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Grammar Jargon

It can be delightful to find out what things are really called.  And in practical terms, it’s handy when talking about a technical subject to be able to call things by their right names.

Grammar is surely a technical subject, and its jargon is no less useful (or potentially confusing) than that of any other technical subject. So check these out, just for the fun of it.  They may or may not bring back fond high school memories.  There will be no quiz.

Parts of Speech

Words belong to different classifications, depending on their function in a sentence.  Each class of word has a name, and collectively we call those classes the Parts of Speech.  They are:

Noun (person, place or thing), Pronoun (substitute for a noun), Verb (action word), Adjective (describes a noun or pronoun), Adverb (describes a verb or adjective), Preposition (direction word), Conjunction (and, but, or, nor, etc.), and Interjection (Yo!).


Verbs turn into other parts of speech in various ways; these verbs that are not verbs are called “Verbals.”

An Infinitive is a noun based on a verb; it adds a “to” in front of the verb, thus:  to sing, to dance, to consider.

(Some people frown on what are known as “split infinitives” in which something comes between the “to” and the verb:  “to soberly consider” should be “to consider soberly“.  )

Another verbal that is really a noun is called a Gerund;  add “ing” to the verb, as in:   Cooking is easy.  Writing is hard.  Studying gets in the way.

Verbals can be adjectives, too.  Participles look just like Gerunds (adding the “ing”), but they modify:  scorching heat, calming words, peeling paint.

(NOTE:  “Dangling Participles” ought, I think, to be called “Dangling Gerunds.”  But whatever you call them, it is well to be on the lookout for them and fix them when you find them.

Here’s one:  “By analyzing the results, it will tell us what the next steps should be.”  Should be:  “Analyzing the results will tell us what the next steps should be.”

The Moods

Your boss isn’t the only one who’s moody; your sentences are, too.

There’s the Declarative Mood that states a fact.  (“You are here.”)  There’s the Imperative Mood that tells us what to do.  (“Get out of here.”)  There’s the Interrogative Mood that asks a question.  (“Why are you here?”)  And there’s the Subjunctive Mood that wonders “what if?”  (“If I were here, would you be too?)

There’s lots more Grammar jargon, of course, and we’ll return to it in a future Wordworks. 


About Gary Boyer

Gary Boyer is currently Director of the Writing Support Center at the Keuka College Center for Professional Studies, Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP). He is also the Acting Director of Admissions for the college and a faculty member, serving as an Instructor of English in the Humanities Division.

View all posts by Gary Boyer →

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