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In an inflectional language the formal marking of the direct object of a verb. A similar marking may be used after prepositions. As a term from traditional Latin grammar the term is inappropriate to modern English as the latter does not have any corresponding inflection.



A reference to a type of sentence in which the semantic subject is also the formal subject; contrasts with passive in which this is not the case. This type is generally taken as more basic than a passive sentence.



A word class which generally qualifies a noun. Because of this adjectives are found either before (in SVO languages) or after (in VSO languages) the noun they refer to. Adjectives in this position are termed 'attributive' while those placed after a copula are called 'predicative' as in The snow is very dry. Adjectives can themselves be qualified by adverbs (as in the example just given).



A word class which encompasses those elements which qualify verbs/verb phrases (She smiled slyly) or nouns/noun phrases (A remarkably good linguist). The category is somewhat fuzzy and tends to be used as a bin for elements which cannot be assigned unequivocably to another word class. Some adverbs can qualify a clause or an entire sentence as in Surprisingly, John left for home.



An adjective which is placed before a noun and specifies a quality as in His beautiful wife. Some adjectives can only occur in this role, e.g. German vorder in Ein vorderer Vokal which cannot occur as a predicative adjective: *Dieser Vokal ist vorder.



A syntactical unit which is smaller than a sentence. There are basically two types, main clauses and subordinate clauses, which are joined by certain grammatical words such as conjunctions or subordinators.



A feature of human languages where grammatical relationships are expressed by an agreement in form between at least two words, e.g. We are talking where the plural pronoun requires the form are and that in turn demands the progressive form of the verb. Concord is also a key feature of synthetic languages which have very strict agreement requirements for classes of inflections.



A term from inflectional morphology which refers to changes in ending for verbs depending on such factors as tense, mood, person and number. A set of verbal inflections is also termed an inflectional paradigm. The term is sometimes used to refer to the class of verbs which shares sets of forms, e.g. the weak conjugation would refer to all verbs in English (or German) which form their past tense by suffixation of an alveolar stop and not by an alteration of the root vowel.



Any unit which is part of a larger one. This can be a recognisable part of a word as with lexical compounds or it can be a phrase in a sentence as indicated in tree representations in phrase structure grammar.



A particular verb — be in English, sein in German — which links elements in a sentence, usually in assigning attributes or qualities to nouns, e.g. Patrick is a miserable linguist.



A type of sentence which makes a positive statement rather than negating a statement or asking a question. Taken as the basic type of sentence.


deep structure

A level in grammar — specifically syntax — in which ambiguities in structure do not exist and in which the semantic interpretation of a sentence is clear. Contrast surface structure.



Any linguistic element which requires the presence of another in a structure or whose form is determined by another element or a grammatical category, for instance the form of the definite article in German which depends on the gender, number and case of the noun it co-occurs with.



A linguistic item, such as an article, a pronoun or a numeral, which co-occurs with a noun and in some way qualifies — or determines — the noun. This is a cover term for articles, demonstrative and possessive pronouns.


direct object

An item in a sentence which indicates the object or being which is immediately affected by the action of the verb, e.g. He bought the book; She kissed the boy.



The insertion of one syntactic phrase or unit within another, e.g. The girl who stood up is my sister.


empty word

A word which does not carry any meaning of its own but which frequently plays a role in indicating a grammatical category or expressing a syntactic relationship, e.g. it in It's Patrick's turn to sing a song. It contrasts explicitly with a content word.



A feature of many synthetic languages such as German and Latin which group words — nouns and their determiners (articles, pronouns, adjectives) — according to different formal classes. In the Indo-European context these have the traditional names masculine, feminine, neuter, ultimately because of the connection with the sex of humans and animals — though this is not decisive for the gender system.


generative linguistics

The main school of linguistics today which assumes that speakers' knowledge of language is largely unconscious and essentially rule-governed. The models used by these linguists are intended to generate, i.e. properly describe, how deep structures are mapped onto actual sentences.



In general any linguistic situation in which one form demands another, for instance in German the adverb ungeachtet governs the genitive case.



A level of linguistics which is concerned with the manner in which words combine together structurally to form sentences. In this sense grammar is a descriptive phenomenon. It can also be used to refer to speakers' knowledge of how to produce well-formed sentences in which case it is an ability, it is speakers' competence in the generative sense.



A term which refers to whether a sentence, phrase or form is judged by native speakers to be well-formed in their language. Note carefully that grammatical and correct are two different terms. The latter refers to whether structures or words are deemed right in some externally imposed and putatively absolute sense. A structure or word is deemed grammatical if the majority of speakers accept it and use it in this form. Many so-called 'correct' forms are not in fact used by speakers, e.g. the inflected form whom as an accusative relative pronoun which has long since been abandoned in spoken English.



A factual mood which is used to make statements rather than issue commands (imperative) or make uncertain, hypothetical statements (subjunctive).


indirect object

An item in a sentence which accompanies the direct object and which frequently denotes the person affected by an action and as such is always animate. This is a semantic definition. Formally the indirect object may be an accusative as in German Sie lehrte ihn eine neue Sprache. In English there is only one pronominal form for both direct and indirect object, the latter being indicated by its position before the former or by a directional preposition like to: She wrote a letter to her cousin; She gave him the book.



A division in the verbal area which refers to whether the action of the verb represents a fact, a wish, a possibility, necessity or a command.



In a very general sense the process of denying something. There are many means of saying that something is not the case and most languages reflect this fact in their modes of expression for negation. The Indo-European languages have negation particles beginning in /n-/ which are normally positioned adjacent to the verb to negate it, Er kam nicht; He didn't come. In addition there are usually means of negating an entire sentence Not all the students took their exams in June. Furthermore, languages have means of augmenting negation, by special adverbs or by doubling the negation particles: He definitely won't stay; He don't do no work for no-one (non-standard).



A case which indicates the subject of a sentence and the obligatory complement of a verb. It is usually taken to be neutral or basic and is used for the citation form of a noun.


noun phrase

Any part of a sentence which has a noun as its head. It can range from a single noun to a complex phrase. In behaviour and distribution it is similar to a noun.


oblique case

A term referring to all cases except the nominative.



A term in grammar which denotes a class which does not have a pre-determined number of members.