glossary of grammatical, rhetorical, and other language

abbreviation. 1. A shortened form of
a word or phrase, created by omitting
certain letters or words <New York =
N.Y.> <received = rec’d>, or by substituting a symbol for a word <and =
&>. • Common types of abbreviations include contractions <you’d =
you would>, clipped words (e.g., lab
from laboratory), acronyms, and initialisms. See acronym; initialism;
clipping. 2. The process of shortening a word or phrase by omitting or
substituting letters.
ablative case. See case.
ablaut /ab-lowt/. The variation in the
vowels of related words, usu. indicating a change in meaning or use.
• This is typical of irregular verbs
when they are conjugated <sing–
sang–sung>. (See irregular verb under
verb.) Ablaut may be a change in a
vowel’s sound, or its omission, shortening, or lengthening. — Also termed
gradation; vowel gradation.
absolute, n. A word that ordinarily
functions as a sentence in itself, or as
the nucleus of a sentence, but not as
a component within a clause <ouch>
<hello> <yes>.
absolute adjective. See uncomparable
adjective under adjective.
absolute comparative. See dangling
comparative under comparative.
absolute construction. A phrase grammatically independent of the rest of
the sentence. • Such a construction
functions as a sentence adverb or
sentence modifier and may consist of
(1) a nominative subject <They having
gone out of their way to see the monument, the hosts knew that the tour
shouldn’t be rushed>; (2) an infinitive
phrase <To be honest, I didn’t like the
cake much>; (3) a participial phrase
with an express subject <The play having been produced, all that remained
was to hope for positive reviews>;
or (4) a prepositional phrase <In
isolation, their actions might seem
absolute degree. See degree.
absolute form. A form of a possessive
pronoun that stands alone without a
noun <Mine is the one on the right>
(mine being an absolute form) <This
book is hers> (hers being an absolute
form). — Also termed independent
abstractitis. Undesirable lack of concreteness in writing; vapid airiness
in style. • Sir Ernest Gowers, who
seems to have invented the word in
his second edition of H.W. Fowler’s
Dictionary of Modern English Usage
(1965), characterized and described
overused abstract language as a disease (hence the suffix -itis). He noted
that afflicted writers habitually use
polysyllabic, abstract words, convoluted syntax, and circumlocutions
because of cloudy thinking that gets
worse with time, until neither readers nor the writer can tell what a sentence means. But abstractitis can be
effectively used in contexts such as
parody. George Orwell mocked the
trend toward abstractitis by “translating” a passage from Ecclesiastes into
“modern” English. The original, in
Elizabethan English, read: “I returned,
and saw under the sun, that the race is
not to the swift, nor the battle to the
strong, neither yet bread to the wise,
nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but
time and chance happeneth to them
all.” Orwell parodized it as “Objective consideration of contemporary
phenomena compels the conclusion
that success or failure in competitive
activities exhibits no tendency to be
commensurate with innate capacity,
but that a considerable element of
the unpredictable must invariably be
taken into account.”
abstract noun. See noun.
academese /ә-kad-ә-meez/. The style
typical of scholarly writing; esp., a
mode of discourse that typifies the
least appealing qualities of academic
writing, namely, obscurity, pedantry,
and pomposity. • Academese is characteristic of academicians who are
writing for a highly specialized but
limited audience, or who have a limited grasp of how to make their arguments clearly and succinctly.
accent. 1. A distinctive set of pronunciation features that characterize
a region or social group; a distinctive manner of utterance <a Boston
accent>. Cf. dialect. 2. A special
emphasis or stress placed on a particular syllable of a word <accent on the
first syllable>. • The accent may shift
when a word changes form. In photographer, the second syllable takes the
accent. But in photographic, the accent
shifts to the third syllable. 3. A diacritical mark (commonly ´) used in
writing to show how a syllable should
be stressed in pronunciation.
acute accent. In pronunciation, a diacritical mark (´) indicating that the
letter or syllable is stressed or given
a rising inflection. • In a loanword,
esp. those from French, the mark
also indicates that the final letter or
syllable is not silent <flambé>. Both
stress and a nonsilent final vowel
are shown by the acute accents in
résumé. See diacritical mark.
grave accent. A diacritical mark (`)
indicating a falling pitch on a vowel
(as in the French père) or that a final
syllable is pronounced separately (as
in Shakespeare’s perturbèd spirit). •
This mark most often appears in a
word ending with -ed. It’s uncommon in prose, although it’s occasionally useful to distinguish an adjective
(as in learnèd friend, meaning a
well-educated lawyer) from a verb
(the friend learned, meaning that a
person acquired knowledge). See
diacritical mark.
accidence. 1. The field of grammar
dealing with how word forms vary
to express and distinguish number,
case, person, mood, tense, and so on.
• Affixes are one form of accidence. —
Also termed inflectional morphology.
See inflectional affix under affix. Cf.
morphology; syntax. 2. The system
of inflection in a language; specif.,
the set of inflections, esp. suffixes and
prefixes, that distinguish grammatical categories and relationships. For
instance, the suffix -ed often shows
that a verb is in the past tense (as in
jog–jogged), and the prefix uni- indicates that there is only one of something (as in unicycle). See inflection.
accident. Grammar. A property
attached to a word but not essential
to it, as case, gender, or number.
accismus /ak-siz-mәs/, n. Rhetoric. A
feigned refusal of something ardently
desired. • When people receive gifts
or honors, they may use accismus by
modestly declaring something like,
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly accept this!”
or “I’m flattered, but I’m really not
worthy of the honor.” Political candidates and appointees sometimes
engage in something like this tactic
by declaring that they would really
rather be doing something else than
being involved in public life.
accusative case. See objective case
under case.
acquisition. See language acquisition.
acrolect /ak-roh-lekt/. The most prestigious variety of a particular language;
a standard dialect. Cf. basilect.
878 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
acronym. 1. A word formed using the
initials of a full name or phrase and
spoken as a whole word. • For example, CALL is an acronym for Computer Assisted Language Learning.
But not all acronyms are written with
capital letters: laser is an acronym
of light amplification by stimulated
emission of radiation. An acronym
is a type of abbreviation. Cf. initialism. 2. Loosely, a word formed
from the first few letters of a series of
words (as in Benelux, from Belgium,
the Netherlands, and Luxembourg).
3. Loosely, initialism.
action verb. See verb.
active voice. See voice.
actor. The doer of an action. • Usually
the actor is the subject and precedes
the action. But in passive voice, the
actor comes after it, usually in a prepositional phrase beginning with by.
— Also termed agent. See active voice
and passive voice under voice.
acute accent. See accent.
additive coordinating conjunction.
See copulative conjunction under
adjectival /a-jik-ti-vәl/, adj. Of, relating to, or having the import of an
adjectival clause. See clause.
adjectival phrase. See phrase.
adjective. A word or phrase that
describes or qualifies a noun or pronoun. • An adjective is usually placed
before the noun it modifies <a blue
lamp>, though sometimes it comes
after the noun <court-martial>, or
predicatively after a verb, such as a beverb <It is hot> or a verb expressing
a sense <The water looks choppy>.
An adjective can also complement
a noun <The options make the car
expensive>. Many adjectives have a
distinctive suffix such as -able <commendable>, -al <frontal>, -ary <legendary>, -en <golden>, -ful <helpful>,
-ible <possible>, -ic <prolific>, -ish
<squeamish>, -ive <preventive>, -less
<pointless>, -like <rocklike>, -ous
<tremendous>, -some <wholesome>,
and -y <windy>. Most adjectives have
three forms: positive <skillful>,
comparative <more skillful>, and
superlative <most skillful>. See
prepositive; postpositive.
absolute adjective. See uncomparable
attributive adjective. A usu. descriptive adjective that precedes the noun
it qualifies or modifies; an adjective
within a noun phrase <a golden
thread> <the tattered envelope>.
compound adjective. 1. An adjective
formed from two or more conjoined
words <bedridden> <hardscrab-
ble> <roughhewn>. 2. See phrasal
coordinate adjective. An adjective
that appears in a sequence with one
or more related adjectives to modify
the same noun. • The adjectives are
separated by a comma or joined by
and <calm, understanding manner> <a highly skilled and longtime
definitive adjective. An adjective that
limits a noun by specifying “which
one” or “how many”; an adjective that
quantifies an exact or definite number <four people> <the first three
editions> <He gave a fourth example>. • Definitive adjectives include
ordinal and cardinal numbers <first
class> <five toes>, definite and
indefinite articles <the photograph>
<a photograph>, and words such as
many, much, and some <some keys
won’t work>. Other types of adjectives, including demonstrative adjectives such as this and those <those
wands in the cabinet> and possessive
adjectives <my cast-iron skillet>,
may function as definitive adjectives.
See demonstrative adjective; possessive adjective. Cf. determiner.
demonstrative adjective. An adjective that modifies a noun merely by
pointing to it, as opposed to describing it <this jewel>; an adjective
that points to an antecedent. • The
demonstrative adjectives are this,
that (singular); these, those (plural);
and such (preferably meaning “of
that kind” and not “the very one just
mentioned”) <Such pages should be
put into that pile over there>. See
definitive adjective.
descriptive adjective. An adjective
that defines the quality, type, or
condition of something <positive
outlook> <dry, hard soil> <nervous
distributive adjective. A type of
adjective that qualifies a noun as one
of a group <each person> <neither
indefinite adjective. An indefinite
pronoun used attributively for an
indefinite number or quality of persons or things; an adjective that is
the same as an indefinite pronoun in
form but that modifies a noun <any
college> <other people> <many
years> <another day>. • Among
the indefinite adjectives are another,
any, both, each, either, neither, one,
other, and some <Both arguments
are debated> <She interviewed other
interrogative adjective. The interrogative pronoun what, which, or
whose when used as a determiner to
pose a question or to identify a particular noun or noun phrase. • An
interrogative adjective is identical
in form to its corresponding interrogative pronoun, but the pronoun
stands alone whereas the adjective is
coupled with a noun or phrase. For
example, what is an interrogative
pronoun in What do you want? and
an interrogative adjective in What
color are the tomatoes?
irregular adjective. An adjective that
has comparative and superlative
forms that are not formed by the
normal rules <good–better–best>
nongradable adjective. See uncomparable adjective.
phrasal adjective. A phrase that functions as a unit to modify a noun <the
no-service-can-be-declined policy>
<high-school cheerleader>. • With
rare exceptions, phrasal adjectives
are hyphenated. — Also termed compound modifier; compound adjective;
unit modifier.
possessive adjective. An adjective that
denotes ownership or possession and
modifies a noun or noun phrase. • In
form, a possessive adjective appears
similar to a possessive pronoun, but
possessive adjectives cannot stand
alone. For instance, in response to
the question, Whose car is parked in
the driveway?, you could use the possessive pronoun mine <It’s mine> or
the possessive adjective my plus the
noun <It’s my car>. The possessive
adjectives are my, your, his, her, its,
our, your, and their. See definitive
predicate adjective. An adjective that
modifies the subject, but comes after
a linking verb and is not followed by
a noun <Vanya seems happy>. —
Also termed predicative adjective.
predicative adjective. See predicate
pronominal adjective /proh-nomә-nәl/, n. A pronoun—other than a
personal pronoun, who, or none—
that modifies a noun <my> <your>
<his> <her>. • A pronominal adjective specifies a person, place, or
thing. For example, in his choice,
the pronoun his functions as an
adjective and identifies who has
the choice. — Also termed adjective
proper adjective. An adjective that
is derived from a proper noun
and begins with a capital letter
<American history> <the London
qualitative adjective. A gradable
adjective identifying a quality of a
noun; specif., an adjective that tells
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 879
what type, kind, class, or feature
applies to a noun it modifies <tall
cabinet> <green grass>.
quantitative adjective. An adjective
that defines the quantity or order of
a noun <First Amendment> <few
relative adjective. An adjective that
has the form of a relative pronoun
but that qualifies a noun and introduces a relative clause; specif., an
adjective introducing an adjectival
clause or a noun clause <without
checking who was at the door> <in
late winter, by which time the snow
will be deep>. • The relative adjectives are which, that, who, whom,
whose, and where <He knew which
way to go> <the writer whose book
I read>.
uncomparable adjective. An adjective
that defines a state or condition that
cannot be intensified or diminished
because it is absolute; an adjective
that denotes a quality that cannot be
graded <unique> <unanimous>. —
Also termed absolute adjective; nongradable adjective.
adjective clause. See clause.
adjective complement. See complement.
adjective phrase. See phrase.
adjective pronoun. See pronoun.
adjunct. 1. In some grammatical systems, an adverb that adds detail to the
action denoted by the verb, specifying such ideas as time <yesterday>
<tomorrow> <nowadays>, place
<abroad> <here> <upstairs>, manner
<well> <swiftly> <sluggishly>, and
extent <partly> <wholly> <mostly>.
Cf. conjunct; disjunct; subjunct.
2. A word or group of words having
secondary importance in a phrase or
sentence. — Also termed (in sense 2)
adnomination /ad-nom-i-nay-shәn/,
n. Punning; paronomasia.
adoxography /ad-ahk-sahg-rә-fee/,
n. Brilliant, elevated writing about a
base, stultifying subject.
adverb. A word that modifies a verb
<She wrote quickly>, an adjective
<a very kind gesture>, or another
adverb <uttered quite thoughtfully>,
by expressing time, place, manner,
degree, cause, or the like. • It is often
distinguished by the suffix -ly and
typically refers to the circumstances
or way in which an action occurs. Like
adjectives, adverbs have three forms:
positive <skillfully>, comparative <more skillfully>, and superlative <most skillfully>. Adverbs
traditionally fall into five categories:
(1) adverbs of place or motion, such
as here, there, up, down; (2) adverbs
of time, such as now, then, sometimes,
never, always, often, ever; (3) adverbs
of manner or quality, such as so, well,
entirely, fully, sincerely; (4) adverbs
of measure or degree, such as less,
much, more, enough, sufficiently; and
(5) adverbs of modality, such as certainly, not, maybe, perhaps, therefore.
bare adverb. See flat adverb.
conjunctive adverb. An adverb (such
as therefore and whenever) indicating a logical relationship between
two clauses; specif., a connective
word that combines the functions
of a conjunction and an adverb by
connecting two clauses while also
qualifying a verb. • For example, in
the sentence <I don’t know when the
concert is supposed to begin>, when
qualifies the verb phrase is supposed
to begin. A conjunctive adverb can
have relative or interrogative force.
— Also termed connective adverb;
adverbial conjunction; illative conjunction; introductory adverb; relative adverb.
connective adverb. See conjunctive
consequential adverb. An adverb
denoting inference, conclusion, or
flat adverb. An adverb that has the
same form as its corresponding
adjective <hard> <fast>. • Compare
the examples Go slow and Go slowly,
either of which is permissible (one
with a flat adverb and one a normal -ly adverb. — Also termed bare
introductory adverb. See conjunctive
locative adverb. An adverb that indicates place or direction <The car
moved forward>.
numeric adverb. An adverb indicating order or position <He played
relative adverb. See conjunctive
sentence adverb. An adverb that modifies an entire independent clause,
often connecting a sentence with
the preceding one <fortunately>
simple adverb. A single-word adverb
that qualifies a single part of speech
<hardly visible> <entering now>.
adverb complement. See complement.
adverbial, adj. Of, relating to, or functioning as an adverb.
adverbial clause. See clause.
adverbial conjunction. See conjunction.
adverbial objective. A noun in an
adverbial position after a verbal <He
works nights>.
adverbial phrase. See phrase.
adversative /ad-vәr-sә-tiv/, adj.
1. Expressing contrast, antithesis, or
opposition <Although we were late for
the wedding, we had to stop for gas>
(the adversative although shows that
the dependent clause it introduces
was a hindrance to the action in the
independent clause). • In professional
writing, the most common adversative word is the sentence-starting But.
2. disjunctive. — adversative, n.
adversative conjunction. See conjunction.
affirmative. (Of a clause or phrase)
positive, without any markers for
affix, n. One or more letters or syllables
attached to the beginning or end of a
word, or inserted within a word, to
modify the word’s meaning; a bound
morpheme attached to a root. See
infix; prefix; suffix; synthetic
derivational affix. An affix that, when
added to a root, changes its part of
inflectional affix. An affix that conveys grammatical information and
does not change the root’s part of
agency comparative. See dangling
comparative under comparative.
agent. See actor.
agent noun. See noun.
agglutination /ә-gloo-tә-nay-shәn/.
1. The process of compounding or
combining several words into a single
word, with minor or no changes to the
forms or meanings of the constituent
words. 2. The addition of a suffix to a
root to denote the word’s grammatical function. 3. The addition of affixes
to a word’s root. • The affixes produce
new words with various functions.
In some languages, especially some
Native American languages, a word
that has undergone agglutination may
serve as a sentence.
agreement. The matching of words or
word classes in terms of number (singular or plural), gender (masculine,
feminine, or neuter), and person (first,
second, or third). — Also termed concord; congruence. See concord.
formal agreement. The conventional
matching of nouns, demonstratives,
personal pronouns, and verbs to
mark them as singular or plural, as
animate or inanimate, and as first-,
second-, or third-person references
<That sailor has made his bed>
<Those sailors have made their
notional agreement. The matching of
nouns and verbs according to sense
as opposed to conventional grammar
880 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
<A number of people were [not was]
there>. See synesis.
proximity agreement. The mismatching of a verb with a noun that intervenes between the grammatical
subject and the verb and that differs
in number from that subject <The
state of the Olympic Games were
[read was] uncertain>. Cf. false
alliteration. Rhetoric. The repetition
of a sound or letter at the beginning of consecutive or nearby words
<a maker and model of melodious
verse> <Her robe was ringed with
rich, red ribbons>. • Alliteration can
help make something memorable, but
it can also look artificial or careless in
prose. It is typically used in elevated
oratory and in poetry. See euphony.
Cf. assonance; consonance. —
alliterative, adj.
allomorph. A variation on a morpheme. • Only the sound of the morpheme changes, not the meaning. For
example, the morpheme -ed indicates
that a verb is in past tense. But it is
not pronounced the same each time
it appears. For example, it is /әd/ in
scolded, but /d/ in farmed, and /t/ in
finished. See morpheme.
allophone /al-ә-fohn/. A variation of
a phoneme that is spelled the same
but pronounced differently. • For
instance, the k in kit is aspirated, but
the k in skit is not; in these words, the
k is an allophone of the phoneme k.
See phoneme.
allusion /a-loo-zhәn/. A brief, usu.
indirect reference to something or
someone. • An allusion is effective
only when the reader is familiar with
the reference. Stating that someone is
“as tightfisted as Scrooge” presumes
that the reader knows the Charles
Dickens story A Christmas Carol.
alphabetism. See initialism.
altiloquent /al-til-ә-kwent/, adj. Pompous; highfalutin; high-sounding. —
altiloquence, n.
ambages /am-bә-jiz/, n. Indirections
of speech; language characterized
by quibbles, ambiguities, and circumlocutions <The weird sisters of
Shakespeare’s Macbeth are constantly
mouthing ambages>. • Although the
singular ambage exists, the plural
form is customary.
ambiguity. 1. Uncertainty of meaning;
the state of being equivocal or otherwise obscure. 2. Language that can be
reasonably interpreted in two or more
ways; a linguistic structure that is susceptible of more than one meaning. •
A single word may be ambiguous if it
has several meanings and the context
does not make it clear what meaning
applies. The statement pain-relieving
medicines are sold by frightening people is ambiguous because frightening
might mean “scary” or “putting fear
into.” — ambiguous, adj.
grammatical ambiguity. An ambiguity that results when a noun or noun
phrase can be interpreted as having
more than one grammatical role <The
lamb is ready to eat> (meaning either
that the meat is well cooked or that
the animal is ready for feeding).
grouping ambiguity. An ambiguity
that results when adjacent words
can be grouped in different ways
to impart different meanings <We
decided on the airplane> (meaning
either we decided while on the airplane or we chose the airplane).
lexical ambiguity. An ambiguity that
results when a word has more than
one plausible meaning in a sentence
<That house is cold> (meaning
either that the temperature is too
low or that the feeling is artificial and
linguistic ambiguity. Ambiguity in
which an entire sentence may have
more than one interpretation <Visiting relatives can be fun> (meaning
either it is fun to visit relatives or it is
fun to have relatives visit).
modification ambiguity. Ambiguity
that results when a modifier can be
interpreted as describing more than
one part of the sentence <We looked
at the huge president’s portrait>
(What was huge? The president? The
structural ambiguity. Ambiguity that
results from different possible analyses of grammatical structure <She
can’t bear children> (meaning either
that she dislikes children or that she
cannot give birth to a child).
amelioration. See melioration.
amphibology /am-fi-bahl-ә-jee/, adj.
1. The use of an ambiguous statement.
2. The ambiguous statement itself. —
Also termed amphiboly.
amphiboly. See amphibology.
amphigory /am-fi-gor-ee/, n. Nonsensical writing; a meaningless composition that has the semblance of sense.
— amphigoric, adj.
ampollosity /am-pә-lahs-i-tee/, n. A
bombastic, inflated prose style.
anacoluthon /a-nә-kә-loo-thon or
-thәn/. Rhetoric. A construction in
which grammatical cohesion is lacking within a sentence, characterized
by a change from one grammatical
form to another, disharmonious form.
• An anacoluthon usually occurs
when the speaker suddenly changes
the thought or point of view <He
was warned that he had to shape up
or what could he expect to happen?>.
Sometimes it occurs as an instance of
aposiopesis to heighten the rhetorical effect <If I don’t find my keys in
the next ten minutes—well, you don’t
want to know what will happen!>. See
anadiplosis /an-ә-di-ploh-sis/. Rhetoric. The repetition of a key word in
consecutive clauses or sentences,
appearing esp. at the end of one and
the beginning of the next <It all comes
down to money—money we don’t
have>. • Francis Bacon (1561–1626)
used this device when he wrote, “Men
in great places are thrice servants:
servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business.” — Also termed epanastrophe.
analogy /ә-nal-ә-jee/. 1. Rhetoric. The
comparison of two different things
by pointing out correspondences,
usu. several of them, esp. to augment
conceptual clarity. 2. Philology. The
influence of the general pattern of a
language (e.g., a plural ending in -s)
to make an individual item (such
as woman) conform to the pattern
(making the plural form womans).
• Analogy is often at work in children’s speech (e.g., That stinked!)
until the children master irregular
forms. Sometimes analogy arises well
past the stage of children’s speech.
Although dive and drive are similar in
appearance, Standard English inflects
them differently (dive–dived–dived
vs. drive–drove–driven). Through
analogy, dove is often used as the past
tense of dive. (Yet nobody says, “I’ve
diven in that pool before!”)
analytic language. Grammar. 1. A
language in which every word has
only one form and syntactical relationships such as tense, case, and
number are shown by function words
and word-order. • Context and pragmatic considerations are essential
for understanding the meanings
of words and sentences in analytic
languages. A word or syllable may
express a certain concept when it
stands alone but express something
else when combined with another.
Chinese and Vietnamese are analytic
languages. To some degree, English
is also an analytic language. — Also
termed isolating language. Cf. synthetic language. 2. More loosely, a
language that depends more on wordorder than on inflections to indicate
grammatical relationships, as English
differentiates between “Man eats fish”
and “Fish eats man.”
ananym /an-ә-nim/, n. A name written
backward (as with Renrag for Garner,
or Retsle for Elster).
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 881
anaphora /ә-na-for-ә/. 1. Rhetoric.
The emphatic repetition of a sound,
word, or phrase at the beginning of
successive clauses, verses, or sentences. • Martin Luther King’s repetition of I have a dream in his most
famous speech is a kind of largescale anaphora. — Also termed
epanaphora; epibole. — anaphoric,
adj. See symploce. Cf. cataphora;
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe?
Where is the disputer of the world?
(1 Corinthians 1:20)
The heart of an Irishman is by nature
bold, and he confides; it is tender, and
he loves; it is generous, and he gives; it is
social, and he is hospitable. (John Philpot Curran [1750–1817])
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight
in France, we shall fight on the seas and
oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,
we shall defend our island, whatever
the cost may be, we shall fight on the
beaches, we shall fight on the landing
grounds, we shall fight in the fields and
in the streets, we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender. (Winston
Churchill [1874–1965])
2. Grammar. The use of a word that
refers to or substitutes for a word
or group of words <Here are some
books; read one>.
anaphoric /an-ә-for-ik/, adj. 1. Of or
relating to anaphora. See anaphora.
2. Of, relating to, or denoting reference to a preceding word or group of
words. Cf. cataphoric.
anaptotic, adj. (Of a language) characterized by deterioration and loss of
inflected terms, as in English.
anaptyxis /an-ap-tik-sis/, n. Vowel
epenthesis; the insertion of a superfluous vowel into the middle of a word
or phrase <ellum> <thataway>. See
anastrophe /ә-nas-trә-fee/. 1. Rhetoric. An inversion of the usual order
of words in a sentence <Uneasy lies
the head that wears a crown> <echoed
the hills>. • This device is most common in poetry. For example, T.S. Eliot
used it in “The Journey of the Magi”
(1927): the ways deep and the weather
sharp. Anastrophe is sometimes seen
in literary prose, too. See inversion.
2. metathesis.
Anglo-Saxon. See old english.
animate, adj. (Of an entity) conscious
and able to act of its own will, or at
least perceived as being able to do so.
• In Indo-European languages (the
family from which English descends),
nouns were classified as animate (usu.
referring to living creatures but also to
some nonliving things) and inanimate
(usu. referring to immobile things,
esp. ones that were never alive). In
many languages, animate nouns were
later subdivided into masculine and
feminine genders, and inanimate
nouns were assigned neuter gender.
See feminine gender, masculine gender,
and neuter gender under gender. Cf.
animate noun. See noun.
antanaclasis /ant-ә-nak-lә-sis/. Rhetoric. 1. A rhetorical tactic whereby a
word or phrase appears twice in the
same statement but in different senses
<The lot I chose for my house is a lot
bigger than I’d realized>. • Vince
Lombardi (1913–1970) used this
device when he said, “If you aren’t
fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired
with enthusiasm.” Cf. zeugma. 2. The
repetition of a word or phrase after a
parenthesis <I was saying—before I
was so gently interrupted—I was saying how glad I am to be here>.
antanagoge /ant-ә-nag-ә-jee/, n. See
tu quoque.
antecedent. A noun or noun phrase to
which a personal pronoun, a relative
pronoun, or a pointing word refers. •
The antecedent must agree in number
with the referring word. In although
Alan left on time, he arrived late, the
singular masculine Alan is the antecedent with which the pronoun he
agrees. And in there were a dozen pictures to choose from, and those three
are the best, the plural pictures is the
antecedent of those. See pointing word
under word; relative clause under
clause. Cf. pronoun.
antepenult /an-tee-pi-nәlt/. The third
from the last syllable of a word. Cf.
anthimeria. See functional shift.
anthorism /an-thә-riz-әm/, n. Rhetoric. A counterdefinition; a rhetorical
technique of redefining something
differently from how one’s adversary
has defined it.
anthypophora /an-thi-pahf-ә-rә/, n.
Rhetoric. A rhetorical tactic of refuting an objection with a contrary inference or allegation <My opponent says
that grammar is difficult to learn. That
is so. But its uses are infinite.>.
anticlimax. Rhetoric. A sudden transition from a substantive or significant
idea to one that is nonsensical or trivial, esp. after building up the importance of something.
antimetabole /an-tee-mә-tab-ә-lee/.
Rhetoric. An inversion of the same
words or ideas, usu. with a clever,
ironic, or profound twist <a wit with
dunces, and a dunce with wits (Alexander Pope [1688–1744]> <Never kiss
a fool, and never let a fool kiss you>.
See antistrophe.
antiphrasis /an-tif-rә-sis/. Rhetoric.
The use of a word in a sense opposite
to its established one. • For example,
in teenage slang and some dialectal
varieties of English, He’s bad! Real
bad! can mean “He’s good.” — antiphrastic, adj.
antistrophe /an-tis-trә-fee/. Rhetoric.
The repetition of words in a transposed order; a reversal of the order
of repeated words or phrases <the
student of the professor and the professor of the student> <Ask not what
your country can do for you, but what
you can do for your country (President John F. Kennedy [1917–1963])>.
— Also termed antimetabole. — antistrophal, adj.
antithesis. Rhetoric. The placement
of contrasting or opposing ideas in a
parallel construction <The prodigal
robs his heir, as the miser robs himself>. • Examples:
Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I
loved Rome more. (Shakespeare, Julius
To err is human, to forgive divine. (Alexander Pope [1688–1744])
Taste consists in the power of judging,
genius in the power of execution. Taste
appreciates; genius creates. (George
Campbell [1719–1796])
antonomasia /an-ton-ә-may-zhә/.
Rhetoric. 1. The use of a proper noun
in place of a common noun, as when a
traitor is called an Arnold, a speaker a
Demosthenes, a lawmaker a Solon, or
a patriot a Washington. 2. The use of
an epithet or official title instead of a
person’s proper name (as in Mr. Chief
Justice for Chief Justice John Roberts).
antonym. A term with a meaning
directly opposed to another, with
which it can be paired by way of contrast; an opposite. • Many antonyms,
such as white–black; slow–fast, are
very different in appearance. But
many words become antonyms
of themselves by the addition of a
negative prefix such as in-, non-, or
un- <capable–incapable> <entity–
nonentity> <happy–unhappy>. Cf.
aorist /ay-ә-rist/, n. In Greek grammar, the simple past tense without
limitations of aspect (e.g., completion
or continuation) belonging to other
past-tense forms. • The aorist corresponds to the simple past tense of
English, as in He sang.
apagoge /ap-ә-goh-jee/, n. Logic &
Rhetoric. Indirect proof; an argument
based on establishing the contrary of
a thesis to be impossible or absurd. —
apagogic, adj.
aphaeresis /ә-fer-ә-sis/. The dropping
of a word’s unaccented initial letter
882 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
or syllable, as in coon for raccoon,
mid for amid, possum for opossum,
and squire for esquire. • This commonly occurs in speech (as when
because becomes ’cause, and especially
becomes ’specially) and in some types
of writing, such as poetry (as when
it was becomes ’twas). Some names
undergo aphaeresis (e.g., Bert, Gene,
Rita, Trina, Zandra). — Also spelled
apheresis. — Also termed front-cut. —
aphaeretic, adj.
aphasia /ә-fay-zhә/, n. The loss or
impairment of the ability to use or
understand language. — aphasic
/ә-fay-zik/, adj.
apheresis. See aphaeresis.
aphesis /af-ә-sis/. The gradual loss of a
short, unaccented vowel that begins a
word. • Aphesis is a common type of
aphaeresis—it might be termed historical aphaeresis. For example, the word
esquire evolved into squire. — aphetic
/ә-fet-ik/, adj. — aphetize, vb.
aphetism /af-ә-tiz-әm/. An aphetized
word; a form resulting from the loss
of a weak initial vowel (e.g., possum
from opossum).
aphthong /af-thong/, n. One or more
letters that are customarily silent in
the pronunciation of a word <in good
speech, the t in often is an aphthong>.
• Examples: the first d in Wednesday
/wenz-dee or wenz-day/, the p in psychology /si-kahl-ә-jee/, the p in pterodactyl /ter-ә-dak-til/, the th in isthmus
/is-mәs/, and the ue in tongue /tung/.
apocope /ә-pah-kә-pee/. The loss of
the final sound, syllable, or letter in
a word. • Quite a few English words
have resulted from apocope, among
them cinema (from cinematograph)
and photo (from photograph). Names
often undergo apocope (e.g., Barb,
Ben, Deb, Steph, Theo, Vince). — Also
termed end-cut. — apocopate, adj. —
apocopate, vb. See hyphaeresis. Cf.
apodosis /ә-pahd-ә-sәs/. In a conditional sentence, the clause containing the consequence or result. • The
apodosis is not always the last clause
as in if you want to have a picnic, we’ll
have to go to the market; it may be
the first. In you can return the jacket
if it isn’t the right color, the apodosis
is you can return the jacket because
that clause states the consequence of
the mismatch. — Also termed consequence clause; consequent; conclusion.
See protasis.
apophasis /ә-pahf-ә-sis/. Rhetoric.
The denial of an intention to mention
something even while mentioning it
<I won’t even mention the fact that
local and state officials failed to do
their jobs>. • Several set phrases in
our language signal apophasis, such
as not to mention and to say nothing
of. Cf. paraleipsis.
aporia /ә-pohr-ee-ә/, n. Rhetoric. 1. The
suggestion or profession of uncertainty about how to begin, what to say,
or what course to take <This may not
be the best choice of words, but . . . >.
2. An equivalency of reasons for and
against a proposition.
aposiopesis /ap-ә-si-ә-pee-sis/. The
leaving of a sentence unfinished as
a result of some powerfully intruding emotion or perception; esp., the
breaking off of a thought as if from an
inability or unwillingness to complete
the sentence. Examples:
Ye winds, whom I—but it is better to
calm the billows. (Virgil [70 b.c.–19
I admit you are right. I myself . . . You
see, a person I knew used to divide
people into three categories: those who
prefer nothing to hide rather than being
obliged to lie, those who prefer lying
to having nothing to hide, and finally
those who like both lying and the hidden. (Albert Camus [1913–1960])
apostrophe /ә-pahs-trә-fee/. 1. Rhetoric. The act or an instance of addressing an absent or dead person, or an
abstract idea or imaginary object
<Death, be not proud>. 2. The mark
[’], which indicates (1) the omission
of one or more letters <can’t>, (2) the
possessive case <Caroline’s book>, or
(3) the plural of a letter or abbreviation <mind your p’s and q’s>. — apostrophize, vb.
greengrocer’s apostrophe. British
English. An apostrophe mistakenly
placed before a plural s (as in orange’s
or tomato’s). • Occasionally, the term
refers to other blunders, such as the
supposed plural asparagu’s. — Also
written (appropriately enough, there
is no agreement on the point) greengrocers’ apostrophe.
appellative /ә-pel-ә-tiv/, n. A name,
esp. a common noun for a class of
apposition, n. 1. The use of an adjunct
word or phrase beside a principal
word or phrase for reasons of identification, explanation, or commentary; esp., the setting of a noun or
noun phrase beside another noun
or noun phrase in a synonymous or
identifying way, usu. with the force
of a condensed clause <Margaret, his
mother, . . .>. 2. The relation of such
an adjunct word or phrase to the principal word or phrase.
appositive, n. A word, phrase, or clause
that follows another and gives more
information about its predecessor;
one used in apposition to another
<Edward, King of England> <the river
Thames>. • For example, in My friend
Leslie will visit in April, the name Leslie is an appositive to My friend; it
is not set off by commas because it
is restrictive (the speaker has more
than one friend). In Mel Brooks, the
writer and comedian, took a cabana
just beside ours, the phrase the writer
and comedian is an appositive to Mel
Brooks; it is set off by commas because
it is nonrestrictive.
appositive relative clause. See nonrestrictive relative clause under clause.
aptote /ap-toht/, n. In Greek grammar,
an undeclinable noun; a noun that
does not change its form depending
on its case. See monoptote. Cf. diptote; triptote.
archaism /ahr-kay-iz-әm/. 1. An oldfashioned or quaint word, phrase,
or style. 2. The revival of obsolete or
obsolescent words to achieve some
special literary effect.
argot /ar-gәt or ar-goh/. A secret language or dialect that is unique to a
certain group within a society. • The
term often has a pejorative taint, since
argot is especially associated with
people in lower social strata or regard,
such as thieves or hobos. Originally,
the term denoted language used for
purposes of disguise or concealment.
— Also termed cant. See dialect. Cf.
argument. 1. A statement or series of
statements calculated to persuade or
convince. 2. A disagreement or dispute, esp. a heated one. 3. Linguistics.
The complement of a verb (as, e.g.,
subject, direct object, or indirect
object). • A verb must have at least
one argument, because the argument
distinguishes the verb grammatically.
An intransitive verb requires only one
argument, the subject <Paul writes
and Dianne paints> <He laughed
heartily>. A transitive verb needs
at least two, the subject and a direct
object, perhaps also an indirect object
<The catcher dropped the ball> <You
should send him a gift>.
arrestive, adj. (Of a conjunction such
as but) tending to arrest.
article. A word such as a, an, or the,
used before a word to limit it or to
make it more or less definite; a limiting adjective that precedes a noun or
noun phrase and determines the noun
or phrase’s use to indicate something
definite (the) or indefinite (a or an).
• An article might stand alone or be
used with other adjectives (as in a
road vs. a brick road vs. the yellowbrick road). Articles are also called
determiners because they restrict or
specify a noun in some way.
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 883
definite article. The word the. • It
refers to a particular person or thing
that (1) is understood without additional description (e.g., the flowers
are here is a shortened form of the
flowers you ordered from Ecuador are
here); (2) is a thing that is about to
be described <the hotel on Congress
Street>; or (3) is important <the big
one>. • The definite article can be
used to refer to a group <the basketball team> or, in some circumstances, a plural <The ideas just kept
indefinite article. The word a or an.
• Each of these points to a nonspecific object, thing, or person that is
not distinguished from the other
members of a class. These things
may be singular <a city in Texas>,
or uncountable <a horde>, or generalized <a notion of truth>. A and
an can’t be used with plural nouns.
Euphony governs which one should
be used in speech and writing. If a
word’s first letter sounds like a consonant, use a <a unicycle> <a hammer>. If it’s a vowel sound, use an
<an unusual place> <an hour>. See
zero article. An article that is implicitly present, usu. before a mass or plural noun <The salespeople refolded
shirts that shoppers had tried on>
(the is implicit before shirts).
articulation. Phonetics. 1. The use of
movements of the organs of speech
to produce sound. 2. The resulting
sound or utterance; esp., a consonant
that affects syllabic division.
ascensive. See intensive.
aspect. A feature of a verb marked
by an auxiliary form, changes in an
internal vowel, or the addition or
subtraction of an affix to express the
duration and type of activity that a
verb denotes. — aspectual, adj. See
mood; tense; voice; form.
aorist aspect. A verb aspect that
expresses past action as having
occurred at some indefinite time,
without implication of continuance
or repetition. • This term is primarily used in reference to Greek and
Sanskrit grammar. — Also termed
punctual aspect; momentaneous
continuous aspect. See progressive
durative aspect. See progressive
frequentative aspect /free-kwen-tәtiv/. A verb aspect expressing frequent recurrence or intensity of an
action, state, or situation. • Unlike
other languages, Standard English
has no inflected forms for this
purpose. But -le is a frequentative
particle (e.g., in chuckle, fizzle, and
sparkle). — Also termed iterative.
imperfective aspect. A verb aspect that
expresses action as (1) incomplete
(or having no reference to completion), (2) continuing, or (3) repetitive <Thelma was singing>.
iterative aspect. A verb aspect that
expresses action as being repeated
several times.
momentaneous aspect. A verb aspect
that expresses action as having been
begun and terminated in an instant.
— Also termed aorist aspect; punctual aspect.
perfective aspect. A verb aspect that
expresses action as complete—or
implies that it is so <Juan has collected seven witness statements>.
progressive aspect. A verb aspect
(formed with a be-verb plus the main
verb’s present participle) showing
that an action or state—past, present, or future—was, is, or will be
unfinished at the time referred to. •
For example, I’m cooking dinner is a
current unfinished action. And in I
was reading a book when the package came, reading was an unfinished
action at the time the event took
place. — Also termed continuous
aspect; durative aspect. See main verb
under verb; participle.
punctual aspect. See aorist aspect;
momentaneous aspect.
aspirate /as-pә-rәt/, n. 1. A consonant that is articulated (h in half )
or followed (p in poo) by a puff of
air. 2. The sound of the letter h. •
Uneducated speakers of English in
Great Britain often drop their aitches
and are sometimes said to be weak
in their aspirates. — aspirate /as-pәrayt/, vb.
aspiration. An articulated sound that
consists of a puff of breath, such as
the h-sound in how or the slight puff
following the p-sound in pot. Cf.
assimilation. Phonetics. The influence
of one sound on another that results in
the two becoming more similar or even
identical. • The word assimilate itself
derives from Latin ad-similo, commission derives from L. con-missio, correlative derives from L. con-relativus,
irrelevant derives from L. in-relevant,
etc. In grandma, the -nd- is assimilated
to the following -m-, hence the pronunciation /gram-mә or gram-maw/.
assonance. The close resemblance
or correspondence between vowel
sounds in different syllables or words
(e.g., dimwit’s inhibition); the repetition of a sound, esp. a vowel sound, in
adjoining or nearby words. • In My
Fair Lady, Henry Higgins used assonance (a long a sound) as part of Eliza
Doolittle’s speech lessons: “The rain in
Spain stays mainly in the plain.” Often
assonance consists of imperfect or
partial rhymes—that is, a repetition
of vowel sounds with different consonant sounds, as in lady and baby,
golden and molten, squealing and
bleating, and penitent and reticent. Cf.
alliteration; consonance.
asteism /as-tee-iz-әm/, n. Rhetoric.
Politely clever mockery. • The garrulous brother of the taciturn Holy
Roman Emperor Charles V once tried
to cajole Charles into dinner conversation. Charles used asteism when
he replied, “What need that brother,
since you have words enough for us
asyndeton /ә-sin-dә-ton/. Rhetoric.
The omission of conjunctions that
normally join coordinate words,
phrases, or clauses in a list. • Many
great speakers have used asyndeton to
produce memorable statements (e.g.,
Abraham Lincoln’s declaration in the
Gettysburg Address, “But, in a larger
sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this
ground.”). Cf. polysyndeton.
atonic /ay-ton-ik or ә-ton-ik/, adj. (Of
a syllable or word) unaccented <an
atonic vowel>.
attraction. See false attraction.
attribute /at-tri-byoot/, n. A word or
phrase that functions adjectivally; an
attributive /ә-trib-yә-tiv/, adj. Functioning as an adjective; specif., of,
relating to, expressing, or having the
nature of an attribute <an attributive
noun>. • An attributive adjective
directly precedes the noun it modifies (for instance, the word lovely in
lovely day). See attributive noun under
attributive adjective. See adjective.
attributive noun. See noun.
augmentative. See intensive.
aureate diction. 1. The use of unusual
words, usu. those borrowed from
Latin or Greek, as a conscious stylistic flourish. 2. The words used for
that purpose. • During the Renaissance, influential writers introduced
many words, often based on Latin or
Greek, into English. Aureate diction
was considered a mark of erudition.
Among the now-familiar words that
first appeared in the Renaissance are
alienate (from Latin), catastrophe
(from Greek), encylopedia (from Latin
& Greek), jocular (from French), vacuum (from Latin), and virus (from
Latin). — Also termed aureate language. Cf. inkhornism.
884 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
autological, adj. (Of a modifying
word) having the property denoted. •
An autological word describes itself.
Examples include polysyllabic (it has
multiple syllables), lexiphanic (it’s an
ostentatious word), sesquipedalian
(it’s a long word), and small (it has
only one syllable and five letters). Cf.
auxesis /awk-see-sәs/. Rhetoric. The
use of a high-sounding word instead
of a plain word to exaggerate the
importance of something <Multitudinous rationales are extant for incorporating a prolegomenon (= There
are many reasons for including a
preface)>. • This is a type of hyperbole. — auxetic /awk-set-ik/, adj. See
auxiliary verb. See verb.
back-formation. A word formed
from another word that is erroneously thought to be a derivative;
the creation of a wrongly supposed
original form by subtracting a supposed affix from what appears to be a
derivative (as with administrate from
administration, liaise from liaison, or
typewrite from typewriter). • Some
back-formations become standard
because no convenient word expresses
the same meaning. For instance, the
noun sculptor appeared in English in
the early 17th century. The verb sculpt
was derived from it almost two centuries later (possibly using the pattern of
act/actor). But most back-formations
are awkward and unnecessarily displace shorter established words. For
example, the verb orient predates its
derivative noun orientation by almost
a century and is still in common use;
the verb orientate was derived from
orientation almost 50 years later.
badinage /bad-[ә]-nahzh/. Playful
banter. Cf. persiflage.
bahuvrihi /ba-hyoo-vree-hee/, adj.
[Sanskrit “having much rice”] 1. (Of
a compound word) composed of
an adjective plus a noun <redhead>
<lazybones> <high-potency>. Cf. karmadharaya. 2. Forming a compound
that is a part of speech different from
its head <childless> <lice-ridden>. —
bahuvrihi, n.
barbarize /bar-bә-riz/, vb. 1. To speak
or write like a barbarian. 2. To violate
grammatical rules.
bare adverb. See flat adverb under
bare infinitive. See infinitive.
base, n. See root.
base form. The simplest uninflected variant of a morpheme. See
Basic English. A simplified version
of the English language consisting
of only 850 words and intended as a
medium of international communication. • C.K. Ogden of Cambridge
invented the system in the 1920s and
wrote about it in such books as Basic
English (1930). In this name, the word
Basic was intended as an acronym for
British American Scientific International Commercial (English). — Often
shortened to Basic.
basilect /baz-i-lekt or bas-i-lekt/, n. The
least prestigious variety of a language;
the lowest form of a language, typically spoken by the least well-educated
members of society. — basilectal, adj.
Cf. acrolect.
bathos /bay-thahs/, n. Rhetoric. A
humorous descent from the sublime
to the commonplace. — bathetic
/bә-thet-ik/, adj.
battology /ba-tahl-ә-jee/, n. 1. Idle
talk; babbling. 2. Needless repetition
of words or ideas; tiresome repetitiousness. — battological, adj. — battologist, n.
be-verb. See verb.
bidialectal /bi-di-ә-lek-tәl/, adj. 1. (Of
a person) conversant in two dialects
of a language, usu. the standard form
and one other. 2. (Of a speech community or teaching environment)
using two linguistic varieties at different times, usu. the standard form
and one other.
bilingual /bi-lin-gwәl/, adj. 1. (Of a
person) fluent or competent in two
languages. 2. (Of inscriptions, government instructions, ballots, etc.)
written in two parallel versions with
different languages. 3. (Of an educational regime) involving instruction
in two different languages. 4. (Of a
region) having a population among
which two languages are commonly
bilingualism /bi-lin-gwә-liz-әm/, n.
1. The ability to use two languages;
the habitual use of two languages.
2. The doctrine that promotes bilingual education. 3. The coexistence of
two official languages within a given
polity, as both French and English are
used in Canada.
billingsgate /bil-ingz-gayt/. Coarse
and abusive language. • Originally,
the term referred to the type of language one heard at the fish market
formerly located in the Billingsgate
area of London.
blend. A word derived by combining portions of two other words and
retaining some of each word’s essence.
• Blends are relatively common in
English. For example, we have scurry
from scatter and hurry, and smog from
smoke and fog. — Also termed portmanteau word.
bloviate /bloh-vee-ayt/, vb. To speak
garrulously, usu. with inflated rhetoric. — bloviation, n.
bound morpheme. See morpheme.
brachylogy /bra-kil-ә-jee/. 1. Brevity;
conciseness; condensed expression.
2. An expression in which one or
more words essential to the grammar
has been omitted.
break Priscian’s head. To violate the
rules of grammar. • In the 6th century, Priscian [a.d. 500] wrote an 18volume Latin grammar that was copied by almost every library in Europe
and influenced writers for several centuries. He is reputed to have been so
devoted to the study of grammar that
making an error in his presence hurt
him as much as a blow to the head.
breve /breev or brev/. In pronunciation, a diacritical mark (˘) indicating
that a vowel is short or unstressed.
• For example, the mark shows that
the vowel sound in bet is the short eh
(/bět/). And in the pronunciation for
cooperate, it indicates that the identical adjacent letters are not pronounced
alike (/kōŏpәrāt/). The straight mark
is a macron. See diacritical mark.
Cf. macron.
buried verb. See verb.
by-form. A word that has an alternative form that is similar but less
common <spelled–spelt> <apothegm–
apophthegm>. • By-forms may have
the same or nearly the same meanings unless they’ve undergone differentiation. See differentiation;
needless variant.
cacoepy /kak-ә-wә-pee or kә-koh-әpee/. Bad or incorrect pronunciation.
Cf. orthoepy.
cacoethes loquendi /kak-ә-wee-theez
loh-kwen-di/. A mania for talking;
esp., a morbid desire for gossip or
cacoethes scribendi /kak-ә-wee-theez
skri-ben-di/. A mania for writing;
specif., a morbid desire for authorship. • The term derives from the
satires of the Roman poet Juvenal (ca.
a.d. 55–127).
cacography /kә-kahg-rә-fee/, n. Bad
writing; esp., poor spelling. — cacographic /kak-ә-graf-ik/, adj.
cacology /kә-kahl-ә-jee/, n. 1. A bad use
of words. 2. Vicious mispronunciation.
caconym /kak-ә-nim/. An objectionable name or inappropriate term; esp.,
a term that violates the rules of a system for naming and should therefore
not be used as a technical designation
(for a start-up company, a newly discovered star, a newly developed drug,
etc.). Cf. euonym.
cacophony /kә-kahf-ә-nee/. Rhetoric.
An unpleasant or dissonant coupling
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 885
of words; esp., harsh-sounding words;
a harsh combination of sounds. Cf.
cacozeal /kak-ә-zeel/. Inferior imitation in literary composition; an
absurd affectation of writing.
calque /kalk/. See loan translation.
cant. See argot.
cardinal number. A number denoting quantity rather than place in a
sequence (e.g., three French hens). Cf.
ordinal number.
caritative. See hypocoristic.
case. 1. A grammatical category for the
inflection of nouns and pronouns to
indicate their function in a sentence;
a noun or pronoun’s change in form
as a result of its change in function.
• Nouns have two cases: common
and possessive. Pronouns have three:
nominative, objective, and possessive.
(See declension.) Some older grammars, modeled on Latin grammars,
recognized five cases: nominative (or
subjective), genitive (or possessive),
dative, accusative (or objective), and
vocative. But modern grammarians
have long held that clarity of analysis is gained by recognizing no more
cases than the language’s inflectional
system demands. 2. In an analytic
language, as opposed to a synthetic
one, the relation that a noun, adjective, or pronoun bears to some other
word in the sentence—as opposed to
its change in form.
ablative case. A grammatical case
that exists in Latin and certain other
Indo-European languages, but not in
English, to mark a noun as carrying
the sense “by, with, or from” with it.
• Among the ablative phrases that
English has borrowed from Latin are
ipso facto (= by the very nature of the
case) and mutatis mutandis (= with
the necessary changes having been
accusative case. See objective case.
common case. The case of a noun that
retains the same form whether it
functions as a subject, direct object,
or indirect object; esp., the uninflected form of a noun or pronoun,
as distinct from its genitive or possessive form. • In English, all nouns have
the common case. Some grammarians say that they have no case at all.
dative case. In some Indo-European
languages, a case denoting the indirect object of a verb—that is, to whom
or for whom we do a thing <Give the
book to James>, or to which or for
which we do a thing <Build a house
for Jill>. The preposition is often omitted <Give me one good reason>.
genitive case. The case used to show a
thing’s source (as in the car’s exhaust),
a trait or characteristic (as in women’s
intuition), or possession or ownership (as in our new house). • In English, the genitive case is identical
to the possessive case. With animate
nouns, the genitive is generally indicated through inflection—the addition of -’s for a singular (e.g., boy’s)
or -s’ for a plural (e.g., boys’). With
inanimate nouns, the of-genitive is
most common (e.g., the purpose of
the remark).
nominative case. The case for the subject of a sentence. • English nouns
do not use inflections to show the
nominative case, but languages such
as Latin and Russian do. — Also
termed subjective case.
objective case. The noun and pronoun case denoting either (1) the
person or thing acted on by a verb
in the active voice <The computer
contains the file> ( file is objective);
or (2) the person or thing related to
another element by a connective,
such as a preposition <Slip the disk
under the door> (under is a preposition, door is objective) <By whom
was this done?> (by is a preposition,
whom is objective). — Also termed
accusative case.
oblique case. Any case of a noun or
pronoun other than the common
case or the nominative case.
possessive case. The noun and pronoun case denoting possession or
ownership. • The possessive case is
reflected in nouns by inflection (’s or
s’) or by the periphrastic form [noun
+ of the + noun]. For example, in
Rachel’s desk, the apostrophe-plus-s
shows that Rachel’s is possessive; in
the money is theirs, the form theirs
is possessive.
subjective case. See nominative case.
catachresis /kat-ә-kree-sis/. Rhetoric. 1. The mistaken use of a word
or phrase for another that is similar
but does not have the same meaning. • Using luxurious (= elegant) for
luxuriant (= profuse) is an example of
catachresis. See malapropism. 2. The
strained use of a word or phrase without concern for its accepted sense, as
occurs in a mixed metaphor. • It is
sometimes used for rhetorical effect.
In his farewell address, General
Douglas MacArthur undoubtedly
puzzled many listeners when he said,
“I listen vainly, but with thirsty ear.”
3. Any forced use of a word. 4. The use
of a word falsely formed through folk
etymology. See folk etymology. —
catachrestic, adj.
cataphora /kә-taf-ә-rә/. Rhetoric. The
use of a substitute to refer to or stand
for a later word or phrase <Although
it might be a good investment, the
stock is too expensive> (the pronoun
it having no antecedent but instead
referring to stock, which occurs later
in the sentence). Cf. anaphora.
cataphoric /kat-ә-for-ik/, adj. Of, relating to, or denoting reference to a word
or group of words occurring later in
the sentence. Cf. anaphoric.
catastasis /kә-tas-tә-sis/, n. The part
of a speech, toward the beginning, in
which the speaker sets forth the subject of discussion.
catenative verb. See verb.
causerie /kohz-ree or koh-zә-ree/. An
informal article, essay, or talk, usu.
one of a series on a literary subject.
cedilla /sә-dil-ә/. In some Romance
languages (e.g., French and Portuguese), a diacritical mark that
appears under the letter c to indicate
that the letter is pronounced softly as
an s rather than hard as a k. • Most
loanwords used in English that had
cedillas are now usually spelled without <soupçon–soupcon> <garçon–
garcon> <façade–facade>. See diacritical mark.
cheville /shә-veel/. A repeated or
meaningless word or phrase used to
fill out the end of a sentence when
euphony or balance with other sentences is desired. • The device is often
used in poetry, as in Lewis Carroll’s
Jabberwocky: “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” (in Through the Looking
Glass 24 [1871; repr. 1993]).
chiasmus /ki-az-mәs/. Rhetoric. The
arrangement of adjoining parallel
clauses or phrases with inverted wordorder <I do not live that I may eat, but
I eat that I may live>. • Normally,
parallel clauses have an “a-b-a-b”
arrangement. In a chiasmus, the order
becomes “a-b-b-a.” — chiastic, adj.
The children ought not to lay up for the
parents, but the parents for the children.
(2 Corinthians 12:14)
To Adam paradise was a home; to the
good among his descendants, home is a
paradise. (Julius Hare [1795–1855])
Those gallant men will remain often in
my thoughts and in my prayers always.
(General Douglas MacArthur [1951])
choplogic. 1. Contentious, complicated,
and often illogical or false argument
based on trivial points. • Shakespeare
used the word effectively in both senses
in Romeo and Juliet (Act 3, scene 5).
When Juliet’s father announces he has
chosen a husband for Juliet and she
argues with him, her father dismisses
her and her arguments as “choplogic.”
2. One who makes such an argument.
circumflect, vb. To mark with the diacritical mark known as a circumflex.
See circumflex.
886 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
circumflex. 1. A diacritical mark (ˆ)
used over a vowel in a French word
to show that a following s was elided
<hospital–hôpital>. • Although French
loanwords with circumflexes (such as
hôtel) were used in the 19th century,
the mark is uncommon today because
so many loanwords have become
naturalized. An exception is fête. It
retains the circumflex in British English, but in American English it is a
variant spelling of fete. See diacritical mark. 2. An accent or tone of
voice in which a higher or acute tone
is followed by a lower or grave tone
within a single syllable.
circumlocution /sәr-kәm-loh-kyooshәn/. Roundabout speech or language, or the use of many words
where one or two would suffice. —
circumlocutory /sәr-kәm-lok-yәtohr-ee/, adj.
circumstance. See adjunct.
clausal /klaw-zәl/, adj. Of, relating to,
or consisting of a clause. • The word
dates from the early 20th century. Cf.
clause. A sentence part that contains
a subject and verb. • While a clause
has two essential elements (subject
and predicate), a phrase consists of a
group of two or more words not containing both of those elements. See
phrase; word.
adjectival clause. A dependent clause
that is used to expand a noun or
noun phrase <She was delighted
with the letter that informed her of
her admission to college> <The evening when we arrived was eerily
foggy>. — Also termed adjective
clause. Cf. relative clause.
adverbial clause. A clause that indicates time, place, manner, degree,
cause, or the like. • An adverbial
clause can modify an adjective, an
adverb, or a verb in the independent
clause <I came as soon as I knew
you’d arrived> <I went to see the spot
where we met> <Because you were
still sleeping, I waited before I started
practicing my flute>. In the category
of adverbial clauses some grammarians include (1) tag questions <He
didn’t go to the movie, did he?>, (2)
interjected clauses <The dog, he has
declared, must be fed promptly at
3:00 pm>, and (3) dependent clauses
introduced by such words as whoever and whichever <Whenever the
play begins, the children will settle
appositive relative clause. See nonrestrictive relative clause.
comparative clause. A clause containing (and usu. introduced by)
a comparative conjunction. See
comparative conjunction under
conditional clause. See protasis.
consequence clause. See apodosis.
coordinate clauses. The individual
clauses of a compound sentence,
or the independent clauses of a
compound–complex sentence;
specif., clauses of the same rank.
defining relative clause. See restrictive relative clause.
dependent clause. A clause that,
because it does not express a complete idea, must be joined with an
independent clause to make sense,
typically by a subordinating conjunction such as before, though, or
when. • For example, in the sentence I left after the mail arrived, the
clause following after is dependent.
And in I learned to drive when I was
16, the clause beginning with when is
subordinate. Dependent clauses may
function as nouns <That I am interested should be obvious>, adjectives
<Caroline, who had never before been
deep-sea fishing, caught a shark>, or
adverbs <Because Alexandra scored
two points, the family celebrated>.
— Also termed subordinate clause;
subclause. See subordinating conjunction under conjunction. Cf.
independent clause.
elliptical clause. A clause in which
some of the words have been omitted as being understood <When
[you are] hitting a golf ball, focus on
just one “swing thought”>.
embedded clause. A sentence that
changes into a relative clause when
combined with another sentence. •
For example, the sentences The boy
is defending the goal well. The boy is
my son. can be combined into The
boy who is defending the goal so well
is my son. The relative clause who is
defending the goal so well was derived
from the first sentence.
independent clause. A clause that can
stand alone as a complete sentence.
• For example, in the sentence I was
present when the teacher walked in,
the clause I was present could stand
alone. — Also termed main clause;
principal clause; matrix clause;
superordinate clause. Cf. dependent
main clause. See independent clause.
matrix clause. See independent clause.
nominal clause. A dependent clause
that functions as a noun or noun
phrase. • Nominal clauses may begin
with an interrogative (such as who,
when, how) or a conjunction (such
as that, if, which). For example, in
the sentence I couldn’t imagine who
would send an invitation, the nominal
clause who would send an invitation
functions as the direct object. And
in The fact that he confessed is in his
favor, the nominal clause that he
confessed is an appositive of the fact.
Nominal clauses aren’t as syntactically malleable as nouns because
they have no plural form and can’t
take all the determiners and complements that a noun can. — Also
termed noun clause.
nondefining relative clause. See nonrestrictive relative clause.
nonrestrictive relative clause. A
clause beginning with which, who,
or whose and adding nonessential
information about the noun it modifies; a relative clause that narrows
and identifies the head phrase. • The
clause is always set off by commas
<My aunt, who published a book
recently, will be lecturing tonight>,
and could be omitted without affecting the sentence’s meaning (in the
preceding example, My aunt is the
subject of the complete sentence
and the who-clause adds nonessential information). — Also termed
nondefining relative clause; appositive
relative clause.
noun clause. See nominal clause.
principal clause. See independent
reduced relative clause. A relative
clause that has lost either a relative
pronoun plus a be-verb or an object
relative pronoun.
relative clause. A dependent clause
that modifies an antecedent and is
most often expressly introduced by a
relative pronoun such as which, who,
whose, or that. See antecedent.
restrictive relative clause. A clause
beginning with that, who, or whose
that contains essential information
about the noun or noun phrase it
modifies; a relative clause that gives
additional information about a head
that has already been identified. •
It is never set off with commas. If
the clause was deleted, the meaning
of the sentence would be affected.
Compare The room that I slept in was
tastefully decorated with The room
was tastefully decorated. The restrictive relative clause that I slept in identifies a particular room. A restrictive
clause never begins with which. —
Also termed defining relative clause.
subordinate clause. See dependent
superordinate clause. See independent clause.
cledonism /klee-dә-niz-әm/, n. The
practice of using euphemisms; the
avoidance of seemingly ominous
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 887
cleft construction. See cleft sentence
under sentence.
cleft sentence. See sentence.
cliché. A trite or hackneyed phrase
that has been repeated so often as to
have become meaningless. • Clichés
can also be irritating. Consider this
passage: We chased a red herring and
got the wool pulled over our eyes. Few
writers can turn one to effective use,
although it can be done <let him who
has never used a cliché cast the first
stone> <football is a game of inches>.
Avoid them. See figure of speech;
set phrase. Cf. idiom.
climax. Rhetoric. The presentation of
ideas or propositions so that each
successive one is more forceful than
the one preceding it—as in Caesar’s I
came; I saw; I conquered.
clipping. The process by which a word
is shortened to produce a new word
with the same meaning. • Clippings
are abundant in English. For instance,
auto comes from automobile, fax from
facsimile transmission, and fridge from
refrigerator. Cf. apocope.
clitic /klit-ik/. An unstressed word that
is pronounced and sometimes written
as part of a neighboring word, often in
contracted form (e.g., sanserif when
so spelled, instead of sans serif ). •
Although it is an independent word,
it forms a phonological unit with the
words that follow or precede it. There
are two types of clitics: enclitics and
proclitics. See enclitic; proclitic.
closed syllable. See syllable.
cognate /kahg-nayt/, adj. 1. (Of two or
more languages) descended from the
same original language; belonging to
the same linguistic family. 2. (Of two
or more words) deriving from the
same root; representing the same
original word, though having differences because of separate phonetic
development <provenance is cognate
with provenience>.
cognate, n. 1. A word related to another
by common origin, such as provenance
(from French) and provenience (from
Latin). 2. A related word in a different
language, as French père and Spanish
padre. • The English word mother,
the German Mutter, and the Latin
mater all have the same meaning,
similar forms, and a common origin.
It is possible to trace commonality of
origin back much further than Classical Latin or Classical Greek and
to say that brotherly and fatherly are
cognates because they derive from the
same Indo-European root. 3. Phonetics. A sound that is formed in the
same place of articulation as another,
such as p, b, and m (each formed with
the lips). — cognate, adj.
cognate object. See object.
collective noun. See noun.
collocation /kol-oh-kay-shәn/, n. 1. A
customary phrasing; the habitual
pairing of one word with others. 2. A
group of words habitually grouped
together in a particular order.
colloquial, adj. (Of language) informal;
conversational. • Although traditionally the word applied to everyday
words not thought to be admissible
in formal settings, today—in what
in some ways is a more relaxed age—
colloquial language is considered one
of the hallmarks of an effective style.
The word colloquial is often misunderstood to be equivalent to vulgar,
low, or incorrect. In fact, it describes
words and phrases that rightly
and frequently occur in ordinary
common, adj. 1. Of or relating to the
individuals that make up a class or the
species that make up a genus. 2. (Of
a word) applicable to individuals of
either sex <spouse> <humans>. See
common case. See case.
common gender. See gender.
common noun. See noun.
comparative, adj. Of or relating to a
derived form of an adjective or adverb
used, in the comparison of one thing
to another, to show a higher degree
of a quality or characteristic. See
comparative, n. 1. The middle of three
degrees of comparison for gradable
adjectives and adverbs, showing that
something has more of a quality than
something else to which it is compared; the form of an adjective or
adverb used to compare two things.
• A comparative adjective or adverb
is usually signaled by an -er suffix
or by more or less. For example, better is the comparative of good; more
refreshingly is the comparative of
refreshingly. A comparative adjective
compares a specified quality possessed by two things (e.g., in Weekday newspapers are lighter than the
Sunday edition, the adjective lighter is
comparative). A comparative adverb
compares a specified action or condition common to two things (e.g., in
Lady Katherine speaks more eloquently
than Ron does, the adverbial phrase
more eloquently is a comparative).
— Also termed comparative degree.
See adjective; adverb; degree. Cf.
positive; superlative. 2. A wording
that implies comparison; esp., a statement that denotes a higher degree of
a quality, relation, etc., from belonging to one object or set of objects as
compared with another.
dangling comparative. An unfinished
comparative that does not state the
criterion or referent of the comparison <We work harder!> (than
whom?). — Also termed agency
comparative; absolute comparative;
hanging comparative; unfinished
double comparative. A nonstandard
construction such as more better or
more higher. Cf. double superlative
under superlative.
periphrastic comparative. A comparative adjective or adverb that
changes degree by taking more or
less, esp. when a one-word form ending in -er is available.
comparative clause. See clause.
comparative conjunction. See conjunction.
comparative degree. See comparative.
comparative linguistics. See linguistics.
complement. 1. A word or group of
words completing a grammatical
construction in the predicate and
describing or being identified with
the subject or object (e.g., long in
The paragraph is long). 2. Any word
or group of words that completes a
grammatical construction, esp. in the
predicate. • In sense 2, a complement
may be an adverbial (e.g., the car in He
left it in the car), an infinitive (e.g., to
go in They wanted to go), or an object
(e.g., the ball in She hit the ball).
adjective complement. 1. An adjective that completes a clause after a
linking verb such as appear, become,
grow, prove, seem, etc. <Bob looks
healthy>; a complement consisting
of an adjective or adjective phrase.
• As with a subject complement, the
adjective complement modifies the
subject <We are alone> <The water
level is much higher>. 2. An element
following an adjective in an adjective
phrase and completing the meaning
of the adjective <a healthy complexion>. — Also termed adjectival
adverb complement. An element following an adverb in an adverbial
phrase and completing the meaning
of the adverb <“Nonsense!” he furiously insisted> (in which insisted is
the adverb complement). — Also
termed adverbial complement.
object complement. A complement
that follows a linking verb and
modifies or completes the sentence’s
object. • Generally, a verb expressing a perception, judgment, or
change can allow its direct object
to take an object complement: I saw
the driver sleeping. The object and its
888 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
complement can be rewritten as a
sentence with a subject complement:
The driver was sleeping.
prepositional complement. A complement that is linked to the verb by a
preposition <I wandered around the
shops and along the streets>.
subject complement. A complement
that follows a linking verb and modifies or completes the sentence’s predicate; specif., a noun or an adjective
that modifies the subject of a sentence, after a linking verb, and completes the sentence. • For example,
in the statement the grass becomes
greener in spring, the complement
refers to the subject grass, not the
linking verb becomes, and completes
the grass’s description.
complementary infinitive. See
complete predicate. See predicate.
complete subject. See subject.
complex–compound sentence. See
compound–complex sentence under
complex preposition. See phrasal
preposition under preposition.
complex sentence. See sentence.
complex tense. See tense.
composition. 1. The art of arranging
words into sentences, of sentences
into paragraphs, and of paragraphs
into various types of discourse. 2. The
production of written work. 3. The
combination of two or more words
into a compound word.
compound. A grammatical unit composed of several independent elements.
See compound word under word.
compound adjective. See phrasal
adjective under adjective.
compound–complex sentence. See
compound conjunction. See conjunction.
compound indefinite pronoun. See
compound modifier. See phrasal adjective under adjective.
compound negation. See negation (1).
compound noun. See noun.
compound personal pronoun. See
compound predicate. See predicate.
compound preposition. See preposition.
compound relative pronoun. See
compound sentence. See sentence.
compound subject. See subject.
compound word. See word.
concessive, adj. (Of a preposition or
conjunction) denoting a word, phrase,
or clause that signals a reversal of an
idea, opinion, viewpoint, or the like
(e.g., introduced by although, even
though, in spite of ).
conclusion. See apodosis.
concord. A grammatical relationship
in which related parts of speech correspond in features such as number,
gender, and person <I was> <you
were> <they were>. • A subject and its
verb must agree in person and number. A pronoun and its antecedent
must agree in number, person, gender,
and (sometimes, with linking verbs)
case. — Also termed agreement. See
also gender; singular; person.
concrete noun. See noun.
conditional clause. See clause.
conditional conjunction. See
conditional sentence. See sentence.
congruence. See agreement.
conjugate /kon-jә-gayt/. To inflect (a
verb) according to voice, mood, tense,
number, and person. — conjugate
/kon-jә-gәt/, adj.
conjugation. 1. The changing of a
verb’s forms to show voice, mood,
tense, number, and person. 2. A list of
a verb’s inflectional forms. • In some
traditional grammars, the term conjugation applied not just to inflection but
also to various sets of verb phrases—
hence not just rings and rang but also
will ring, has rung, had rung, and will
have rung. This broader interpretation
of conjugation was a holdover of Latin
grammars. 3. A class of verbs similarly
conjugated <Latin verbs of the second
conjunct. In some grammatical systems, an adverb that connects one
sentence or clause with another by
expressing addition (e.g., and as a
sentence-starter), contrast (e.g., but
as a sentence-starter), or the like. •
Although traditional grammarians
use the term conjunction to cover
both midsentence ands and sentencestarting ands, some modern grammarians call the former conjunctions
and the latter conjuncts. Cf. adjunct;
disjunct; subjunct.
conjunction. A particle (such as and,
or, or since) that joins words, phrases,
clauses, or sentences, and that indicates their relationship to one another.
additive coordinating conjunction.
See copulative conjunction.
adverbial conjunction. See conjunctive adverb under adverb.
adversative conjunction /ad-vәr-sәtiv/. A conjunction that introduces
a contrast or comparison to the first
phrase or clause, e.g., but, still, and
yet <The roof and the walls are finished, yet there is a lot of inside work
to do>. — Also termed contrasting
coordinating conjunction.
comparative conjunction. A conjunction that expresses equality or
difference of degree <as . . . as> <as
if> <just as . . . , so . . .> <than>. See
comparative clause under clause.
compound conjunction. A conjunction formed from the combination
of two or more words, such as nevertheless and notwithstanding.
conditional conjunction. A conjunction that expresses contingency or
some other condition <if> <unless>.
contrasting coordinating conjunction. See adversative conjunction.
coordinate conjunction. See coordinating conjunction.
coordinating conjunction. A conjunction that joins two elements of
identical construction and of equal
grammatical rank, such as and <Tom
and I are going> or or <She is deciding whether to fly or drive>. — Also
termed coordinate conjunction;
copulative conjunction /kahp-yәlә-tiv or kahp-yә-lay-tiv/. A conjunction that joins two coordinate
phrases or clauses <and> <also>;
esp., one that states an additional
fact related to the first clause, e.g.,
and, also, and moreover <She is an
excellent swimmer; moreover, she
knows CPR>. — Also termed additive coordinating conjunction.
correlative conjunctions /kә-rel-әtiv/. Conjunctions that function as
separable compound forms, occur
in pairs, and have corresponding
meanings <both . . . and> <either . . .
or> <neither . . . nor>.
disguised conjunction. A conjunction
that has the form of a participle but is
used to introduce clauses (e.g., considering, regarding, and supposing).
disjunctive conjunction /dis-jәnk-tiv/.
A conjunction that expresses opposed
or contrasting ideas; esp., one that
denotes separation from or an alternative to the first phrase or clause. •
Examples are but, either, or, and nor.
— Also termed separative coordinating conjunction.
expletive conjunction /eks-plә-tiv/.
A conjunction connecting two
thoughts that are not expressed in
the same sentence. • The conjunction
refers back to a preceding thought or
sentence (e.g., So in So they say and
thus in May it always be thus).
final conjunction. A coordinating
conjunction that denotes an inference or consequence. • It introduces a clause that gives a reason or
shows what has been or ought to be
done in view of the first clause (e.g.,
consequently, hence, so, and therefore <I misread the map, hence my
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 889
wrong turn>). — Also termed illative conjunction.
illative conjunction /il-ә-tiv or i-laytiv/. 1. See final conjunction. 2. See
conjunctive adverb under adverb.
separative coordinating conjunction.
See disjunctive conjunction.
simple conjunction. A single-word
conjunction such as and, but, if, or,
or through.
subordinating conjunction. A conjunction that introduces a dependent
clause. — Also termed subordinator.
See dependent clause under clause.
conjunctive /kәn-jәnk-tiv/, adj. Serving to connect words, phrases, clauses,
and sentences. Cf. disjunctive.
conjunctive adverb. See adverb.
connecting verb. See linking verb
under verb.
connective, n. A word that connects
one sentence-part to another; specif.,
a conjunction, preposition, or conjunctive adverb.
connective adverb. See conjunctive
adverb under adverb.
connotation. Secondary meaning
implied by a word or phrase, though
not part of its literal meaning; semantic suggestiveness. • For example,
the word fire has emotional associations with both “warmth” and “danger,” depending on the context. Cf.
consequence clause. See apodosis.
consequent. See apodosis.
consequential adverb. See adverb.
consonance. The repetition of a consonant sound in stressed syllables of two
or more words <Catch and fetch, my
dear pooch!>. • Consonance denotes
especially the harmony of final consonant sounds, with unlike vowel
sounds, as in pull and call, black and
fleck, or come and home. Cf. alliteration; assonance.
consonant. 1. One of a class of speech
sounds (such as g, l, n, and s) that are
enunciated by constricting or closing one or more points of the breath
channel; a letter that represents such
a sound (such as g, l, n, and s). See
phoneme. 2. An alphabetic element
other than a vowel. Cf. semivowel;
constative /kon-stә-tiv/, adj. 1. Of or
relating to the aorist tense. 2. (Of a
statement) capable of being true or
constituent. A sequence of words
grouped together and functioning as
a grammatical unit.
constructio ad sensum /kәn-strәkshee-oh ad sen-sәm/. See synesis.
construction. 1. The syntactic arrangement of words in a sentence. 2. The
connection between verbs and their
objects or complements, between
adjectives and their extensions,
between prepositions and their objects.
3. The explanation or interpretation of
a statement or text; sense.
construe /kәn-stroo/, vb. 1. To combine a verb, adjective, preposition, or
other word with other words to which
it is syntactically related <oblivious
may be construed with of or to>.
2. To analyze or explain the grammatical construction of a sentence.
3. (Of a series of words) to be subject
to grammatical analysis or interpretation. 4. To explain the meaning of (a
sentence, text, etc.); to interpret.
content word. A word that has intrinsic meaning in a lexicon. Cf. empty
continuant. See fricative.
continuous aspect. See progressive
aspect under aspect.
contraction. 1. The combining of
two words into one by shortening
either or both of the words or by
replacing letters with a symbol. •
In Standard English, many contractions consist of a verb + not, such as
when do not becomes don’t and will
not becomes won’t. Auxiliaries often
appear in contractions after personal
pronouns <I’ve> <you’d> <mustn’t>.
2. Any word resulting from such a
contrasting coordinating conjunction. See adversative conjunction
under conjunction.
conversion. See functional shift.
coordinate, adj. Having the same order
or rank with something else; equal in
degree or importance <coordinate
clauses>. Cf. subordinate.
coordinate adjective. See adjective.
coordinate clauses. See clause.
coordinate conjunction. See coordinating conjunction under conjunction.
coordinating conjunction. See
coordination. The process or result of
linking two parts of speech of equal
status by using coordinating conjunctions. • Only words in the same class
(e.g., nouns or verbs) can be properly
coordinated <cup and glass> <run
and jump>—not words in different classes <beautiful and oversee>.
See coordinating conjunction under
coprolalia /kahp-roh-layl-yә/, n. The
use of extremely coarse or disgusting
language, esp. as a result of a mental
copula. The part of a proposition that
connects the subject and the verb;
esp., a be-verb employed as a sign of
predication. — copulative, adj. See
linking verb under verb.
copular verb. See linking verb under
copulative conjunction. See conjunction.
copulative verb. See linking verb under
copyediting. See line-editing.
correlative /kә-rel-ә-tiv/, adj. (Of a pair
of words or phrases) having reciprocal
or corresponding functions and typically being used together (but not side
by side) in a sentence. See correlative
conjunctions under conjunction.
correlative conjunctions. See
count noun. See noun.
crasis /kray-sis/. The blending of two
vowels belonging to two different
words that come into contact with each
other (as in th’oar for the oar). — Also
termed syncresis. See synaloepha.
creole /kree-ohl/. A language that began
as a pidgin but has become the first
language for some speakers; specif.,
a language that has developed from
a standard language, first being used
as the second language of a group and
then becoming the group’s usual language, with changes in sounds, grammar, and vocabulary. Cf. pidgin.
cryptolect /krip-tә-lekt/, n. A secret
language used by a particular group
or a segment of society.
dangler. A participle or participial
phrase that is not syntactically connected to the noun it is meant to modify; a nonfinite predicate that cannot
be properly linked to a noun or noun
phrase in the rest of the sentence. •
For example, in Waving in moderate
winds, the golfer took dead aim at the
flag, the action of the introductory
phrase wants to attach to the closest
noun (golfer rather than flag). — Also
termed dangling modifier. See dangling participle under participle.
dangling, adj. (Of a participle or other
modifier) not part of a proper grammatical construction.
dangling participle. See participle.
dative case. See case.
declarative /di-klair-ә-tiv/, adj. Characterizing a sentence in which the
speaker makes a statement (e.g., Our
nieces are visiting from Bangkok). Most
sentences are declarative. See declarative sentence under sentence.
declarative mood. See mood.
declarative sentence. See sentence.
declension. 1. The inflection of nouns
or pronouns, depending on how they
are used; esp., the deviation of a noun
or pronoun’s form from that of its
nominative case. • In English, declension does not play a major role because
there are no case endings on nouns
(as there are in Latin and Romance
890 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
languages). English has only seven
pronouns that are declined as follows
(for each, the nominative, objective,
possessive, and absolute forms are
shown [possessives and absolutes
are different only in the first set and
the last two sets]): I–me–my–mine;
you–your–yours; he–him–his; she–
her–hers; it–it–its; we–us–our–ours;
and they–them–their–theirs. — Also
termed paradigm. 2. A listing of the
inflected forms of a noun or pronoun;
the rehearsing of a noun or pronoun’s
inflections. — decline, vb.
declinable, adj. Having inflections. Cf.
decussation /dek-ә-say-shәn/. See
deep structure. In transformational
grammar, the set of underlying semantic and syntactic relationships in a
sentence. Cf. surface structure.
defective, adj. (Of a noun, verb, etc.)
lacking some of the usual forms of
declension or conjugation.
defective verb. See verb.
deferred preposition. See terminal
preposition under preposition.
definiendum /di-fi-nee-en-dәm/.
A word, phrase, or symbol that is
definiens /di-fin-ee-enz/. A definition;
the words or symbols used in defining
defining relative clause. See restrictive
relative clause under clause.
definite article. See article.
definitive adjective. See adjective.
degree. An indicator of the extent to
which gradable adverbs or adjectives
compare in intensity. • In their changing forms, gradable adverbs and adjectives display greater or lesser intensity
in each of three degrees called positive or absolute (the base degree),
comparative (the second degree), and
superlative (the third degree) <lively–
livelier–liveliest> <bad–worse–worst>.
— Also termed grade. See positive;
comparative; superlative.
degree modifier. See intensifier.
deictic /dik-tik or dayk-/, adj. (Of a
word) showing or directly pointing
to something, esp. something’s identity or a time or place. • The referent
is determined by the context of the
surrounding words. For example,
in today, I need you here, the words
today, I, you, and here are deictic.
Identifying the referent for each word
depends on who speaks or writes the
sentence, who is being spoken to, and
when and where it is said. For example, the word I points to the person
who produces the sentence, and you
to the person receiving it. See pointing
word under word.
deictic pronoun. See demonstrative
pronoun under pronoun.
deictic term. See pointing word under
deletion. The suppression of one or
more sounds in the pronunciation
of a word (hence probably becomes
/prob-lee/ or even /prol-ee/).
demonstrative /dә-mon-strә-tiv/, adj.
(Of an adjective or pronoun) distinguishing a referent based on its location relative to the speaker, esp. this,
that, these, and those. • A demonstrative word can be used as a determiner
(a type of adjective) <Please take
those papers> or as a pronoun <Give
him that>.
demonstrative adjective. See
demonstrative pronoun. See
denotation. The literal meaning of a
word or phrase, unaffected by emotion, attitude, or color. • For example,
the denotation of red rose is a brightcolored flower that grows on a prickly
shrub. But it also has symbolic meanings that are not suggested by its definition, such as an expression of love.
Cf. connotation.
dependent clause. See clause.
derivation. The process of forming new
words from other words or the roots
of words by adding an affix; affixation.
• For example, an affix can be added
to change a noun into an adjective
<inspiration–inspirational> or a verb
into a noun <deliver–deliverance>.
And different words are formed when
different affixes are added to a root
such as graph: phonograph (n.) and
graphic (adj.).
derivational affix. See affix.
derivative, n. A word in some way
formed from another word, as by adding an affix.
descriptive adjective. See adjective.
descriptive grammar. 1. The study
of linguistic structures focusing on
a language’s actual use by speakers.
• Descriptive grammar assumes that
the acid test of acceptability in language is whether native speakers of
the language actually use a particular wording. It is not concerned with
standardizing rules or applying rules
to all speakers—only with determining what rules are actually used by
native speakers. See grammar. Cf.
prescriptive grammar. 2. A book
that systematically records the findings of such a study.
descriptive linguistics. See linguistics.
descriptivism /di-skrip-ti-vi-zәm/. An
approach to language study that forswears value judgments in deciding
what is correct or incorrect, effective
or ineffective, and instead describes
how people use the language without
ever disapproving of the forms they
use. Cf. prescriptivism.
determiner. A type of adjective that
limits how a noun phrase applies,
including articles (a, an, and the),
demonstrative adjectives (this, that,
these, and those), and indefinite adjectives (e.g., all, any, each, every, some,
few). Cf. definitive adjective under
deverbal, adj. (Of a word, esp. an
agent noun) derived from a verb. See
deverbative, n. A word derived from
a verb; a deverbal word <runner>
diachronic /di-ә-kron-ik/, adj. Of or
relating to the historical development
of a language over time. • The historical approach to linguistics is often
called diachronic because it looks at
linguistic phenomena through previous ages to see how the current language, or a particular element in it,
has evolved. Cf. synchronic.
diachronic linguistics. See historical
linguistics under linguistics.
diacope /di-ak-ә-pee/. See tmesis.
diacritic. See diacritical mark.
diacritical mark. An orthographical
character indicating that a letter or
syllable has a special phonetic quality;
specif., a dot, line, or other mark added
to or nearby a letter usu. for one of
four reasons: (1) to distinguish it from
another, similar letter; (2) to give it a
different phonetic value; (3) to show
some particular accent, emphasis, or
tone; or (4) to indicate the exact pronunciation of words, as in a dictionary.
• Diacritical marks are usually seen in
pronunciation guides or loanwords. A
breve (˘) indicates that a vowel is short
or unstressed. When first adopted into
English, some loanwords had diacritical marks <hôtel> <façade> <coördinate> <résumé> but the marks tend
to fall into disuse. — Also termed diacritic. See acute accent and grave accent
under accent; breve; cedilla; circumflex; diaeresis; macron; okina;
tilde; umlaut.
diaeresis /di-er-ә-sis or di-eer-ә-sis/.
1. A diacritical mark consisting of
two dots (¨) placed over a vowel that
adjoins another vowel to indicate that
the marked vowel should be sounded
separately from the adjacent vowel
<naïve> <Chloë> rather than merged
into a diphthong or left silent. • In modern American English, the diaeresis is
often dropped, even in proper names,
although the pronunciation does
not change <coöperate–cooperate>
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 891
<Brontë–Bronte>. Any vowel can take
a diaeresis, but e, o, and i are the most
common in English. — Also spelled
dieresis. See diacritical mark. Cf.
umlaut. 2. The evolution of one syllable into two, esp. through separating the vowel elements of a digraph or
diphthong. • For example, medieval
is usually pronounced /med-ee-vәl/,
but sometimes /med-i-ee-vәl/. Cf.
diagramming. The use of lines and
words to break a sentence down into
its component parts and show their
relationships for analytical or pedagogical purposes. — Also spelled
dialect. A linguistic variety peculiar to
a particular geographical area or used
by members of a specific social class
or group; specif., the linguistic features of a particular locality or class,
esp. as distinguished from the speech
of educated people. • It may differ
from the standard form in characteristics such as accent, pronunciation,
vocabulary, and grammatical structures. See accent; argot; idiolect;
jargon; nonstandard english;
patois; provincialism; slang. Cf.
standard english.
dialectology /di-ә-lek-tahl-ә-jee/, n.
The study of dialects; esp., branch of
linguistics concerned with understanding and describing dialects. —
dialectologist, n.
diallage /di-al-ә-jee/, n. Rhetoric. An
advocate’s presentation of arguments
from various points of view, concluding with the argument that one particular point of view is soundest and
should govern the outcome.
dialogism /di-al-ә-jiz-әm/, n. 1. Rhetoric. The use of dialogue to explain a
subject, with characters to whom the
author imputes various ideas and feelings. • Plato’s Dialogues are a prime
example. 2. A conversational phrase;
a colloquialism. 3. A conversational
diasynthesis. See syntax (2).
diasyrm /di-ә-sәrm/, n. Rhetoric. Rhetorical disparagement or ridicule.
dieresis. See diaeresis.
differentiation. Linguistics. A process
by which similar words, esp. by-forms
(e.g., derisive and derisory), diverge in
meaning, so that each word becomes
distinctly useful. • For example, the
verb estimate was once used to mean
(1) “to assess” or (2) “to regard highly.”
Meanwhile, esteem was used to mean
(1) “to regard highly” or (2) “to assess.”
Today the differentiation between
these words is complete, and sense 2
of each is obsolete. If by-forms don’t
undergo differentiation, prescriptiv-
ists are likely to label the less widely
used form a “needless variant.” See byform; needless variant.
diglossia /di-glahs-ee-ә/, n. The
coexistence of two languages within
a speech community, usu. standard
form and a regional dialect. Cf.
monoglossia; triglossia.
digraph /di-graf/. 1. A combination
of two letters to represent one sound,
such as the initial and final consonant
sounds in thrush or the two vowels in
boat. 2. A ligature of two vowels that
are not diphthongs but are written
together as a single character, such as
æ (ae) and œ (oe). Cf. diphthong.
diminutive, n. A word that expresses
youth, endearment, or a diminished
size or status, usu. through a suffix. •
The principal diminutive suffixes in
English are -et, -ette, -ling, -ock, -in, -y,
-ie, -kin. — Also termed hypocoristic.
dimorphism /di-morf-iz-әm/, n. The
existence of a word in two or more
forms called doublets <dent–dint>
<fat–vat> <church–kirk>. • To be a
true dimorphism, the source of the
two words must be identical. See
diphthong /dif-thong/. A pair of
vowels blended into one syllable to
produce a single sound; specif., a
succession of two vowels joined in a
single syllable by a continuous glide
of the tongue and lips from one vowel
position to another <loud> <noise>. •
In a proper diphthong, both vowels are
pronounced, but they are blended so
as to form one syllable. In an improper
diphthong (not really a diphthong at
all), two or more vowels appear in
one syllable to make a simple sound
<each> <people>. Formerly, writers
such as Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)
used the term diphthong for what
modern writers call a digraph (e.g.,
the ae in aesthetic or the oe in oenology). The word is sometimes mispronounced /dip-thong/.
diptote /dip-toht/, n. In certain
Indo-European languages, a noun
having only two cases. Cf. aptote;
direct object. See object.
discourse. 1. A sequence of statements
that together constitute a unified communication. • Examples include conversations, lectures, letters, newspaper
articles, short stories, and novels.
direct discourse. Direct quotation
involving the repeating of someone
else’s precise words. • In print, direct
discourse is marked by quotation
marks or by an extended quotation
that is set off by indenting it <He
asked, “Do you feel bad?”>. — Also
termed oratio recta.
indirect discourse. The reporting
of an earlier utterance without the
use of direct quotation <He asked
whether I felt bad>. — Also termed
oratio obliqua.
2. Traditionally, a formal discussion of
a subject; a dissertation or treatise.
discourse analysis. Linguistics. 1. The
close study of texts or utterances longer than one sentence for the purpose
of understanding linguistic content or
sociolinguistic context. 2. The result
of such study.
disguise d conjunction. S e e
disjunct. In some grammatical systems, an adverb that affects the
interpretation of the whole clause or
sentence by expressing either attitude
toward the thought of the sentence
<unfortunately> <regrettably> or the
likelihood of something’s occurrence
<perhaps> <possibly>. Cf. adjunct;
conjunct; subjunct.
disjunction. 1. A coordinating conjunction that signals a choice between
conjoined elements. 2. The grammatical structure created by such a coordinating conjunction.
disjunctive, adj. 1. Signaling a relationship of alternatives, contrast, or
opposition <rough but good> <neither wholly right nor wholly wrong>.
2. adversative. Cf. conjunctive.
disjunctive conjunction. See
dissimilation. Phonetics. 1. A process by
which two nearby consonant sounds
that are identical or similar gradually
become less alike. • In English, l and r
are the letters whose sounds are most
often affected by dissimilation. Two
nearby r sounds can be difficult to articulate, so dissimilation may change the
second r to l. This process produced the
English word marble from the French
marbre. And in colonel, although the
word is spelled with two l’s, the first l
is pronounced as though it were an r
(/kәr-nәl/). Many words are still written with certain consonants that are
often dropped altogether in speech
<listen>. 2. The dropping of a consonant sound when a similar or identical
sound is repeated within a word. • For
example, the first r in governor is usually dropped and the word pronounced
/gәv-ә-nәr/ instead of /gәv-әr-nәr/. In
government, the n is often dropped
(/gәv-әr-mәnt/). Those pronunciations
are widely accepted, but others with
dropped sounds are not. For example,
failing to articulate the first r in library
(e.g., saying /li-bair-ee/) is considered
dialectal. — dissimilate, vb.
distributive /di-strib-yә-tiv/, adj.
Referring to things individually, not
892 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
collectively, so as to express separation
or emphasize individuality. • Adjectives such as each, either, and every are
distributive. — distributive, n.
distributive adjective. See adjective.
distributive pronoun. See pronoun.
ditransitive, adj. (Of a verb) taking
both a direct and an indirect object.
ditransitive prepositional verb. See
ditransitive verb. See verb.
dittography. The unintentional repetition of a written letter, syllable, word,
or series of letters, syllables, or words,
esp. when copying. • A person may
copy mechanically, without thinking
about what he or she has just copied,
and so write “wizzard” for wizard and
“competitition” for competition.
double comparative. See comparative.
double-dash construction. A grammatical construction in which a pair
of long dashes sets off part of a sentence to emphasize or distinguish its
content. • This construction is stronger than using parentheses or a pair
of commas. Compare we saw—and
understood—the message left on Roanoke with we saw (and understood) the
message or we saw, and understood,
the message.
double entendre /dәb-әl ahn-tahn-drә
or doob-lә ahn-tahn-drә/. 1. A word
or phrase having two meanings, one
of the two usu. being ribald or offcolor. 2. Ambiguity arising from the
double sense of a word or phrase. •
The phrase double entendre isn’t native
to French, the closest expression
being mot à double entente “a word (or
phrase) with a double meaning.” The
English phrase, dating from the late
17th century, appears to have originated as bungled French.
double negative. 1. A construction in
which two negative words are used,
usu. in dialect <I don’t never get asked
to do chores>. • Among the most
common double negatives are combinations of n’t with hardly <couldn’t
hardly think> and n’t with no <I can’t
get no satisfaction>. Double negatives
are one characteristic of nonstandard
language. 2. A type of understatement (litotes) in which two negatives
express a kind of positive or neutral
thought. • Your argument is not unjustifiable contains not and the negative
prefix -un, yet the sense is close to (but
not quite as strong as) Your argument
is justifiable.
doublespeak. Language intentionally used to deceive, esp. by concealing or misrepresenting facts.
• Contrary to popular belief, this
word wasn’t used by George Orwell
(1903–1950) in 1984; it first appeared
in the 1950s. But Orwell was the first
to use -speak as a suffix, as in newspeak
and oldspeak, and used the word doublethink. Doublespeak is most often
used by bureaucracies, businesses,
and the military. Doublespeak is present, for example, in euphemisms such
as physical persuasion (meaning “torture”) and ethnic cleansing (meaning
double superlative. See superlative.
doublet. Philology. One of a pair
of words that have similar meanings, forms, or origins. • Doublets
are quite common in English today.
They typically share the same root
but may have entered the language
by different paths. Some are nearly
synonymous, but not all are interchangeable because the words are
distinguished by subtle differences
in application. For example, royal
(“descended from monarchs; of or
related to the monarchy”) and regal
(“of, relating to, or suited for a monarch”) ultimately share the Latin root
word regalis, but the royal family may
not be at all the same thing as a regal
family. As a historical matter, doublets usually consist of an older form
(e.g., benison [14th c.], malison [13th
c.], and provenance [18th c.]) and a
more recent form (e.g., benediction
[15th c.], malediction [14th c.], and
provenience [19th c.]). Sometimes
doublets are accidental variations of
one original, with or without a differentiation in meaning (e.g., alarm,
alarum; unbeknown, unbeknownst).
And sometimes doublets consist of a
standard literary form <lord> and a
dialectal one <laird>.
do-verb. See verb.
dual /d[y]oo-әl/, adj. Of or relating
to an inflection expressing two or a
dual, n. The grammatical form, midway between singular and plural,
indicating that a word applies to precisely two people or two objects. • It
is used in addition to the singular and
plural forms in some languages, such
as Old English, Arabic, and many
Polynesian languages—but it is not a
part of Modern English.
dummy subject. An expletive (such as
there and here in <There is . . .> and
<Here are . . .>) that is in subject position at the beginning of a sentence but
is not the subject itself.
dummy word. See expletive.
durative aspect. See progressive aspect
under aspect.
dvandva compound /dvan-dvә/. [Sanskrit] A compound word consisting
of elements that are related to each
other as if joined by and <princeconsort> <teacher-writer> <Dallas–
Fort Worth>.
dysphemism /dis-fә-miz-әm/. 1. An
offensive word or phrase used in place
of one that is neutral (e.g., gerundgrinder for grammarian). 2. The act
of making such a substitution.
Early Modern English. The English
language used from about 1500 to
about 1700.
ecbatic /ek-bat-ik/, adj. (Of a conjunction or clause) denoting a result or
consequence, as opposed to a purpose or an intention. • This term is
used primarily in reference to Greek
echo question. An interrogative that
retains the structure of a declarative
statement that precedes it.
ecthlipsis /ek-thlip-sis/. The suppression of one or more sounds in a word
(as in the [correct] two-syllable pronunciation of Wednesday).
editorial we. The use of the first-person
plural pronoun by an individual who
is speaking on behalf of a group, such
as an editorial board of a newspaper
or other publication.
eisegesis /i-sә-jee-sis/. A textual interpretration into which the reader has
injected his or her own ideas.
elenchic. See elenctic.
elenchus /i-leng-kәs/. Rhetoric. 1. That
which must be proved to refute an
opponent’s argument. 2. A refuting
argument; a refutation.
Socratic elenchus. The Socratic
method of disproving a falsity by
posing a series of questions that lead
to the truth.
3. Loosely, a sophistical or fallacious
refutation. Cf. ignoratio elenchi.
— Also termed elench. Pl. elenchi.
elenctic, adj. (In logic) serving to refute;
refuting. — Also spelled elenchic.
elision, n. 1. The omission of a vowel
or syllable from a spoken word,
usu. in poetry for metrical reasons
<th’embattled warriors> or in rapid,
casual speech <wuzzup?>. • All contractions involve elision. Weak vowels are sometimes elided, so history
is often pronounced /his-tree/, and
suppose becomes /spohz/. In some
words, consonants are elided. For
example, Christmas becomes /krismәs/. In some words a syllable is
sometimes dropped, so library comes
out /li-bree/. Elision is the general
term for all the types of phonological
reduction, such as apocope, haplology, hyphaeresis, paresis, synaeresis,
syncope, etc. — Also termed paresis.
Cf. hyphaeresis. 2. In writing, the
striking out of a word or phrase. —
elide, vb.
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 893
ellipsis. 1. The omission of one or more
words that are understood and necessary to make a construction grammatically complete <Who steals my
purse steals trash> (the phrase he who
being collapsed into who by ellipsis).
• The reader or listener is expected
to supply the full form. This figure of
speech often enhances the vividness
and energy of prose. Examples:
I must to England. (William Shakespeare
And so to bed. (Samuel Pepys
This party objects, and that. (Thomas
Carlyle [1795–1881])
Liana walked out on Cambridge and in
on me. (Anthony Burgess [1917–1993])
2. The three dots < . . . > showing
that some portion of written text has
been omitted, usu. in a quotation.
• The dots, which are typographically identical to periods, each have
a space before and after. An ellipsis
always consists of only three dots.
When the omitted material is inside
a sentence, only the ellipsis appears
<Micah received many . . . awards
for his art>. When the omitted material appears between two sentences,
the ellipsis is preceded or followed
by a period, depending on whether
part of the first sentence or part or
all of the following sentence (or sentences) has been omitted. If the first
sentence is complete and its last word
is before the dots, then the period is
in its usual place and followed by the
three ellipsis dots <Those were good
days. . . . We had time to enjoy life.>.
If it is not, then the first three dots
are ellipsis dots and the last is the
sentence’s period <Some people are
committed to achieving their personal
goals . . . . But are they too focused on
the future?>. — Also termed ellipsis
dots; period dots. — elliptical, adj.
ellipsis dots. See ellipsis (2).
elliptical clause. See clause.
elocution. The art of training to
improve public speaking, as by teaching a person to use a socially acceptable accent and to speak clearly and
effectively. — elocutionist, n. — elocutionary, adj.
embedded clause. See clause.
embolophasia /em-boh-loh-fay-zhә/,
n. Rhetoric. The use of sonorous but
meaningless words.
empty word. A word that has little or
no intrinsic meaning but primarily
serves some grammatical function,
such as a particle. — Also termed
form word; function word; grammatical word. Cf. content word.
enallage /i-nal-ә-jee/. See functional
enantiosis /i-nan-tee-oh-sis/, n. See
enclisis /eng-kli-sis/, n. The pronunciation of a phrase in such a way that
a word is compounded with an immediately adjacent (usu. preceding) word
(as in follow-up, n.). • In speech, the
enclitic part of the compound often,
but not always, loses its emphasis. Cf.
enclitic /en-klit-ik/, adj. (Of a word)
leaning or dependent on what precedes;
esp., of or relating to an unstressed
word that follows a stressed word (as
in stop him! [him is unstressed] or
piece of cake [piece is stressed, of is
not]). • Sometimes, an enclitic word
becomes joined with the preceding
word (as with thee in prithee [pray +
thee] or not in cannot). — enclitic, n.
See clitic. Cf. proclitic.
end-cut. See apocope.
enthymeme /en-thә-meem/. Logic. A
syllogism in which one of the premises is unexpressed, as in Because it is
autumn, the leaves are falling from the
trees (implying that leaves fall from
trees in the autumn). — enthymematic, adj. Cf. syllogism.
enthymeme of the first order. An
enthymeme with an unexpressed
major premise <Because Socrates is
a man, he is mortal> (implying that
all men are mortal).
enthymeme of the second order. An
enthymeme with an unexpressed
minor premise <Because all men are
mortal, Socrates is mortal> (implying that Socrates is a man).
epagoge /ep-ә-goh-jee/, n. Logic &
Rhetoric. 1. Inductive reasoning; the
drawing of a general conclusion from
particular instances. 2. An argument
that relies on inductive reasoning. —
epagogic, adj. Cf. apagoge.
epanadiplosis /ep-ә-nә-di-ploh-sis/.
Rhetoric. Emphasis produced by
repeating a word or phrase at the
beginning and end of a sentence or
clause <severe to his servants, to his
servants severe> <an eye for an eye, a
tooth for a tooth>. • This is a subspecies of epanalepsis. Examples:
Believe not all you can hear; tell not all
you believe. (American Indian proverb)
In times like these, it is helpful to remember that there have always been times like
these. (Paul Harvey [1918–2009])
A minimum wage that is not a livable
wage can never be a minimum wage.
(Ralph Nader [1934–])
Justice—that’s all I ask—justice. (delivered by Denzel Washington in the movie
The Hurricane [1999])
epanados /e-pan-ә-dohs/. Rhetoric.
1. A recapitulation of topics, item by
item, often in reverse order. 2. Inverted
repetition. 3. A return to the subject
of discussion after a digression.
epanalepsis /ep-ә-nә-lep-sis/. Rhetoric.
The repetition of a word, phrase, or
clause after intervening words <It was
both a curse and a blessing—a curse
in that . . .>. — epanaleptic, adj.
Weep no more, woeful shepherds weep
no more, for Lycidas, your sorrow, is not
dead, sunk though he be beneath the
watery floor. (John Milton [1608–1674])
Control, control—you must learn control! (delivered by Frank Oz in the movie
The Empire Strikes Back [1980])
Inflation was reduced the old-fashioned
way—with a recession; two years of
massive unemployment; more hungry,
in this world of enormous affluence, the
United States of America, more hungry.
(Mario Cuomo [1932–])
Cf. epanadiplosis.
epanaphora. See anaphora.
epanastrophe. See anadiplosis.
epanorthosis /ep-ә-north-ә-sis/, n. A
figure of speech in which a writer or
speaker uses a word and then takes
it back to substitute a more accurate
term <There was a clear reference to
Marilyn Monroe—well, I suppose allusion would be more accurate because
she was not actually named>.
epenthesis /i-pen-thә-sis/. In speech,
the insertion of a sound or an unetymological letter into the body of a
word. • Epenthesis commonly occurs
in the mispronunciation of the words
athlete and realtor, both of which are
often mispronounced with an additional vowel sound in the middle
(/ath-ә-leet/ instead of the correct /athleet/, and /reel-ә-tәr/ instead of /reeltәr/). Children and others sometimes
say fambly for family. One-syllable
words are also subject to epenthesis,
especially in dialect, so that words such
as elm, film, and chimney are spoken
/el-әm/, /fil-әm/, and /chim-ә-nee/.
Historically, of course, epenthesis has
been commonplace in the English language, and no sensible person objects
to forms established long ago. All of
the following resulted originally from
epenthesis: the internal n in messenger, nightingale, and passenger; the g in
impregnable; the internal d in jaundice,
kindred, and thunder; and the second r
in bridegroom. For subspecies of epenthesis, see anaptyxis and pleophony.
— epenthetic, adj.
epeolatry /ep-ee-ahl-ә-tree/, n. Wordworship. — epeolatrous, adj. Cf.
eperotesis. See rhetorical question.
epexegesis /e-pek-sә-jees-әs/. 1. The
addition of a word or words to clarify
meaning. 2. The word or words so
added. — epexegetical, adj.
894 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
epibole /ee-pib-ә-lee/, n. 1. anaphora.
2. The use in successive clauses of initial words that have a similar or (occasionally) the same meaning.
epicene /ep-ә-seen/, adj. (Of a word)
having only a gender-neutral form.
• For example, a blonde is a woman
(blonde is a female-specific form), but
a redhead could be a man or a woman,
so redhead is an epicene word. Similarly, a stallion is understood to be a
male horse, but horse alone is epicene.
In languages in which nouns typically
have gender, epicene means that a
word has the same form for the masculine and feminine genders. — Also
termed common.
epigram. 1. A concise, pointed, and
usu. clever saying <If you haven’t
anything nice to say about someone,
come sit by me—attributed to Alice
Roosevelt Longworth> <A cynic is a
man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing—Oscar
Wilde>. 2. A short, witty poem. —
epigrammatic, adj.
epigraph /e-pә-graf/. 1. A thematic
quotation at the beginning of a book,
chapter, etc. 2. An inscription, esp. on
a building or statue.
epiphonema /ep-i-foh-neem-ә/, n. A
strikingly expressed thought in the
conclusion of a discourse to sum up
what has preceded.
epiphora. See epistrophe.
epiplexis /ep-i-plek-sis/, n. Rhetoric.
The use of rebuke or reproach to convince someone of an argument. —
Also termed epitimesis.
epiploce /i-pip-lә-see/, n. Climax;
specif., the adding of one striking
circumstance after another to culminate in a resounding argumentative
epistrophe /i-pis-trә-fee/. Rhetoric.
The emphatic repetition of a sound,
word, or phrase at the end of successive clauses, verses, or sentences
<Charity beareth all things, believeth
all things, hopeth all things, endureth
all things>. • One of the best-known
examples of epistrophe in American
rhetoric is in the concluding sentence
of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “and
that government of the people, by the
people, for the people shall not perish
from the earth.” It’s also used in the
statement, “Many people spend their
lives pursuing power, consolidating
power, and enjoying power.” — Also
termed epiphora. — epistrophic, adj.
See symploce. Cf. anaphora.
epithesis /ee-pith-ә-sis/, n. See
epithet /ep-i-thәt/. 1. A particularly
apt description or label, whether
the quality denoted is favorable or
unfavorable. 2. A verbal obscenity; a
profane word or phrase.
epitimesis. See epiplexis.
epitrope /i-pit-rә-pee/, n. Rhetoric.
1. A rhetorical tactic whereby one
concedes the force of an opponent’s
claim in an attempt to gain an advantage, usu. by suggesting that the
claim, though sound, is irrelevant to
the debate at hand. 2. A declaration
of willingness to let disinterested others (e.g., a judge and jury) decide the
merits of one’s case, usu. made with
the intention of showing that a favorable judgment is inevitable.
epizeuxis /ep-ә-z[y]ook-sis/. Rhetoric. The immediate, emphatic repetition of a word <All you care about is
me, me, me!>. • Cf. ploce; palilogy.
Why are we going to fight? Why, why?
(Esther Forbes [1891–1967])
A monument . . . was erected to the
memory of one of the best husbands by
his “wretched widow,” who records upon
the marble that there never was such a
man on the face of the earth before, and
never will be again, and that there never
was anybody so miserable as she—no,
never, never, never! (Oliver Wendell
Holmes Sr. [1809–1897])
Writing is at its best—always, always,
always—when it is a kind of inspired play
for the writer. (Stephen King [1947–])
eponym /ep-ә-nim/. 1. A person,
real or fictional, from whose name a
person, thing, or place derives (or is
believed to derive) its name. • Surnames are the most common source
of eponyms. Examples are boycott
(from Irish landlord Captain Charles
Boycott), sousaphone (from American bandmaster and composer John
Philip Sousa), and malapropism (from
Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard
Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals).
But some are drawn from personal
or other names, such as the month
August (from Augustus Caesar), cereal
(from Ceres, the Roman goddess of
grain), and America (from Amerigo
Vespucci). — Also termed eponymous
person. 2. A name that is so derived.
eponymous person. See eponym.
equational /i-kway-zhә-nәl/, adj. Of
or relating to a construction showing that two elements have the same
referent. • Equational elements in a
sentence are interchangeable without
affecting meaning (e.g., in Mike’s son
is my daughter’s teacher, the nouns son
and teacher refer to the same person,
so the subject and the complement
could be switched: My daughter’s
teacher is Mike’s son).
equational verb. See linking verb under
equative /ek-wә-tiv/, adj. Of or relating to a construction showing that
two separate things are equivalent in
some way. • An as . . . as construction
is equative (e.g., the air smells as sweet
as perfume).
ergative verb. See verb.
erotesis /er-oh-tee-sis/. See rhetorical question.
Esperanto /es-pә-rahn-toh/, n. An
artificial language invented for universal use, with stems common to
European languages and regularized endings. • Dr. Ludovik Lazarus
Zamenhof (1859–1917), a Polish linguist whose pseudonym was Dr. Esperanto (= Dr. Hoping-One), invented
the language in his 1887 book Langue
Internationale. Cf. interlingua;
etymology /et-ә-mahl-ә-jee/. 1. The
study of the origin or derivation
of words and how their meanings
develop and change over time. • In
dictionaries, the etymology of a term
is shown after the pronunciation, part
of speech, and variant spellings, or at
the end of an entry. 2. The history
of a particular term, usu. including
an account of its various forms and
meanings. — etymological, adj.
etymon /et-ә-mahn/. 1. An earlier form
of a word, in the same language or an
ancestral language. 2. A word in a foreign language that is the original form
or source of a loanword. 3. root.
euonym /yoo-ә-nim/, n. A good name
or appropriate term; esp., a term that
conforms to the rules of a system for
naming and is therefore available as a
technical designation (for a start-up
company, a newly discovered star,
a newly developed drug, etc.). Cf.
euphemism. Rhetoric. 1. The use of a
more or less neutral word or phrase in
place of an expression that is considered disagreeable in some way. 2. An
expression so substituted. • Euphemisms are often intended to prevent
or soften negative responses. But
they should be used only after careful
consideration. To call a used car “preowned” is a semantic sleight of hand.
But it is understandable for a hospital
to have a “special-care clinic” where
patients with sexually transmitted
diseases are treated. — euphemistic,
adj. — euphemize, vb.
euphony. The quality of having a pleasing sound or harmonious combination
of sounds. • Euphony guides word
choices, but it is not an objective concept. One listener may find the phrase
notorious notations amusing, while
another finds it irritating. — euphonious, adj. See alliteration. See also
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 895
indefinite article under article. Cf.
euphuism /yoo-fyoo-iz-әm/. 1. A pretentious, highly artificial literary style
characterized by alliteration, highflown words, antitheses, and strange
expressions. 2. Concocted elegance
of language. — euphuistic, adj. Cf.
gongorism; periergia.
exclamation. 1. An utterance expressing anger, pain, anguish, or surprise;
a sentence used to express a feeling
with added emphasis. — Also termed
exclamative. 2. interjection.
exclamative, n. See exclamation; exclamatory sentence under
exclamatory sentence. See sentence.
excrescent /ek-skres-әnt/, adj. (Of a
sound in a word) not etymologically
part of a word but instead appearing
for reasons of euphony or ease of pronunciation. • Excrescent sounds occur
in many common English words. For
example, the b sound in thimble is not
found in its Old English root word
thymel, nor is the d sound of thunder
part of its etymological precursors,
thoner (Middle English) and thunor
(Old English).
exegesis /ek-sә-jee-sis/. 1. An expository discourse; specif., a critical analysis or interpretation of a passage or
text. 2. An explanatory note. — exegete, n. — exegetical, adj.
exempla /ig-zem-plә/. Rhetoric. Illustrations, esp. by way of anecdote, used
to sustain an argument or to point to a
moral. • Although the singular exemplum sometimes appears, the plural
exempla is far more common in discussions of rhetoric.
expletive. 1. A word that serves as a
noun in idiomatic expression but
bears none of the lexical meaning
that nouns usually bear; specif., a
“dummy” constituent of a sentence
with no inherent semantic content,
such as it or there <It was raining>
<There were celebrities present>. —
Also termed dummy word; prop word.
2. An exclamatory word or phrase,
often profane. • Sense 2 is an extension of sense 1, profanities having
once been considered as irrelevant
words used to fill up space.
expletive conjunction. See conjunction.
expression. 1. The manifestation of an
idea in words. 2. A phrase or saying.
extrinsic modality. See epistemic
modality under modality.
factitive /fak-tә-tiv/, adj. (Of a transitive
verb or a clause) expressing an action
that leads to a result, esp. a change in a
thing’s state of being. • Verbs such as
appoint, build, destroy, elect, and make
are factitive (e.g., in Munchie built
a playhouse out of scrap lumber, the
action verb built is factitive because the
lumber was transformed into a playhouse). The object of a factitive verb
is sometimes called the factitive object.
Some grammarians use the term result
or resultative as a synonym for factitive. The word is sometimes spelled
(through syncope) factive.
factitive object. See factitive.
factitive verb. See verb.
factive. See factitive.
false attraction. The influence exerted
by a word on another word that
causes it to take the incorrect form;
esp., a mismatch between the number of a subject and its verb occurring
when a phrase intervenes between the
subject and the verb and misleads the
writer into believing that the noun in
the intervening phrase is the subject.
• For example, when a subject is followed by a prepositional phrase with
an object of a different number, the
verb is often influenced by the closer
noun. In the correction of papers are a
tough assignment, the singular subject
correction requires the singular verb
is, but the plural papers influences
the choice of the plural form are; it is
incorrect because papers is a prepositional object, not the sentence’s subject. — Also termed attraction.
feminine, adj. (Of a noun, pronoun, or
suffix) indicating that the person or
animal named is female. • In English,
only the personal pronoun she, certain
nouns such as girl and doe, and a few
adjectives are feminine. — feminine,
n. See gender.
figurative, adj. Rhetoric. 1. Involving a rhetorical figure of any kind.
2. Expressing an idea in words that
normally denote another thing, as
by analogy, simile, or metaphor. Cf.
figure of speech. Rhetoric. A special use
of words; esp., the use of an expression
in which a word or words are used for
stylistic effect rather than for their literal meaning. • The expression “I’m
starving!” means “I’m very hungry,”
usually not “I’m dying of hunger.”
“Starving” heightens the effect of
the statement; it does not literally
describe the person’s condition. Figures of speech include metaphors and
similes. The names of most figures of
speech derive from ancient Greek and
Latin. See cliché; hyperbole; metaphor; simile. Cf. trope (2).
final conjunction. See conjunction.
finite /fi-nit/, adj. (Of a verb) not in
the infinitive mood—that is, limited
by person and number.
finite verb. See verb.
first person. See person.
flat, adj. Not having a distinctive ending characteristic of a particular part
of speech (e.g., an adverb that has the
same form as an adjective or noun,
or a noun used adjectivally without a
change in form).
flat adverb. See adverb.
flection. See inflection (1).
folk etymology. 1. A widespread but
false notion about the origin of a word
or phrase. 2. The tendency of popular
and mistaken beliefs about a word’s
origins to affect its use or form. • The
adjective posh is a good example. It
appeared relatively recently, in 1903,
but its origins are unclear; it might
have been derived from the slang noun
posh, meaning money or a dandy. But
according to folk etymology, wealthy
people who traveled by ship between
England and India paid more for cabins on the cooler side of the ship, port
on the journey to India, and starboard
returning. Thus posh was said to be an
acronym for “port outward, starboard
home.” The story is entertaining, but
researchers have not found any evidence that prices for cabins differed by
which side of the ship they were on.
3. A change in an unusual-looking
word’s form to a more usual form—
based on a misunderstanding of the
word’s origin. See catachresis (4).
form. The way a word is spelled and
pronounced according to how it is
used in different tenses, cases, number, etc.; one of the inflected variations of a word. See aspect.
form word. See empty word.
fossil. An old word or expression that
persists only in certain set phrases or
idioms (e.g., hue in the phrase hue
and cry).
fragment. A sentence that lacks some
essential component (esp. a predicate) to make it complete. • One way
to determine whether a sentence is a
fragment is to rephrase it as a yes/no
question. If you can’t, it’s not a complete sentence. A sentence fragment
may result because the main clause
doesn’t have a main verb <peppers
of all colors rolling down the slope>.
Adding the verb are or were before
rolling finishes the sentence. Incorrect punctuation may also create a
fragment, especially when a dependent clause is separated from the
main clause by a period instead of a
comma: The new doorknob came off in
my hand. Which shouldn’t have happened. — Also termed nonsentence.
free morpheme. See morpheme.
frequentative aspect. See aspect.
Freudian slip. The inadvertent substitution of a wrong word for the
896 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
intended word and presumably therefore revealing a subconscious thought
or feeling. • The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) first
described the phenomenon, which he
called “faulty action,” in 1901. Classically, Freudian slips suggest that the
speaker’s true thoughts have been
exposed. For example, a speaker may
intend to say “I’d like to thank all of
you” but instead says “I’d like to spank
all of you,” before launching into a
tirade. — Also termed parapraxia.
See heterophemy.
fricative. A consonant sound made
with a partial obstruction of the breath
stream. — Also termed continuant.
front-cut. See aphaeresis.
full passive. See passive voice.
functional shift. The use of a word
or phrase that normally functions as
one part of speech in a different way
so that it functions as another part
of speech. • Using fun (traditionally
a noun) as an adjective (as in This
is a fun trip!) is an example of functional shift. The most common types
are noun-to-adjective shifts (a hotel
car), verb-to-noun shifts (an assist),
and noun-to-verb shifts (to office on a
particular floor of a building). A noun,
for example, may function as a verb
<A truck jackknifed>. It may also
function as an adjective <law report>
<book report>. An adjective may also
function as a verb <crimson’d with
flowers> or as a noun <the poor>. —
Also termed functional change; conversion; enallage; anthimeria.
function word. See empty word;
fused participle. See participle.
future-perfect tense. See tense.
future tense. See tense.
garrulity /gә-rool-i-tee/, n. Severe
overtalkativeness; logorrhea. —
garrulous, adj.
gemination /jem-i-nay-shәn/, n.
1. The doubling of a consonant sound
in a word. 2. The doubling of a letter in the spelling of a word. • Many
English words, such as baggage and
saddle, have doubled letters, but only
one is pronounced distinctly and the
second only marginally, if at all. Often
when gemination occurs in speaking a
word such as bottle or button, and the
second -t- is pronounced distinctly,
the speaker is using a nonstandard
gender. A grammatical category by
which a noun or pronoun is classified
as masculine, feminine, or, in some
languages, neuter, and articles and
adjectives must take the masculine,
feminine, or neuter form that agrees.
• Although in some languages nouns
have gender, in English most nouns
have no set gender. Exceptions include
animal names <buck–doe> <bull–
cow> <cock–hen>, and the traditional
use of feminine pronouns when referring to ships or boats. Only nouns and
personal pronouns that expressly refer
to a male or female person or animal
are masculine or feminine. Personal
pronouns (he, she) are most commonly affected by a noun’s gender,
but a very few adjectives are as well.
For example, blond and blonde refer
to yellow-haired males and females,
respectively. Some nouns that once
referred exclusively to a man (e.g.,
actor, waiter) now apply to both men
and women. The noun still requires a
masculine or feminine pronoun, but
which one depends on the sex of the
person referred to <George Clooney
is my favorite actor>. Meanwhile, the
sex-specific actress still lingers in some
contexts <the Best Actress category>.
See also concord.
common gender. The gender of an
inanimate noun or of a neutral classification of animate nouns. • Most
English words are of common gender (e.g., a doctor may be a man or
a woman), though there are many
exceptions (e.g., a father is a man,
a mother is a woman). Cf. neuter
feminine gender. The gender of a
noun or pronoun denoting a female
person or animal (e.g., daughter,
doe, filly). • Traditionally, many
words were masculine in gender
and changed to feminine by adding
a suffix such as -ess (e.g., steward–
stewardess). Many of those words
are disappearing in favor of genderneutral substitutes. (See sexism.) In
other languages, nouns assigned the
feminine gender have some semantic correlation with animation and
the female sex. See animate; inanimate. Cf. masculine gender.
grammatical gender. Gender that
depends on the form of a word and
not primarily on its meaning, as in
highly inflected Indo-European languages. Cf. natural gender.
masculine gender. The gender of a
noun or pronoun denoting a male
person or animal (e.g., buck, ram,
son). • In other languages, nouns
assigned the masculine gender have
some semantic correlation with
animation and the male sex. See
animate; inanimate. Cf. feminine
natural gender. Gender that depends
not on the form of a word but on
the sex of the thing denoted by the
word, as in English. • According to
this type of gender, only animate
parts of speech have the notion of
sex attached to them. So inanimate
words are said to have no gender at
all. See common gender. Cf. grammatical gender.
neuter gender. The gender of a noun
or pronoun denoting an inanimate
thing (e.g., highway, shrub, weather).
In some languages other than English, the neuter gender is assigned
to a noun or pronoun that has no
semantic correlation to something
animate (such as a human or higher
animal). See animate; inanimate.
Cf. common gender.
generalization. 1. The process by
which a word with a fairly narrow
meaning takes on a broader meaning.
• For example, barn derives from Old
English roots meaning “barley house,”
but has generalized to refer to a farm
building for all kinds of storage. Cf.
specialization. 2. The extension of
a linguistic feature from one item to
a whole class. • Overgeneralization
occurs when the feature is extended
indiscriminately to all items in the
class when the feature does not in fact
apply to everything. Irregular verbs,
for example, form the past tense by
changing a vowel rather than taking
an ending <sing–sang>.
general semantics. A field of study
developed during the 20th century
as a way to improve how people use
language and other symbols, as well
as their environment more generally.
• It was developed by Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) and popularized by
S.I. Hayakawa (1906–1992) and Stuart
Chase (1888–1985). Its basic tenets
are that (1) a word is not the thing it
represents (“the map is not the territory”); (2) words cannot say everything about anything (“a map does
not represent the entire territory”);
and (3) words are self-reflexive in the
sense that explaining them requires
other words, and others, and others
(“a map would have to include a map
of the map, which in turn would have
to include a map of the map of the
map, etc.”). Cf. semantics.
genitive case. See case.
gerund. A present-participial form that
functions as a noun; a verbal noun. • A
gerund is distinguishable from a participial verb, which is used only after a
be-verb and functions as a main verb.
A gerund can be the main verb’s subject
or object <Dancing is good exercise>
<I like dancing>, and also the object of
a preposition <I exercise every morning by walking two miles>.
gerundive, n. In Latin grammar, a
future passive participle (e.g., aman-
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 897
dus = to be loved) functioning as a
verbal adjective to express necessity
of performance. See participle.
gerundive phrase. See gerund phrase
under phrase.
gerund phrase. See phrase.
gloss /glahs/, n. 1. A word inserted into
a text, esp. a historical one, by way of
explanation or simplification. • Often
a gloss makes explicit something that
the original text left implicit. 2. An
explanatory statement in a reference
book, such as a dictionary or glossary.
3. More broadly, a comment, explanation, or interpretation. 4. In a negative
sense, a disingenuous “spin” on something; a tendentious interpretation.
glossary. 1. A partial dictionary that
lists the definitions of technical terms
in a field. — Also termed (rarely) glossology. 2. A collection of glosses. See
glossology /glah-sahl-ә-jee/, n. 1. The
scientific study of language. • This
is an old-fashioned word for linguistics. — Also termed glottology. 2. The
marshaling and defining of the terminology used in any field of study.
3. glossary (1).
glottal, adj. Phonetics. Of a sound, produced in the glottis, the upper part
of the larynx between the two vocal
glottal stop. Phonetics. A sound produced with complete closure of the
glottis followed by an explosive release
of breath. • You can hear a glottal
stop in the middle of the interjection
uh-oh. See okina.
glottochronology. A method of calculating the rate at which dialects and
languages diverge by analyzing the
rate at which vocabulary changes.
glottology. See glossology (1).
gobbledygook. Complicated, pompous, and obscure verbiage, particularly that used by governments,
businesses, or professions. • Gobbledygook was coined in 1944 by Maury
Maverick, a former Congressman
who was serving in FDR’s wartime
government. He claimed that his
inspiration was the turkey: “always
gobbledy gobbling and strutting
with ludicrous pomposity. At the
end of his gobble, there was a sort of
gook.” It’s not hard to find examples
of gobbledygook, although they can
be hard to comprehend <Forwardlooking companies invest in quality
asset projections> <We can revitalize
the economy with regenerated policy
innovations>. — Also spelled gobbledegook. Cf. legaldygook.
gongorism /gon[g]-gә-riz-әm/, n. A
pretentious, ornate writing style reminiscent of the 16th-century Spanish
poet Góngora y Argote (1561–1627).
— gongoristic, adj.
govern, vb. 1. (Of a word, esp. a verb
or preposition) to require (a noun or
pronoun) to be in a certain case or (a
verb) to be in a certain mood <Both
verbs and prepositions govern pronouns that follow them as objects>.
2. (Of a mood or case) to be required
by a certain type of word <The genitive is governed by certain adjectives>.
3. (Of a word) to be necessarily followed by (a specified case or mood)
<The verb governs the objective
government. The effect of one word
on another according to usage, esp. in
determining the case of a pronoun or
the mood of a verb.
gradable, adj. Capable of being compared. See degree.
gradation /grә-day-shәn/. Inflection
produced by changing a vowel in the
root word (e.g., drink–drank–drunk).
— Also termed ablaut. See strong verb
under verb.
grade. See degree.
grammar. 1. The structural pattern of
a language learned unconsciously by a
child while acquiring his or her native
tongue. 2. A systematic, comprehensive description of this structural pattern. 3. A pedagogical book in which a
language is partially described, focusing primarily on the needs of native
speakers. 4. A book that seeks to
describe a language comprehensively,
as if to an alien, without reference
to the pedagogical needs of native
speakers. See descriptive grammar;
prescriptive grammar; transformational grammar; linguistics.
grammarian. 1. The author of a book
on grammar. 2. A teacher of grammar. 3. One versed in grammar; a
grammatical, adj. 1. Of or relating to
grammar. 2. According to the rules of
grammatical ambiguity. S ee
grammatical function. The syntactic
role that a word or phrase serves in a
sentence (e.g., a noun or noun phrase
may serve as subject or object) and
the part of speech in which the word
or phrase operates. — Also termed
grammatical relation.
grammaticality, n. Correctness
according to the rules of grammar. •
Grammaticality is not a strict concept.
Some forms of construction may be
acceptable to all speakers of a particular dialect, while others may never be
acceptable. But some forms may have
more or less acceptance by at least
some speakers.
grammatical relation. See grammatical function.
grammatical word. See empty word.
grammatolatry /gram-ә-tahl-ә-tree/,
n. The worship of grammar; an undue
regard for the letter as opposed to
the spirit of what is written. Cf.
grapheme /graf-eem/. The smallest distinguishable unit in a writing system.
• Letters <A, c>, punctuation marks
<?, !>, symbols <+, %>, and numbers
<4, 7> are all types of graphemes.
grapholect /graf-ә-lekt/. A standard
written language.
graphology /gra-fol-ә-jee/, n. 1. The
study of handwriting. 2. The analysis
of handwriting as an index to personality, intelligence, and other characteristics. 3. The study of the written
symbols or printing systems in various languages. — graphologist, n. —
graphological, adj.
grave accent. See accent.
Great Vowel Shift. In the development
of the English language, the period (c.
1400–1700) when the pronunciation
of stressed vowel sounds changed. •
During this period, the pronunciation of stressed vowel sounds became
systematically “raised,” that is, pronounced higher in the mouth. So
the word each in Chaucer’s time was
spelled ech and pronounced /ech/.
grouping ambiguity. See ambiguity.
guideword. The word (or words) at
the head of each page in an alphabetically arranged reference work such as
a dictionary or encylopedia, indicating typically the first or last word on
the page.
guttural /gәt-әr-әl/, adj. (Of a spoken sound) produced far back in the
mouth (e.g., g, k). Guttural is often
misunderstood as meaning “produced
in the throat,” but guttural sounds are
actually produced in the mouth, with
the root of the tongue and the soft
hanging comparative. See dangling
comparative under comparative.
hapax legomenon /hap-aks lә-gahmә-nәn/, n. 1. A word or phrase found
only once in the written record of a
language. 2. A word or phrase found
only once in the work of a particular
author. Pl. hapax legomena.
haplography. The unintentional omission of a written, repeated letter, syllable, word, or series of letters, syllables,
or words, usu. while copying or reading. • In English, the word idolatory
was derived from the Greek idololatreia; the repeated -ol was lost through
either haplography or syncope. (See
syncope.) Haplography seems the
more likely source of that shortening
898 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
because the word probably appeared
mostly in written contexts when the
change occurred. Many instances of
haplography result from the reader’s
eye jumping forward over similar symbols and seeing “endontics”
instead of endodontics, and “tillate”
instead of titillate. Cf. dittography.
haplology /hap-lahl-ә-jee/. The contraction of a word by omitting syllables when the word is spoken. •
For example, probably is often pronounced /prob-lee/ in rapid speech;
in dialect, the haplology is taken even
further: /prol-ee/.
head. 1. The most important word in
a group of syntactically related words
because it governs how the group performs in the sentence; the core word
in a phrase. • In a relative clause, the
head is the noun phrase to which the
relative pronoun refers. • For example, in the tall man in the front row,
the word man is the head of the noun
phrase. — Also termed headword.
2. In typography, a headline, esp. one
that summarizes a writing’s topic.
headword. 1. The word that begins an
entry in a reference work such as a dictionary or encyclopedia. 2. head (1).
helping verb. See auxiliary verb under
hendiadys /hen-di-ә-dәs/. Rhetoric.
The use of two words connected by
and to express the same idea as might
be expressed with a single word and
a qualifier; the separation of what is
really one thing into two things <They
drank from goblets and from gold>
(they drank from golden goblets).
hermeneutics, n. The art or science of
interpreting texts. • The term is commonly used to refer to techniques of
interpreting scripture, but it applies
to any kind of text. — hermeneutic,
heteroclite. A word of irregular inflection; esp., a Latin noun irregular in
declension. — heteroclite, adj.
heterography /het-ә-rahg-rә-fee/, n.
1. A misspelling. 2. Irregular or inconsistent spelling (as in the orthography
of English). Cf. homography.
heterological, adj. (Of a modifying
word) not having the characteristic
denoted. • A word that is heterological never describes itself. Examples
include long (it has only four letters
and one syllable) and monosyllabic (it
has five syllables). Cf. autological.
heteronym. 1. A word that is spelled
like another word but has a different
meaning and is pronounced differently. • For instance, lead can mean
“to guide” (/leed/) or “a metallic element” (/led/). Similarly, alternate can
mean “the next choice” (/awl-tәr-nit/)
or “to switch back and forth” (/awltәr-nayt/). 2. A phrase referring to a
thing that is called by an entirely different name in a different geographical area. For example, an apple coated
with hardened red-sugar syrup is
called a candy apple in New York and
a taff y apple in Pennsylvania. 3. A
synonym; specif., a word that has the
same meaning as another but is not
written similarly and has a different
origin. Bucket and pail, for instance,
refer to the same object, but bucket
derives from Anglo-Norman while
the origin of pail is unknown.
heterophemy. The inadvertent use of
a word or phrase when another is
meant. • Heterophemy usually results
from a momentary lapse in concentration (as when a server writes an
order for white wine instead of white
rum). In speech, it is also called a slip
of the tongue (lapsus linguae) and
in writing a slip of the pen (lapsus
calami). Freudian slips are a type of
heterophemy. See freudian slip.
hiatus /hi-ay-tәs/. A break in pronunciation between two adjacent vowels
or vowel sounds that are not in the
same syllable (e.g., coowner; residuum)
or in different words (e.g., to irritate;
draw out).
historical linguistics. See linguistics.
historical present tense. See tense.
Hobson-Jobsonism. The modification
of a foreign word or phrase to fit the
sound-system of the borrowing language. • Hobson-Jobson is an anglicized corruption of the Shi’ite Muslim
cry Ya Hasan! Ya Hosain!—used during the Festival of Muharram. The
term became the popular name for
the Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases, published in
1886. At the time, many of the hybrid
terms in the Glossary were unique to
British India. But some have become
Standard English (e.g., shawl, veranda,
pajamas, and shampoo).
holograph /hahl-ә-graf/, n. An entirely
handwritten document—and all in
one hand. — holographic, adj.
holophrasis /hoh-lahf-rә-sis/, n. The
combination of many ideas in a single word, esp. a verb. — holophrastic, adj.
homeophony /hoh-mee-ahf-ә-nee/.
Similarity in sound. — homeophonic,
homograph. A word that has the
same spelling as at least one other
but has a different meaning. • It may
be pronounced differently. Depending on the context, fair can mean an
amusement <noun: the county fair>,
attractive <adjective: a fair lady>, or
just <adjective: a fair decision>. In
all senses, the pronunciation is the
same. Similarly, lead can be “to go
first while others follow” <verb: I’ll
lead you home> or a metal <noun: a
lead sinker>; if the word is spoken, it
is differentiated by its pronunciation.
If homographs have identical pronunciations, they are also classified as
homonyms. — homographic, adj. See
homographic /hahm-ә-graf-ik/, adj.
1. Of or relating to a homograph.
2. Of or relating to homography.
homography /hә-mahg-rә-fee/, n. The
representation of a language’s sounds
so that each sound is expressed by a
single character, and no character represents more than that one sound. •
The International Phonetic Alphabet
is perhaps the best-known system of
homography. Cf. heterography (2).
homonym. 1. A word that is spelled
identically with another but has a different pronunciation or meaning, and
usu. a different origin; homograph.
• The word mood, for example, in
the sense of an emotion or state of
mind derives from German (Mut)
and Dutch (moed). But mood in the
grammatical sense of verbs derives
from Latin (modus). 2. homophone.
— homonymous, adj.
homophone. A word that is pronounced the same as another but
has a different meaning and usu.
spelling <rain–rein–reign> <rite–
write–right–wright>. • Many nouns
are homophones, such as pair–pear.
Other parts of speech can also be
homonyms. The verb lie means either
(1) to say something that is not true,
or (2) to be at rest, usu. (esp. of a living thing) in a horizontal position.
The distinction becomes obvious
when lie is conjugated in each sense:
lie–lied–lied and lie–lay–lain. Homophones that have identical spellings
are also homographs. — Also termed
paronym. — homophonous, adj. —
homophony, n.
hybrid. Philology. A word formed
by combining elements of different
languages. • For example, amoral is
formed from the Greek negative prefix a- and the Latin root moral. Hyperdrive has the Greek prefix hyper- and
the English drive.
hypallage /hi-pal-ә-jee or hi-/. Rhetoric. The reversal of the usual syntactic
or semantic relationship of words;
esp., the transference of an adjective
from the person who has the quality denoted to some object (person
or thing) with reference to which the
person manifests that quality <flattering offer>. • A memorable example
occurs in Byron’s lines: “The night-
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 899
winds sigh, the breakers roar, / And
shrieks the wild seamew.” (In the final
clause, the subject–verb sequence is
inverted to create a strikingly unparallel phrasing.) In Shakespeare’s Julius
Caesar appears this example: “His
coward lips did from their color fly.”
Shakespeare might have written, more
ordinarily (and less memorably), “The
color did fly from his coward lips.” On
a more down-to-earth level, hypallage
frequently occurs in phrases such as
caring home (it’s not the home that’s
caring, but the people in it), glad tidings, hopeless efforts, friendly glance,
jealous look, joyful news, wise counsel,
and treacherous plots. — Also termed
transferred epithet.
hyperbaton. See inversion.
hyperbole /hi-pәr-bә-lee/. Rhetoric.
Overstatement; specif., exaggeration to distort facts by making them
appear much more significant than
they really are. • Hyperbole may be
used to entertain or for serious purposes. Either way, it should be used
with care. For example, calling a referee’s poor decision “the crime of the
century” is excessive. — hyperbolic,
adj. See auxesis; figure of speech.
Cf. irony; litotes; sarcasm.
hyperbolism /hi-pәr-bә-liz-әm/, n.
1. Addiction to hyperbole. 2. An
instance of hyperbole.
hypercorrect, adj. 1. (Of an expression used by an imperfectly educated person) incorrectly formed
from an erroneous attempt to use a
prestigious form of language. 2. (Of
an ill-educated speaker or writer)
using erroneous expressions in a
mistaken attempt to mimic educated
usage. — hypercorrection, n. Cf.
hypernym /hi-pәr-nim/, n. A genusword; a broad term that denotes
something for which the language
contains many more particular terms
(as red is the hypernym for crimson,
oxblood, rubicund, ruddy, scarlet,
etc.). — hypernymy, n.
hyperurbanism /hi-pәr-әr-bә-niz-әm/,
n. 1. An affected manner of speech or
writing intended to avoid sounding
rural or uneducated. 2. A hypercorrect
phrasing used by someone who wants
to sound sophisticated but instead
achieves the opposite result. — hyperurban, adj. Cf. hypercorrect.
hyphaeresis /hi-fer-ә-sis or hi-feer-әsis/. Philology. The omission of a letter, syllable, or sound from the body
of a word. • For example, whene’er
drops the v of whenever and thereby
loses a syllable. Essentially, this word
is synonymous with apocope. Cf.
hypocorism /hi-pahk-ә-riz-әm/, n. A
pet name or familiar name (e.g., Billy
for William, Lexi for Alexandra).
hypocoristic /hi-pahk-ә-ris-tik/, adj.
1. Of or relating to pet names or
familiar names. 2. diminutive. —
Also termed caritative.
hyponym /hi-poh-nim/, n. A speciesword; a narrow term whose meaning
is embraced within a broad category
of meanings carried by a more general term (as daisy, gladiolus, marigold, rose, stargazer, tulip, and violet
are hyponyms of the word flower). —
hyponymy, n.
hypophora /hi-pahf-ә-rә/. Rhetoric.
The posing and answering of questions, often at length; esp., the practice
or an instance of raising and answering one or more questions that an
opponent might raise about one’s
argument. Cf. prolepsis (2).
hypotaxis /hi-pә-tak-sәs/. The subordination of one clause to another to
show the logical relationship between
ideas <We’ll have to do the marketing tomorrow because I forgot to
make a grocery list> (the conjunction
because subordinates the dependent
clause I forgot to make a grocery list).
Cf. parataxis.
hypozeuxis /hi-poh-z[y]ook-sis/. The
use in one sentence of three or more
parallel clauses in succession, each
one with a subject and a verb.
hysteron proteron /his-tәr-on prohtәr-on or prot-ә-ron/. Rhetoric. A
construction in which the natural
order of the elements is inverted to
stress the more important event, even
though it must occur later in time.
• The command put on your shoes
and socks, though literally absurd, is
meant to put the emphasis on shoes
over socks. — Also termed hysterosis.
hysterosis. See hysteron proteron.
ideogram /id-ee-ә-gram/. A symbol
that represents an idea rather than a
particular word (e.g., the numeral 8
in contrast with the word eight). Cf.
logogram; pictogram.
idiolect /id-ee-ә-lekt/. An individual’s
distinctive language; a personal dialect. • Every person’s language reflects
word choices and other features that
characterize that individual’s speech
and writing. See dialect; slang.
idiom /id-ee-әm/. 1. A phrase that
has a meaning greater than its constituent parts might suggest and that
must therefore be learned independently of the traditional definitions
of its constituent parts (e.g., break
wind, put up with, raining cats and
dogs, top-shelf ). • For example, kick
the bucket means “die,” and red herring means “something brought up to
divert attention from the real issue.”
2. An expression that is widely used
and accepted despite being illogical
or formally ungrammatical (e.g., a
life-and-death situation is illogical
and it’s me! is technically ungrammatical). — idiomatic, adj. Cf. set
phrase; cliché.
ignoratio elenchi /ig-nor-ay-she-oh
i-leng-kee/, n. Rhetoric. The fallacy
of arguing the wrong point. • Literally, this Latin phrase means “ignoring the refutation”—meaning that
the advocate wastes time by trying to
establish something not at issue. See
elenchus (3).
ignotum per ignotius /ig-noh-tәm pәr
ig-noh-shәs/. [Latin “the unknown by
the more unknown”] An attempt to
explain something obscure in terms
even more obscure <What does habitation mean? Why, it means “commorancy”!> <For those of you who
don’t understand the term extirpate,
it’s equivalent to deruncinate>. • The
term is often applied when a word is
defined opaquely or to an argument
in which something that is not well
understood is explained in terms even
more arcane.
illative conjunction. 1. See final conjunction under conjunction. 2. See
conjunctive adverb under adverb.
illeism /il-ee-iz-әm/. Reference to
oneself in the third person, either by
the third-person pronoun (he, she) or
by name or label. Two examples. In
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1598),
the eponymous character consistently
uses illeism, saying at one point: “Caesar should be a beast without a heart /
If he should stay at home today for
fear” (2.2.42–43). In the 1996 presidential election, the Republican
candidate, Bob Dole, was widely lampooned for his illeism (“Let me tell
you what Bob Dole thinks.”).
illocution /il-loh-kyoo-shәn/, n.
Speech or writing that itself constitutes an action, as by ordering, warning, or promising. Cf. perlocution.
imperative /im-per-ә-tiv/, adj. (Of
verbs) expressing a command (come
here), prohibition (don’t touch that),
request (help me a minute), warning (stay out or else!), or the like. A
synonym is jussive, but jussive has a
second sense that is narrower than
imperative. Cf. jussive (2). See imperative sentence under sentence.
imperative mood. See mood.
imperative sentence. See sentence.
imperfective aspect. See aspect.
improper diphthong. See diphthong.
inanimate, adj. Of, relating to, or being
a thing that lacks consciousness or is
inherently immobile, although it may
900 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
be a living thing such as a plant. See
feminine gender, masculine gender,
and neuter gender under gender.
inanimate noun. See noun.
inceptive /in-sep-tiv/. See inchoative.
inchoative /in-koh-ә-tiv/. (Of a verb)
showing that an action, state of being,
or the like has begun. The term is also
used as a noun to denote such a verb.
— Also termed inceptive; ingressive.
indefinite adjective. See adjective.
indefinite article. See article.
indefinite pronoun. See pronoun.
independent clause. See clause.
independent form. See absolute
indicative /in-dik-ә-tiv/, adj. (Of a
verb) expressing a plain statement.
indicative mood. See mood.
indirect object. See object.
indirect-object inversion. The placement of an indirect object before the
direct object (as in John gave her the
book as opposed to John gave the book
to her).
indirect question. See question.
indirect speech. See reported
infinitive. A verb in its unconjugated
form that can function as a noun but
retains certain verb features, such as
taking an object and being modified
by adverbs. • The infinitive is usually preceded by “to” <to dance> or
by an auxiliary or modal verb <You
can take the camera>. The subject of
an infinitive is always in the objective
case <For him to prepare any less diligently would have been shocking>.
bare infinitive. An infinitive in which
to is omitted. It almost always follows
an auxiliary verb such as should. —
Also termed plain infinitive; pure
infinitive; unmarked infinitive.
complementary infinitive. An infinitive that functions as the principal
verb <I am going to revise the manuscript next week> (in which am
going has a modal quality).
marked infinitive. A verb form preceded by the word to.
plain infinitive. See bare infinitive.
pure infinitive. See bare infinitive.
split infinitive. An infinitive verb
composed of to followed by one or
more modifiers before the verb <to
fully explain> <to deliberately split
an infinitive>.
unmarked infinitive. See bare
infinitive phrase. See phrase.
infinitive verb. See infinitive.
infix /in-fiks/, n. 1. A sound element,
such as a letter or syllable, inserted
within a word. • In a string of suffixes,
as in cleanliness where -ly and -ness
are both suffixes, some grammarians
treat all but the last-added syllable as
infixes. Otherwise, infixes are comparatively rare in English. 2. A word
inserted between the parts of a
compound word, often typical of
slang (e.g., some-damn-where, absobloodylutely). See affix. Cf. prefix;
inflecting language. See synthetic
inflection. 1. The change of form that
a word undergoes to distinguish its
case, gender, mood, number, voice,
or other characteristics. • Nouns, pronouns, and verbs are inflected either
by affixation or by internal vowel
change. Nouns are inflected to show
that they are plural <goose–geese>
<clock–clocks>. Verbs are inflected
when conjugated <I have–it has>
<jog–jogged>. — Also spelled inflexion. — Also termed flection. 2. The
study of how the endings of words
may be used to show their relationship to one another; accidence.
inflectional affix. See affix.
inflectional morphology. See
inflexion. See inflection.
ingressive /in-gres-iv/, adj. See
initialism. An abbreviation made from
the initial letters (or most important
initial letters) of a name, each letter
being pronounced separately, such as
CPU, FBI, and r.p.m. • The American
Broadcasting Company is typically
reduced to its initials: ABC. An initialism is a type of abbreviation. — Also
termed alphabetism. See abbreviation. Cf. acronym.
inkhornism. Rhetoric. An arcane term;
a bookish word. • An inkhorn was
variously a portable case for holding
writing materials or a portable ink
bottle (originally made of horn). In
the Renaissance, a pedantic, ostentatious writer would be said to “smell
[or savor] a little of the inkhorn.”
Hence inkhornism came to be used
in reference to a word that typifies a
style with that particular odor. Before
moving to define intensifier, I must
pause to acknowledge the irony that
so many of the rhetorical terms in
this glossary are essentially inkhornisms. In self-defense, I merely note
that I didn’t make them up. I’m just
reporting the linguistic facts. But in a
glossary like this one, a little sesquipedality—for the right reader—can
be some fun. Who’d have known that
terms like epanadiplosis and hypophora even existed? — Also termed
inkhorn term.
intensifier /in-ten[t]-sә-fi-әr/. An
adverb that emphasizes and height-
ens an adjective or some other adverb.
• Intensive adverbs and adjectives
include extremely, fairly, quite, rather,
so, too, very, and (as negative intensifiers) hardly and scarcely. — Also
termed intensive or degree modifier.
intensive, adj. Expressing intensity;
emphatic. • The prefix in- can be either
intensive (as in intense and incense) or
negative (as in incredible and indefensible). — Also termed ascensive; augmentative. — intensive, n.
intensive, n. See intensifier;
intensive pronoun. See pronoun.
interjection. A word or short phrase
uttered as an exclamation with no
literal meaning and having no grammatical connection with anything;
an expression used as an exclamation, usu. one expressing a strong
feeling (e.g., Really? Oh, no! It can’t
be!). • Interjections show emotion,
particularly strong ones such as surprise and shock. They usually appear
at the beginning of a sentence and are
punctuated with a comma or an exclamation mark. Because an interjection
has no grammatical function in a sentence, a meaningless utterance used as
an introductory word can also be an
interjection (e.g., Well, I’ll have to ask
first). Cf. exclamation.
Interlingua /in-tәr-ling-gwә/, n. An
artificial language invented for universal use, esp. the one promoted
since the 1920s by New York’s International Auxiliary Association. Cf.
esperanto; pasigraphy.
interrogative /in-tә-rah-gә-tiv/, adj.
Expressing a question (as in Who is
making that awful noise? or Why didn’t
the mail come today?). • The word is
also used as a noun to denote a question. See interrogative sentence under
interrogative adje ctive. S ee
interrogative mood. See mood.
interrogative pronoun. See pronoun.
interrogative sentence. See sentence.
intervocalic, adj. Phonetics. (Of a
sound) immediately preceded and
followed by vowel sounds, as with p
in occupy and d in idea.
intonation /in-tә-nay-shәn or -toh-/.
1. The rise and fall in the pitch of a
person’s speaking voice. • Questions
are generally marked by a rising intonation at the end of the sentence. And
certain words, such as only, may vary
in sense according to the speaker’s
intonation. Except for questions,
exclamations, and the like, American
English tends to sound more monotone, with less intonational variation
than British English. 2. The system of
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 901
pitch and tone patterns of a spoken
language. See pitch.
intransitive verb. See verb.
intrinsic modality. See deontic modality under modality.
introductory adverb. See conjunctive
adverb under adverb.
inversion. 1. A change in the normal
order or relationship of words or
other elements; esp., the placement
of a verb or some part of the verb
phrase before its subject <“I’m coming,” calmly said he>. — Also termed
hyperbaton; metaplasm. See anastrophe. 2. The transposition of the
subject and the auxiliary verb for the
purpose of posing a question (e.g., He
is a golfer becomes Is he a golfer?).
iotacism /i-oht-ә-si-zәm/. The conversion of other vowel sounds to that of
iota (in English, a long e).
ipse dixit. Rhetoric. An unsupported
assertion; something stated but not
proved. • An ipse dixit rests only on
the speaker’s authority.
Irish bull. A statement that is incongruous, ludicrous, or logically absurd,
often unintentionally. • Irish bulls are
usually found in speech, but they
occasionally make their way into
print. Examples:
It seems, from what I gather, to be
one of those simple cases which are so
extremely difficult. (Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle [1859–1930])
I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t,
because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I just
hate it. (Clarence Darrow [1857–1938])
Always go to other people’s funerals,
otherwise they won’t come to yours.
(Yogi Berra [1925–])
irony /i-rә-nee/. Rhetoric. A mode of
speech in which the literal or implied
meaning of the words is opposite
that of the intended meaning; esp., a
suggested meaning that differs from
the apparent meaning. • A classic
example of irony is Mark Antony’s
speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
Although Antony declares, “I come
to bury Caesar, not to praise him,”
and declares that the assassins are
“honorable men,” he means just the
opposite. Irony can be used for many
purposes, such as humor or to be
rude without being directly confrontational <Of course the bride won’t
mind if you wear ripped jeans to her
formal wedding>. — Also termed
enantiosis. Cf. hyperbole; litotes;
irregular adjective. See adjective.
irregular verb. See verb.
isolating language. See analytic
italic. 1. (adj). Of or relating to a sloping style of typeface. 2. (n.) (usu. ita-
lics) In printing, the sloping typeface
used for emphasis or distinction.
iterative /it-ә-rә-tiv or -ray-/, adj. See
frequentative aspect under aspect.
iterative aspect. See aspect.
jargon /jahr-gәn/. The special, usu.
technical idiom of a social, occupational, or professional group, often
intended to streamline communication and save time and space, but
sometimes also to conceal meaning
from the uninitiated. — jargonistic,
adj. Cf. argot; dialect.
Johnsonese. An inflated, stilted, or
pompous literary style that displaces
plain English with long words and
Latinate diction. • This pejorative term
derives from the name and style of Dr.
Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), the
renowned lexicographer and writer.
James Boswell recorded this example
of how Johnson altered plain English:
He seemed to take a pleasure in speaking
in his own style; for when he had carelessly
missed it, he would repeat the thought
translated into it. Talking of the Comedy
of The Rehearsal, he said, “It has not wit
enough to keep it sweet.” This was easy; he
therefore caught himself, and pronounced
a more round sentence: “It has not vitality
enough to preserve it from putrefaction.”
(James Boswell [1740–1795])
Thomas B. Macaulay likewise noted
how Johnson’s style changed when
writing a private letter and recounting the same incident for the public:
His letters from the Hebrides to Mrs.
Thrale are the original of that work of
which the Journey to the Hebrides is the
translation; and it is amusing to compare
the two versions. “When we were taken
upstairs,” says he in one of his letters, “a
dirty fellow bounced out of the bed on
which one of us was to lie.” This incident
is recorded in the journey as follows: “Out
of one of the beds on which we were to
repose started up, at our entrance, a
man black as a Cyclops from the forge.”
(Thomas B. Macaulay [1800–1859])
Yet another classic example occurs
in Johnson’s definition of network in
Johnson’s Dictionary of the English
Language (1755): “any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the
jot. The least letter or character of any
writing; hence, a minuscule part of
anything. See tittle.
jus et norma loquendi /jәs et nor-mә
loh-kwen-di/. Collectively, the standards or rules of grammar, pronunciation, and other linguistic elements
as established by the customs of the
native users of the language.
jussive /jәs-iv/, adj. 1. Same as imperative. 2. Expressing a command
directed to a third person (e.g., let
them eat cake; have them submit suggestions). Cf. imperative.
justification. In printing, the alignment of text so that one or both margins form a straight edge.
karmadharaya /kahr-mә-dahr-ә-yә/,
n. [Sanskrit] A compound consisting
of an adjective plus a noun <blackbird> <supernova> or an attributive
noun plus a noun <fireworks> <lamppost>. Cf. bahuvrihi.
kernel sentence. In transformational
grammar, a simple sentence that
results from the application of a few
required transformations, and that
with further transformations can
be expanded into more complicated
sentences. • A kernel sentence is the
stripped-down nucleus of a sentence
of any complexity <Young people are
often exceptionally polite even though
the general coarsening of society has
resulted in the lack of emphasis on
good manners> (the kernel sentence being People are polite). — Also
termed simplex.
kerning, n. In printing, the adjustment of spacing between characters
or letters.
kinesics /ki-nee-siks/, n. The study of
how body movements and gestures
convey nonvocal meaning; the examination of body language as a part of
koine. 1. A literary dialect. 2. lingua
franca. 3. A regional dialect or
language that becomes the standard
language for a wide area and loses
its most pronounced local characteristics. • The term comes from the
name of an ancient Greek dialect
that eventually became the common
language of the eastern Mediterranean countries under the Greek and
Roman empires.
lallation /la-lay-shәn/. 1. Baby talk.
2. lambdacism (3).
lambdacism /lam-dә-siz-әm/. 1. The
overuse or overfondness of the letter l
in speaking or writing. 2. The mispronunciation of l. 3. The erroneous substitution of l for r in pronunciation. •
In sense 3, lambdacism is synonymous
with rhotacism. See rhotacism; lallation (2).
language. 1. The expression of human
thought or emotion in words, whether
written or spoken. 2. The set of habits
by which the members of a nation are
accustomed to communicating with
one another; the sum of a population’s means of communicating information, including words and syntax
as well as gestures and customs of
behavior (as in the English language).
3. The manner or style of writing or
speech (as in pompous language).
902 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
4. The vocabulary and phraseology
of a group of people in a profession,
industry, or the like (as in medical
language acquisition. The process or
result of learning language, either as
a whole or certain aspects of it. —
Sometimes shortened to acquisition.
langue. Linguistics. Language as an
abstract system, the principles of
which make speech possible. • The
elements of langue include subsystems
such as spelling, syntax, and grammar. These elements create meaning
according to the principles by which
they are arranged and how they relate
to one another. Cf. parole.
lapsus calami /lap-sәs kal-ә-mi/. [Latin]
A slip of the pen. See heterophemy.
lapsus linguae /lap-sәs lin-gwee/.
[Latin] A slip of the tongue. See
leading, n. In printing, the amount of
blank space between every two lines
of text.
left-branching sentence. A complicated sentence that has most of its
complexity—the conditions, exceptions, etc.—before the principal
verb; one that has a majority of its
constituents on the left side of the
tree diagram. Cf. right-branching
legaldygook. A combination of legalese and gobbledygook; unclear or
overtechnical legal language. See
gobbledygook; legalese.
legalese. 1. The jargon used by members of the legal profession. 2. Language marked by the overuse of legal
terms. See legaldygook.
letter. 1. A symbol in an alphabet, such
as Z. 2. A character representing a
speech sound or sounds.
lexeme /lek-seem/. Linguistics. A word
or phrase taken as a lexical unit in
the abstract, without considering the
forms it takes in specific constructions. — Also termed lexical unit.
lexical, adj. 1. Of or relating to a word or
words. 2. Of or relating to the vocabulary of a language. 3. Of or relating to
a dictionary or to lexicography.
lexical ambiguity. See ambiguity.
lexical category. See part of speech.
lexical meaning. The essential meaning of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and
adverbs—i.e., of the words that carry
the bulk of the semantic burden in
any utterance.
lexical unit. See lexeme.
lexicographer /lek-si-kog-rә-fәr/. The
writer or compiler of a dictionary. • In
his great English dictionary of 1755,
Samuel Johnson’s famous definition
read as follows: “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”
lexicography /lek-si-kog-rә-fee/. The
art or process of compiling a dictionary or lexicon. — lexicographic /leksi-kә-graf-ik/, adj.
lexicology /lek-si-kol-ә-jee/. The study
of words and their derivation and
lexicon. 1. The vocabulary of a language, group, or individual. 2. A dictionary; wordbook.
lexiphanic /lek-si-fan-ik/, adj. Using
many hard, pretentious words. — lexiphanicism, n.
lexis. Linguistics. The total vocabulary
of a language, as distinct from the
ligature /lig-ә-chuur or -chәr or -tuur
or -tyuur/. A written character made
up of two or more joined letters, such
as æ and ffi.
light verb. See verb.
line-editing. The spotting and fixing of
problems in a manuscript—whether
one’s own or someone else’s. • Several
things can go wrong when you’re editing: (1) you might miss a problem and
fail to eliminate it; (2) you might spot
a problem and propose a flawed solution, perhaps even a “solution” that
worsens the text; or (3) you might
misidentify something as a problem
when in fact it’s perfectly correct, so
that your “solution” mars what was
an unblemished text (rarely in such a
situation is the editorial hand benign).
So a good editor is surefooted, but
the surefootedness depends on accurate knowledge of editorial problems
and their solutions. — Also termed
lingua franca /ling-gwә frang-kә/. A
language that is spoken commonly,
esp. for business purposes, by people
in many different lands. • In ancient
times, Latin was spoken throughout
the Roman empire and continued to
be used in former Roman possessions
as a trade language after the empire
crumbled. By the Renaissance, French
had become the lingua franca in
Europe. Today, English is the global
lingua franca.
linguistic ambiguity. See ambiguity.
linguistics. The scientific study of language. See grammar; morphology;
morphophonemics; phonetics;
phonology; pragmatics; semantics; stylistics; syntax.
comparative linguistics. The branch
of linguistics that focuses on the
mutual relationships of languages
believed to have a common origin
or the historical development of a
language between periods.
descriptive linguistics. A field of study
that investigates how people actually use language, both in particular
groups and broadly. Cf. prescriptive
diachronic linguistics. See historical
historical linguistics. The study of
how one or more languages develop
over time. — Also termed diachronic
prescriptive linguistics. The study of
language to derive or develop common rules and guide users in the use
of standardized rules that aid communication. Cf. descriptive linguistics.
psycholinguistics /si-koh-ling-gwistiks/. The study of how people learn,
understand, and produce language.
sociolinguistics /soh-see-oh-linggwis-tiks or soh-shee-oh-linggwis-tiks/. The study of language in
relation to society. • Social factors
that affect language include class,
region, occupation, etc.
structural linguistics. The analytical
study of language as a system and the
functions of linguistic units such as
sounds, words, and sentences within
the system.
linking verb. See verb.
literal, adj. 1. (Of a word or phrase)
having the usual or most basic sense.
Cf. figurative. 2. Unembellished.
literarism. 1. The use of unusual words
by the literary or erudite. 2. An addiction to literary language; an expression of literary language. 3. A literary
idiom or expression.
literatim /lit-ә-ray-tim/, adv. [Latin]
Letter for letter.
literation. The representation of
sounds or words by letters.
litotes /li-tә-teez or lit-ә-teez/. Rhetoric. 1. Understatement achieved by
denying the opposite of an idea;
affirmation of a thing by denying
the truth of its opposite <a citizen of
no mean city>. • Litotes is used to
increase effect or to reduce censure.
It’s a very old tool in English rhetoric;
examples are found in Anglo-Saxon
literature right up to modern times.
For example, he’s not the friendliest
person means he’s unfriendly. And it’s
not inconceivable that there will be a
pop quiz means you’d better study:
there will probably be a pop quiz. Cf.
hyperbole; irony; sarcasm. 2. An
instance of such understatement.
loan translation. A word or phrase
borrowed from another language by
literally translating the components.
• English has borrowed many terms
from many languages, including
Spanish (blue-blood = sangre azul),
French (merciless = sans pitié), German (superman = Übermensch), and
Latin (wisdom tooth = dens sapientiae). — Also termed calque.
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 903
loanword. Philology. A word borrowed
or adopted from another language
and partly or wholly naturalized. •
Few or no changes are made to some
adopted words such as hotel (from Fr.
hôtel) and kindergarten (Ger.). For
others, naturalization is evident. For
instance, extravert was adapted from
the German form extravertiert, which
itself was compounded of the Latin
extra- and vertere. The word evolved
into extrovert when patterned on the
established word introvert, derived
from the Latin introvertere.
locative /lahk-ә-tiv/, adj. Expressing location; answering the question
where or in (at) what place. Some
examples of locative words include
directional words (e.g., north; southwest) and adverbs (e.g., above; everywhere; here; inside).
locative adverb. See adverb.
logocracy /lә-gahk-rә-see/, n. Government by the power of words. — logocratic, adj.
logodaedaly /log-ә-ded-ә-lee/, n. 1.
Skill in wordplay; verbal legerdemain.
2. Wordplay.
logogram /log-ә-gram/. A written
character such as a letter (e.g., c.
for century) or a symbol (e.g., $ or
%) that represents a whole word,
as in shorthand writing. — Also
termed logograph. Cf. ideogram;
logograph /log-ә-graf/. 1. A written
word. 2. logogram.
logology /lә-gahl-ә-jee/. The study of
words with an emphasis on features
such as length and letter patterns
rather than meaning.
logomachy /lә-gahm-ә-kee or lahgahm-ә-kee/, n. 1. A dispute about
words. 2. A war of words; wordy
strife without accompanying deeds.
— logomachist, n.
logomania /log-oh-may-nee-ә/, n.
Uncontrollable garrulity; extreme
logophobia /log-ә-foh-bee-ә/, n. A
persistent fear, distrust, or dislike of
words. — logophobic, adj.
logorrhea /log-ә-ree-ә/, n. Diarrhea
of the mouth; excessive, often incoherent talkativeness. Cf. garrulity;
longueur /long-guur/. A long or boring passage, esp. in a writing. • This
term originally applied to writings
alone but is now extended to performing arts, including plays, music,
and speeches. It almost always carries
a hint of insult or disdain.
loose, adj. Of or relating to a syntactical element that is inessential to the
meaning or grammatical construction
<loose clause> <loose apposition>.
loquacity /loh-kwas-i-tee/, n. Talkativeness; fluency to a fault. Cf. garrulity; logorrhea. — loquacious,
lurry, n. 1. Something recited by rote or
delivered in a monotone; boilerplate
speech. • John Milton (1608–1674),
who disapproved of the Church of
England’s Book of Common Prayer,
wrote that one effect of its use was “to
turn prayer into a kind of lurry.” 2. A
babble of voices; a hubbub.
macrolinguistics. 1. The study of all
types of human communication,
verbal or symbolic. • Defined most
broadly, it includes both microlinguistics and prelinguistics. Cf.
microlinguistics; prelinguistics.
2. The statistical analysis of largescale linguistic phenomena, esp.
involving more than one language.
macron /may-kron or mak-ron/. In
pronunciation, a diacritical mark (ˉ)
indicating that a vowel sound is long.
• For example, the mark shows that
the vowel sound in beet is a long ee
(/bēt/). And in cooperate, it indicates
that the identical adjacent letters are
not pronounced alike (/kōŏpәrāt/).
The curved mark is a breve. See diacritical mark. Cf. breve.
main clause. See independent clause
under clause.
main verb. See verb.
malapropism /mal-ә-prop-iz-әm/. A
grotesque misuse of a word, often one
with some similarity in sound or stress
pattern to another; the word so misused. • This sort of misuse is named
for Mrs. Malaprop, a character in
Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The
Rivals (1775), who frequently used
words that sounded like the ones she
meant to say, as in, “His physiognomy
[phraseology] is so grammatical!” See
marked infinitive. See infinitive.
masculine, adj. (Of a pronoun or noun)
indicating that the person or animal
named is male. • In English, only the
personal pronoun he, certain nouns
(such as rooster), and a few adjectives
are masculine. Unlike in the feminine
gender, masculine nouns and adjectives are not distinguished by suffixes.
— masculine, n. See gender.
mass noun. See noun.
mataeology. Pointless or unproductive
conversation or questioning; fruitless
discourse. — mataeologian, n.
matrix clause. See independent clause
under clause.
mechanics. Devices that lend clarity to
writing, such as spelling, punctuation,
and capitalization.
meiosis /mi-oh-sis/, n. Rhetoric. A
figure of speech in which something’s
importance is intentionally understated or implied to be less significant
or substantial than it really is. • The
understatement actually heightens the
force of the statement. For example:
One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole
Today, my wife left me, my dog bit me,
and I lost my job, so I’m feeling a little
I was somewhat worried when the psychopath ran toward me with a chainsaw.
— meiotic, adj.
melioration. Linguisitics. The process
by which over time a word elevates
in meaning or gains a more positive
connotation, so that a negative or
derogatory word takes on a positive
or favorable meaning. • For example,
Old English hlāford “keeper of the
bread” was simplified and underwent
melioration to Modern English lord.
— Also termed amelioration. In Middle English, luxury and lasciviousness
were synonyms. Today luxury means
“something highly desirable but not
a necessity,” and lasciviousness refers
to unrestrained sexual desire. Cf.
melliloquence. Pleasant-sounding
speech; charming eloquence. — melliloquent, adj.
merism /mer-iz-әm/, n. Rhetoric. A
type of synecdoche in which a totality is expressed by two contrasting
parts <head-to-toe search> <come
old and young alike>. — Also termed
metabasis /mә-tab-ә-sis/. Rhetoric. A
transitional summary that links different sections of a writing; esp., a
brief summing up of what has already
been covered, followed by a précis of
what will follow. — metabatic, adj.
metalanguage. Linguistics. Technical
language used to describe or analyze
an object of study, such as mathematics, philosophy, and esp. other languages. • When language is studied,
it is called an object language. A metalanguage may be a natural language or
a formal one that uses specific terms
or formal models to discuss the elements or use of an object language.
For example, the English sentence
“Andrew shouts” might be rendered
in a formal metalanguage as “S(a),”
where S = shouts and a = Andrew.
When addressing a natural language
that is the same as the object language
(e.g., English), writers conventionally
use typographical means to distinguish between the metalanguage and
the object language, usu. by italicizing statements in the object language
or surrounding them with quotation
marks. See object language.
904 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
metalepsis /met-ә-lep-sis/, n. Rhetoric.
1. The uniting of two or more figures
of speech in one word or phrase. 2. A
word or phrase in which two or more
figures of speech are united. — metaleptic, adj.
metalinguistics. 1. The study of language and its relationship to other
elements within a culture or society.
2. The study of linguists’ methods of
investigation and analysis.
metanalysis /met-ә-nal-i-sis/, n. The
analysis of words or groups of words
into new elements (e.g., historically
an ewt became a newt, and a napron
became an apron). — metanalytical,
adj. Cf. prosthesis.
metaphor. Rhetoric. An implied comparison between two things by figuratively using a word or phrase in a sense
analogous to its literal denotation <The
fog creeps in on cat’s feet> <a volley
of words>. See figure of speech;
trope. Cf. simile. Examples:
Language is the amber in which a thousand precious thoughts have been safely
embedded and preserved. (Richard
Chenevix Trench [1807–1886])
Style is the gossamer on which the seeds
of truth float through the world. (George
Bancroft [ca. 1800–1891])
metaplasm /met-ә-plaz-әm/. 1. Grammar. A change in a word’s syllables or
letters. 2. Rhetoric. inversion.
metastasis /mә-tas-tә-sis/. 1. Grammar. The change of tenses, such as
the use of the historical present tense.
2. Rhetoric. A sudden change of subject; an abrupt transition.
metathesis /mә-tath-ә-sis/. Transposition of the usual sequences of letters,
syllables, or sounds of a word (e.g.,
aksed for asked, or irrevelant for irrelevant). • Over time, metathesis may
produce a permanent change in the
language. Cf. anastrophe.
meter. 1. Poetic rhythm; esp., the
technique by which such rhythm is
achieved. 2. The pattern of stressed and
unstressed syllables in lines of poetry.
metonymy /mә-tahn-ә-mee/. Rhetoric.
The use of a word or phrase to represent
not just what it denotes but something
it is closely associated with; specif., a
metaphor by which something related
to another thing becomes the word for
that other thing. • For example, the
Beltway refers to political Washington;
Broadway refers to the New York theater; the Crown refers to a monarchy;
gray hairs refers to old age; Wall Street
refers to investments or American
stock markets. — metonymic, adj. —
metonym, n. See trope.
microlinguistics. 1. The direct study of
a particular aspect of language, such
as phonology, semantics, or grammar.
Cf. macrolinguistics; prelinguistics. 2. The study of one particular
linguistic system and its peculiarities.
Cf. macrolinguistics.
Middle English. The English language
used from about a.d. 1100 to 1500.
misword, n. An ill-advised word used
harshly or angrily.
misword, vb. To express erroneously;
to word badly.
mixed construction. A phrasing that
fuses two or more idiomatic constructions <as much or more than>.
modal, adj. Of, relating to, or imparting
grammatical mood—that is, the distinct form of the verb that expresses
factuality, command, question, counterfactual assertion, etc. See mood.
modal auxiliary. See modal verb under
modality. 1. The condition, fact, or
quality of expressing mood or of
otherwise being modal. 2. A special
linguistic attribute or emphasis that
marks a statement in some way.
deontic modality. Modality that
expresses permission or obligation
<You may go> <You must go>. —
Also termed intrinsic modality.
epistemic modality. Modality concerned with the truth of a proposition <You might be right> <You may
be right>. — Also termed extrinsic
modal verb. See verb.
mode. See mood.
Modern English. The English language
in use since about 1500.
modification ambiguity. See
modifier. 1. Grammar. A qualifying
word, such as an adjective or adverb.
— Also termed qualifier. 2. Phonetics.
A diacritical sign used with a symbol to
indicate that the marked word’s sound
is modified only by the symbol.
compound modifier. See phrasal
adjective under adjective.
momentaneous aspect. See aspect.
mondegreen /mahn-di-green/. A
misheard lyric, saying, catchphrase,
or slogan that is then repeated erroneously. • Sylvia Wright coined this
word in a 1954 Harper’s Magazine
article entitled “The Death of Lady
Mondegreen.” She explained how, as
a child, she had listened to a Scottish ballad called “The Bonny Earl
of Moray,” in which one line is “They
hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and laid
him on the green.” She heard it as
“They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and
Lady Mondegreen.” Mondegreens
often arise in popular songs, such as
“Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”
and the misinterpreted reference to
“Olive, the other reindeer” (for “all of
the other reindeer”). Some mondegreens become widespread, though
not accepted, in speech (e.g., ✳for all
intensive purposes in place of for all
intents and purposes).
monogenesis /mon-oh-jen-ә-sis/,
n. The theory that all languages
have a single ancestral origin. Cf.
monoglossia /mon-oh-glahs-ee-ә/, n.
The existence of only one language
within a speech community. Cf.
diglossia; triglossia.
monoglot. A person who speaks and
understands only one language.
monophthong /mahn-әf-thong/. A
single, simple vowel sound, formed
with the organs of articulation in a
fixed position; a pure vowel. • An
example is the e-sound in the word
monoptote /mon-әp-toht/. A word
that has only one case; esp., in Greek
or Latin, a word that occurs only in a
single oblique case. • Essentially, this
term is synonymous with aptote. See
monosemy /mә-nah-sә-mee/, n. The
quality of having a single meaning. • Something characterized by
monosemy is unambiguous. Cf.
monosyllable. A word or utterance
that has only one syllable. Cf. plurisyllable; polysyllable.
monotransitive, adj. (Of a verb) taking
only a direct object, not an indirect
one as well. Cf. ditransitive.
monotransitive verb. See verb.
mood. The characteristic of a verb’s
form that shows the speaker’s attitude,
and expresses whether the action or
state it denotes is a fact, command,
possibility, or wish. — Also termed
mode. See modal. Cf. aspect; tense;
declarative mood. The normal mood
of a verb, in contrast to the imperative, interrogative, and subjunctive
imperative mood. The mood used to
express a command, or to instruct,
incite, or encourage. • Imperatives
are typically uninflected verbs used
to state something firmly <Start
now>, but they are tempered when
trying to be polite or show respect
<Bring that file here, please>.
indicative mood. The mood used to
express an idea as objective fact.
interrogative mood. The mood used
to show that something is a question.
• Some grammarians consider this
not to be a separate mood in English;
they classify it as indicative.
optative mood. A mood that expresses
a desire or hope. • Languages such
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 905
as classical Greek have optative verb
forms, but in English the subjunctive is used in expressions such as
Heaven help him!
subjunctive mood. The mood that
expresses an action or state not as
a reality, but as a mental conception. • The subjunctive mood is not
often used in modern English apart
from a few expressions such as if I
were you.
morpheme /mor-feem/. The smallest meaningful unit of a language; a
word or part of a word that cannot
be divided into smaller parts. • For
instance, outgoing can be broken
down into the preposition out, the
verb go, and the suffix -ing, but none
of those components can be further
broken down, so they are morphemes.
The word girls consists of two morphemes: girl and the plural suffix -s.
But mahogany cannot be divided
into smaller meaningful units. —
morphemic, adj. See base form. Cf.
bound morpheme. A morpheme
that cannot stand alone but must be
attached to another morpheme. •
Most prefixes and suffixes are bound
morphemes. All inflectional morphemes are bound morphemes.
free morpheme. A morpheme that
can occur as a stand-alone word. •
Nouns such as rule and place are free
inflectional morpheme. A morpheme
that is added to a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb to change its grammatical role in some way. • Nouns
have two inflectional suffixes (plural
-s and possessive -’s); verbs have four
of them (-s, -ing, -ed, and -en); and
some adjectives and adverbs have
two (-er and -est).
morphology /mor-fahl-ә-jee/. 1. Linguistics. The study of how sounds
are grouped into words, and how
the constituents are arranged to signal meaning; esp., the study of how
words are made from morphemes.
2. The form and structure of words;
word-formation. — morphological,
adj. Cf. accidence; syntax.
morphophonemics /mor-foh-fә-neemiks/. Linguistics. The analysis of
grammatical and phonological facts
that determine the forms of phonemes. — Also termed morphophonology. See phoneme.
morphophonology. See morphophonemics.
mouillé /moo-yay/, adj. (Of a consonant) sounded with the tongue touching the palate (as with l and n).
mumpsimus. 1. A persistent adherent to an erroneous tenet or linguistic
form, despite irrefutable correction.
• The story runs that in the Middle
Ages, an old priest was saying a prayer
in Latin. The word sumpsimus (= we
have received) he mispronounced
as mumpsimus. When corrected,
he insisted that he’d been saying
mumpsimus for 30 years and would
not change his “old mumpsimus” for
the “new sumpsimus.” In our own day,
Former President George W. Bush
persisted in /noo-kyә-lәr/ for /nooklee-әr/ despite a deluge of corrections in the press. His pronunciational
pertinacity might have earned him the
title of mumpsimus. 2. An erroneous
tenet or linguistic form that someone
tenaciously adheres to.
mutation. 1. The gradual, systematic
change of a sound in a given language.
2. The substitution or disappearance
of a letter to form a new word. 3. A
change of vowel sounds, esp. as influenced by other sounds in the word or
neighboring words. • The chief types
are consonant mutation and vowel
mutation (e.g., umlaut). Mutation
accounts for shifting vowel pronunciations over time, and for irregular
inflections as shown in spelling (e.g.,
foot–feet; man–men) and heard in
pronunciation (e.g., the -i- in child–
children; the -o- in woman–women).
See great vowel shift.
mute, adj. (Of a letter) not
mycterism. Rhetoric. Subtle mocking; a
scornful gibe; an instance of sarcasm
or irony. See sarcasm; irony.
narrowing. See specialization.
nasal /nay-zәl/, adj. (Of a spoken
sound) produced by resonating air in
the nose and mouth; of or relating to
a speech sound made with air exiting
the nose.
needless variant. An unnecessary
deviation from the standard form of
a word. • A writer or speaker who
uses a needless variant may mislead
the reader into believing that there
is a distinction in the words. See byform; differentiation.
negation /ni-gay-shәn/. 1. The act or
an instance of making what would
otherwise be an affirmative statement
into a negative one.
compound negation. The negation
of a compound construction using
neither . . . nor.
2. A negative statement.
negative, adj. Of or relating to a clause
or phrase that contains a marker for
neologism /nee-ahl-ә-jiz-әm/. A newly
coined word or expression. — Also
termed neology. — neologist, n. —
neologistic, adj.
neurolinguistics. The branch of linguistics that studies the relationship
between language and the structure
and functioning of the human brain.
neuter gender. See gender.
nominal. A word, phrase, or clause
that is functionally equivalent to a
noun. • The category embraces nouns,
pronouns, noun phrases, and noun
clauses. Cf. noun phrase.
nominal clause. See clause.
nominalization. The conversion of a
part of speech into a nominal, as by
making false into falsity, or authorize
into authorization. See buried verb
under verb.
nominal phrase. See noun phrase.
nominative /nah-mә-nә-tiv/, n. The
case of a sentence’s subject or of a
noun complement that follows a linking verb. • Only personal pronouns
have a distinct nominative form (e.g.,
the first-person pronouns in I lost my
keys again and that’s what we wanted).
— Also termed subjective.
nominative absolute. A phrase containing a subject and a participle
that adverbially modifies the main
clause of a sentence and has no other
grammatical relation to that clause.
• A nominative absolute is not part
of the sentence it qualifies by time,
condition, cause, or circumstance.
In essence, the nominative absolute
(or absolute phrase) is a parenthetical
comment (e.g., Dinner having fizzled,
we sat and watched television. Or:
He being a friend of mine, I shouldn’t
comment publicly on his actions.). See
absolute construction.
nominative case, n. See case.
nonce-word. A word invented “for
the nonce,” that is, for one occasion
only. • The first editor of the Oxford
English Dictionary, James A.H. Murray
(1837–1915), invented this expression for use in the Dictionary’s entries.
There are related terms such as nonceborrowing (= a word borrowed from a
foreign language only for one occasion),
nonce-compound, nonce-expression, and
noncount noun. See mass noun under
nondefining relative clause. See nonrestrictive relative clause under clause.
nonfinite verb. See infinitive.
nongradable adjective. See uncomparable adjective under adjective.
nonrestrictive, adj. (Of the modifier
of a noun or phrase) adding information that is parenthetical but does
not help identify the referent. • For
example, in The tents, which are on
aisle 3, are on sale, the clause which
are on aisle 3 is nonrestrictive because
it does not identify which tents are on
906 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
sale—presumably they all are. Similarly, in Orrin Hatch, the Utah senator, spoke next, the phrase the Utah
senator is not needed to identify the
person named, so it is a nonrestrictive
appositive. Nonrestrictive matter is
always set off from the rest of the sentence by commas. Cf. restrictive.
nonrestrictive relative clause. See
nonsentence. See sentence.
non sequitur. 1. An absurd statement
that produces a comic effect; esp., a
statement or thought that does not
logically follow what was just said. •
In social situations, a non sequitur
may indicate a misunderstanding or
lack of attention, or it may be an effort
to get away from an uncomfortable
subject. 2. A sudden, illogical turn
in the dialogue or plot. • Would-be
world-famous author Snoopy, the creation of Charles Schulz (1922–2000),
committed non sequiturs repeatedly
in his attempts at writing: “It was a
dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a
shot rang out! A door slammed. The
maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate
ship appeared on the horizon! While
millions of people were starving, the
king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a
small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.” 3. A fallacious argument in
which the conclusion does not follow from the premise or premises. •
A classic example is the argument,
“If A, then B. B is true. So A is true.”
But the conclusion is not necessarily
related to the premises. For instance,
“Dogs don’t drink beer. I don’t drink
beer. Therefore, I am a dog.” This
doesn’t exclude the possibility that
the speaker is a human. Similarly, an
if–then statement may be a non sequitur: “If I see four dachshunds today,
then I’ll have good luck tomorrow.”
Cf. anacoluthon.
nonstandard, adj. (Of usage) not found
in educated speech or writing.
nonstandard English. Informal English not used for educated speech or
writing; colloquial English or dialects.
See dialect. Cf. standard english.
non-U. The language characteristically
used by people who are neither in the
upper social echelon nor among the
better-educated in society. Cf. U.
nonverbal, adj. Without the use of
nonword. 1. A word that is not
recorded in most major dictionaries
<conversate>. 2. A word that, even
though it may be recorded in some
dictionaries, is regarded by many as
illegitimate because of its spurious
origins <irregardless>. • Nonwords
arise from many sources. They may be
back-formations <orientate>, malapropisms <unmercilessly>, common
misspellings <forebearance>, or neologisms <jumblicious>. Some move
out of their shadowy existence if they
prove to be useful or at least popular
(e.g., donate, stick-to-it-iveness). But
there is no sure way to tell whether
a nonword will fade away or become
standard. The term nonword itself was
first coined in the 1890s and became
standard only in the 1960s.
normative, adj. Concerned with the
accepted standards or norms of
normative grammar. See prescriptive grammar.
nosism. 1. An individual’s use of the
word we when speaking of or for himself or herself. 2. The self-centered
attitude of a group of people. • This is
the collective form of egotism.
noun. A word that names something,
whether abstract (intangible) or concrete (tangible).
abstract noun. A noun referring to
something that has no physical existence, such as a feeling, quality, concept, or state of being. • Examples of
abstract nouns are education, fortune,
love, quandary, and shamelessness.
Although an abstract noun is intangible, it may be countable <noises>
<meetings> or uncountable <music>
<happiness>. Sometimes the meaning of an abstract noun changes
from singular to plural <kindness–
kindnesses>. Cf. concrete noun.
agent noun. A noun that denotes a
person who performs some action.
• Agent nouns often have the suffix
-er <traveler> or -or <collector>.
animate noun. A noun that refers to
an animal or human.
attributive noun. A noun functioning as a modifier, usu. as an adjective. • An attributive noun may be a
word or a noun phrase. When it is a
phrase, it is hyphenated to prevent it
from being mistaken for the subject
or predicate object. • For example,
satellite dish and healthcare costs
begin with attributive nouns. — Also
termed noun adjunct.
collective noun. A noun that names
a group of people, animals, objects,
or concepts; a noun that is grammatically singular but has a plural
sense. • Some collective nouns may
be singular or plural. You can usually tell which by looking at how
the members of the group behave.
If they act as a unit or in unison
with one another, then the collective
noun is singular <The jury retires
to deliberate>. But if the members
behave as individuals, then the noun
is plural <The jury disagree on a verdict and have told the judge they are
deadlocked>. In American English,
some collective nouns have distinct
singular and plural forms (e.g., team
and teams) and the accompanying
verbs match them in number (e.g.,
the team is and the teams are). In
British English, you’ll often hear collective nouns, such as team, treated
as plural <The team are playing very
well today>.
common noun. A general name for a
person, place, or thing, capitalized
only under certain circumstances, as
when it begins a sentence or appears
in a title. • Common nouns include
teenager, girl, police officer (people);
restaurant, office building (places);
and tractor, microwave (things). A
noun may function as a common
noun when used in a general sense
<times> <manor> and a proper
noun when used for something specific <The Times> <Manor House
Realty>. Common nouns ordinarily have singular and plural forms
and are used with articles. Cf. proper
compound noun. Two or more
words that are joined (or, sometimes, hyphenated) to make a single
noun <boyfriend> <landowner>
concrete noun. A noun referring to
a person or thing that is perceptible
through at least one of the five physical senses. Cf. abstract noun.
count noun. A noun that denotes an
item that can be counted. • Count
nouns have both singular and plural forms, usually made by adding -s
or -es. In the plural, they frequently
appear in constructions such as two
———, several ———, and a large
number of ———. Cf. mass noun.
inanimate noun. A noun that refers
to neither an animal nor a human.
mass noun. A noun that denotes an
item that cannot be individually
counted. • Examples: meat, sugar,
water. Some mass nouns can also be
count nouns on occasion <choose
only the best meats>. But mass
nouns do not usually have a plural
form. — Also termed noncount noun;
uncountable noun. Cf. count noun.
noncount noun. See mass noun.
proper noun. The name of a specific
person, place, or thing, always written with a capital letter. • Proper
nouns include Jean Valjean (character); Jamaica, Abacus Restaurant
(places); and the Eiffel Tower, Monday, the Fourth of July (things). The
names of holidays, days of the week
and months, historical documents,
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 907
organizations, religions, and the like
are all proper nouns. — Also termed
proper name. Cf. common noun.
recipient noun. A noun that denotes
a person who receives some thing
or action, or for whom something is
done. • Recipient nouns often have
the suffix -ee <honoree>.
noun adjunct. See attributive noun
under noun.
noun-banging. See nouniness.
noun clause. A clause that functions
as a noun or noun phrase <When
the car was dented is irrelevant>. Cf.
object noun clause. A noun clause
that plays the role of direct object in
a sentence.
subject noun clause. A noun clause
that plays the role of subject in a
noun-equivalent. See substantive.
nouniness. The excessive use of nouns,
noun phrases, and noun clauses, esp.
in close succession. — Also termed
noun plague; noun-banging.
noun phrase. A phrase with a noun
as its head; a noun cluster that may
include a determiner <the goat> and
one or more adjectives <an old barn>.
— Also termed nominal phrase. Cf.
noun plague. See nouniness.
number. A quality of a word that shows
whether one object or more than one
object is referred to; the grammatical
marking of quantity. • In English, the
two numbers are singular and plural.
numeric adverb. See adverb.
obelize /ahb-ә-liz/, vb. 1. To mark (part
of a text) with an obelus (†) or other
mark to indicate that it is spurious or
doubtful. 2. More broadly, to stigmatize (a word or expression) as being
ungrammatical or unidiomatic.
object. A word denoting either (1) the
person or thing acted on by a transitive verb in the active voice <The balloon carried a pilot and a passenger>
(pilot and passenger are objective)
or (2) the person or thing related to
another element by a connective,
such as a preposition <Place the slide
under the microscope> (under is a
preposition, microscope is objective).
• Objects may be direct or indirect.
cognate object. An object that is derivationally related to the verb <Sing a
song> <Die an untimely death>.
direct object. The noun or noun
phrase that receives the action of a
transitive verb or shows the result
of that action <Brian enjoys golf>.
• It answers the question What? or
Whom? after an action verb.
indirect object. The noun or noun
phrase representing the person or
thing with reference to which the
action of a ditransitive verb is performed; the noun or noun phrase
that follows the verb and receives the
action. • It answers the question To
whom? or For whom? In English, an
indirect object usually comes between
the verb and the direct object. You
can paraphrase it as the object of a
preposition, often to or for (e.g., He
sent me a book can be paraphrased
as He sent a book to me). Although
there can be a direct object without
an indirect object, there must always
be a direct object if there is an indirect object. Indirect objects are usually found with verbs such as brought,
give, offer, show, and take.
object of a preposition. The noun or
noun phrase that follows a preposition in a prepositional phrase.
retained object. An object that continues to function as an object when a
passive sentence is rewritten in active
voice. • For example, in the passivevoice sentence He was given money by
many trusting people and the activevoice rewrite Many trusting people
gave him money, money is the direct
object. The passive-voice sentence a
gold watch was given to my father will
have two objects when rewritten in
active voice, The company gave my
father a gold watch, but only one,
my father, is a retained object. In the
passive sentence, it was the object of
a preposition. In the active sentence,
it is an indirect object.
object complement. See complement.
objective /ahb-jek-tiv/, n. The case in
which the object of a transitive verb or
preposition is expressed. • In presentday English, only the first- and thirdperson pronouns and who have an
objective form that is different from
the nominative form (i.e., I–me, he–
him, she–her, we–us, they–them, and
who–whom). Apart from those words,
syntax determines the relationship
that a word has to other words (e.g.,
in the apple fell from the tree, the word
tree is the object of the preposition
from, so [in the view of some traditional grammarians] it is in the objective case). Some grammarians call this
the accusative case.
objective case. See case.
object language. Linguistics. A language
that is being described, analyzed, or
discussed. See metalanguage.
object noun clause. See noun clause.
object of a preposition. See object.
obligative /ә-blig-ә-tiv/, adj. (Of a
modal auxiliary) expressing a necessity or requirement (as with must). Cf.
oblique case. See case.
obnubilation /ahb-n[y]oo-bi-layshәn/. The beclouding of ideas; the
act of making something obscure or
indistinct. — obnubilate, vb.
obsolescent, adj. (Of a word or expression) gradually disappearing; becoming obsolete.
obsolete, adj. (Of a word or expression)
no longer used; out of date.
occupatio /ahk-yә-pay-shee-oh/, n.
See paraleipsis.
officialese. The inflated, pompous,
obscure language considered typical
of bureaucrats’ work, esp. in official
documents and letters. • With effort,
officialese can usually be translated
into plain English. For instance,
“The aforementioned office will, in
its economic treatment, cease and
terminate the distribution of moneys
commencing as from May 1, 2007”
becomes “Our office will stop making
payments on May 1, 2007.” See plain
okina /oh-kee-nә/. A diacritical mark
resembling a right-facing apostrophe
(‘), used in the Hawaiian language to
indicate a glottal stop or a consonant.
• In Hawaiian, the name of the island
group (and the biggest island) is
sometimes written Hawai‘i. See diacritical mark; glottal stop.
Old English. The Anglo-Saxon language, used in England from around
a.d. 450 to 1100. • Unlike Middle English, Old English had a fully inflected
grammar and had relatively few words
borrowed from Latin and French. —
Also termed Anglo-Saxon.
onomastics /on-ә-mas-tiks/. 1. The
study of the origins and forms of
proper names. 2. The system that
underlies the formation and use of
proper names or of names used in a
particular field. — onomastic, adj.
onomatope /ә-nahm-ә-tohp/. An onomatopoeic word.
onomatopoeia /on-ә-mat-ә-pee-ә/.
1. The formation of a word by imitating the sound it represents. • For
example, buzz approximates the sound
made by a flying insect, and quack
is similar to a duck’s voice. Other
examples are belch, crack, fizz, flutter, meow, plop, screech, smash, splash,
squish, wham, and zoom. 2. The use of
a word whose sound suggests its sense.
— onomatopoeic or onomatopoetic,
adj. Cf. synaesthesia.
open syllable. See syllable.
operator. 1. A grammatical element,
such as a negative or determiner, that
affects another element in a sentence.
2. The first auxiliary verb in a verb
phrase when the verb can be placed
in front of the subject in order to
change the mood of the sentence from
908 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
declarative to interrogative (e.g., Dan
has been calling becomes Has Dan
been calling?).
optative /ahp-tә-tiv/, adj. (Of a verbal
mood) expressing a hope or wish, esp.
one that is realizable <may the best
team win>.
optative mood. See mood.
oracy /or-ә-see/, n. 1. Proficiency in
speech; the ability to express oneself
fluently and appropriately in speech.
• Linguists have used this term since
the mid-1960s. 2. The oral transmission of information, esp. of cultural
traditions and the like.
oral. 1. Of or relating to the mouth.
2. Of or relating to the spoken word.
3. Of or relating to a speech sound
made with no air exiting through the
oratio obliqua /or-ray-shee-oh
oh-blee-kwә/. See indirect discourse
under discourse.
oratio recta /or-ray-shee-oh rek-tә/.
See direct discourse under discourse.
ordinal number. A number that
denotes a position in a series rather
than a quantity of things (e.g., first;
second; third). • Ordinal numbers
may function as adjectives (e.g., first
place) or nouns (e.g., Eustace is second). Cf. cardinal number.
orismology /or-is-mahl-ә-jee/.
1. Technical terminology. 2. The
explanation of technical terms. —
orismologic, adj.
orthoepy /or-thoh-ә-pee or or-thә-wәpee/. 1. Correct or accepted pronunciation; the art of pronouncing words
correctly. Cf. cacoepy. 2. The field of
grammar concerned with pronunciation; specif., the study of how a writing or spelling system relates to the
pronunciation of a language.
orthography /or-thahg-rә-fee/. 1. The
field of grammar that focuses on letters and spelling; the study of spelling and how letters are combined
to represent sounds. 2. The collective methods by which a language is
conventionally reduced to its written
form. 3. The set of conventions that
account for correct spelling.
orthophony /or-thahf-ә-nee/. Correct
pronunciation and articulation.
otosis /oh-toh-sis/, n. 1. The alteration
or misuse of a word resulting from an
erroneous impression of its sound. •
Otosis was originally at work in the
misrendering of home in (what homing pigeons do) as the increasingly
widespread but erroneous hone in.
2. The mishearing of spoken sounds.
overgeneralization. See generalization.
oxymoron /ok-si-mor-on/. 1. A pairing of contradictory or incongruous
words; a paradoxical phrasing, usu.
in two words <living death> <clingingly aloof>. 2. Rhetoric. A paradox
producing by juxtaposing words that
seem contradictory <You must be
cruel to be kind>.
palatal /pal-ә-tәl/, adj. (Of spoken
sounds) made by flattening the front
of the tongue against or near the hard
palate, as for the y in yield.
palilogy /pә-lil-ә-jee/, n. Rhetoric.
The immediate repetition of a word
or phrase, usu. for emphasis. Cf.
palindrome. A word, phrase, or sentence that reads the same backward
and forward (e.g., Hannah; name no
one man). • Perhaps the most famous
example is the one attributed to Napoleon when asked whether he could
have invaded England: “Able was I
ere I saw Elba.”
paradiastole /per-ә-di-as-tә-lee/, n.
The use of a euphemism to advance
an argument by replacing an unfavorable term with a more favorable one—
often one that fallaciously disregards
part of the truth. • For example, in
the debate over illegal immigration
into the United States, those opposed
to border control often replace illegal
alien with undocumented worker (or
even worker) and replace illegal immigration with immigration to obscure
the illegality of the border crossings
under debate.
paradigm /pair-ә-dim/. 1. A pattern,
exemplar, or prototype. 2. Grammar.
A model for the inflection of a class
of words, as of verb conjugations or
noun declensions <woman–woman’s–
women–women’s> <ring–rings–rang–
rung–ringing>. See declension (2).
3. Rhetoric. An example or illustration
of a point.
paradox. 1. A seemingly selfcontradictory statement or belief; a
seemingly absurd expression <never
less alone than when alone>. 2. Rhetoric. A figure of speech used to teach
a lesson or evoke an impression by
an unexpected or surprising turn of
expression. 3. A puzzling fact, observation, or person.
paragoge /pair-ә-goh-jee/. The addition of a sound or syllable at the end of
a word <idea → idear> <unbeknown →
unbeknownst>. • This term embraces
not just vulgarisms such as oncet, but
also more legitimate variations such
as amongst for among. — Also termed
epithesis. — paragogic, adj.
paragraph. A group of sentences in
which a single topic is developed; a
sequence of structurally related sentences. • A paragraph is traditionally
begun on a new line, with a space
separating the first word from the
margin. Ideally, a paragraph is a unified statement of a particular point in
the analysis or narrative.
paralanguage. In communication, the
nonverbal elements used to modify
meaning and convey emotion, such as
intonation, volume, expressions, and
gestures. • In written communications, particularly informal types such
as e-mail and chatrooms, paralanguage
appears in emoticons, capitalization,
choice of fonts, and the like. — Also
termed paralinguistic features.
paraleipsis /pair-ә-lip-sis/. Rhetoric. A
brief reference to something done in
such a way as to emphasize the suggestiveness of the thing omitted <I’ll just
mention a few of the outrages committed by the Spanish Inquisition>. —
Also spelled paralepsis /pair-ә-lep-sis/.
— Also termed preterition; pretermission; occupatio. Cf. apophasis.
paralepsis. See paraleipsis.
paralinguistic, adj. Of or relating to
paralanguage; relating to or designating nonverbal speech elements. See
paralinguistic features. See paralanguage.
paralinguistics. A branch of linguistics
concerned with the nonphonemic
aspects of speech, such as silence, tone
of voice, facial expressions, gesticulation, body postures, and tempo. Cf.
parallelism. 1. The structural similarity of adjacent phrases, clauses, or
sentences; esp., the presentation of
ideas bearing equivalent weight by
putting them into identical grammatical structures. 2. A sentence or
passage that illustrates such structural similarities.
paramoion /per-ә-moy-әn/, n. Alliteration of the initial sounds of two or
more words in a sentence.
paraph /pә-raf/. A penned flourish at
the end of or under a signature, sometimes used as a protection against
paraphrase, n. 1. The restatement of
a thought, passage, or text in words
different from the original statement,
and often with greater clarity and
either more or less detail; an alternative wording that is faithful to the
sense of another, earlier expression.
2. Another wording of a grammatical
structure to reveal its ambiguity. —
paraphrastic, adj.
paraphrase, vb. To use one’s own
words to express the substance of
what another writer or speaker has
said (e.g., To paraphrase Shakespeare,
no matter what you call a rose, it still
smells nice).
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 909
parapraxia. See freudian slip.
parasitic vowel. See svarabhakti
parasynesis /pair-ә-sin-ә-sis/, n. The
misconception of a word that results
in a faulty form (as when home in
[originally based on what homing
pigeons do] becomes, through error,
hone in).
parasyntheton /pair-ә-sin-thә-tahn/. A
derivative word that consists of a root
compounded with a particle <bylaws>
<downtrodden> <uplifting>.
parataxis /pair-ә-tak-sәs/. Rhetoric.
The coordination of successive, equal
clauses without expressly showing
their syntactic relationship, so that the
reader must infer how they are related
<I’m ready; let’s go>. Cf. hypotaxis.
— paratactic, adj.
parathesis /pә-rath-ә-sis/. Apposition; the placement of a word or
phrase beside another with which
it is syntactically parallel <my
brother the flutist>. — parathetic
/pair-ә-thet-ik/, adj. See apposition.
paregmenon /pә-reg-mә-nahn/, n.
Rhetoric. The use of a word in the same
construction as another to which the
first is cognate <die a death> <the victor’s victory>.
parembole /pair-em-bә-lee/. Rhetoric.
An inserted phrase that modifies or
explains the thought of a sentence. •
A parembole differs from a parenthesis by having a more integral connection with the context. — Also termed
parenthesis. 1. A word, phrase, clause,
or sentence inserted as an explanation
or afterthought; an aside inserted into
a sentence or paragraph. • In writing,
it is usually set off by commas, emdashes, or the curved brackets known
as “parentheses” (see sense 2). 2. A
punctuation mark that sets off such a
word, phrase, clause, or sentence—[(]
as the opening mark and [)] as the
closing one.
paresis /pә-ree-sәs or pair-ә-/. See
parisology /pair-i-sahl-ә-jee/, n.
Ambiguous or equivocal language. —
parisologist, n.
parison /pair-i-sәn/, n. 1. An even
balance of clauses, words, syllables,
or other elements in a sentence. 2. A
clause that balances another, as in an
parlance. A manner of speaking or of
using words, esp. within a particular
social or professional group. • Parlance is usually combined with an
adjective such as common, film, legal,
medical, military, or vulgar.
parole. Linguistics. The actual use
of language by speakers; written or
spoken utterance. • Parole depends
on the existence of a language and
its systematic principles, but is not a
system itself. Cf. langue.
paromology /pair-ә-mahl-ә-jee/, n.
Rhetoric. The concession of minor
points in a debate as a way of enhancing one’s credibility and strengthening one’s position. — Also termed
paronomasia /pair-ә-noh-may-zhә/.
Rhetoric. The deliberate and humorous use of the double meanings of
words and phrases; esp., a play on
words in which the similarity of
sound is a prominent characteristic;
a pun <The best of all acids is assiduity>. — Also termed paronymy. —
paronomastic, adj.
paronym /par-ә-nim/. 1. A derived
word having but a slight change in
form from one in another language;
esp., a word formed by adapting a
foreign word (e.g., civil from Latin
civilis, or egality from French égalité).
2. A word derived from another in
the same language (e.g., analytical
from analysis, or parasitic from parasite). 3. homophone. — paronymous, adj.
paronymy /pair-on-ә-mee/, n. 1. The
introduction of a word into a language
by borrowing from another language
and slightly changing it. 2. The relationship between cognate words with
related meanings. 3. paronomasia.
parrhesia /pә-ree-zhә/, n. 1. Candor and frankness; bold outspokenness. 2. The practice or an instance
of seeking permission to be boldly
parrotry /per-ә-tree/, n. The mindless
repetition of others’ words or sayings;
parse, vb. 1. v.t. To determine the
parts of speech of and the relationship between (the individual parts of
a sentence). 2. v.t. To describe (a word
or phrase) by classifying its part of
speech, its composition, its inflection,
and its relation to other words in the
sentence. 3. v.i. (Of a sentence) to meet
the standards of good grammar.
parsing. 1. The act or process of separating out the elements of a sentence
so that the relationships between
them can be analyzed. 2. The grammatical analysis and description of a
word, showing what part of speech it
is and its relation to other words.
participial phrase. See phrase.
participial preposition. S ee
participle. A verb form inflected for
perfective aspect (for past participles
such as written, sold, or shrunk) or progressive aspect (for present participles
such as carrying, flying, or lecturing);
esp., a word derived from a verb but
having characteristics of both a verb
and an adjective. • English participles
are the verb forms used with a be-verb
<am writing> or a form of have <had
written>. A participle functions as
an adjective when it modifies a noun
or pronoun <walking stick>. — Also
termed gerundive. See also progressive
aspect under aspect.
dangling participle. A participle that
is not properly connected to the sentence’s subject. Seeing is a dangling
participle in seeing that there was a
traffic jam ahead, the taxi turned left
because seeing logically cannot refer
to taxi; the taxi’s driver did the seeing. — Also termed dangler; misrelated participle.
fused participle. A gerund used after
a noun or noun phrase that would
more properly be a possessive adjective. • In The author having full rights
to the work means you must ask the
author for permission, the participle
having is fused with the preceding
noun to form the subject the author
having. Traditional grammarians
prefer The author’s having full rights
to the work means . . . .
misrelated participle. See dangling
past participle. A nonfinite verb form
ending usu. in -ed, -en, or -t and used
in verb phrases <has believed> <have
taken> <has wept> to signal a perfective aspect. • Although past participles are often part of a verb phrase,
they may also function adjectivally
<proven fact> <used books>.
present participle. A nonfinite verb
form ending in -ing and used in
verb phrases to signal the progressive aspect <be + -ing> <was browsing> <am shopping>. • Although
present participles are often part of a
verb phrase, they may also function
adjectivally <prevailing notions>
<unremitting violence>.
particle adverb. See particle (2), (3).
partitive /pahr-tә-tiv/, adj. Setting off
or referring to a particular part of a
whole (e.g., some money) or only some
portion of a collection (e.g., most voters). • The so-called partitive genitive
indicates the whole of which the head
of the construction is a part <a slice of
bread> <a piece of pie>.
part of speech. One of a class of words
(nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on)
that is distinguished by its normal
function in a sentence. • Grammarians have traditionally recognized eight
parts of speech: nouns, pronouns,
verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.
910 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
The traditional definitions of these
classes are based sometimes on
meaning, sometimes on function or
use. Modern linguists have therefore
tended to abandon these eight labels
in favor of other labels more theoretically “pure.” — Also termed word
class; lexical category.
pasigraphy /pә-sig-rә-fee/, n. An international system of writing; a universal
written language. — pasigraphic, adj.
Cf. esperanto; interlingua.
pasilaly /pas-i-lal-ee/, n. An international system of speaking; a universal
spoken language.
passive voice. The voice that makes
the recipient of the verb’s action the
subject of the verb. • Compare the
tree was knocked down by the truck
(passive voice: the tree didn’t knock
but was the recipient of action) with
the truck knocked down the tree (active
voice: the truck is doing the knocking). Cf. active voice under voice.
full passive. A passive-voice construction that includes the doer of
the action.
truncated passive. A passive-voice
construction that omits the doer of
the action.
past participle. See participle.
past-perfect tense. See tense.
past tense. See tense.
pathopoeia /path-ә-pee-ә/, n. 1. A
speaker’s or writer’s arousal of an
audience’s or reader’s emotions. 2. A
passage designed to arouse listeners’
or readers’ emotions. — Also spelled
patient. Whatever is denoted by the
word that is directly affected by the
action of a verb (e.g., the object of a
transitive verb).
patois /pat-wah or pah-twah/, n. 1. A
regional dialect that differs markedly
from the standard language. See dialect. Cf. standard english. 2. The
jargon of a particular age group, profession, or other discrete and insular
patrial /pay-tree-әl/, n. A noun derived
from a country’s name and denoting
an inhabitant of that country <American> <Iraqi>. — patrial, adj.
pedant /ped-әnt/. One who makes an
ostentatious display of learning, esp.
of superficial erudition. — pedantic,
pedantry /ped-әn-tree/. 1. An excessive display of or reverence for
learning, usu. characterized by close
attention to details, however trivial.
2. An instance of pedantic behavior
or a pedantic form of expression. —
Also termed pedanticism.
pejoration /pee-jә-ray-shәn/. A change
in the meaning of a word from one
that is positive or neutral to one that
is negative or borders on the negative.
• For example, notorious once meant
“widely known” and implied nothing
about reputation, but now it means
“infamous.” Cf. melioration.
pejorative, n. A linguistic form, such as
a word or morpheme, that expresses
disparagement. — pejorative, adj.
penult /pi-nәlt/. The next-to-last syllable of a word. Cf. antepenult.
perfective aspect. See aspect.
perfect tense. See present-perfect tense
under tense.
periergia /per-i-әr-jee-ә/, n. The use of
ornate, embellished language to discuss a commonplace thing; pompous,
bombastic language. Cf. euphuism;
period. 1. The full stop that marks the
end of a sentence. 2. A grammatically
complete sentence. 3. A paragraph; a
series of sentences that make up a unit
of thought.
period dots. See ellipsis (2).
periodic sentence. Rhetoric. A sentence in which a complete thought is
not expressed until the main clause
and other rhetorical balancing devices
are all read. • By using the opening
clauses to give context and delay, the
speaker slowly builds to a climax.
periphrasis /pә-rif-rә-sis/. 1. Rhetoric.
The use of a roundabout expression in
place of a direct one; circumlocution
<an elongated yellow fruit = banana>.
2. Grammar. A phrase used to express
what might otherwise be expressed in
one inflected word (e.g., did go = went;
more tight = tighter). — periphrastic
/pair-ә-fras-tik/, adj.
periphrastic comparative. See
perissology /per-i-sahl-i-jee/, n. The
use of more words than necessary;
superfluity of expression; pleonasm.
perlocution /pәr-loh-kyoo-shәn/, n.
Speech or writing intended to persuade or convince; language designed
to bring about an action not itself constituting that action. Cf. illocution.
perlocutionary, adj. Linguistics. Of or
designating an act of speech or writing intended to produce an effect
on the audience, such as persuading, convincing, inspiring, scaring,
insulting, or motivating. • This word
appears most frequently in the term
perlocutionary act.
permissive. (Of a modal auxiliary)
expressing permission or exhortation (as with may or should). Cf.
persiflage /pәr-si-flahzh/. Banter that
is a mixture of frivolity and mockery,
sometimes sardonic or contemptuous
in tone. Cf. badinage.
person. A characteristic of a noun
or pronoun that identifies it as the
speaker (first person), the thing spoken to (second person), or the thing
spoken of (third person). • In English,
I (singular) and we (plural) are the
first-person pronouns; you (singular
and plural) is the second-person pronoun; and he, she, and it (singular)
and they (plural) are the third-person
pronouns. See also concord.
personal pronoun. See pronoun.
personification. Rhetoric. The representation of an object, esp. an
inanimate one, or an idea as having
a personality or human attributes. •
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552–1618) referred
to flowers as “you pretty daughters of the
earth and sun.”
The Pyramids, doting with age, have
forgotten the names of their founders.
(Thomas Fuller [1608–1661])
England expects every man to do
his duty. (Lord Horatio Nelson
— Also termed prosopopoeia.
phatic /fat-ik/, adj. Of or relating to
communication used for polite social
interaction rather than to elicit or
convey information; characterized by
small talk.
phatic exchange. A rudimentary,
superficial conversation made only
for general purposes of social interaction and not for literal meaning (e.g.,
Hey. How’s it going? Great. And you?
Fine, thanks. Nice weather. Yeah. Have
a great day.).
philologaster /fi-lol-ә-gas-tәr/, n. An
inept or blundering philologist.
philology /fi-lol-ә-jee/. 1. The study of
literature from many points of view,
including metaphor, criticism, grammar, etymology, and so on. 2. The study
of language apart from its literature.
3. The love of learning and literature.
phoneme /foh-neem/. The smallest unit
of sound in a language. • Phonemes
are represented in writing by single
letters for many consonants, such as p
in pot and rip. See allophone; consonant; morphophonemics.
phonemics /foh-nee-miks/. Linguistics. The study of a language’s sound
system, focusing on analyzing and
classifying the language’s phonemes.
phonetic, adj. Representing speech
phonetics. Linguistics. The study of the
properties of speech sounds, how they
are made by the human voice, how
they are combined with one another,
and the acoustic effect that they produce. — phonetician, n.
phonocentrism /foh-nә-sen-triz-әm/,
n. A bias in favor of speech over writ-
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 911
ing in linguistic analysis; the view that
the spoken language is paramount
over the written language. • This view
had its most prominent origins in the
work of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–
1913). — phonocentric, adj.
phonology /fә-nol-ә-jee/. Linguistics.
The study of the sound structure of
a language; specif., the study of the
sounds found in any one language or
group of related languages. — phonological, adj.
phonotactics, n. 1. The branch of
linguistics that studies the rules for
phoneme sequences in a language or
in languages generally. 2. The rules
phrasal /fray-zәl/, adj. Of, relating to,
or consisting of a phrase. • The word
dates from the mid-19th century. Cf.
phrasal adjective. See adjective.
phrasal preposition. See preposition.
phrasal verb. See verb.
phrase. A combination of words that
make sense but do not make a complete sentence; in modern linguistics,
a constituent consisting of a single
word (the “head”) plus all its modifiers. Cf. clause; word.
adjective phrase. 1. A prepositional
phrase that functions as an adjective, qualifying a noun <the ambassador from Brazil>. 2. A phrase with
an adjective as its head <My teddy
bear is afraid of the dark> (the adjective phrase being afraid of the dark).
3. Loosely, a phrasal adjective. See
phrasal adjective under adjective.
— Also termed adjectival phrase.
adverbial phrase. Two or more words
in a sentence jointly having the force
of an adverb <They do that work
every day> <By the way, he was not
found guilty>.
gerundive phrase. See gerund phrase.
gerund phrase. A noun phrase with
the gerund as its head. — Also
termed gerundive phrase.
infinitive phrase. A noun phrase
with an infinitive as its head. • An
infinitive phrase may be either (1) an
infinitive and its accompanying
complements or adverbs <to strike a
bargain> <to think deeply> or (2) a
sequence such as to be tapped, to be
tapping, to have been tapped, or to
have been tapping.
participial phrase. A phrase consisting of a participle and a modifier or
complement and functioning as an
adjective. • The phrase may appear
before or after the subject. In The
monarch butterflies migrating from
Mexico look fragile but are quite
hardy, the participial phrase migrating from Mexico modifies the subject,
monarch butterflies. Likewise, hiding
behind the curtains modifies the
subject burglar in Hiding behind the
curtains, the burglar planned his next
move. A participial phrase may also
be appositive: The lecture, delivered
as a favor to the president, drew an
enthusiastic audience.
prepositional phrase. A constituent
that consists of a preposition followed by a noun phrase.
verb phrase. A phrase composed of
the main verb plus the complement,
objects, and adverbs. • In I bought
her a new necklace, I is the subject
and the other words make up the
verb phrase.
phrasemonger. A person who seeks
to impress others by coining or using
grandiose phrases, usu. to excess.
pictogram. A character that represents an idea or object independently
of words, as with ancient cave paintings. — Also termed pictograph. Cf.
logogram; ideogram.
pictograph. See pictogram.
pidgin /pij-әn/, n. A language developed from elements of dissimilar languages (e.g., English and Tagalog) and
using a simplified grammatical form
so that people without a common
language may communicate. • The
vocabulary is usually limited. A pidgin
language may be local (in the sense that
it has elements of the local language),
but it is not a native language; it is a
product of contact between speakers
of different languages. (Cf. creole.)
The word pidgin is a corruption of
the Chinese word for “business.” One
of the first recorded pidgins was an
amalgam of English and Chinese
words arranged according to Chinese
syntax and used to conduct trade.
pied-piping, n. The habit or convention
of avoiding a terminal preposition by
putting it right before the relative or
interrogative pronoun that it relates to
(or, to illustrate the habit itself, the relative or interrogative pronoun to which
it relates). • The term was first used in
J.R. Ross’s 1967 Ph.D. dissertation at
MIT and since has appeared in many
other linguistic contexts. The allusion,
of course, is to the way charmed rats
follow the piper in the fairy tale.
pilcrow /pil-kroh/, n. A paragraph
marker (¶).
pitch, n. The high or low tone of a
spoken sound produced by the vibrational frequency of the vocal cords;
spoken stress. See intonation.
pivot-pun. A pun that implies one
meaning with the words preceding
it, another with the words following
it. • The term originated to denote a
device in classical Japanese poetry.
pivot word. 1. A word central to the
meaning or syntax of a sentence or
paragraph. 2. The word on which
a pivot-pun turns. See pivot-pun.
3. One of the core words that a child
acquires at an early stage of linguistic
placeholder. A word or phrase that is
required by syntax but that carries
little or no semantic information; esp.,
the impersonal pronoun in a sentence
in which the subject clause occurs
after the verb <Do you believe it?>.
place of articulation. The point in the
mouth where two organs form an
obstruction to form a speech sound.
plain English. Straightforward, simple, easy-to-understand English. •
Although few people would seriously wish someone a Jubilant Natal
Anniversary instead of Happy Birthday, many writers seem to fear that
they won’t appear intelligent unless
they routinely use complex language.
In their view, the bigger and more
obscure the words, the more convoluted the statement, the better the
impact. In fact, writers who express
their ideas in plain English tend to be
more highly regarded than those who
don’t. There are four reasons for this.
First, clear writing reflects clear thinking. And clear thinking means understanding what you intend to write
about. If you don’t have a clear idea,
your prose will be obscure; so will
its meaning. Second, plain English is
easy to read and understand quickly.
It makes the reader feel smart. Third,
plain English reflects a greater intellect because using it requires more
brainwork. Albert Einstein once said
that his goal in stating an idea was
to make it as simple as possible but
no simpler. He also said: “Most of
the fundamental ideas of science are
essentially simple, and may, as a rule,
be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone.” Yet few achieve
that type of expression. Fourth, using
plain English marks a writer as a professional whose subject is open to and
approachable by all readers, specialists or not. Complication and obscurity often reflect insecurity on the part
of the writer or speaker.
plain infinitive. See infinitive.
plain language. 1. A simple, direct style
of speech or writing. 2. The expertise
involved in preparing documents in
clear, accessible language that accurately embodies the intended sense.
pleonasm /plee-ә-naz-әm/. Rhetoric.
The use of more words than necessary to express an idea; a superfluity of words (e.g., continues even
today to remain obstinate for remains
912 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
obstinate). • Pleonasms may be used
for effect, but are frequently produced through ignorance. In would
you repeat that again, please?, again is
unnecessary. And since your ears are
permanently attached, ears pierced
while you wait! states the obvious.
— pleonastic, adj. Cf. tautology;
pleophony /plee-of-ә-nee/, n. Vowel
epenthesis in which the inserted
vowel sound is the same as that of the
preceding syllable (as when substantive is pronounced /sәb-stә-nә-tiv/,
with a superfluous schwa sound in
the penultimate syllable). See epenthesis. Cf. anaptyxis.
ploce /ploh-see/. Emphatic repetition
of a word, esp. with the sense of conveying some special connotation. Cf.
epizeuxis; symploce.
pluperfect tense /ploo-pәr-fikt/. See
past-perfect tense under tense.
plural, n. & adj. The inflectional form
of a word denoting more than one
person or thing. Cf. singular.
plurale tantum /pluu-ray-lee tan-tәm/,
n. A noun that in a particular sense
is invariably plural in form <clothes>
<riches> <scissors> <thanks>. Cf.
singulare tantum.
plurisyllable. A word with two or
more syllables. Cf. monosyllable;
pointing word. See word.
polygenesis /pol-ee-jen-ә-sis/, n. The
theory that there is more than one
independent source of languages. Cf.
polyglot /pol-ee-glot/. A person who
speaks and understands more than
one language.
polyphone /pahl-i-fohn/, n. A written
character that represents more than
one sound (as c in Celtic may be pronounced either as /s/ or as /k/).
polyptote /pahl-ip-toht/. (Of a noun
or pronoun) having many cases
polyptoton /pahl-ip-toh-tahn/. The
repetition of a word in a different
case or inflection. • This is a species
of paregmenon. English literature
provides many examples:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning
I will thwart. (1 Corinthians 1:19)
With eager feeding food doth choke the
feeder. (Shakespeare [1564–1616])
And dying rise, and rising with him
raise. (John Milton [1608–1674])
Love is an irresistible desire to be
irresistibly desired. (Robert Frost
A good ad should be like a good sermon:
it must not only comfort the afflicted; it
also must afflict the comfortable. (Bernice Fitz-Gibbon [1892–1982])
polysemous /pah-lee-seem-әs/ adj. (Of
a word) having more than one sense,
usu. many senses (e.g., bank can mean
“a financial institution,” “the earth
beside a river,” or “a billiard shot that
bounces off the edge of the table”).
polysemy /pә-lis-ә-mee/. A word’s
quality of having multiple similar
meanings. • For instance, a foot may
refer to the base or bottom of two different things <We’ll set up camp at
the foot of the mountain> <That shoe
is too tight for my foot>. — polysemous, adj. Cf. monosemy.
polysyllable. A word with many syllables, usu. more than three. Cf. monosyllable; plurisyllable.
polysyndeton /pol-ee-sin-dә-ton/.
Rhetoric. The repetitive use of conjunctions between elements in a sentence,
such as words, phrases, or clauses. •
This device can make a speaker or
writer sound breathless. Examples:
I said, “Who killed him?” and he said, “I
don’t know who killed him but he’s dead
all right,” and it was dark and there was
water standing in the street and no lights
and windows broke and boats all up in
the town and trees blown down and
everything all blown and I got a skiff and
went out and found my boat where I had
her inside Mango Bay and she was all
right only she was full of water. (Ernest
Hemingway [1899–1961])
Cf. asyndeton.
polysynthesis /pahl-ee-sin-thә-sis/,
n. The combination of several words
that often go together into one word
<insofar> <inasmuch>.
popularized technicality. A technical term that has come into widespread use outside the field where it
originated, usu. having acquired an
extended meaning. • When H.W.
Fowler (1858–1933) first coined this
term in his 1926 book A Dictionary of
Modern English Usage, the phrase acid
test was the leading example. In its
original scientific context, it referred
to using nitric acid to test for gold. It
was popularized by President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), who used
it figuratively to mean “a severe or
conclusive test” when he stated, “The
treatment accorded Russia by her
sister nations in the months to come
will be the acid test of their good will.”
Many specialized subjects have contributed popularized technicalities to
English, among them law <leading
question>, medicine <cancerous>,
logic <dilemma>, chess <gambit>,
physics <quantum leap>, and sailing
<under way>. Often purists object to
a popularized technicality when it is
new, but they tend to have little say in
its linguistic fate.
portmanteau word /port-man-toh/.
See blend.
positive, adj. & n. The ordinary condition of a gradable adjective or adverb;
the lowest degree of comparison. •
The positive degree does not express
a comparison to any other thing
<strong—not stronger (comparative)
or strongest (superlative)>. — Also
termed positive degree; absolute degree.
See adjective; adverb; degree. Cf.
comparative; superlative.
possessive /pә-zes-iv/, n. The case
used to show possession, ownership,
or close relationship. In English, most
nouns form the possessive by adding
-’s to the singular and irregular plural
forms, and an apostrophe alone to
regular plural forms.
second possessive. A personal pronoun commonly used in a nominal
position (mine, yours, his, hers, its,
ours, and theirs).
possessive adjective. See adjective.
possessive case. See case.
possessive pronoun. See pronoun.
postclitic /pohst-klit-ik/, n. An unemphatic word that is accented as if it
were part of the preceding word (as
one in good one or it in Post-it note).
Cf. proclitic.
postmodification. The placement of
a modifier after the word it modifies
(such as a man with blue eyes instead
of a blue-eyed man).
postmodifier, n. A word that qualifies or limits the sense of a preceding
word; a postpositive qualifier. — postmodification, n. See postpositive.
postpositive, n. A modifying particle
or word that is placed after the word
it modifies. • In he was the man chosen for the job, chosen is a postpositive because it modifies man, clarifies
which man is referred to, and comes
after the word modified. — Also
termed postmodifier. See adjective.
Cf. prepositive.
postverbal, adj. Following the verb. —
postverbal, n.
pragmatics /prag-mat-iks/. Linguistics.
The study of how language is used in
the context of certain communications, such as the beliefs of the speaker
and his relationship to the audience.
precatory /prek-ә-tor-ee/, adj. Expressing a desire that something be done,
but in a nonmandatory way <precatory words in a will>.
precisian /pri-sizh-әn/. A person who
rigidly and precisely observes established rules, forms, or standards. —
Also termed precisionist.
predicate. A syntactic unit consisting of a finite verb and all the words
modifying it or governed by it, such as
are ready to go in the sentence We are
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 913
ready to go. — Also termed complete
compound predicate. A predicate
consisting of two or more verbs connected by and.
simple predicate. The verb or verb
phrase in a sentence without its
objects, modifiers, etc.
predicate adjective. See adjective.
predicate nominative. A predicate
noun in the nominative case, such as
he <This is he> and I <It was I who
called their attention to that fact>. —
Also termed predicate noun.
predicative, adj. Of or relating to a
noun or adjective that follows a linking verb to form a predicate, or is
contained within a predicate. • In
the sentence His mentor called him a
failure, yet he became a well-respected
businessman, the noun phrase a failure is the predicative object of the
linking verb called, and the noun
phrase a well-respected businessman
is the predicative complement of the
linking verb became.
predicative adjective. See predicate
adjective under adjective.
prefix. An affix attached to the beginning of a word to modify its meaning. • Prefixes serve many functions.
Some, such as im-, in-, and un-,
change a word’s meaning to its direct
opposition <possible–impossible>
<comfortable–uncomfortable>. See
affix. Cf. suffix; infix.
prelinguistics. The study of biological and physiological aspects
of speech. Cf. microlinguistics;
premodifier. See prepositive.
preoccupation. See prolepsis (2).
preposition. An uninflected word or
a phrase that indicates relationships
of location, direction, means, agency,
etc. between a noun and other words
in the sentence. • The preposition’s
object is usually a noun or pronoun,
which is always in the objective
case (e.g., in that sounds good to me,
the pronoun me is the object of the
preposition to, so it is in the objective case). Although the preposition
usually appears immediately before
its object, it can also follow it (e.g., we
have a serious problem to talk about).
Prepositions frequently serve as particles in phrasal verbs. See particle &
object of a preposition under object.
complex preposition. See phrasal
compound preposition. A singleword preposition formed from
two or more words <outside>
deferred preposition. See terminal
participial preposition. A participial
form that functions as a preposition
<barring injury, he should win the
phrasal preposition. Two or more
separate words that function as a
preposition <in front of> <next to>.
— Also termed complex preposition.
terminal preposition. A preposition
that appears at the end of a clause
because its object has been moved
elsewhere in the sentence. — Also
termed deferred preposition.
prepositional complement. See
prepositional phrase. See phrase.
prepositive, n. A modifying particle or
word that is placed before the word
it modifies. • In the gray squirrel stole
the bread, gray is a prepositive because
it comes before squirrel, the word it
modifies. — Also termed premodifier.
See adjective. Cf. postpositive.
prescriptive grammar. 1. The field
of grammar concerned with guiding users to make the most effective
use of language through common
rules. • Prescriptive grammarians are
concerned with preventing heedless
departures from Standard English.
2. A book that lays out such grammar.
— Also termed normative grammar.
See grammar; standard english.
Cf. descriptive grammar.
prescriptive linguistics. See linguistics.
prescriptivism /pree-skrip-ti-viz-әm/.
An approach to language study that
embraces the role of value judgments
in deciding what is linguistically effective or ineffective, better or worse,
and therefore guides people toward
mastering a standard language. Cf.
present participle. See participle.
present-perfect tense. See tense.
present tense. See tense.
preterition. See paraleipsis.
preterit tense. See past tense under
preverbal, adj. 1. (Of a word or phrase)
preceding the verb. Cf. postverbal.
— preverbal, n. 2. Preceding the
development of speech in an individual or in humankind. 3. Preceding
the moment when a statement is formulated in the mind.
primary verb. See verb.
principal clause. See independent
clause under clause.
principal parts of a verb. The uninflected form of a verb, its past tense,
and its past participle. • A verb’s complete conjugation can be given if these
principal parts are known.
principal verb. See main verb under
Priscian. See break priscian’s head.
privative /pri-vә-tiv/, adj. Showing that
something has been lost, negated, or
removed; esp. (of a particle or affix),
expressing negation or privation. •
The prefix a-, from Greek, is called
the alpha privative; it is used in such
words as amoral and apolitical. An -nis inserted in the alpha privative for
euphony when a vowel sound follows
(as in anaerobic).
procatalepsis /proh-kat-ә-lep-sis/. See
prolepsis (2).
prochronism. See prolepsis (1).
proclisis /proh-kli-sis/, n. The pronunciation of a word or phrase in
such a way that an unaccented syllable is combined with an accented
word coming after it (as when to
day evolved into the one-word form:
today). Cf. enclisis.
proclitic, adj. (Of an unaccented word)
leaning forward; esp., dependent in
pronunciation on a word that follows.
• Among the most prominent examples in English are the articles a and
the and monosyllabic prepositions. —
proclitic, n. See clitic. Cf. enclitic.
proclitic /proh-klit-ik/, n. A onesyllable word so closely associated in
pronunciation with the word that follows as to have no accent of its own
(e.g., an in an inch, for in for research
purposes, the in the nation, or to in to
compose). Cf. postclitic.
pro-form. A word that substitutes for
another, as a pronoun stands in for its
noun antecedent. See pro-verb under
progressive aspect, n. See aspect.
prolative /proh-layt-iv/, adj. Serving to
extend or complete predication.
prolepsis /proh/lep-sәs/. Rhetoric.
1. A figure of speech that expresses
something yet to occur as if it has
already occurred, as by using a past
participle to modify a noun before the
action has been done; an anticipatory
reference. • Through prolepsis, the
speaker may represent something as
existing before it actually comes into
existence <precolonial United States>,
anticipate the circumstance or act that
makes a description applicable <the
dry lake they drained>, or link a present condition to a consequence <If
you don’t turn that music down, I’m
calling the police>. — Also termed
prochronism. 2. Rhetorical anticipation, as by answering a potential
objection before it has been raised, or
anticipating and answering a counterargument before it is made; the
refutation of possible objections to an
argument <“Aha!” you say, “that can’t
be right!” Here’s the proof.>. In sense
2, cf. hypophora. — Also termed (in
914 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
sense 2) procatalepsis; preoccupation.
— proleptic, adj.
promotion. In transformational grammar, the translation of words from
an embedded clause into a main
pronominal, adj. Of, relating to, or
being a pronoun.
pronominal adjective. See adjective;
adjective pronoun under pronoun.
pronoun. A word used as a substitute
for a noun or, sometimes, another
pronoun. • The definition is not
entirely satisfactory, since it does not
easily apply to undoubted pronouns
such as I, you, and the relative who.
But it is traditional. See demonstrative. Cf. antecedent.
adjective pronoun. A pronoun that
functions as a noun modifier. Other
than who, none, and personal pronouns, all pronouns may serve as
adjectives <what book> <those
apples>. — Also termed pronominal
compound indefinite pronoun. An
indefinite pronoun that includes
an element such as -body (anybody,
everybody, nobody, somebody), -thing
(anything, everything, something), or
one/-one (anyone, everyone, no one,
someone) <Nobody said a word>
<The blast was heard by everyone
compound personal pronoun. A personal pronoun form with the suffix
-self (singular) or -selves (plural)
(e.g., myself, ourselves, itself ).
compound relative pronoun. A
relative pronoun formed with who,
whom, which, or what plus the suffix -ever <Whoever committed the
crime will be found out> <I will give
the award to whomever I please>.
deictic pronoun. See demonstrative
demonstrative pronoun. A pronoun
that points to, instead of defining
or describing, the object to which it
relates <this> <that> <you>. • The
demonstrative pronouns are this,
that (singular) and these, those (plural). Also termed deictic pronoun.
distributive pronoun. An indefinite
pronoun that separates the objects
referred to from others referred to
nearby. • The distributive pronouns
are each, either, and neither.
indefinite pronoun. A pronoun that
generally or indefinitely represents an
object already identified or not needing specific identification. • Indefinite
pronouns include another, any, both,
each, either, neither, none, one, other,
some, and such <From all the options
you can select only one> <Play
another from your repertoire>.
intensive pronoun. A pronoun with
the suffix -self (singular) or -selves
(plural), used in apposition to its referent, that adds emphasis <I myself
made the cake from scratch> <You
must take the blame yourselves>.
interrogative pronoun. A pronoun
that introduces or asks a question; a
pronoun used to elicit the identity of
an unknown noun or noun phrase. •
The interrogative pronouns are who
(nominative; objective whom and
possessive whose), what, and which
<Who did the talking?> <To whom
am I speaking?> <Which is the right
personal pronoun. A pronoun that
refers to a particular person or thing
and changes form to indicate person,
number, gender, and case. • This
chart lists the personal pronouns
and the forms they take in different
Subjective: I, you, he, she, it
Objective: me, you, him, her, it
Possessive: my, mine, your, yours,
his, her, hers, its
Subjective: we, you, they
Objective: us, you, them
Possessive: our, ours, your, yours,
their, theirs
possessive pronoun. A type of pronoun used esp. as a limiting adjective
to qualify a noun and denote possession. • The possessive pronouns
include mine, ours, yours, his, hers,
its, and theirs. See also absolute
reciprocal pronoun. A singular pronoun that refers to a plural subject
<The buildings are close to each
other> <The family members are
all fond of one another>. • The only
reciprocal pronouns in English are
each other and one another.
reflexive pronoun. A pronoun formed
with the suffix -self (singular) or
-selves (plural) and used to reflect
the action of the verb and refer to
the subject <She drove herself to
work> <They created trouble for
relative pronoun. A pronoun that can
link dependent and independent
clauses <I will develop whichever
idea is the most popular> or join
a clause with its antecedent <The
boy who delivered our newspaper
has moved away>. • The relative
pronouns are who, whom, that, and
which. The compounds whoever,
whomever, and whichever are also
relative pronouns. Who and whoever
refer to the subject of a clause or sentence; whom and whomever refer to
the objects of a verb, a verbal, or a
universal pronoun. A pronoun that
represents all-inclusive noun phrases
(such as each, all, and compounds
consisting of every plus one, body,
or thing. • Grammatically, universal pronouns (apart from all) are
singular, even though the meaning
is plural.
pronunciation /prә-nәn-see-ay-shәn/.
The manner or act of articulating
proper adjective. See adjective.
proper diphthong. See diphthong.
proper name. See proper noun under
proper noun. See noun.
prop word. See expletive.
prose /prohz/. Spoken or written language without metrical structure,
rhythm, or other characteristics of
poetry; language in its ordinary form.
prosiopesis /proh-si-ә-pee-sis/, n. An
ellipsis at the beginning of a grammatical structure <Thank you> (the
subject I being habitually omitted
through ellipsis). • Prosiopesis is
especially common in the informal
writing found in e-mail, journal
entries, and the like <Went to a movie.
Liked it. Thought that Meg Ryan was
prosody /pros-ә-dee/. 1. The intonations and rhythms of spoken language.
2. The study of those intonations and
rhythms. 3. The study of poetic meters
and their use. — prosodic, adj.
prosopopoeia /prә-soh-pә-pee-ә/. See
prosthesis. See prothesis.
protasis /prah-tә-sis/. In a conditional
sentence, the clause that lays down the
condition. • It typically begins with
the word if or unless, but it may also
be introduced by although, though,
or despite. — Also termed conditional
clause; condition. Cf. apodosis.
prothesis /prahth-ә-sәs/. The addition of an extra sound or syllable at
the beginning of a word <splatter →
besplatter>. • By this process, an ewt
became a newt. — Also termed prosthesis. — prothetic /proh-thet-ik/,
adj. Cf. metanalysis.
pro-verb. See verb.
provincialism. A regional word,
phrase, pronunciation, or usage that
differs from the standard language.
See dialect.
psellism /sel-iz-әm/, n. Defective pronunciation, esp. as a result of lisping,
stuttering, or stammering.
psittacism /sit-ә-siz-әm/. The thoughtless, parrot-like repetition of other
people’s ideas and words without
any personal understanding of or
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 915
appreciation for what one is saying;
psychobabble. 1. Language loaded
with terms from psychology and
psychotherapy, esp. those improperly
used by laypeople. 2. Meaningless
psychological jargon, esp. terms from
popular rather than mainstream psychology. • In either sense, this term
is highly pejorative. It emerged in the
popular culture when it appeared in
the title of R.D. Rosen’s 1977 book,
Psychobabble: Fast Talk and Quick
Cure in the Era of Feeling.
psycholinguistics. See linguistics.
pun. See paronomasia.
punctual aspect. See momentaneous
aspect under aspect.
punctuation. 1. The system of marking
sentences to help readers understand
their structure and the relationship
between their parts. 2. The marks
used in that system.
pure infinitive. See infinitive.
purism. 1. The view that linguistic
changes should be halted or undone;
the attitude that change should not
occur in a language. • In its classic
form, purism, among other things,
promotes strict adherence to the
rules of grammar and speech and bars
neologisms and borrowed foreign
words from the language. In practice,
self-described “purists” are often ill
informed about what actually constitutes good usage. 2. The view that a
language should be made up only of
homegrown words, not words borrowed from other languages. — purist, n. — puristic, adj.
purple prose. A highly ornate, brilliantly colored passage in a literary
composition. • The phrase derives
from the Latin phrase purpureus pannus, which appears in the Ars Poetica
of Horace (65–8 b.c.).
qualifier. A word that modifies or
intensifies an adjective or adverb
<rather> <very>. See modifier (1).
qualititative adjective. See adjective.
quantitative adjective. See adjective.
question. An interrogative sentence or
clause; a sentence that seeks to elicit
indirect question. A noun clause
that reports a question or asks it
indirectly <She asked me where the
convenience store is>; esp., a dependent clause or a sentence containing
a dependent clause that expresses an
implied question. • In the sentence
Tell me who you are, the question
is implied by who you are. If asked
directly, the sentence would be Tell
me, who are you?
quotation. One or more words taken
from another person’s writing or
speech and repeated verbatim (e.g., a
quotation from Shakespeare).
recipient noun. See noun.
reciprocal, adj. Indicating that an
action, process, or relationship is
mutual (e.g., Paul and Diane have
a reciprocal relationship: Paul likes
Diane and Diane likes Paul).
reciprocal pronoun. See pronoun.
reduced relative clause. See clause.
redundancy /ri-dәn-dәn-see/. 1. The
use of more words than necessary
to impart an idea; the inclusion of
superfluous words in an expression. 2. A word or phrase that adds
nothing to the meaning of a passage
because its sense has already been
expressed (as in cash money or entirely
reduplication. The formation of a
double-barreled word or phrase by
having the second part repeat some
of the first part, as in flim-flam, helterskelter, namby-pamby, okey-dokey,
shilly-shally, and willy-nilly.
referent. A person or thing referred to;
specif., the physical entity or abstract
concept represented by a spoken or
written symbol. • Exactly what a referent denotes depends on the context
in which it appears. For instance, sun
may refer to the gaseous celestial body
that provides heat and light to our
planet <orbiting the sun> or just to
the heat and light <playing outdoors
in the sun>.
reflexive, adj. Indicating that a verb’s
action reflects back on the subject or
reflexive, n. 1. A part of speech used
for emphasis by repetition. • A reflexive often immediately follows the
subject, but it may also follow the
verb <I myself believe she lied> <She
completed the survey herself>. 2. Any
construction in which two words or
noun phrases are understood to have
the same referent. See intensifier;
reflexive pronoun. See pronoun.
regimen /rej-i-mәn/, n. One word’s
governing another; the relation that
one word in a sentence has to another
one that depends on it.
register, n. 1. A type of language, esp. in
a range of formal–informal, appropriate to a certain social setting. 2. Phonetics. The range of tones made by a
regular, adj. Conforming to a grammatical norm or standard.
regular verb. See verb.
relative adjective. See adjective.
relative adverb. See conjunctive adverb
under adverb.
relative clause. See clause.
relative pronoun. See pronoun.
remote relative. A relative pronoun that
is separated from the noun to which it
refers by several intervening words. • A
remote relative is typically ambiguous
<the doctrine that nations are sovereign entities not to be interfered with
by outside forces, which . . . > (where
which might refer to doctrine, nations,
entities, or forces—but probably either
doctrine or forces). Remote relatives are
often the source of readers’ miscues.
remplissage /rahn-pli-sahzh/, n. Literary padding; the act or practice of
filling out paragraphs and even pages
with matter of little value.
reported speech. A person’s indirectly
quoted words, as in Sharon told us we
had to arrive before 6 pm, meaning
that Sharon said, “You must arrive
before 6 pm.” — Also termed indirect
speech; oratio obliqua. See indirect discourse under discourse.
restrictive, adj. (Of the modifier of a
noun or phrase) adding information
that more positively identifies the referent. • For example, in The tents that
are on aisle 3 are on sale, the clause
that are on aisle 3 is restrictive because
it identifies which tents are on sale—
tents on other aisles may not be. Similarly, in The senator–songwriter Orrin
Hatch will perform, the name Orrin
Hatch specifically identifies which
senator–songwriter is being referred
to, so it is a restrictive appositive.
Restrictive modifiers are never set off
from the rest of the sentence by commas. Cf. nonrestrictive.
restrictive relative clause. See clause.
retained object. See object.
retronym. A word or phrase invented
to denote what was originally a genus
term but has now become just one
more species in a larger genus (e.g.,
solid-core door came to describe what
all old doors used to be until the
advent of the hollow-core door).
rhematic /ree-mat-ik/, adj. 1. (Of word
formation) derived from or based on
a verb (as the noun preparation is
derived from the verb prepare, or the
adjective attributive is derived from
the verb attribute). 2. Of or relating to
word formation.
rhetor /ri-tor/, n. 1. A teacher or professor of rhetoric. 2. A professional
rhetoric. 1. The art of speaking suitably
on any subject. 2. The art or practice
of using sentence construction, figures of speech, etc. for elegant or persuasive effect. 3. High-flown language
intended to stir listeners or readers. —
rhetorical, adj.
rhetorical question. Rhetoric. A question that is asked for effect only, and
not for an answer; a question that
916 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
is intended to remain unanswered
because the answer is self-evident.
• Usually the speaker is making a
point and doesn’t want a response, or
the answer is obvious and can be left
unsaid. The use of an unbroken series
of rhetorical questions is called eperotesis or erotesis.
rhotacism /roh-tә-siz-әm/. 1. The
overuse of the letter r in speaking or
writing; a disruption in pronouncing
r, as in idea /idear/ and wash /wahrsh/.
2. The mispronunciation of r; esp., the
erroneous replacement of an r-sound
with the sound of some other letter.
Cf. lambdacism. 3. The principle in
Indo-European languages by which s
is often systematically changed to r. —
rhotacize, vb.
right-branching sentence. A complicated sentence that has most of
its complexity—the conditions,
exceptions, etc.—after the principal
verb; one that has a majority of its
constituents on the right side of the
tree diagram. Cf. left-branching
root. The most basic part of a word,
from which another word or words
can be formed or derived; the form of
a word to which affixes are attached. •
The root or inflectional stem of a word
constitutes the most meaningful part
of an English word. — Also termed
base; theme. See etymon; synthetic
run-on sentence. A sentence in which
two or more main clauses are used
together without punctuation or a
conjunction between them. • For
example, Cyndi spoke highly of her new
assistant she hired him last week. The
run-on can be corrected by making
two sentences <Cyndi spoke highly of
her new assistant. She hired him last
week> or by recasting and inserting
an appropriate conjunction <Cyndi
spoke highly of the new assistant that
she hired last week>.
sandhi /san-dee/, n. [Sanskrit “a placing together”] The change of the
sound of a morpheme in a specific
context (e.g., the in the woman vs. the
elderly woman).
sans serif. A style of typeface in which
the letters do not have any projections. Sans serif type is considered
more legible than serif type in headlines and short passages, but not in
extended text. — Also spelled sanserif.
Cf. serif.
Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. The doctrine that the structure of one’s native
tongue partly determines how one
experiences reality and understands
the world. • The hypothesis was first
posited by Edward Sapir (1884–1939)
in 1929 and was elaborated by his
student Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897–
1941) in books and articles. The
names were coupled as Sapir–Whorf
in learned journals beginning in the
sarcasm. Sharp, ironic, or humorous
language intended to mock a person,
thing, or situation by using words
to show that the speaker intends the
opposite meaning. • Sarcasm is more
easily expressed in speech than in
writing. In speech, vocal intonations
help to convey the speaker’s real meaning when making a statement such as,
“Well, isn’t that special?” when something isn’t. Sarcasm is more difficult
to express in writing because there
are few visual and no aural cues to the
speaker’s meaning. In informal writing, people sometimes use emphatic
fonts or capitalization, emoticons,
or special characters to convey sarcasm. But since some of these devices
are used for other purposes, such as
expressing sincerity or excitement,
misinterpretations are common. Cf.
hyperbole; irony; litotes.
scansion /skan-shәn/. The art or act of
dividing verse into metrical feet.
scesis onomaton. See synonymia.
schriftsprache /shrift-sprahk-ә/. The
written form of a standard language;
literary language.
schwa. A neutral vowel sound, spelled
with various letters, such as the a in
alone and the e in system. • In pronunciation systems, it is symbolized
by an inverted, backward e: ә.
second person. See person.
second possessive. See possessive.
semantic, adj. Of or relating to the
meaning of words.
semantics. The study of the ways in
which languages (or a particular language) systematically structure meaning, esp. in words and in sentences;
specif., the branch of linguistics
dealing with the meaning of words,
phrases, and clauses, together with
the origins of and shifts of meaning.
— Also termed semasiology. See linguistics. Cf. general semantics.
semasiology /sә-may-zee-ahl-ә-jee/, n.
See semantics.
sememe. The meaning of a morpheme; the smallest possible unit of
semivowel. A sound that functions as
a consonant but has the resonance of
a vowel. • The most common are w
<water> and y <yellow>. Cf. consonant; vowel.
sentence. A minimum complete
utterance; a grammatical and rhetorical device for expressing relationships among the elements of an idea
segment, which the writer or speaker
wants to separate and present as a
unit, and that the reader or listener
can accept as capable of standing
alone. • The old idea that a sentence
is “a group of words expressing a
complete thought” has been widely
discredited—even though it contains
a good deal of truth. But it is true that
many single words can be sentences,
as C.T. Onions (1873–1965) observed:
“Many single words or self-contained
groups of words, of any size, may
perform the work of a sentence; e.g.,
Speaking; Thanks; Down!; Sh!; Out
with it!; Farewell; Goodbye; What?;
Murder!; Nonsense!; Splendid! Yes
and no are long-established sentencewords; they are equivalent to sentences; e.g. Will you come?—Yes. I will
come.”1 The grammarian James Sledd
(1914–2003) wrote aptly that “no useful definition can be framed to include
all and only the things [that] are often
called sentences.”2
cleft sentence. In transformational
grammar, a two-clause sentence
made from a single clause in order
to emphasize a specific element of
the clause, so that the resulting sentence begins with it is or another
be-verb <It is peanuts that we want>
(resulting from the clauses We want
peanuts and It is . . .). — Also termed
cleft construction.
complex sentence. A sentence that
has an independent clause and one
or more dependent clauses joined by
a subordinating conjunction <I don’t
know whether it will rain today>.
compound–complex sentence. A sentence that consists of at least two
independent clauses and at least one
dependent clause <Either the cat
goes or I go, whether you like it or
not> <I don’t know if he’ll be allowed
to watch the football game, but he
hasn’t finished those chores that he
was assigned>.
compound sentence. A sentence that
has at least two coordinate independent clauses linked by a coordinating
conjunction <I told him to go away,
so he left> <The cat goes or I go>.
See coordinating conjunction under
conditional sentence. A sentence
that states a condition and the consequence or outcome of that condition’s occurring. • Example: If we
lose this game, we’ll be excluded from
the tournament. The condition does
C.T. Onions, Modern English Syntax 1 (rev.
B.D.H. Miller 1971).
James Sledd, A Short Introduction to English
Grammar 246 (1959).
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 917
not have to be stated before the consequence: <We’ll be late unless we
take a shortcut>.
declarative sentence. A sentence that
makes a statement or assertion <The
day was long> <It’s wise not to fret
about what cannot be changed>. —
Often shortened to declarative.
exclamatory sentence. A sentence that
expresses surprise or other strong
emotion. — Also termed exclamative sentence; exclamative.
imperative sentence. A sentence that
constitutes a command, order, or
firm request <Get your gear and
leave> <March down to the bank and
tell the manager what you think!>.
— Often shortened to imperative.
interrogative sentence. A sentence
that asks a question <Why did you
agree on that price?>. — Often
shortened to interrogative.
simple sentence. A sentence consisting of only one independent clause
and no dependent clauses <I called
her> <I saw him only yesterday>.
sentence adverb. See adverb.
separative coordinating conjunction.
See disjunctive conjunction under
sequence of tenses. The fixed pattern
by which the tense of one verbal or the
form of one verb phrase demands that
another verbal or verb phrase be of a
particular tense or form <When she
arrived, I left> (the past-tense arrived
demanding the past-tense left) <As
I peruse books, I mark them> (the
present-tense peruse demanding the
present-tense mark).
serif, n. A style of typeface in which the
letters have slight finishing strokes,
such as “feet.” The serifs enhance the
readability of significant blocks of
text. — serif, serifed, adj. Cf. sans
sesquipedality /ses-kwi-pi-dal-i-tee/,
n. The use of long, arcane words. —
sesquipedalian, adj.
set phrase. A group of words in an
arrangement fixed by long-standing
usage. • Proverbs, catchphrases, and
idioms are types of set phrases. —
Also termed set expression. See cliché; idiom.
sibilant. A hissing or hushing sound,
as in /s/, /z/, or /sh/. — sibilance, n.
simile. Rhetoric. An explicit comparison of two usu. quite different things,
signaled by the use of a word such as
like or as <like a gentle breeze> <as
brave as a lion>. • Examples:
Tall men, like tall houses, are usually ill
furnished in the upper story. (Sir Francis
Bacon [1561–1626])
The man who has not any thing to boast
of but his illustrious ancestors is like a
potato—the only good belonging to him
is under ground. (Sir Thomas Overbury
She was like an apple pudding tied
in the middle. (James Kirk Paulding
See figure of speech. Cf. metaphor.
simple. 1. Made up of a single grammatical element. 2. Having no modifiers, complements, or other elements.
simple adverb. See adverb.
simple conjunction. See conjunction.
simple infinitive. See infinitive.
simple predicate. See predicate.
simple sentence. See sentence.
simple subject. See subject.
simple tense. See tense.
simplex. See kernel sentence.
singular, n. The form of a word that
denotes or refers to one person or
thing. See concord. Cf. plural.
singulare tantum /sing-gyoo-lair-ee
tan-tәm/, n. A noun that is invariably
singular in form. • This term usually
applies to mass nouns. Cf. plurale
slang. Nonstandard language that has
any two of these four characteristics:
(1) it is informal, significantly lower
in status than Standard English;
(2) it first arises in the language of
the street or popular culture; (3) it is
more or less unacceptable in formal
or polite settings; and (4) it displaces
a conventional term with one that is
vivid and may even be taboo. • Slang
changes very quickly in English and is
often used within groups, particularly
small or close ones, to help keep the
group together and strengthen ties. —
slangy, adj. See dialect; idiolect.
sociolinguistics. See linguistics.
solecism /sol-ә-siz-әm or soh-lәsiz-әm/. An ungrammatical combination of words, noncompliance
with the rules of syntax, or a deviation from standard usage. • The word
solecism derives from the name of the
ancient Greek colony of Soloi, in what
is now called Cyprus. The original settlers spoke Attic Greek, but because
the colony was far from Greece and
infrequently visited, the language
gradually drifted and became a local
dialect. Greek travelers who stopped
in Soloi considered the dialect a corrupt and substandard form of Greek.
They coined the word soloikismos to
describe it. The word was adopted
into Latin as solœcismus, then passed
into French as solécisme, and finally
appeared in the English form, solecism, in the 16th century.
sonant. See voiced.
specialization. The narrowing of a
word’s meaning over time. • For example, meat derives from Old English
mete, meaning “food” (still reflected in
the term nutmeat), but through specialization it came to refer to the flesh
of animals as food. — Also termed
narrowing. Cf. generalization.
speech community. A defined group,
esp. regionally or socially, identified
by a shared spoken language or dialect. • A community can be as small
as a few people to as large as a whole
nation or supranational group, such
as a Welsh-speaking community in
spelling pronunciation. The pronunciation of a word according to its
spelling, such as says with a long-a
sound, or often as /awf-tәn/. See
split infinitive. See infinitive.
Spoonerism. A phrase in which the
initial consonants of two words are
swapped, usu. by accident, to create an
amusing expression. • Spoonerisms are
named for the Reverend W.A. Spooner
(1844–1930), a don of New College,
Oxford. He is reputed to have inadvertently uttered statements such as “The
Lord is a shoving leopard,” and “It is
kisstomary to cuss the bride.” But one
can make Spoonerisms deliberately as a
device to belittle or amuse. For instance,
W.H. Auden (1907–1973), who had a
low opinion of the poets Shelley and
Keats, purposefully referred to them
as “Kelly and Sheets.” And Shel Silverstein (1930–1999) wrote an entire
book of poetry, Runny Babbit: A Billy
Sook (2005 [published posthumously]),
filled with Spoonerisms.
sprachbund /sprahk-buunt/. 1. A
linguistic community made up of
speakers of mutually intelligible dialects and linguistic families having a
common set of linguistic features as
the result of geographic proximity.
2. The linguistic evolution that results
in this type of community.
sprachgefühl /sprahk-gә-fyuul/.
1. Language-feeling; an intuitive grasp
of the genius and idiom of a given language. 2. The character of a language.
stammbaum /shtam-bowm/. A family tree of languages, such as IndoEuropean languages.
standard, adj. (Of usage) speaking
and writing that is widely taught and
learned as the correct form.
Standard English. The substantially
uniform type of English spoken and
written by educated people. • It lacks
regional and other variations that are
considered ungrammatical or nonstandard. It is widely used in the media
and by authority figures, and it is sometimes called “the prestige dialect.” Cf.
argot; dialect; jargon; nonstandard english; patois; slang.
918 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
statement. A sentence that expresses
an assertion (as opposed to an exclamation, a question, or a command); a
sentence to which the most common
response is continuing attention.
stem. 1. The part of a word that remains
unchanged when it is inflected. 2. A
word that contains a root and one
or more derivational suffixes but no
inflectional suffixes <annoyance>
<artist> <artistic>.
stigmeology /stig-mee-ahl-ә-jee/, n.
The art of punctuation.
stop. 1. A punctuation mark. 2. A consonant sound made with complete
obstruction of the breath stream.
stress. See accent (2).
strong verb. See verb.
structural ambiguity. See ambiguity.
structural linguistics. See linguistics.
stylistics. Linguistics. The study of
linguistic variation, often with special attention to the most conscious
and complex uses of language in
subclause. See dependent clause under
subject. The noun or noun phrase
about which something is said in the
predicate of a simple sentence; esp.,
the doer of the sentence’s action or
the person or thing that is in the state
expressed by the predicate.
complete subject. The simple subject
together with all its modifiers.
compound subject. A subject that
consists of two or more nouns
or noun phrases connected by a
simple subject. The particular noun
or noun phrase about which something is said in the predicate.
subject complement. See complement.
subjective. See nominative.
subjective case. See nominative case
under case.
subject noun clause. See noun clause.
subject–verb agreement. The requirement that the subject and the verb of
a clause must match in person and
subjunct. In some grammatical systems, an adverb that affects the force of
a verb, an adjective, or another adverb,
usu. either by softening the statement
<fairly> <rather> <relatively> or by
strengthening it <extremely> <very>
<so>. Cf. adjunct; conjunct;
subjunctive /sәb-jәn[g]k-tiv/, adj. (Of
a verb) expressing a condition that is
uncertain or contrary to fact (e.g., if I
were you), including doubt, wishfulness, possibility, demand, and the like
(e.g., the crowd demanded that she be
heard ).
subjunctive mood. See mood.
subordinate, adj. Having an order or
rank inferior to something else; lesser
in degree or importance <a subordinate clause>. Cf. coordinate.
subordinate clause. See dependent
clause under clause.
subordinating conjunction. See
subordination. The joining of words or
word groups with dependent rank to
other elements of the sentence.
subordinator. See subordinating conjunction under conjunction.
subsequent. The word to which an
interrogative relative pronoun refers
when it follows the pronoun. • For
example, in <Whose car is that? The
mayor’s.>, the pronoun Whose refers
to The mayor’s.
substantive /sәb-stәn-tiv/, n. A word,
phrase, or clause that functions as
a noun. • Included in the term are
nouns <Mammals are a class of vertebrates>, noun-equivalents <To err is
human>, and pronouns. — substantival /sәb-stәn-ti-vәl/, adj.
substitution. A sound change produced by replacing a vowel or consonant with another.
suffix. A particle attached to the end
of a word to modify its meaning or
change it into a different word class. •
Some suffixes are widely used, such as
-ly, which changes an adjective to an
adverb <quick–quickly>. But others
are rarely seen. For instance, to make
child plural, the suffix -ren is needed.
See affix. Cf. infix; prefix.
suffixoid /sәf-ik-soyd/, n. A suffix-like
ending that is not truly a suffix at all
(such as the -er in badger, hammer,
and shyster).
superlative, adj. & n. The form of an
adjective or adverb used to compare
at least three things and show that one
has a quality above or below the others. • For example, best is the superlative of good; most refreshingly is the
superlative of refreshingly. — Also
termed superlative degree. See adjective; adverb; degree. Cf. comparative; positive.
double superlative. A nonstandard
construction such as most best or
most highest. Cf. double comparative
under comparative.
periphrastic superlative. A superlative adjective or adverb that changes
degree by taking most or least, esp.
when a one-word form ending in -est
is available.
superlative degree. See superlative.
superordinate clause. See independent
clause under clause.
surd /sәrd/, n. An unvoiced consonant,
such as f, k, p, s, or t. See unvoiced.
surface structure. In transformational
grammar, the set of semantic and syntactic relationships among the parts of
a sentence as actually written or spoken. Cf. deep structure.
suspensive hyphen. A hyphen used to
connect a series of compound modifiers with the same base term <a five- to
seven-year term>.
svarabhakti vowel /swahr-ә-bahk-tee/,
n. [Sanskrit “vowel separation”] A
vowel sound inserted through epenthesis. — Often shortened to svarabhakti. — Also termed parasitic vowel.
See epenthesis; anaptyxis.
syllabication. The act or method
of forming syllables or dividing
words into syllables. — Also termed
syllable. A phonological unit consisting of one or more sounds, including
a vowel sound.
closed syllable. A syllable that ends
with a consonant, as both syllables
do in hip-hop.
open syllable. A syllable that ends
with a vowel (such as both syllables
in oboe).
syllepsis /si-lep-sis/. 1. Grammar. The
use of a word to modify or syntactically govern two or more other words
when it agrees with only one of them
in number, voice, gender, and so on.
2. zeugma.
syllogism. A logical argument composed of usu. three propositions from
which one (the conclusion) is inferred
from the others (the major and minor
premises). • Each of the premises has
a term in common with the conclusion. The major premise is stated
first and contains the major term or
predicate of the conclusion (usually
the principle involved). The minor
premise contains the minor term or
subject of the conclusion (usually the
fact involved). The major premise is
general, and the minor is particular.
Here are two classic syllogisms:
Major premise
Minor premise
Major premise
Minor premise
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates is mortal.
All mortal things die.
All humans are mortal.
All humans die.
— syllogistic /sil-ә-jis-tik/, adj. Cf.
symploce /sim-plә-see/. Rhetoric. The
repetition of one word at the beginning and of another at the end of two
successive clauses <Spring clothes
with leaves the trees; spring leads
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 919
back the birds of song to the trees>.
• Symploce combines anaphora and
epistrophe. See anaphora; epistrophe. Cf. ploce.
synaeresis /si-ner-ә-sis or si-neer-әsis/. The drawing together or union
in one syllable of two vowels that are
normally not sounded together; esp.,
the coalescence of two sounds into
a diphthong. • Through synaeresis,
the local pronunciation of Louisville,
Kentucky, becomes /loo-vәl/. And
the Arabic al-Qaeda /ahl kah-ee-dә/
becomes, in English, /al ki-dә/ or /al
kay-dә/. — Also spelled syneresis. —
Also termed synizesis. See syncope;
synaloepha. Cf. diaeresis.
synaesthesia /sin-es-thee-zhә/, n. The
association of a particular sound or
group of sounds with a particular
meaning (as with the fl- in flame, flare,
and flicker). Cf. onomatopoeia.
synaloepha /sin-ә-lee-fә/. The contraction of a syllable by blending of two
vowels in adjacent syllables into one
syllable, esp. by suppressing a vowel or
diphthong at the end of a word when
the next word also begins with a vowel
or diphthong. • For example, the preferred pronunciation of extraordinary
is /ek-stror-di-ner-ee/ (in five syllables, not six), blending the sounds
of the a in extra and the o in ordinary.
Synaeresis and crasis are types of synaloepha. — Also spelled synalepha.
See crasis; synaeresis.
synchronic /sin-krah-nik/, adj. Of or
relating to language as it exists at a
specific time. • A synchronic method
of linguistic study isolates the present
state of a language and tries to study
this without the possibility of any
preconceived notions suggested by a
knowledge of the language’s history.
Cf. diachronic.
synchysis /sing-kә-sis/. A verbal disruption; the confusion of words in
a sentence, so that the meaning is
syncope /sing-kә-pee/. The loss or elision of one or more letters or sounds,
esp. a vowel or syllable, from the
middle of a word or phrase <ne’er>
<Bosox>. • Among everyday examples in Standard English are chocolate
/chawk-lit/, diaper /di-pәr/, grocery
/grohs-ree/, vacuum /vak-yoom/,
and vegetable /vej-tә-bәl/. The second
word in San Francisco becomes, in
slang (outside the Bay Area of California), Frisco. For a more learned example, the Greek word apophthegm (= a
terse aphorism or maxim) became
apothegm in medieval Latin—and
only when Samuel Johnson expressed
a preference for the original Greek
spelling did the longer form come
into any real currency in English. But
the shorter form is standard. — Also
termed syncopation. — syncopal, adj.
— syncopate, vb. See synaeresis.
syncresis. See crasis.
syncrisis /sin-kri-sis/, n. Rhetoric. The
comparison of opposites.
syndeton /sin-di-tahn/, n. The use of a
conjunction to join elements in a sentence. • This term dates only from the
mid-20th century. Cf. asyndeton;
synecdoche /si-nek-dә-kee/. A metaphor by which a part of something
refers to the whole of it, or the whole
for a part <thou sacred head> <flesh
and blood>. • Thus wheels can refer
to a car, threads to a suit, blades to ice
skates, and breaking bread to having a
meal. — Also termed pars pro toto.
syneresis. See synaeresis.
synesis /sin-ә-sis/. A grammatical construction in which the elements are
not governed by the rules of syntax
but by the sense of the passage; esp.,
the construction of a collective noun
in the singular with a plural verb
because the noun denotes a plurality <A number of people were there>
(in which the singular noun number might mistakenly be thought to
require the singular verb was). — Also
termed constructio ad sensum.
synizesis /sin-ә-zee-sis/. See
synoeciosis /si-nee-see-oh-sis/, n. A
figure of speech in which contrary
qualities are attributed to the same
thing <Studying language can be both
tedious and fascinating>.
synonym. A word whose meaning is
very similar to that of another word,
although the two words may differ
in tone, application, formality, etc. •
For example, wealthy, well-off, and
loaded are synonyms of rich, but users
must choose the appropriate term for
a particular context. Synonyms may
be (1) words of consistently similar
implication <assiduous–sedulous>
<improbable–unlikely>; (2) words
that only occasionally have a similar
implication <unintelligent–slow>
<perceptive–sharp>; (3) words that are
broadly similar but have quite different
applications <doctor–healer–medicine
man>; or (4) words with nearly identical denotations but differentiating
connotations <surgeon–sawbones>
<crippled–mobility-impaired>. Cf.
synonymia. Rhetoric. The use of several synonymous words or phrases
to amplify or explain a term or subject, or to add force and clarity to a
statement. • Synonymia can be used
for dramatic or comic effect. — Also
termed scesis onomaton /skee-sis
You blocks, you stones, you worse than
senseless things! (Shakespeare, Julius
His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig! He’s kicked the
bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil,
rung down the curtain and joined the
bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN
EX-PARROT!! (Monty Python, The
Parrot Sketch)
syntax. 1. Sentence structure; the
orderly arrangement of words,
phrases, and clauses into sentences.
2. The study of the rules governing
how words relate to one other and
how they are arranged into sentences.
• Syntax deals with the meaningful
relationships between words within
strings, their function, and their modification. — Also termed (in sense 2)
diasynthesis. See linguistics. Cf.
accidence; morphology.
synthetic language. A language in
which syntactical relationships are
shown by inflections and the use of
affixes with roots; a language that relies
heavily on affixation to signal meaning. • In synthetic languages, words
change form to show their grammatical function, or when expressing new,
especially abstract, concepts. Latin
and Greek are synthetic languages.
See affix; inflecting language;
root. Cf. analytic language.
tag question. An interrogative attached
to the end of a declarative statement
<It’s a good book, isn’t it?>. — Also
termed confirmatory clause.
tapinosis /tap-i-noh-sis/, n. The
debasement of the dignity of something or someone by referring to it as
something much less dignified than it
is (as by calling the Mississippi River a
streamlet or the Supreme Court of the
United States a bunch of judges). • The
columnist Molly Ivins (1944–2007)
consistently used tapinosis; throughout the two terms of President George
W. Bush, she referred to him in her
columns as W.
tatpurusha /tat-puur-ә-shә/, n. [Sanskrit “his servant”] A compound
word in which the first element (usu.
an attributive noun) qualifies the
second, while the second (the head)
determines the part of speech <bookcase> <yearbook>.
tautegorical /taw-tә-gor-i-kәl/, adj.
Expressing an idea in the same style
but in different words.
tautology /taw-tol-ә-jee/. 1. Repetition
of something in words that are nearly
synonymous and do not add anything
<Many people are out of work when
unemployment is high> <free gift>.
920 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
2. Rhetoric. Repetition of an idea in
a different word, phrase, or sentence
<with malice toward none, with charity for all (Lincoln, second inaugural
address)>. 3. Logic. A statement that
must be true for all possibilities or by
virtue of its logical form. — tautologize, vb. Cf. pleonasm.
tenor. 1. Linguistics. The social roles
and relationships between the participants in a channel of communication.
2. Semiotics. In a metaphor, the literal,
primary subject. For instance: “Experience is a good school, but the fees are
high” (Heinrich Heine [1797–1856]).
In this case, the primary subject of
experience is expressed in terms of the
secondary subject of school. Typically,
a metaphor expresses an abstraction in terms of a more well-defined
model. Cf. vehicle.
tense. A verb’s quality that shows the
time in which an act, state, or condition occurs or occurred; the correspondence between a verb form
and the concept of time. Cf. aspect;
mood; voice.
complex tense. A tense combined with
the perfect or the progressive aspect.
future-perfect tense. The tense denoting an act, state, or condition that
will be completed before another
specified future time or future action
<I will have finished my degree
before the end of summer>. • This
term is borrowed from Latin grammar to apply to verb phrases such as
will have said, will have been said,
and will have been saying.
future tense. The tense denoting
an act, state, or condition that will
occur <I will go tomorrow>. • Modern grammarians tend to define
tense inflectionally—and therefore
to limit the description of English
to the present and past tenses—but
it is conventional to speak of such
constructions as will make, will be
made, and will be making as being in
the future tense.
historical present tense. The use of
present tense when referring to past
events (or sometimes absent people)
to add immediacy and drama to a
narrative or discussion. • This tense
is typically used in colloquial or
nonstandard English. In writing, it is
used only for narration, usually fictional. It is not used for formal writing. — Also termed historic present.
So this guy walks in and looks at me like
I’m a freak or something.
I’m just about to leave, when the lights
suddenly go out.
When he has Jack say, “I don’t go looking
for trouble, trouble comes to me,” what
is the author trying to tell us?
past-perfect tense. The tense denoting
that an act, state, or condition was
completed before another specified
past time or past action <I had begun
to apologize, but she hung up the
phone>. • Verb phrases such as had
called, had been called, and had been
calling are termed past-perfect tense.
— Also termed pluperfect tense.
past tense. A tense signaling an action
or even a state that occurred at some
previous time. • The past tense may
signal the instantaneous past <Brad
broke his leg> or the durational past
<Ms. Williams tried for several years
to get appointed as an ambassador>.
— Also termed preterit (tense).
perfect tense. See present-perfect
pluperfect tense. See past-perfect
present-perfect tense. The tense
denoting an act, state, or condition
that occurred at an unspecified time
before now <We have gone there
many times>. — Also termed perfect tense.
present tense. A tense signaling that
an action, event, or state is timeless
or progressive <Life is hard> <The
dogs are waiting>.
preterit tense. See past tense.
simple tense. A tense with no aspect:
present, past, or future.
terminal preposition. See preposition.
theme. See base.
thesis. 1. A proposition to be developed, proved, and maintained against
attack; the point of a discussion. 2. A
theme for a composition; a statement
of the central idea of an argument or
writing. 3. A dissertation of a specified
length written to satisfy the requirements of a university degree, esp. a
master’s degree.
third person. See person.
tilde /til-dә/. A diacritical mark (~)
indicating that an n takes a palatized
sound, as in señor. • Tildes are common in Spanish but are not used in
American English. In written British
English, the tilde character, typeset
in the middle of a line and called a
swing-dash, can substitute for words
describing activities the reader can
imagine. See diacritical mark.
time. The indicator of when an action
occurred in relation to the occurrence
of the utterance itself: past, present, or
tittle /tit-әl/, n. 1. The dot over the letter
i. 2. A punctuation mark. 3. diacritical mark. • Sense 3 is the earliest,
dating from the 14th century. The
phrase jot or tittle dates from the early
16th century. See jot.
tmesis /tmee-sis or mee-sis/. A separation of the parts of a compound word
by one or more inserted words <what
condition soever>. • For example, in
George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion
(1913), Eliza Doolittle says absobloomin’-lutely. — Also termed diacope /di-ak-ә-pee/.
Tom Swifty. A sentence in which a verb
or adverb in the clause following a
sentence of reported speech produces
a pun related to that sentence. • Tom
Swift is a fictional character, created
by Edward L. Stratemeyer (1862–
1930) (using the pseudonym Victor
Appleton), who is the hero of a series
of adventure books. Almost everything Tom says includes a qualifying
adverb, as in Tom added eagerly or
Tom said jokingly. Tom Swifties use a
pastiche of this pattern combined with
speech. Two examples are the statements “ ‘I only have diamonds, clubs
and spades,’ said Tom heartlessly” and
“ ‘The castle walls are made of granite,’
Tom said stonily.” Although the name
Tom usually appears, it isn’t necessary. For example, “ ‘Who discovered
radium?’ asked Marie curiously.” A
Tom Swifty is a subtype of Wellerism.
See wellerism.
toneme, n. The tone or set of tones
constituting a morpheme.
toponym /tahp-ә-nim/. A place name,
esp. one derived from or describing a
topographical feature (e.g., Death Valley, Palo Duro Canyon).
transferred epithet. See hypallage.
transformation. An operation by which
one syntactic structure (as a deep
structure) is changed into another (as
a surface structure) through the application of linguistic rules. See deep
structure; surface structure;
transformational grammar.
transformational grammar. A grammar that aims to establish rules for the
generation of surface syntactic structures from deep structures; specif.,
a grammatical theory that seeks to
account for the ability of native speakers to generate and understand the
sentences of their language.
transitive, adj. (Of a verb) requiring
a direct object to complete the idea
of showing what action the subject
transitive verb. See verb.
transliteration /tranz-lit-ә-ray-shәn/.
In writing or printing, the use of the
closest corresponding letters in a
given alphabet or language to express
a sound, word, or name in a different
language. • For instance, the name of
China’s leader from 1949 to 1976 was
formerly transliterated into English
as Mao Tse Tung but is now predomi-
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 921
nantly Mao Zedong (considered closer
to the Chinese pronunciation).
triglossia /tri-glahs-ee-ә/, n. The
coexistence of three languages within
a speech community, usu. standard
form, a regional dialect, and an international lingua franca.
trill. Pronunciation, esp. of the consonant r, with a rapid vibration of the
tongue against the upper teeth, the
hard or soft palate, or the uvula. •
Trills are more common in BrE than
in AmE.
triphthong /trif-thahng/. A vowel
sound in one syllable that requires the
speaker to change the position of the
speech organs twice, as in tire.
triptote /trip-toht/, n. In certain IndoEuropean languages, a noun having
three cases. Cf. aptote; diptote.
trivium /triv-ee-әm/, n. In medieval
times, three of the seven liberal arts:
grammar, rhetoric, and logic.
trope /trohp/, n. Rhetoric. 1. The use
of a word in a meaning different from
its normal one, as when one thing is
called another (metaphor), the name
of part of something denotes the
whole (synecdoche), or something
is called by the name of something
else with which it is closely associated
(metonymy). • In this strict sense, the
two categories of tropes are (1) metaphors, and (2) simple tropes—namely,
synecdoche and metonymy. See metaphor; metonymy; synecdoche.
2. Loosely, any figure of speech; figurative language generally.
truncated passive. See passive voice;
tu quoque /too kwoh-kwee/, n. [Latin
“you’re another!”] Rhetoric. A retort in
which one counteraccuses the adversary of the same offense of which one
is accused.
typeface. A design of type used in
printing. In general, typefaces are
either serif or sans serif.
U. The language used by well-educated
people in the upper social classes. •
This term was coined in 1954 by British linguist Alan Ross (1907–1980),
who applied it to the distinctive
vocabularies and pronunciations in
England. Cf. non-U.
umlaut /uum-lowt or oom-lowt/. A
diacritical mark consisting of two
dots (¨) placed over a vowel to signal that the marked vowel has a
modified sound. • Umlauts are often
used in German words and names
<Schäfer> but omitted in naturalized
English equivalents, which may add
an e after the formerly marked vowel
<Schaefer>. Only three letters take an
umlaut: a, o, and u. The mark is identical to a diaeresis in German; except
for the combination äu (pronounced
/oy/), an umlaut never appears over
a vowel that is adjacent to another
vowel. See diacritical mark; mutation. Cf. diaeresis.
uncomparable adjective. See
uncountable noun. See mass noun
under noun.
undeclinable, adj. Having no inflections. — Also termed indeclinable.
Cf. declinable.
understatement. The expression of
an idea that is deliberately made to
seem less important than it actually
is. • Typically, the degree, number,
or significance involved is purposely
diminished, often for the sake of irony
or of politeness.
unfinished comparative. See dangling
comparative under comparative.
unit modifier. See phrasal adjective
under adjective.
universal pronoun. See pronoun.
unmarked infinitive. See bare infinitive under infinitive.
unvoiced, adj. (Of a spoken sound)
produced without vibration of the
vocal cords. — Also termed surd;
usage. 1. Collectively, the linguistic
customs of some group of speakers,
such as all native speakers <common
usage>, dialectal speakers <nonstandard usage>, literary writers <literary
usage>, the best writers and speakers
<proper usage>, etc. 2. A particular
linguistic custom of this kind.
variant, n. A different form of a linguistic unit, such as an alternative
spelling of a noun.
vehicle. Semiotics. 1. In a metaphor, a
figurative secondary subject that follows the primary subject. See tenor.
2. The form that a sign takes, such as
sound or appearance.
verb. A word that shows the performance or occurrence of an action or
the existence of a condition or a state
of being, such as an emotion.
action verb. A verb that expresses the
action of the subject <She moved the
auxiliary verb. A verb that is joined
with another verb to help express
voice, mood, tense, person, or some
other quality. • For example, will is
an auxiliary expressing future tense
in She will serve as a Senate intern
this summer. Auxiliaries may be
modal (can, will, may, ought, must,
and shall in the present tense; could,
would, might, ought, must, and should
in the past tense). Or they may be
nonmodal (do, have, be, and get). —
Often shortened to auxiliary. — Also
termed helping verb.
be-verb. Any form of the verb to be—
namely, am, are, be, been, being, is,
was, and were—whether used as an
auxiliary verb or as a main verb.
buried verb. A noun formed from a
verb by addition of a suffix such as
-ance, -ity, or -tion <performance–
perform> <realization–realize>. •
The phrase “buried verb” is a purposeful misnomer, since it refers
really to a noun in which a verb
has been buried. Such nouns often
require prepositional phrases to
elicit their meaning, and can result in
wordiness. Recasting the sentence to
use the simple verb is a good solution.
— Also termed nominalization.
catenative verb /kat-әn-ә-tiv/. A
transitive verb that can take a verbal
as its object <I like to write> <I like
copular verb; copulative verb. See
linking verb.
defective verb. A verb that lacks
at least one of the typical forms of
conjugation. • Auxiliary verbs are
ditransitive prepositional verb. A
verb that takes both a direct and
an indirect object, the direct object
requiring an introductory preposition <The boss assured her employees of their job security> <My father
recommended John Green for the
ditransitive verb. A verb that takes
both a direct and an indirect object
(e.g., gave in the sentence I gave her a
book). Cf. monotransitive verb.
do-verb. Any form of the verb to
do—namely, did, do, does, doing, and
done—whether used as an auxiliary
verb or as a main verb.
equational verb. See linking verb.
ergative verb. A verb that can be
used transitively or intransitively. •
When used transitively, the subject
performs the action of the verb;
when used intransitively, the subject
receives the action of the verb. For
example, to melt can be intransitive
<The butter melted> or transitive
<The sun melted the butter>.
factitive verb. A transitive verb having both a direct object and an object
complement, the two of which are
closely linked <They called him Joe>
<I consider that theory preposterous>. • The most common factitive
verbs are appoint, call, choose, consider, designate, elect, find, imagine,
judge, keep, label, make, name, prove,
and think.
finite verb. A verb whose form shows
that it is limited in number, person,
and tense <I go, she goes, they went>.
• A finite verb functions as the verb
922 Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms
element in a clause and must agree
in person and number with the subject of the clause.
helping verb. See auxiliary verb.
infinitive verb. See infinitive.
intransitive verb. A verb that does
not require an object to complete the
thought; a verb that can stand alone
in the predicate. • Intransitive verbs
(e.g., arrive, differ, glow, lie) do not
have a passive form.
irregular verb. A verb whose past
tense and past participle are not
formed according to a predictable
pattern. • Irregular verbs do not
take a simple -d or -ed ending; they
may undergo simple vowel changes
<drink–drank–drunk> or change
more extensively <go–went–gone>
<hide–hid–hidden>. — Also termed
strong verb. Cf. regular verb.
light verb. A verb with relatively little
semantic content in a given context
(e.g., take in the phrasal verb take up
or make in the phrasal verb make
linking verb. A verb that connects a
subject to the complement. • For
example, in dinner smells good,
smells links the subject with the
adjective describing it. Among the
common linking verbs are be-verbs,
appear <She appeared confident>,
become <They became incensed>,
feel <It feels gooey>, go <The milk
went sour>, grow <Some of them
grew impatient>, prove <It proved
impossible>, remain <They remained
steadfast>, seem <He seemed happy>,
smell <It smells rancid>, taste <It
tastes bitter>, wax <She waxed eloquent>. — Also termed connecting
verb; copula; copular verb; copulative
verb; equational verb.
main verb. The most important verb
in a sentence, the one that is necessary to make the sentence complete.
• Though sometimes combined
with subordinate verbs, the main
verb expresses the key idea. It is
combined with an auxiliary verb to
indicate mood, tense, or voice. —
Also termed principal verb. See also
progressive aspect under aspect.
modal verb. An auxiliary verb that
conveys the mood or mode of the
action expressed in the main verb.
• Modal verbs are typically used to
express possibility, intention, obligation, or necessity <I can do that> <I
would have done that, if you had told
me to do it>. — Also termed modal
monotransitive verb. A verb that
takes only one object in a construction, as in the mountaineers reached
the summit. Cf. ditransitive verb.
nonfinite verb. A verb form that
has no tense, person, or singular
or plural form, and is not limited
by inflection. • Nonfinite verbs are
never the main verb in a clause.
They are infinitives <Do you want
to buy a new couch?>, bare infinitives <Should we run today?>, and
present and past participles <The
water is running> <The program has
ended>. All verbs except auxiliaries
have nonfinite forms.
phrasal verb. 1. A verb–adverb or
verb–particle combination that functions as a verb <put up with> <stand
for>. 2. An idiomatic transitive verb
phrase consisting of a verb and a
particle (and distinguished, in this
sense, from verb plus a preposition
[which may be intransitive], such as
make out or show up).
primary verb. The first verb in a
sentence, and the only verb that is
affected by the subject. The primary
verb can be a main verb (e.g., drive,
run, think) or an auxiliary verb (e.g.,
be, have, do).
principal verb. See main verb.
pro-verb. A verb used to stand in for a
previously stated predicate; specif.,
a word or phrase that substitutes for
a verb or predicate to avoid repetition when referring to things or
details already mentioned. • Verbs
that take a bare infinitive, such as
be, have, do, and most of the auxiliary verbs can function as pro-verbs.
The first predicate may be the main
verb in a complex sentence (e.g., in
Behave as I do, the pro-verb do in the
dependent clause stands in for the
main verb behave); the first predicate in a compound sentence (e.g.,
in He won’t tell you, but I will, the
pro-verb will stands for the predicate of the first clause, will tell you);
or the predicate from a previous sentence (e.g., in the exchange Have you
washed the car yet? Yes, I did, the proverb did stands in for the predicate
of the first sentence, have washed the
car). Further examples:
Why can’t he do it? — He can [do it], but
he won’t [do it] for free.
I’ve finished my homework, and so have
my friends [finished their homework].
Inga avoided looking at it, and so did we
[avoid looking at it].
Who’s been borrowing my clothes without asking? — Mike has [been borrowing them]. (Alternatively, Mike has been
or Mike’s been doing it would mean the
same thing as Mike has.)
regular verb. A verb whose past tense
and past participle are formed predictably according to a rule, such as
by appending -ed, -d, or -t. — Also
termed weak verb. Cf. irregular
strong verb. A verb that is inflected
(1) by internal vowel change, but
not by affixation, (2) by no change
at all, or (3) by radically changing in
the past-tense and past-participial
forms, which are not predictable
from the root. • For example, the
root verbs begin and drink might
suggest that strong verbs with an i
take an a in the past tense and a u in
the participle (e.g., sing–sang–sung,
stink–stank–stunk). But the pattern
doesn’t apply universally (e.g., bring–
brought–brought). Some strong verbs
do not change at all (e.g., cast–cast–
cast). And a few verbs, such as be and
go, change radically (i.e., be–was–
been, go–went–gone). Only about
165 verbs currently used in English
are strong verbs.
Some would say that the preceding paragraph is a discourse on
irregular verbs, and that strong verbs
are instead a subset of irregular
verbs. That distinction goes back to
the German philologist and folklorist Jakob Grimm (1785–1863), who
coined the terms stark (“strong”)
and schwach (“weak”). Following
Grimm’s definitions to the letter,
linguists who favor a third classification restrict the strong label to verbs
whose vowels change in declension (e.g., swim–swam–swum) and
exclude the ones that don’t change
their form (e.g., quit–quit–quit)
or that take a -t rather than an -ed
ending (e.g., sleep–slept–slept). But
the distinction is too fine (“inconvenient,” the OED put it) for most
grammarians, who continue to
accept the approach of W2 and use
strong and irregular as synonyms. To
them the idea of a “weak irregular
verb” is fallacious.
transitive verb. A verb that requires an
object to express a complete thought;
the verb indicating what action the
subject exerts on the object.
weak verb. See regular verb.
verbal, n. 1. A nonfinite verb (e.g., a
gerund, infinitive, present participle,
or past participle)—so called because
it does not carry a tense marker or
signal person, number, or mood, and
may never appear as the sole item in
a verb phrase. • As a nonfinite verb,
a verbal makes no assertion. 2. In
some grammatical systems, a word
or phrase that occupies a position
typically occupied by a verb. — Also
termed verbid.
verbal noun. See gerund.
verbiage /vәr-bee-әj/. Words that have
little or no content and are therefore
Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms 923
considered unnecessary; superfluous
wording. — Often misspelled and
mispronounced verbage.
verbid. See verbal.
verb phrase. See phrase.
vernacular. 1. The language or dialect
native to a particular region or country. 2. An individual’s native language.
— vernaculate, vb.
vocabulary. 1. The aggregate of words
used in a work, in the works of a particular author, or in some other collection. 2. The body of words known
to an individual speaker of a language,
or used in a language. 3. A portion of
a language’s body of words, used for
particular purposes <business vocabulary>. 4. An alphabetical listing of
words, as for a dictionary.
vocative, adj. Of or relating to the act of
calling or addressing directly; esp., in
some synthetic languages, of or relating to the form and syntactic relation
of a noun, pronoun, or adjective used
as, for, or with the name of the person
addressed. — vocative, n.
voice. The quality by which a transitive verb denotes an action performed
either by the subject (active voice) or
on the subject of the clause (passive
voice). • The test is whether the subject performs or receives the action of
the verb. Cf. aspect; mood; tense.
active voice. The voice that shows that
the sentence’s subject is the actor. •
For example, Jack drives an old car is
in active voice because Jack is both
the subject and the actor. Cf. passive
passive voice. See passive voice.
truncated passive voice. Passive voice
that does not retain the prepositional
phrase of agency <The car was driven
(omitting by Jack)>.
voiced, adj. (Of a spoken sound) produced with resonance in the vocal
cords, such as b, d, g, v, or z. — Also
termed sonant.
voiceless. See unvoiced.
vowel. 1. A speech sound produced
without blocking the breath channel. 2. A letter that represents such
a sound. • Five letters—a, e, i, o, and
u—are normally classified as vowels,
but these are used to represent a multitude of sounds. Diphthongs, such as
au, oo, and ou, also represent vowel
sounds. The letter y behaves as a vowel
when it takes on the sound of i or e.
Cf. consonant; semivowel.
vowel gradation. See ablaut.
weak verb. See regular verb under
weasel word. An equivocal or ambiguous word that diminishes the force or
meaning of a concept being expressed;
esp., an intensive such as clearly or
obviously, which, while intended to
strengthen a statement, actually has
the effect of weakening it by making
its content more questionable.
Wellerism. A humorous expression
made by combining a metaphor with
a literal sense, resulting in a punning
play on words. • The name derives
from the fictional character Sam
Weller, Mr. Pickwick’s witty servant in
Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers
(1836–1837). See tom swifty.
“We’ll have to rehearse that,” said the
undertaker as the coffin fell out of the
“It all comes back to me now,” said the
captain as he spat into the wind.
“That’s the spirit,” said the medium, as
the table began to rise.
“We are not what we seem,” as the needle
said to the thread.
whiz deletion. The reduction of a relative clause by omitting a relative pronoun plus a be-verb.
wh- question. A question that seeks
a specific piece of information
<why?> <when?> <where?> <who?>
word. A minimum free linguistic form,
consisting of one or more morphemes;
a human vocal habit that has, or may
have, the effect of evoking some
idea in someone else’s mind. • If the
definition seems a little opaque, take
comfort in the observation of Richard
Grant White (1822–1885): “What is
a word? Everyone knows. The most
ignorant child, if it can speak, needs
no definition of word.”3 More than a
century later, the noted British linguist
Randolph Quirk (1920–) expressed a
similar idea: “Words come to us so
naturally that it takes a serious effort
of imagination to realize what miraculous devices they are. Like so many
other things that are basic and elemental in our lives, we take them for
granted, and we are apt to be surprised
to find how hard it is to say exactly
what a word is.”4 Cf. clause; phrase.
compound word. A word that is composed of two or more other words
Richard Grant White, Words and Their Uses,
Past and Present 199 (1870).
Randolph Quirk, “Thinking of Words,” in
The Linguist and the English Language 128,
128 (1974).
<doorknob> or a word plus an affix
<biodiversity>. See compound.
function word. A word whose main
role is to assist in the structure of a
sentence. • Articles (a, an, and the)
are examples of function words. So
are prepositions. See empty word.
pointing word. A word that points
at something or someone either
because it has a demonstrative quality (e.g., this, that, these, or those) or
because it is a pronoun that requires
an antecedent. — Also termed deictic term. See antecedent.
portmanteau word. See blend.
word class. See part of speech.
word-formation. See morphology.
word-order. The sequence in which
words can or typically do appear in
a sentence. • Because English is an
analytic language, word-order is more
important to English grammar than
the other basic grammatical devices:
inflection and function words.
wordplay. An instance of verbal wit; a
jocular use of language.
yes–no question. A question that calls
for an answer in the simple affirmative
or negative.
zero. The absence of an overt change
in form where one might be expected
or implied.
zero article. See article.
zero form. An unchanged form of a
word or an unexpressed part of a construction. • Grammarians sometimes
use zero forms to account for exceptions to rules. For example, if the rule
is that all English nouns have plurals by
adding some variety of the plural ending to the proper base, then we must
recognize a zero ending for words that
don’t change their form from the singular when used in a plural sense, such as
trout <Many trout were in the stream>.
If the rule is that all relative clauses are
introduced by relative pronouns, then
a zero relative appears in a sentence
when the pronoun is elided <The putter you used needs a new grip>.
zeugma /z[y]oog-mә/. 1. Grammar. A
grammatical construction in which a
word applies to two things but matches
only one of them in number, gender, or
some idiomatic quality <Either you or
I am wrong> <waging war and peace>.
Cf. antanaclasis. 2. Rhetoric. The
use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two nearby words, one
having a metaphorical sense and the
other a literal sense <I lost my wallet
and my temper>. — zeugmatic, adj.
Cf. syllepsis.