a sentence or clause is the part which:

  • is usually what the sentence or clause is about;
  • often denotes the person or thing that performs the action expressed by the verb;
  • usually comes before the verb;
  • agrees grammatically with the verb.

 

The subject is usually a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun.

 

In each of the following example sentences, the subject is underlined:

All the men arrived late.

A few years ago, Susan was given an award.

It is raining.

Examples in the OED:

  • PADDLE v.2 2a is defined as ‘Of a person in a canoe, small boat, etc.: to move forward by means of a paddle or paddles. Also with canoe, etc., as subject.’ This indicates that in most cases the subject denotes the person paddling (e.g. ‘We paddled along’) but that in some cases the subject denotes the canoe (e.g. ‘Two canoes paddled towards us’).
  • SURE adv. 1b is described as ‘Placed between subject and verb as an intensifier’. For example, in ‘It sure was a cold night’, sure is placed between the subject It and the verb was.

subjective

When a word functions as the subject of a sentence or clause, it is in the subjective case. In modern English, pronouns have different forms depending on case, and the main subjective pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, and they. Subjective pronouns are contrasted with objective pronouns such as me, him, etc. (Note that you and it have the same form in the subjective and objective case.)

Examples in the OED:

  • SAVE prep. 2b is described as ‘Followed by a personal pronoun in the subjective case’, covering examples such as ‘The creators, save he alone, were destroyed.’ These are contrasted with examples in which the following pronoun is in the objective case, such as ‘All died in a hurricane, save him
  • S/HE pron. is defined as ‘Used as subjective third person pronoun to include both genders: he or she.’

subjunctive

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood used to express hypothesis, conditionality, or non-factuality. Contrasted with indicative.

 

In modern English the subjunctive mood is distinctive only in the third person singular of the present tense (where the -s ending is absent) and in the verb to be (where the present subjunctive form is be and the past subjunctive form is were). In the following, the underlined verbs are in the subjunctive:

 

‘I recommended that he write and apologize‘ (the indicative forms would be writes and apologizes);

‘If that be the case, our position is indefensible’ (the indicative form would be is);

‘If I were you, I’d own up’ (the indicative form would be was).

 

In modern English the subjunctive is fairly uncommon, and many of the meanings formerly expressed by the subjunctive are now expressed by modal verbs such as might, could, and should. The subjunctive survives mainly in fixed expressions such as If I were you, God help you, Long live the Queen, and Perish the thought.

Examples in the OED:

  • ASK v. 17a is defined as ‘With that and modal verb or subjunctive. To request that something be done; to express a desire that something happen or be the case.’ Quotations illustrating use with the subjunctive include ‘I‥also asked that I be appointed her guardian’ and ‘The judge asked that the Attorneys approach the Bench.’
  • Uses at NOT adv. A. 1 are described as ‘Preceding a simple tense or form of a verb. Now usually (chiefly Amer.) with a subjunctive verb in a subordinate clause.’ Quotations include: ‘Better he not know as yet; perhaps he shall never know’ and ‘McCain quickly asked that he not be considered.’
  • BE v. 20 is defined as ‘With the infinitive. In the past subjunctive (more recently also past indicative), expressing a hypothetical condition (frequently emphatically).’ Quotations illustrating the past subjunctive include ‘Were peace to be restored, metropolitan France would have [etc.]’ and ‘If he were to peg out, it would be my great chance [etc.].’

subordinate clause

A subordinate clause is a clause which is dependent on another part of the sentence, and which could not stand alone as a complete sentence.

 

The underlined clauses in the following are subordinate clauses:

After we had lunch, we went back to work.

I am glad that you came.

He sat in the garden, reading the paper.

If you see anything suspicious, report it to the police.

Examples in the OED:

  • LIKE v.1 5, ‘to wish to do or have; to choose, prefer’, is described as ‘In a subordinate clause introduced by asor an interrogative word’. Examples include ‘You can go where you damn well like’ (in which like is part of the subordinate clause where you damn well like) and ‘She‥suspected that Mary would do as she liked’ (in which like is part of the subordinate clause as she liked).
  • REALIZE v.2 6b is defined as ‘With a subordinate clause. To understand clearly, be fully aware.’ Examples include ‘Can they realize what we suffer?’ and ‘he had finally realized that Hunt had been right’ (in which the direct objects are the clauses what we suffer and that Hunt had been right).

 

See also main clause, non-finite, relative clause, that-clause.

 

[In unrevised OED entries, subordinate is sometimes abbreviated as subord.; also, the term dependent clause is sometimes used instead of subordinate clause.]

suffix

A suffix is an element added to the end of a word or stem to form a new word. Suffixes mainly signal an inflection or a change of part of speech. However, suffixes can also form a new word of the same part of speech.

 

Compare prefix.

Examples in the OED:

  • The suffix -ED (suffix1) is an inflectional suffix used to form past participles of verbs (for example celebrated in the news was celebrated all over the world) and hence participial adjectives (for example, CELEBRATED adj. is formed of CELEBRATE v. and -ED suffix1).
  • The adjective WORKABLE is formed of the verb WORK and the suffix -ABLE. In this case, the suffix changes the class of the word from a verb (work) to an adjective (workable).
  • The adjective GREENISH is formed of the adjective GREEN and the suffix -ISH (suffix1). In this case, there is no change in part of speech.

 

[The difference between a suffix and a combining form has been drawn in different ways by different authorities. In the OED, a suffix is relatively devoid of meaning on its own, unlike a combining form.]

superlative

 

A superlative adjective or adverb is one which expresses the highest degree of a quality or attribute denoted by an adjective or adverb.

 

In English the superlative degree is usually expressed by adding –est to an adjective or adverb (e.g. fastest) or by using most as a modifier (e.g. most polite). However, in some cases it is expressed by a word from a different root (e.g. best is the superlative of good, and worst is the superlative of bad).

 

Compare positive, comparative.

Example in the OED:

  • At ABOUT adv. 9c, in the sense ‘very nearly, pretty much; more or less’, uses ‘modifying superlative adjectives’ are exemplified. An example is: ‘It’s about the nearest thing to sensory deprivation she can arrange.’

 

[In unrevised OED entries, superlative is sometimes abbreviated as superl.]

tense

The tense of a verb indicates the time at which something is viewed as happening or existing, in relation to the time of the utterance.

 

In many grammatical models, tense specifically refers to the set of inflected verb forms which indicate the time at which something is viewed as happening or existing. In English, there are only two tenses expressed by inflection: the present tense (for example, changes in ‘Everything changes’) and the past tense (for example, changed in ‘Everything changed’). This is the way that the term tense is usually used in the OED.

 

In other grammatical models, tense has a broader meaning covering other categories of verb constructions used to express time, such as those used in English to express future time. In English, future time is indicated not by means of inflections but by other constructions such as the use of the auxiliary verb will in sentences like ‘The train will leave at 9 o’clock.’

that-clause

A that-clause is a subordinate clause which begins with ‘that’. That-clauses often function as direct objects of verbs (e.g. ‘I hope that you have a nice time’) or complements of adjectives (e.g. ‘I am glad that you came’). Clauses of this type where ‘that’ is omitted (e.g. ‘I hope you have a nice time’, ‘I am glad you came’) are still described as that-clauses (sometimes specifically as ‘zero that-clauses’; see zero).

Examples in the OED:

  • At QUIP v. 2b the transitive sense ‘to say or reply as a quip’ is described as ‘chiefly with that-clause or direct speech as object’. One of the examples given in which the verb takes a that-clause as direct object is ‘The public quipped that the new uniform was suitable for a doorman or liftboy.
  • At HATE v. 2d the transitive sense ‘to be very unhappy or dissatisfied that; to find it intolerable that’ is described as ‘with that-clause’. One of the examples given is ‘I hated that I was never allowed to feel what I felt.’ Here, as in the previous example, the that-clause is the direct object of the verb.
  • At NECESSARY adj. 1b the sense ‘it is required or is imperative’ is described as ‘with that-clause or with infinitive, esp. with anticipatory it’. One of the examples given in which the adjective takes a that-clause is ‘is it necessary that such a writing as this be confirmed by witness?’

 

[In unrevised OED entries, ‘that and clause’ or ‘that and subordinate clause’ are sometimes used instead of ‘that-clause’.]

third person

Pronouns in the third person indicate the person, thing, or group being spoken or written about (rather than the speaker/writer or the addressee). The third person pronouns (and related possessive adjectives) in modern standard English are he, him, his, himself; she, her, hers, herself; it, its, itself; they, them, their, theirs, and themselves. See also person, first person, second person.

 

In many languages, and in English in earlier periods, verbs also take different person forms. In modern English, the main remaining distinction of this kind is in singular verbs in the present tense, which have a distinct form in the third person, marked by the addition of -s or –es. That is, we say he/she/it runs (but I run, we run, you run, they run, etc.).

Examples in the OED:

  • S/HE pron. is defined as ‘Used as subjective third person pronoun to include both genders: he or she.’
  • At the phrase that’s your lot/you’ve had your lot at LOT n. P8, there is a comment that it is ‘Also occasionally in the first or third person.’ That is, the phrase usually uses second person you/your, but there are some uses in the first person (as in ‘That’s it Bruce, that’s mylot’) and some in the third person (as in ‘Tina Wilson has had her lot tonight’).

to-infinitive

See infinitive.

transitive

A verb is transitive when it takes a direct object: a noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause which typically refers to the person or thing affected by the action of the verb.

 

When a verb does not take a direct object it is intransitive.

Examples in the OED:

In the OED, transitivity labels are applied to senses of verbs and phrasal verbs. The following are examples with the label transitive.

 

  • ‘Carmody punched him viciously about the head’ (at PUNCH v. 7a): the pronoun him is the direct object.
  • ‘I prided myself on being unflappable’ (at PRIDE v. 3a): the reflexive pronoun myself is the direct object.
  • ‘She had better look the definitions up’ (at to look up 2 at LOOK v. Phrasal verbs 1): the noun phrase the definitions is the direct object.
  • ‘You will also observe that I do not have eyes in the back of my head’ (at OBSERVE v. 9): the clause that I do not have eyes in the back of my head is the direct object.
  • ‘Funny, mused Franz aloud’ (at MUSE v. 1f): the direct speech ‘Funny’ is the direct object.
  • ‘His silk hat‥had been ruined by the beer-boy spilling a pint of ale into it’ (at RUIN v. 3): this is a passive example, and the underlying structure is ‘the beer-boy spilling a pint of ale into it had ruined his silk hat’; the noun phrase his silk hat is the underlying direct object.

unmarked genitive

In English, an unmarked genitive is a use of the genitive without the ending ’s (or, in early use, -es). For example, the phrase ‘my sister’s son’ is a genitive phrase; the unmarked form is ‘my sister son’. The unmarked genitive was common in Old English, but is now rare and mainly survives in archaic compounds such as sister-son and brother-son and in certain fixed expressions such as LADY DAY n.

verb (v.)

A verb is a word which typically describes what a person or thing does, or what happens: be, make, build, remember, occur, and seem are all examples of verbs in English. Verbs are generally essential to the structure of a sentence, and they can be inflected to show features such as tense, number, and person: for example, the verb remember can be put in the past tense form remembered or the third person present singular form remembers. In English, verbs are transitive or intransitive.

 

The category of verbs is one of the parts of speech.

 

See also auxiliary verb, copula, main verb, modal verb, phrasal verb.

Examples in the OED:

  • Entries for verbs have the part-of-speech label v., for example DAYDREAM v., MUST v., OVERFATIGUE v., PUNCH v., ZOOM v.
  • At RIGHT-DOWN adv., a distinction is made between sense 1 ‘Modifying a verb’ (with examples such as ‘I right down enjoyed it’) and sense 2 ‘Modifying an adjective’ (with examples such as ‘right-down silly’ and ‘right-down honest’).
  • THROUGH- prefix contains a section described as ‘Compounded with verbs’. In this section are verbs prefixed with through-, for example through-hike in ‘[she] through-hiked the Trail three times’.

verbal noun

A verbal noun is a word (in modern English, ending in -ing) which derives from a verb but functions as a noun, in that it can be the subject or object of a sentence and can be modified by an adjective or determiner. For example, in ‘noisy eating is impolite’ the verbal noun eating is the subject of the sentence and is modified by an adjective (noisy).

 

A verbal noun is similar to a gerund, but a gerund also has some verb-like properties that a verbal noun does not.

Examples in the OED:

  • LIKE v.1 4c describes the sense ‘to enjoy, have a taste for, or take pleasure in (an action, activity, condition, etc.)’ as ‘with gerund or verbal noun as object’. The example ‘he sang in the choir because he liked singing’ shows the use of like with a verbal noun (singing).
  • NEED v.2 7b describes the sense ‘to require (something) essential or very important (rather than merely desirable)’ when it is used ‘with verbal noun as object’. Examples include ‘the story of the poet’s life does not need telling’.

 

See also present participle and participial adjective.

 

[In some unrevised OED entries, verbal nouns are referred to as verbal substantives. Unrevised entries also use verbal noun (abbreviated vbl. n.) as a part of speech label, but in revised entries verbal nouns are classified as nouns and given the part-of-speech label n.]

vocative

In some inflected languages, the vocative case is used to indicate a person or thing being addressed, invoked, etc. English has never possessed an independent vocative case, but a pronoun, noun, or noun phrase which is being used as a form of address (e.g. boy in ‘come here, boy’, or friend in ‘speak, friend, and enter’) is also referred to as a vocative.

Example in the OED:

  • GOD n. and int. Phrases 1e(a) treats interjectional phrases such as oh God, my God, good God, etc., under the definition ‘In the vocative with an interjection or modifier, used to express strong feeling, esp. astonishment or dismay.’

zero

The term zero is used to indicate the absence of a grammatical feature when that feature would normally be present or is present in similar constructions. For example, a zero that-clause is a that-clause in which that has been omitted, as in ‘He said he would be late’ (instead of ‘He said that he would be late’).  Similarly, a clause with zero auxiliary is one in which the auxiliary verb has been omitted, as in ‘You coming?’ (instead of ‘Are you coming?’).