Grammar glossary for parents

Definitions and examples of common terms to help you support your child’s learning

Grammar is the set of ‘rules’ that govern how a language is spoken and written and that help it make sense. A key component of literacy, children learn and use grammar all through primary and secondary school.

As a parent you may want to familiarise yourself with some of the terms they’re encountering – from fronted adverbial to ellipsis and homophone. We’ve identified some of the most common grammatical terms and list them here alongside definitions and examples.

Read our parents' grammar guide


We’ve created this glossary to guide families through some of the concepts children will be introduced to at school. There is no need for any child to learn all the terms and definitions by heart!

Adjective – a word used to describe a noun (red coat; happy dog).

Adverb – describes how, when, where or why something is done – you might read that it ‘modifies a verb’ (she waited patiently for her birthday; he swam as quickly as possible).

Antonym – two words that have opposite meanings (high and low; truth and lie). Opposite of synonym (see entry below).

Apostrophe – a punctuation mark used to show either:
possession (it was Tim’s book; the setting sun signalled the day’s end)
contraction – when two words are blended into a single word and removed letters are replaced by an apostrophe (can’t instead of cannot; isn’t instead of is not).

Clause – a type of phrase (sometimes a full sentence) that contains a subject and a verb. A sentence may contain multiple clauses (it was sunny; there was no sign of the forecast rain). There are different types of clauses:
independent clause (also called main clause) – a clause in a sentence that can make up a complete sentence by itself (young children lose their temper easily). Sometimes a sentence can have two main clauses (she was excited but she was also nervous).
subordinate clause – a clause that’s attached to a main clause as it can’t make sense on its own (the car he drove was very fast; what they saw was impressive)
relative clause – a type of subordinate clause that modifies a noun (there’s the girl who is new to our class; the prize I won was a voucher).

Colon – a punctuation mark that introduces a list (they had two options: stay, or leave) or separates two linked clauses when the second explains the first (I’m very excited: I start my new school soon).

Comma – a punctuation mark that separates items in a list or indicates pauses in a sentence (I need to buy some bread, milk, apples and biscuits).

Conjunction – links two words or phrases together. There are two main types:
coordinating conjunctions link two words or phrases together as an equal pair (I like apples and bananas; it’s cloudy but it’s warm)
subordinating conjunctions introduce a subordinate clause (I can’t go to school because I’m poorly; everyone watches when he plays tennis)

Determiner – a word that introduces a noun and identifies it in detail. It can specify a noun as known (we welcomed the new teacher; we saw that dog in the park) or unknown (we welcomed a new teacher; we saw some dogs in the park).
Types of determiners are:
articles (the, a or an)
demonstratives (this, those)
possessives (my, your, their)
quantifiers (some, every)

Direct speech – when exact words are reproduced in speech marks (sometimes also called quotation marks and inverted commas) (“There’s only a slight chance of rain today,” said the weatherman). See also indirect speech, below.

Ellipsis – a punctuation mark of three dots designed to increase tension, show an unfinished thought or show that a part of the text has been deliberately omitted without altering its meaning (the winner is…. Joe! I wonder what will happen next year).

Exclamation mark – a punctuation mark used at the end of a sentence that shows an exclamation, interjection or statement sentence (Danger ahead! Or It’s my birthday tomorrow – hooray!).

Full stop – a punctuation mark used to show a sentence has ended (It’s Monday today. Tell me when you’re ready to go out.).

Fronted adverbial – words at the start of a sentence that describe the action that follows (at seven o’clock, she went to bed; bravely, the girl marched on.

Homophone – two different words that sound exactly the same when pronounced. They can be spelled differently (here; hear) or the same (book a holiday; read a book).

Indirect speech – when the essence of what someone has said is reported but not necessarily the actual words (the weatherman said it probably wouldn’t rain today). See also direct speech, above.

Noun – name a person, place or thing. There are different types of nouns:
common noun – a generic name for something, not capitalised unless it starts a sentence or appears in a title (girl; month)
proper noun – a specific name for something, always capitalised (Lily; September)
abstract noun – a feeling or concept you can’t touch or see (beauty; danger)

Object – the thing or person that’s involved in an action but doesn’t carry it out (‘the cyclist drove into the wall‘)

Subject – the thing or person carrying out the action (‘the cyclist drove into the wall’)

Parenthesis – a word, phrase or clause inserted into a sentence to add information that clarifies. It’s indicated by commas, dashes or brackets (in fact, parenthesis is another word for bracket). The previous sentence has an example of parenthesis embedded! Its plural is parentheses.

Phrase – a small group of words that doesn’t include a verb (a rainy day; last year – if either phrase were expanded to include a verb, it would become a clause – it was a rainy day; she arrived last year).

Plural – a plural noun means more than one and usually means a word has an ‘s’ or ‘es’ as a suffix (cats, foxes). Occasionally the plural of a word uses an irregular approach (oxen, sheep).

Prefix – letters that are added to the start of a root word to change its meaning (disappear; undo).

Suffix – letters added to the end of a word to change or add to its meaning (teacher; terrorise).
Collectively, prefixes and suffixes are called affixes. Read how understanding affixes improves literacy.

Preposition – a word that links a noun/pronoun/noun phrase to another word in the sentence. It describes locations, directions or time. (I won’t see my child until tonight; I’ll wave hello to her).
Preposition phrase – a phrase with a preposition at the start followed by a noun/pronoun/noun phrase (he was at home; you’ll meet her after school).

Pronoun – takes the place of a noun. There are two main types:
personal pronoun – a word which can be used instead of a person, place or thing – such as I, you, she, it, we, them. (she likes cake; we live in Cardiff).
possessive pronoun – shows ownership. Some can be used on their own (that’s mine; this is his) while others must be used with a noun (my pen; their house).

Root word – a basic word that can stand alone. Its meaning can be changed by adding a prefix or suffix (unfairness, played). Read how understanding roots improves literacy.

Semicolon – a punctuation mark used to separate two independent clauses that are closely related, when something stronger than a comma is needed (he likes tomatoes; she doesn’t).

Sentence – a group of words grammatically connected to each other that represent a complete thought. It begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark. Sentences can be a:
statement – ends with a full stop (You need to do your homework tonight.)
command – ends with a full stop or exclamation mark (Do your homework now!)
question – ends with a question mark (Have you done your homework yet?)
exclamation – ends with an exclamation mark (Well done for doing your homework so quickly!)
Can be a single clause (The cat sat by the door.) or compound sentence, sometimes known as multi-clause, in which two independent clauses are combined (The cat sat by the door because that was where its owner put out its food.)

Standard English – the form of vocabulary and sentence structure used in schools and in written communication (non-standard English, which includes slang and non-standard spellings such as ‘gonna’ for ‘going to’ or ‘cos’ for ‘because’, is sometimes used in informal contexts such as social media or conversations between friends).

Syllable – a part of a word that sounds like a beat. Dog has one syllable; Ap-ril has two; eld-er-ly has three, and so on.

Synonym – two words that have the same/similar meaning (bad and awful; large and huge). Opposite of antonym (see entry above).

Tense – the form of a verb that shows the time something happened or is going to happen. There are three main tenses:
past tense (she walked the dog)
present tense (she is walking the dog)
future tense (she will walk the dog)

Verb – often called a ‘doing word’, this names an action (they live in Manchester; he writes books). There are different types of verbs:
imperative verb – tells someone to do something, making the sentence an order or command (stop at the red light; do your homework!)
irregular verb – verbs that don’t form their tenses in a regular way, where the suffix ‘ed’ is added to the past tense form, for example – (the sun rose [not ‘rised’]; I blew the candles out [not ‘blowed’]
modal verb – affects or changes other verbs in a sentence – can show: obligation (you must do your homework); possibility/certainty (you may do your homework when we get home); ability (you can do your homework quickly).

What grammar will my child learn, and when?

Our parents’ grammar guide explains this and more about the benefits of learning grammar.

What is Bedrock Grammar?

Designed by English teachers, Bedrock Grammar is a learning scheme for students of primary and secondary school age. It’s split into two components: Grammar Foundations and Advanced Grammar.

These comprehensive and adaptive resources focus on improving your child’s understanding of grammatical features and their ability to use them in their own writing. Your child will meet each new feature in the context of original fiction before learning about the new grammatical concepts through our library of engaging video content. Learners then complete activities that help them demonstrate understanding, practise identifying grammatical features and explain their effect: all important skills that are tested from Years 3-11.

Writing is equally important, so scaffolded writing activities encourage learners to put what they’ve learned into practice. A pre-test at the beginning and a post-test at the end of each topic monitors learning and means you can easily track progress.

Find out more about Bedrock Grammar

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