The Elements of English Grammar

Many of these definitions and examples are extracted from The Allyn & Bacon Handbook, 4th edition (Rosen, L.J., and Behrens, L., Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2000) and The Everyday Writer, 2nd edition (Lunsford, A.A., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001). This page is meant for educational uses only, and is intended primarily for students at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois.

This page identifies many of the grammatical elements which comprise English. It does not present grammatical rules, but simply defines the most important pieces that go into the construction of English sentences.

Click on the word or phrase highlighted in the section below to display a pop-up definition.

Subjects and predicates

Large doses of alcohol act as a depressant.

Types of nouns

[proper nouns]
Judge Thompson ruled against Dan.

[common nouns]
The judge ruled against Dan.

[count nouns]
Lois brought eighteen cups to the party.

[mass nouns]
The air was fragrant with the smell of lilacs.

[concrete nouns]
Please place the clock on the mantle.

[abstract nouns]
Ambition is a two-edged sword.

[collective nouns]
The family went on vacation together.

Types of verbs

[transitive verbs]
George built a treehouse for his son.

[intransitive verbs]
Mona smiled slyly.

[linking verbs]
Joan seems content in her new position.

[auxiliary verbs]
I have gone to see the doctor.

[modal auxiliary verbs]
I might go to France this summer.


[Gerund]     Parenting is a science and an art.
                   Roberto was weary of acting a false role.

[Participle]    The edited manuscript was 700 pages.
                     The employee processing your request is named Sheila.

[Infinitives]    To parent well requires endless patience.
                     The employee to process your request is Sheila.
                     She wanted to process your request as soon as possible.


Our favorite people and our favorite stories become so not by any inherent value, but because they illustrate something deep in the grain. (Joan Didion)


[Descriptive] The poor unwittingly subsidize the rich.
                     Poverty almost always can be eliminated.

[Conjunctive] In early school grades, simple processes like addition are taught. By late fourth grade, however, students are introduced to the basics of algebra.


[Personal] When sugar dissolves in water, the sugar molecules break their close connection with the sugar crystal.

[Relative]   The committee members, who belonged to the candidate's party, voted for censure.
                   The pollution, which began in 1968, has now reached dangerous levels.

[Demonstrative] These officials overcame partisan loyalties.
                     This event shows the vitality of our political system.

[Interrogative]  Who is in charge of the polling procedure?
                   What is the correlation between profit and stock price?

[Intensive]        The president himself cannot control economic forces.
                        The chemical itself can be extracted through heating.

[Reflexive]         The workers did not have the skills to help themselves through the transition period.

[Indefinite]       Everybody who sees the movie will rave about it.
                       Somebody embezzled the funds.

[Reciprocal]        The justices implicated each other in the bribery scandal.
                            The products complement one another


[single-word prepositions]
We did not want to leave during the performance.
The students waited anxiously for their test grades.
Fold the eggs into the batter, and add three teaspoons of vanilla while stirring.

[compound prepositions]
Except for Brandon, all the students went on the field trip.
Because of the lack of non-verbal cues, miscommunication often occurs during online communication.
According to Prof. Andrea Lunsford, collaboration is an essential element in any piece of communication.


[coordinating conjunctions]
Infants only cry at birth, but within a few years they speak in complete sentences.

[conjunctive adverbs]
Emotions are communicated online with emoticons. Consequently, the range of emotional expression in Instant Messenger is limited compared to real-life communication.

[correlative conjunctions]
Users not only distort facts about themselves in chatrooms, but also use online profiles as masks behind which they can hide while abusing others.

[subordinating conjunctions]
If Loren scores high enough on her SAT test, she will have a better chance of getting admitted to Oberlin.


N0! This was the response to neighborhood requests for diminished police teams.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that jobs for academicians are scarce.

There are no good reasons for opposing this legislation.

Common single-word prepositions
about above across after against
along among around as at
before behind below beneath beside
between beyond by down during
except for from in inside
into like near of off
on onto out over past
regarding since through toward under
until up upon with without

Common compound prepositions
according to along with apart from
as well as as for because of
by means of by way of contrary to
due to except for in addition to
in back of in case of in front of
in place of in spite of instead of
next to on account of on top of
out of outside of owing to
with regard to with respect to

Author: Dr. Joel Haefner