Grammar - Crafting Clear Sentences and Understanding Errors Home Page


This list of key terms is taken from Essential English Grammar by Philip Gucker for the most part. For more detailed definitions or examples, please consult the book.

Definitions are organized alphabetically.

Adjective: see "Parts of Speech."

Adjective clause: see "Clause."

Adverb: see "Parts of Speech."

Adverb clause: see "Clause."

Clause: “A group of related words containing a subject and a verb” (Gucker, 1966).

  • Independent/Main clause: “ A main clause expressed a complete thought and may constitute a sentence” (Gucker, 1966).

  • Dependent/Subordinate Clause: “A subordinate clause is not complete in itself; it must always be attached to some element in a main clause. A subordinate clause may be a noun clause, an adjective clause, or an adverb clause” (Gucker, 1966).

  • Adjective/relative clause: “An adjective clause regularly follows the noun or pronoun that it modifies. As a rule an adjective clause is introduced by one of the common relative pronouns, who, (whom), which, or that.
    • e.g. I know a man who owns one.
    • The rifle of which you speak never belonged to me” (Gucker, 1966).

  • Adverb clause: “An adverb clause usually appears just before or just after the main clause. Most adverb clauses…modify the key word in the main clause, the verb. However, certain adverb clauses may modify adjectives or adverbs.
    • e.g. If the weather is too unpleasant, we’ll postpone the picnic.
    • You are later than I expected” (Gucker, 1966).

  • Noun clause: “Noun clauses are most common in the position after the verb, as predicate nominatives or direct objects. They may, however, be used in any normal noun function.
    • e.g. What he needs is a complete rest.
    • Whatever you decide is satisfactory to me (Gucker, 1966).

Comma splice: "A faulty construction where two independent clauses are joined without a conjunction, with a comma between them, or when a subordinate clause introduced by a conjunctive adverb is introduced by a comma rather than a semi-colon" (Barber, 2006).

Complex sentence: see "Sentence."

Compound sentence: see "Sentence."

Compound-complex sentence: see "Sentence."

Conjunction: see "Parts of Speech."

Coordinating conjunction: see "Parts of Speech, Conjunction."

Correlative conjunction: see "Parts of Speech, Conjunction."

Dependent clause: see "Clause."

Fused sentence: "A faulty construction in which two or more independent clauses are joined without a word to connect them or a punctuation mark to separate them" ("run-on sentence", n.d.)

Fragment: "A writing error where a dependent clause or phrase is treated as if it were a complete sentence, separated from the independent clause to which it belongs by a period" (Barber, 2006).

Independent clause: see "Clause."

Interjection: see "Parts of Speech."

Main clause: see "Clause."

Misplaced modifier: A misplaced modifier is a word or group of words intended to modify a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, or adverb. When misplaced, there is ambiguity in the sentence because it is not clear to which part of the sentence the modifier applies (Gucker, 1966).

Modifier: To modify is to limit or point out or describe . Modifiers (verbals, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, or subordinate clauses) work as adjectives or adverbs: as adjectives they modify nouns or pronouns and as adverbs they modify verbs, adjectives, or adverbs (Gucker, 1966).

Noun: see "Parts of Speech."

Noun clause: see "Clause."

Parts of Speech: “The phrase parts of speech means simply “the different jobs that words do in sentences.” …There are seven essential parts of speech- plus an eight which has no regular job.

  • Verb: a word that expresses an action or makes a statement.

  • Noun: a specific word for a person, a place, a thing, a quality, etc.

  • Pronoun: a stand-in for a noun.

  • Adjective: a word that modifies a noun or pronoun.

  • Adverb: a word that modifies a verb, or an adjective, or another adverb.

  • Preposition: a word that connects a noun or a pronoun to some other word in a sentence- to make a prepositional phrase” (Gucker, 1966).

  • Conjunction: “A conjunction is a word whose primary function is to join words or groups of words. Conjunctions are of two main types: coordinating conjunctions (which include correlative conjunctions) and subordinating conjunctions” (Gucker, 1966).

    • Coordinating conjunction: “…Coordinating conjunctions are normally used to connect sentence elements of the same grammatical class: nouns with nouns, adverbs with adverbs, clauses with clauses.
      • e.g. and, but, or, nor“ (Gucker, 1966).

    • Correlative conjunction: “The coordinating conjunctions and, but, or, and nor are often used with both, not only, either, and neither, respectively, to form what are known as correlative conjunctions. Correlatives are always used in pairs. …These, like the other coordinating conjunctions, join elements of the same class: nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, etc.
      • e.g. Both Democrats and Republicans will back such a proposal” (Gucker, 1966)

    • Subordinating conjunction: “Subordinating conjunctions are used to connect adverb or noun (subordinate) clauses to some sentence element in a main clause. They do not connect adjective clauses, which are introduced and joined by relative pronouns. These are some of the words commonly used as subordinating conjunctions: when, because, if, though, after, unless, until, whether, that.
      • e.g. The flight was postponed because the pilot had a toothache” (Gucker, 1966).

  • Interjection: an exclamatory word (ouch! Hey! Alas!), which has no grammatical relationship to the rest of the sentence” (Gucker, 1966)

Predicate: Literally meaning “to say or declare”, the predicate is what you’re saying about the subject (Gucker, 1966).

Preposition: see "Parts of Speech."

Pronoun: see "Parts of Speech."

Relative clause: see "Clause."

Run-on sentence: A run-on is two sentences run together and punctuated as one. Two types of run-ons are fused sentences and comma splices (Gucker, 1966)

Sentence: “A group of words that contains a subject and a predicate” (Gucker, 1966).

  • Simple sentence: "In grammatical terms, a sentence is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. The subject is the person or thing you're talking about. The predicate is what you're saying about it" (Gucker, 1966).

  • Compound sentence: "A compound sentence consists of two or more main clauses....The main clauses in a compound sentence are usually connected by coordinating conjunctions" (Gucker, 1966).

  • Compound-complex sentence: "A compound-complex sentence is simply a combination of [complex and compound sentences]. It contains two or more main clauses and at least one subordinate clause" (Gucker, 1966).

Simple sentence: see "Sentence."

Standard English: A certain dialect of English propagated geographically and socially that becomes accepted as normal. This is the language of publication, education, success, and is the model of correctness for usage in writing (Milroy & Milroy 22).

Subject: “The person or thing you are talking about” Gucker, 1966).

Subordinate clause: see "Clause."

Subordinating conjunction: see "Parts of Speech, Conjunction."

Verb: see "Parts of Speech."