42 Common Grammar Terms Every Writer Should Know

Writing well requires a proper understanding of common grammar terms.

Many good writers use English grammar accurately without understanding the meaning behind certain common grammar terms. Still, if you're going to truly excel as a writer, it's best to learn and then apply grammar terms and meanings.

Here are some common grammar terms that come up frequently in the writing world.

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1. Active Voice

Verbs can be either active or passive. If the subject directly causes the action of the verb, rather than having the action done to it, the writer has employed active voice.

Examples:

  • Jamal delivered the news to his family that he was a new dad.
  • The government decreed a new holiday.

2. Adjective

Adjectives are descriptive words that describe nouns and pronouns. They show the attribute or qualification of these words. Adjectives can be directly in front of the word they modify, or these modifiers can follow a state of being verb.

Examples:

  • The old man struggled with his parcels until the young man helped him. (“Old” and “young” describe the respective men.)
  • Because the car is broken, we cannot take the trip. (Broken describes the car.)

3. Adverb

Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. These words often end in -ly, but do not have to end in this suffix. Adverbs answer the questions how, how often, when, where, to what extent, and why.

Examples:

  • The child slowly woke up after a long nap. (Slowly describes how the child woke up.)
  • An overly fluffy kitten sat under the Christmas tree. (Overly describes to what extent the kitten was fluffy.)
  • She quickly added up her tips for the evening. (Quickly describes how she added.)

4. Adverbial Phrase

An adverbial phrase works as an adverb in a sentence. It does the same job as the adverb, but the entire phrase must be counted.

Examples:

  • As quickly as possible, please turn in your worksheets. (As quickly as possible, describe how to turn in the worksheet.)
  • Please go over there and pick up that garbage can. (Over there tells the person where to go.)

5. Antecedent

A noun that a pronoun refers to is called its antecedent. Antecedents and their pronouns must agree in gender and number.

Examples:

  • The teacher gave his books to the student to take back to the classroom. (His is the pronoun referring to the noun teacher.)
  • The ballerina delivered her greatest performance on opening night. (Her refers to the noun ballerina.)

6. Appositive

An appositive is a phrase or noun that sits next to another noun to rename it or give more details about it. These words are typically set apart by dashes, commas, or parentheses. They do not change the meaning of the sentence but add more emphasis.

Examples:

  • George Washington, America's first president, resigned his position after serving two terms.
  • My friend, Hillary, came to my going away party.

7. Article

Three words, a, an, and the, are adjectives that limit the application of nouns. The is the definite article because it sets forth a definite item. A and an are indefinite articles, which means the noun they modify is more generic. A is used when preceding a noun starting with a consonant, while an is used when preceding a noun with a vowel.

Examples:

  • An apple fell from the tree in the orchard. (Here, the indefinite article is used because it's just a random, generic apple.)
  • The apple I gave the teacher had a particularly bright red hue. (Here, the definite article is used because the speaker refers to a specific apple.)

8. Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs are also known as helping verbs. These are forms of to be, to do, and to have that are paired with other verbs to change the tense, mood, or voice.

Examples:

  • The girl is reading the book.
  • The children had spoken to their parents about the playdate.

9. Clause

A clause is a phrase that contains a verb or verb phrase. Clauses can be complete sentences, or they may be a part of a sentence. A clause that is not a complete sentence is called a subordinate clause.

Examples:

  • She finally admitted that she wasn't a huge fan of rap music.
  • Because he had few friends, he held the ones he had closely.

10. Collective Noun

A collective noun refers to a group of items or people, but it is a singular term.

Examples:

  • The team cheered its quarterback on to victory.
  • As the performer took a final bow, the audience delivered a standing ovation.

11. Common Noun

A common noun refers to a generic item. It does not require a capital letter.

Examples:

  • Cats and dogs make good pets.
  • Ice cream dripped down his elbow while he struggled to eat the frozen concoction.

12. Complement

A word or group of words that follows a verb to complete the sentence is the complement. After to be, or state of being, verbs, a complement is a predicate nominative (noun) or predicate adjective. After an action verb, the complements are indirect and direct objects.

Examples:

  • The snow is pretty. (Predicate adjective)
  • Shakespeare was an excellent playwright.(Predicate nominative)
  • Shakespeare gave his all to his writing. (Direct object)
  • The winter delivered us a white Christmas. (Indirect object)

Check out our post explaining compliment vs complement.

13. Conjunction

This part of speech connects words, phrases, and clauses and includes coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. The conjunction is also necessary to make a compound sentence unless using a semicolon.

Examples:

  • Coffee and cream are a perfect breakfast beverage combination.
  • The college freshman rarely went to bed early because he always had a lot of homework to complete.

14. Contraction

A contraction is a connection of two words using an apostrophe. Contractions typically include a verb, such as it's, which is short for it is, and don't, which is short for do not.

Examples:

  • Toddlers don't listen to warnings well and need to be carefully watched.
  • You shouldn't add too much yeast to the recipe or the bread will rise too far.

15. Demonstrative Pronoun

A demonstrative pronoun points out a specific item. Common examples are this, that, these and those.

Examples:

  • This is the longest time I have spent studying for a test.
  • Hand me some of those chocolate candies.

16. Dependent Clause

A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a verb but cannot stand on its own.

Examples:

  • The safari group could see the lion that crept slowly behind their jeep.
  • The man was arrested after he robbed the store.

17. Direct Object

A direct object follows an action verb. The direct object receives the action of the verb.

Examples:

  • The family tied their shoes tightly before heading out on a hike.
  • The school's fans cheered their team as they clinched the victory.

18. Future Tense

Future tense is a verb form that shows something that will happen later and has not yet begun. These verbs often have will or shall as part of the construction.

Examples:

  • Santa Clause will come only after all of the children are in bed and asleep.
  • Exposing the criminal mastermind will bring the entire organization to task for their crimes.

19. Gerund

When a verb has an -ing at the end and is used as a noun, it is called a gerund.

Examples:

  • Baking is a favorite pastime of the two girls.
  • The granddad enjoys showering his grandkids with generous gifts.

20. Indefinite Article

An indefinite article points to an indefinite item. The two indefinite articles are a and an.

Examples: 

  • A stray cat ran across the street in front of my car.
  • Give me an acceptable wage for the day's labor.

21. Linking Verb

A linking verb is a state of being verb that links a subject to the predicate nominative or predicate adjective.

Examples:

  • The stranger was her uncle.
  • The dog is extremely friendly.

22. Indefinite Pronoun

These pronouns do not refer to any specific person or thing. Examples include something, everyone, anyone and anything.

Examples:

  • Anything you choose is fine by me.
  • She felt as though everyone was staring at her after she made that huge mistake.

23. Independent Clause

An independent clause is a clause that can stand on its own. It can be a full sentence, or it can be joined to a sentence using a conjunction.

Examples:

  • Waiting for her car's oil change was boring, so Sandra brought a book to read to fill the time.
  • The teacher's messy desk was something the students often laughed about.

24. Indirect Object

In a sentence that has a direct object, an indirect object is another type of object. The latter is the person or thing that is receiving the action. Often, it answers “to whom?” or “to what?”

Examples:

  • She offered him the gift. (Gift is the direct object, while him is the indirect object. It answers “to whom?”)
  • The students gave their teacher their full attention. (Attention is the direct object being given to the teacher, which is the indirect object.)

25. Interjection

An abrupt addition to a sentence that demonstrates the emotion or feeling. An interjection can stand alone as a separate sentence.

Examples:

  • Wow! That sure was a surprising end to the football game.
  • Shoot, I forgot to grab my keys off the kitchen counter.

26. Intransitive Verb

An intransitive verb is a verb that does not require a direct object to complete the sentence.

Examples:

  • When the time is right, the hero of the story will arrive.
  • They jumped high.

27. Noun

The noun is one of the most common parts of speech in the English language. A noun names a person, place, thing, or idea. It is often the subject of the sentence.

Nouns can be common nouns that describe a general item, or proper nouns, describing specific items. A count noun is a noun that can be counted, such as a suitcase. A mass noun is a noun that has an infinite number, like luggage. You can count individual suitcases, but not individual luggage.

Examples:

  • The dog ran quickly into its house. (These are both common nouns.)
  • Mr. Potter gave his children a generous inheritance in his will. (Mr. Potter is a proper noun. The others are common nouns.)

28. Passive Voice

In a sentence with a passive voice, the verb acts upon the subject. The passive form of a verb is considered the weaker form. Regular verbs require helping verbs to become a passive voice.

Examples:

  • A movie is going to be watched tonight.
  • The book was read by the book club.

29. Past Participle

The past participle of a verb is formed by adding -ed. The past participle has to be connected to a helping verb or used as an adjective, but it cannot stand alone.

Examples:

  • She has completed her graduate degree program.
  • The spooked kitten ran away quickly.

30. Past Tense

A verb form that shows the action happened in the past.

  • The owner tossed the ball, and his dog ran quickly to fetch it.
  • He was good at the game, but he tired after just a few tosses.

31. Personal Pronouns

Pronouns used to replace the name of a person are known as personal pronouns. These include I, you, he, she, we, it, they, me, him, her, us and them.

Examples:

  • Dr. Johnson was not afraid of the flu because he received his flu shot.
  • Shelly gave her all at the program.

32. Possessive Pronoun

A possessive pronoun is the possessive version of a pronoun. These include their, his and her.

  • Their grandparents planned a week long visit for the holidays.
  • Sarah couldn't tell which socks were hers and which were her daughter's.

33. Prepositional Phrase

A phrase that starts with a preposition is a prepositional phrase. These phrases typically operate as adjective phrases or adverbial phrases.

Examples:

  • The elephant trumpeted loudly through his trunk. (This is an adverbial phrase describing how he trumpeted.)
  • The dog in my neighbor's yard barked ferociously.(This adjective phrase describes the dog.)

34. Present Participle

Adding -ing to a verb and using it as an adjective or a continuous verb tense makes it a present participle. Continuous verbs show action that is in the process of happening.

Examples:

  • The losing team held their heads in defeat. (This present particle is an adjective.)
  • The circus is coming to town. (Here the present participle is a continuous verb.)

35. Present Tense

A verb form that shows the action is happening right now.

Examples:

  • The earth rotates once every 24 hours.
  • My grammar teacher writes example sentences to help us understand the concepts.

36. Pronoun

A pronoun takes the place of a noun or noun phrase. Common pronouns include he, she, they, us, we, I, it and you.

Examples:

  • I love the colors of the fall season.
  • He explored the mountainside while waiting for his friends to arrive at the campsite.

37. Relative Pronoun

The relative pronouns, including which, that, whose, whoever, whomever, who and whom are the words that introduce clauses.

Examples:

  • The brook, which was trickling behind their house, served as a habitat for several creatures.
  • Pizza, that was once thought of as a major treat, became a staple in my house when mom was working overtime.

38. Reflexive Pronoun

Reflexive pronouns are words that end in -self or -selves, such as himself or themselves.

Examples:

  • He set aside some money to give himself a gift too.
  • You're going to drive yourself crazy with that line of thinking.

39. Subordinate Clause

A subordinate clause is a phrase that contains a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone as a sentence.

Examples:

  • Since the weather is snowy, we will have indoor recess.
  • You will do well on the test if you study hard.

40. Superlative

The word superlative means “of the highest quality or degree.” In grammar, a superlative is an adjective or adverb expressing the highest degree of the quality.

Examples:

  • He was the kindest friend I had ever known.
  • A mother loves her child most passionately.

41. Transitive Verb

A transitive verb requires an object to make sense. With this verb form, a sentence without an object does not complete a thought.

Examples:

  • Please bring your books to your next class. (Please bring as a stand-alone sentence does not make sense.)
  • I caught the fly ball at my first baseball game. (Without the object, the reader must wonder what was caught.)

42. Verb

Verbs describe an action, state, or occurrence. Verbs typically are divided into action verbs, such as run or walk, and state of being verbs, such as is or be. State of being verbs can also be linking verbs or helping verbs.

Examples:

  • The man's inflection gave away his nationality. (Action verb)
  • The man's infection is a clear indication of his nationality. (Linking verb)

The Final Word on Common Grammar Terms

As you seek to become a better writer, understanding these terms of English grammar will help. Take some time to look over them, and start finding ways to use them appropriately in your writing.

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Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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