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Basic grammar terminology

Cenerally teachers should try not to confuse learners by using
lots of complex terminology. However, both teachers and

Active voice and passive voice

English sentences can be constructed usng either active or

learners need to know some basic terminology, not least

passive voce. The active form s much more common in most

types of speakng and wrting, and not all sentences can be

because it will help learners to use reference works successfully.

The following is a very brief guide to some of the terms which

'transformed' into passive equivalenls.

are commonly used to describe language.

Becky nvited me is an active sentence. However it can be made

passive by using the verb to e and the past participle of the

Sentences and clauses

main verb: /

Sentences can be classified as affirmative lnngeto tikes

pizzo), negative (Rochel doesn't like pizzo) or inlenogalive

Notice that the subject of the passive verb corresponds to the

object of the active verb. lhe factors which affect the choice of
voice are very complex.

(Does Becky like pizzo). Some sentences have more than one

clause. The sentence Richord likes tennis but Debbie prcfeR

golf is made up of two clauses which are joined by the word

'bu( lhese clauses could be simple sentences - they do not
need other words. However, some clauses cannot


nvrted by Becky.



The sentence When ldrive, I never drink olcohol has two

Nouns are typically defined as being the names of things. For

example, pelume, television, computert Chorlie, cot and odvice
are all nouns. Nouns can be ether countable - meaning that
they have a plural form, or uncountable, meaning that there is

clauses. I never drink olcohol could stand alone grammatically as

a sentence and is the main clause. When I drive cannot stand

alone because the thought is not complete. lt is a clause but

cannot stand alone as a sentence. Clauses which are dependent

on other words are called subordinate clauses.

no plural form. For example, cot is a countable noun and is

singular. Cots is the plural form. Nouns such as money, odvice


and knowledge are uncountable. They have no plural form.

description is true of written language. Spoken language, on

the other hand, is not always made up of 'complete' sentences,

Some nouns can be used in either a countable, or uncountable

way. For example:

or even clauses. People sometimes use single words or phrases

There ore three pototoes on the toble. (Here 'potatoes' is a

o communicate, and subordinate clauses may sometimes be

plural countable noun.)

used without another clause.

He ate two fish fingers ond o lot of pototo for his teo.
(ln this case'potato'is an uncountable noun.)

Subjects and objects



her boyfriend

a postcard




indrect object

direct object

Pfonouns are words that can stand in place of nouns. Pronouns

can be divided into groups:
Personal pronouns:, you, she, etc.
Possessive pronouns: mlng yours, hers, etc.
Reflexve ptonouns: myself, herself, ourselves, etc.
Relative pronouns: who, which, etc.

Subjects typically come before the verb (see below {or

informaion on verbs) and indicate who or what does something
(l met Angelo ot the supermorket} Objects usually come after
the verb and indcate who or what something was done to.
Q1e croshed the cdr). ln some sentences there are two objects.
For example: I gove my father o birthdoy present ln this


indirect object, answering the question

'to whom?', and o bifthdoy present is the direct object.
case, my fother is the

Adjectives are used to describe things. Old, hoppy, sod and

expensive are examples of adjectives. Typcally they can come
before a noun (on old co) or after the. verb to e (She rs

,rdppy). Notice that other verbs such as /ook9 seems and



sounds could replace rs in the above example, and adjectives

can follow verbs such as these, too.

&T+eh Bt\lS

Pn4tr u'rt{n'^!

Arr; , DBc V'A'slrn1




Verbs typically describe actions, states or experiences. lump, run,

live, dreom and e are all verbs. Verbs may be made up of more

Determiners come before nouns, or adjectives and nouns.

than one word: Our cot wos put down /ost week_ These
combinations are sometimes called mult-word verbs.

Ves where the past form and the past participle end in -ed are
described as regular verbs. Those that do not follow ths pattern
are irregular verbs.

They include:

Atticles: o, on, the

Demonstratves: fh is, thot, these, those
Possessives: my your, his etc.
Quantifiers: /ots of, some, ony, mony, much ec.


lte infinitive, or base form of the

form (formed by changing the base form of
to end in -ed) and the past partciple (also

Verbs have several parts.

Prepositions such as of ot, to, on,

verb, the past

before nouns or pronouns. For example:

Her keys were on the floor.

regular verbs

and oove usually come

formed by changing the base form of regular verbs to end rn -ed).

For example:

An exomple of
o regulor verb

An exomple of
on irregulor verb

infinitive/base form



past form



past participle



present participle



Sometimes prepositions have dn important lexical function in a

sentence. For example: His flot is obove the chip shop (where
'above' tells us about location).
At other times the role of prepositions is prmarily grammatical.
For example: lt depends on your onswer.

Adverbs usually give additional information about verbs or

The infinitive can be used with or without to. For example:

I desperotely wont to see you and I con swm.
Verbs also have a present

I often go to the cinemo olone.

She mode her decision quckry ond loter regretted
Sheb very good ot exploining hings.

participle which is the -rhg form of

Thot's o

the verb:



nice colour

Are you seeng anyone ot the moment?.

However, adverbs can add a more global comment to a part of a
sentencg or a sentence, or a combination of sentences.

fu well

as acting as main verba, as described above, do, be and

hove are also auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary verbs have a purely

lon: So how do I downlood stuff from the internet?

Kirsty: Edsicolry you iust hove to dick on the menu bor...

grammaticl function in a sentence. For example, they are used

when changing affirmative sentences into negative or
interrogative ones: She does not eot meot. o( Hove you seen
her before? Auxiliary verbs are also used to create some verb


orms: I om going now.

Conjunctions ioin clauses into sentences. They often come in

the middle of sentences:

Modal auxiliary verbs (such as con, moy, might, wilt and so

on) can perform similar grammatical functons to the auxiliary

The house hos three bedrooms and

verbs above, but also add a semantic meaning. For example, in

the question Con you swim?'can' is inverted with the subject to

She Ieft her

nice gorden.

but doesn't eorn much money.

job because she wonted o new chollenge.

She works hord

Conjunctons can also come at the start of a sentence:

Although he wos tire4 he kept trying to find o solution.

form the question (grammatical function) but adds the sense of

'have the ablity to' - a semantic element

Whle he wos thinking, the phone rong.