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The Top 25 Grammatical Terms

Basic Grammatical Terms That We Should Have Learned in School

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The Top 25 Grammatical Terms

"What I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence."(Joan Didion)

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Nouns and verbs, active and passive voice, direct and indirect objects, compound and complex sentences: you've probably heard these terms before. Some you still remember, and others--well, others may not be quite as familiar to you as they used to be. If you're in the mood to brush up on your grammar, this page is for you: brief definitions and examples of 25 of the most common grammatical terms.

How to Review the Top 25 Grammatical Terms

If you want to learn more about any of these terms (which are arranged alphabetically), click on the word to visit a glossary page. There you'll find an expanded definition and several more examples, along with links to articles that examine related grammatical concepts in more detail.

 

To review what you learn here, take our Quiz on Common Grammatical Terms. Then put these concepts to work in Basic Sentence Structures.

A word of caution: learning (or relearning) these grammatical terms won't by itself make you a better writer. But reviewing these terms should deepen your understanding of how words are arranged in English to create sentences. And that understanding should eventually help you become a more versatile and confident writer.

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The Top 25 Grammatical Terms

1. Active Voice

  1. A type of sentence or clause in which the subject performs or causes the action expressed by the verb. Contrast with Passive Voice.
    (See also: Practice in Changing Verbs From Passive to Active.)
    Example:
    "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
    (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
     

    2. Adjective

    The part of speech (or word class) that modifies a noun or a pronoun.
    (See also: Adding Adjectives and Adverbs to the Basic Sentence Unit.)
    Example:
    "Send this pestilent, traitorous, cow-hearted, yeasty codpiece to the brig."
    (Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, 2007)
     

    3. Adverb

    The part of speech that modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb.
    (See also: Practice in Turning Adjectives Into Adverbs.)
    Example:
    "There I was, standing there in the church, and for the first time in my whole life I realized I totally and utterly loved one person."
    (Charles to Carrie in Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994)
     

    4. Clause

    A group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. A clause may be either a sentence (independent clause) or a sentence-like construction included within another sentence (dependent clause).
    Example:
    "Don't ever argue with the big dog [independent clause], because the big dog is always right [dependent clause]."
    (Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, 1993)
     

    5. Complex Sentence

    A sentence that contains at least one independent clause and one dependent clause.
    (See also: Sentence-Imitation Exercise: Complex Sentences.)
    Example:
    "Don't ever argue with the big dog [independent clause], because the big dog is always right [dependent clause]."
    (Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, 1993)
     

    6. Compound Sentence

    A sentence that contains at least two independent clauses, often joined by a conjunction.
    (See also: Sentence-Imitation Exercise: Compound Sentences.)
    Example:
    "I can't compete with you physically [independent clause], and you're no match for my brains [independent clause]."
    (Vizzini in The Princess Bride, 1987)
     

    7. Conjunction

    The part of speech that serves to connect words, phrases, clauses, or sentences.
    (See also: coordinating conjunction, subordinating conjunction, correlative conjunction, and conjunctive adverb.)
    Example:
    "I can't compete with you physically, and you're no match for my brains."
    (Vizzini in The Princess Bride, 1987)
     

    8. Declarative Sentence

    A sentence that makes a statement.
    (See also: Practice in Forming Declarative Sentences.)
    Example:
    "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
    (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
     

    9. Dependent Clause

    A group of words that begins with a relative pronoun or a subordinating conjunction. A dependent clause has both a subject and a verb but (unlike an independent clause) cannot stand alone as a sentence. Also known as a subordinate clause.
    (See also: Building Sentences with Adverb Clauses.)
    Example:
    "Don't ever argue with the big dog [independent clause], because the big dog is always right [dependent clause]."
    (Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, 1993)
     

    10. Direct Object

    A noun or pronoun that receives the action of a transitive verb.
    (See also: Practice in Identifying Direct Objects.)
    Example:
    "All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers."
    (Sophia in The Color Purple, 1985)
     

    11. Exclamatory Sentence

    A sentence that expresses strong feelings by making an exclamation.
    Example:
    "God! Look at that thing! You would've gone straight to the bottom!"
    (Jack Dawson looking at Rose's ring in Titanic, 1997)
     

    12. Imperative Sentence

    A sentence that gives advice or instructions or that expresses a request or a command.
    Example:
    "Send this pestilent, traitorous, cow-hearted, yeasty codpiece to the brig."
    (Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, 2007)
     

    13. Independent Clause

    A group of words made up of a subject and a predicate. An independent clause (unlike a dependent clause) can stand alone as a sentence. Also known as a main clause.
    Example:
    "Don't ever argue with the big dog [independent clause], because the big dog is always right [dependent clause]."
    (Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, 1993)
     

    14. Indirect Object

    A noun or pronoun that indicates to whom or for whom the action of a verb in a sentence is performed.
    (See also: Practice in Identifying Indirect Objects.)
    Example:
    "It's a family motto. Are you ready, Jerry? I want to make sure you're ready, brother. Here it is: Show me the money."
    (Rod Tidwell to Jerry McGuire in Jerry McGuire, 1996)
     

    15. Interrogative Sentence

    A sentence that asks a question.
    (See also: Practice in Forming Interrogative Sentences.)
    Example:
    "What is the name of the Lone Ranger's nephew's horse?"
    (Mr. Parker in A Christmas Story, 1983)
     

    16. Noun

    The part of speech that is used to name a person, place, thing, quality, or action and can function as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or an appositive.
    (See also: Practice in Identifying Nouns.)
    Example:
    "Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash."
    (Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally, 1989)
     

    17. Passive Voice

    A type of sentence or clause in which the subject receives the action of the verb. Contrast with Active Voice.
    Example:
    "Any attempt by you to create a climate of fear and panic among the populace must be deemed by us an act of insurrection."
    (First Elder to Jor-El in Superman, 1978)
     

    18. Predicate

    One of the two main parts of a sentence or clause, modifying the subject and including the verb, objects, or phrases governed by the verb.
    (See also: What Is a Predicate?)
    Example:
    "I don't ever remember feeling this awake."
    (Thelma Dickinson in Thelma and Louise, 1991)
     

    19. Prepositional Phrase

    A group of words made up of a preposition, its object, and any of the object's modifiers.
    (See also: Adding Prepositional Phrases to the Basic Sentence Unit.)
    Example:
    "A long time ago, my ancestor Paikea came to this place on the back of a whale. Since then, in every generation of my family, the first born son has carried his name and become the leader of our tribe."
    (Paikea in Whale Rider, 2002)
     

    20. Pronoun

    A word that takes the place of a noun.
    (See also: Using the Different Forms of Pronouns.)
    Example:
    "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
    (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
     

    21. Sentence

    A word or (more commonly) a group of words that expresses a complete idea. Conventionally, a sentence includes a subject and a verb. It begins with a capital letter and concludes with a mark of end punctuation.
    (See also: Exercise in Identifying Sentences by Function and Exercise in Identifying Sentences by Structure.)
    Example:
    "I don't ever remember feeling this awake."
    (Thelma Dickinson in Thelma and Louise, 1991)
     

    22. Simple Sentence

    A sentence with only one independent clause (also known as a main clause).
    Example:
    "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
    (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
     

    23. Subject

    The part of a sentence that indicates what it is about.
    (See also: What Is the Subject of a Sentence?)
    Example:
    "I don't ever remember feeling this awake."
    (Thelma Dickinson in Thelma and Louise, 1991)
     

    24. Tense

    The time of a verb's action or state of being, such as past, present, and future.
    (See also: Forming the Past Tense of Regular Verbs and The Principal Parts of Irregular Verbs.)
    Example:
    "Years ago, you served [past tense] my father in the Clone Wars; now he begs [present tense] you to help him in his struggle against the Empire."
    (Princess Leia to General Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977)
     

    25. Verb

    The part of speech that describes an action or occurrence or indicates a state of being.
    (See also: Ten Quick Questions and Answers About Verbs and Verbals in English.)
    Example:
    "Send this pestilent, traitorous, cow-hearted, yeasty codpiece to the brig."
    (Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, 2007)

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