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Grammar Glossary

This Grammar Glossary is a handy reference guide for you. We have given examples of stories that have specific teaching and learning activities associated with the term. And we have links back to the glossary from the activities in case you need a quick reference.

Our thanks to Helen Savva for her work writing the "Terminology Check" in "Teaching Grammar Effectively in the Primary School" by David Reedy & Eve Bearne. Published by the UK Literacy Association. Used with kind permission.

An adjective is a word used to describe or clarify a noun (a person, place or thing).

the white paper

the happy boy

a ten-year-old girl

An adjective phrase is a group of words built round an adjective that tells us about the noun it is modifying.

It's a very old book.

The dog was covered in mud.

A clause which functions as an adjective is sometimes called an adjectival clause, or more often, a relative clause. Relative clauses add information to the noun or pronoun they modify.

The mouse that we saw yesterday is in the kitchen again.

Something that smells bad may be rotten.

[There is an activity exploring adjectives in Mr Wah and Maschenka and the Bear.]


An adverbial is part of a clause that behaves like an adverb in modifying the verb, and which may itself be an adverb, but may instead be a preposition or a subordinate clause:

Going out early; She ate very slowly; He went home to have his dinner.

Verb phrases

Phrases which expand the verb: sitting by the side of the house; ...thought about his children;

...was eating some cheese.

NB: verb phrases with their verbs: dreamed of being famous; ran down the road are subordinate clauses.

[There is an activity exploring adverbials and verb phrases in Po Wan and Kwan Yin.]

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs, telling you how the verb is carried out, for example; strangely, very, often, well, quickly, soon.

She was acting strangely.

I very often go there.

I'm feeling well.

It was quickly done.

I'll be there soon.

[There is an activity exploring adverbs in Mr Wah and The King's New Garden.]

An apostrophe has two uses:

Apostrophe of omission shows that two words have been shortened to become one (contraction). The apostrophe is placed where the letter(s) has been removed:

don't, can't, should've, wouldn't, I'm, you'll, you're happy, he's ok.

Apostrophe of possession shows who or what owns something in a sentence.

a cat's mat, a dog's bone, a church's steeple.

For plural possession, first make the noun plural, then add the apostrophe:

two cats' mats, two dogs' bones, many churches' steeples.

Its or it's?

The only time to use an apostrophe with it's is for when it is a contraction for it is or it has.

It's lovely here.
It's ok.
It's been very tiring.

There is no apostrophe when its is showing possession.

The dog ate its bone.
The bird built its nest.

An apostrophe is NOT used to form the plurals of nouns, abbreviations or numbered dates e.g. 1980's.

pizzas not pizza's
trolleys not trolley's
1980s not 1980's
DVDs not DVD's
apostrophes not apostrophe's

(Exceptions to this rule – for the purpose of clarity with the plurals of single letters: Dotting the i's and crossing the t's.)

[There is an activity exploring apostrophes in many of the stories, including Trees Turn Red and Sleeping Beauty.]

A clause has a subject and a verb. A simple sentence consists of one clause:

Clouds broke.

Rain fell.

Flowers grew.

But this very basic two-part structure can be added to. The subject, usually a noun or a pronoun, can be extended into a noun phrase.

The dark clouds broke. Adding a determiner 'the' and an adjective 'dark' to make a noun phrase paints more of a picture of the clouds.

Or Heavy, persistent rain fell. Including two adjectives 'heavy' and 'persistent' to enhance the noun, indicates the intensity of the rain.

Or Many different flowers grew. The determiner 'many' and the adjective 'different' give information about the extent of the flowers.

These are the simplest kind of sentences.

[There is an activity exploring clauses and simple sentences in The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Theseus.]

Cohesion refers to the way a text hangs together. This can be through words (lexical cohesion) or structure. The following are the most common types of cohesive device:

Connectives – words or phrases that link clauses or sentences. They can indicate:

addition: and, furthermore, in addition...

result: thus, as a result, consequently, therefore...

comparison: similarly, in the same way, equally...

emphasis: in particular, specifically, in fact...

contrast: but, however, nevertheless, despite this...

illustration: for example, such as, thus...

summary: in all, to sum up, on the whole...

time/sequence: then, finally, subsequently, eventually...

and more. As can be seen, conjunctions can be used as connectives when used to link longer pieces of text.

Reference using pronouns – texts make use of a complex system of reference back and forwards.

Words like this, that, these, those (often called deictics) and personal pronouns are often used to make links between parts of a text.

Substitution – synonyms or near synonyms are often used to avoid repetition, for example, man, person, individual.

Ellipsis – sometimes part of a sentence might be omitted, for example: There are many ways to get to my house. One is...

Lexical cohesion – repetition or near repetition can be an effective cohesive device. It may be a repetition of a pronoun, for example, we, or frequent use of a noun or verb.

Tense – consistency of tense is an important aspect of cohesion.

[There is an activity exploring ellipses in Granddad and the Laundry Basket.]

Conjunctions are words, or sometimes groups of two or more words, which connect other words, or which link phrases or clauses: and, but, if, as, where, or, so, for, although, after, because, before, since, unless, until, when, where, while, however, wherever, unless, in order to, so that.

Co-ordinating conjunctions link words, phrases, clauses or sentences which have equal status.

Subordinating conjunctions connect a subordinate clause to a main clause.

[There is an activity exploring conjunctions in several of the stories, including Anancie and The Gingerbread Man.]

Connectives are words, or groups of words, which join the ideas in one sentence to the ideas in a previous sentence or paragraph: also, furthermore, next, despite, even, as a result, similarly, initially, however, on the other hand, most importantly, in contrast, in addition, moreover, in conclusion, likewise, for example, meanwhile, firstly, later, nevertheless, consequently.

[There is an activity exploring connectives in Too Much Talk and Persephone.]

Direct speech is used to quote what someone has said. It is shown using punctuation – inverted commas or quotation marks. " "

Rules for direct speech:

  • Enclose the quotation – everything that has been said – in inverted commas.
  • The spoken part of the sentence is always separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.
    "You forgot to water the plants," she said.
    She said, "You forgot to water the plants."
  • Always start the first word of each sentence in the inverted commas with a capital letter – except when the sentence is broken off and then resumed.
    "You forgot to water the plants. They've all died," she said.
    "You forgot to water the plants," she said, "and now they've all died."
  • If the direct speech is in two separate sentences, a full stop and a comma are needed in addition to the capital letter for the continued quotation.
    "You forgot to water the plants," she said. "They've all died."
  • If the direct speech is at the end of the narrative, place the punctuation for the end of the quotation before the final inverted comma, (whether full stop, question mark or exclamation mark).
    She cried, "You forgot to water the plants!"

[There is an activity exploring direct speech in several of the stories, including Clever Gretchen and Anancie.]

A fronted adverbial is a word or phrase, placed at the beginning of the sentence and indicating the place, time, or manner of the action in the rest of the sentence.

For example:

On my way home, I saw a rhinoceros.

As I was reading the letter, I realised that it wasn't for me.

Sadly, it was a product of my imagination.

A fronted adverbial has a comma after it (before the main clause of the sentence).

[There is an activity exploring fronted adverbials can be found in Theseus and the Minotaur.]

Modal verbs are verbs that modify or add meaning to other verbs. Examples are: can, will, may, shall, must, ought, need, could, might, would, should.

Cinderella will go to the ball.

Cinderella might go to the ball.

Cinderella could go to the ball.

Cinderella should go to the ball.

Cinderella can go to the ball.

Cinderella may go to the ball.

Cinderella must go to the ball.

Should the prince take Cinderella home?

The prince could take Cinderella home, couldn't he?

Modals modify the meanings of verbs. The modification varies between possibility (can, might, may), future certainty (will, shall) and necessity (must, ought, should).

[There is an activity exploring modal verbs in Maschenka, Anlabe and The Witches Who Stole Eyes.]

Nouns are words for things, people, animals, or states of mind or existence: frog, wood, woman, tiger, toad, sorrow, fear, love, humility, hunger, coronation, palace, queen, envy, courage.

Noun phrases or expanded noun phrases enhance nouns: a bright yellow dress, a basket full of delicious healthy vegetables.

[There is an activity exploring expanded noun phrases in many of the stories, including Tin Soldier, Tidalink the Frog and Medio Pollito.]

Paragraphs are collections of sentences. They are used in writing to introduce new sections in stories or pieces of information.

In stories, paragraphs can be used to do the following:

  • introduce new characters
  • introduce a new speaker or a new conversation
  • change the mood or add tension
  • introduce a new theme
  • indicate a jump in time
  • indicate a change of place.

In information text, paragraphs are usually used to introduce a new piece of information or point of view.

In both stories and information texts, paragraphs break up the text so that readers are helped to make sense of it more easily.

Paragraphs help the reader to navigate through the text and make it easier to follow by ensuring there is a logical and coherent order to them.

In almost all texts, and particularly in information ones, paragraphs generally have a structure where there is a lead (or topic) sentence, followed by one or more sentences which add further information or detail.

[There is an activity exploring paragraphs in The Giant Turnip and The Golden Arm.]

Parenthesis is a way of adding more information to a sentence. It can be punctuated in three different ways:

with commas: Charlie, who was already a little frightened, jumped at the sound of the door opening.

with brackets: Charlie (who was already a little frightened) jumped at the sound of the door opening.

with dashes: Charlie – who was already a little frightened – jumped at the sound of the door opening.

There is no hard and fast rule for deciding which of these punctuation devices you use; it's really about the effect you want to create. If you want to make the added information run smoothly into the sentence, you might use commas; if you want to suggest that this is additional information that is separate from the main sentence you may want to use brackets, or if you see the additional information as more of an aside, you may want to use dashes.

Prepositions are words or groups of two or more words that come before nouns or pronouns to indicate place, time or position:

opposite him

before lunch

between the trees.

Sometimes prepositions link two nouns or pronouns, for example: She went into the shop. Some prepositions can also act as conjunctions if they link clauses rather than single nouns/pronouns, for example: I’m leaving before I eat more of that delicious cake.

Prepositions include: about, above, across, after, against, around, before, behind, beyond, by, down, in, into, near, off, on, opposite, out, over, round, through, towards, under, up, in front of.

Pronouns are words which stand in for or refer to nouns: I, mine, who, anyone, she, her, ours, myself, itself, those, who, whoever.

Types of pronoun

personal: I, me, he, him, she, her, it, we, us, they, them

possessive: my, mine, your, yours, his her, hers, our, ours, their, theirs*

reflexive: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves

demonstrative: this, that, these, those

relative: who, whom, whose, which, whoever

interrogative: who? whom? whose? what? which? whoever? whichever? whatever?

reciprocal pronouns: each other, one another (used to express a two-way relationship)

*possessive pronouns never need an apostrophe, for example: That cat is yours.

[There is an activity exploring pronouns in several of the stories including Persephone and King Vikram's Riddle.]

The job of punctuation is to indicate how to read something so that it makes sense. Like musical notation it's about timing – telling the reader when to pause, and for how long.


The semicolon can be seen as the medium length pause in the sequence of comma, semicolon and full stop but it does have two distinct uses:

1. To link two sentences for the effect of contrast or closeness in meaning:

She was poor. She was hungry.

These two short sentences are effective in expressing the starkness of the girl's condition but if you wanted to show that the two are linked – that is, that her poverty resulted in her hunger – you may prefer to use a semicolon:

She was poor; she was hungry.

If you read the two examples aloud you'll see that the second has a different rhythm from the first and rather than separating the two ideas, the first idea swings into the second.

2. To separate ideas (rather than individual words which are separated by commas) in a list, for example:

Robots can: move their joints automatically; work accurately for hours without error; get into places humans cannot; send back information.


A colon introduces a quotation, an explanation, an example or a series.

Quotation: Noyes creates atmosphere with: "the wind was a torrent of darkness."

Explanation: You have two choices: go back or go forward.

Example: There are different kinds of bear: the grizzly, the polar bear, the honey bear, to name just three.

Series: You will need to do three things: take the number, inform the supervisor and log the details.

A colon can sometimes introduce a list that is set out as bullet points.

Bullet points

A bullet pointed list is introduced by a sentence stem that then leads to the items in the list. If the list is made up of full sentences, then these are punctuated as sentences at the end of each bullet. If the list is of single words or phrases there is no punctuation at the end of each item until the last one. For example:

For homework you can choose to:

  • Read the next chapter of your current book.
  • Complete the story that you started today in class.
  • Ask someone at home to tell you about a time when they did something naughty and were told off.


You will need to use:

  • plain paper
  • coloured felt tips
  • scissors
  • glue
  • sweet wrappers.

A simple sentence consists of one clause with either a noun (N), pronoun (Pn) or noun phrase (NP) plus a verb (V):

The clouds       broke.
N (+ determiner) V
Heavy, persistent rain fell.
NP                     V
I was drenched.
Pn    V

But clauses can be linked together to show how ideas are related:

1. Compound sentence has two simple sentences joined by a connective: The clouds broke and heavy, persistent rain fell.

2. Complex sentence has one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses:

As I hurried home    I was drenched   because of the heavy persistent rain.
subordinate clause   main clause      subordinate clause

A subordinate clause doesn't make sense on its own. It needs to be associated with a main clause.

[There is an activity exploring different sentence types in many of the stories including Rapunzel, Trees Turn Red and Tin Soldier.]

The simplest sentences are made up of a subject, a verb and an object:

The girl   ate    the cheese.
subject    verb   object

The subject does the action of the verb and the object is on the receiving end.

Subjects and objects are either nouns or pronouns, for example, changed to pronouns the sentences above would be:

She       ate    it.
subject   verb   object

A complex sentence has one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

A subordinate clause doesn't make sense on its own. It needs to be associated with a main clause and is joined by a subordinating conjunction. Examples are:

time: when, before, after, as, since, until, just as, as soon as

place: where

reason: because, as, since, so that

possibility: if, unless

contrast: although, though, even though

manner: how

Verbs are words for actions or ways of being, mental or physical, for example, action verbs: run, fight, grab, sneeze; stative verbs: dream, think, be.

Auxiliary verbs

The auxiliary verbs do, be and have help in the formation of the tenses of main verbs.

Do you like sweets? (like is the main verb; do is the auxiliary)

I am going (going is the main verb; am is the auxiliary)

They have appeared (appeared is the main verb; have is the auxiliary)

Do is common for asking questions, emphasising points or making negatives:

Do you want a cup of coffee?

I do agree with you.

I don't agree with you.

But it can also be a main verb, as in: I do the housework.

Be and Have

As auxiliary verbs, be and have help to form several tenses of other verbs:

She is waiting. (continuous present)

They were hoping. (continuous past)

I have been running. (continuous present perfect)

We had been walking. (continuous past perfect)

You will be leaving. (continuous future)

They will have been driving for three hours. (continuous future perfect)

We have left. (present perfect)

We had left. (past perfect)

Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs do not use the '-ed' ending in past tenses, as most verbs in English do.

I love her; I loved her; I have loved her.

I see, I saw, I have seen
I run, I ran, I have run
I speak, I spoke, I have spoken

[There is an activity exploring continuous verbs in Rapunzel.]

A verb is active when the subject is doing it.

A verb is passive when the object is having something done to it.

Passive constructions consist of one of the forms of the verb 'to be' and a past participle.

The dog was hit by the car.

The vote was given by the jury.

The message was received.

Dinner is served.

As in the last two examples, in passive constructions, the subject of the verb may not be indicated.

[There is an activity exploring passive verbs in The Witches Who Stole Eyes.]