Dictionaries of current English, as distinct from historical dictionaries, generally record the language as it is used at the time; usage is constantly changing and the distinction between right and wrong is not always to determine. Unlike French – guided by the rulings of the Académie Française – English is not monitored by any single authority, and established usage is the principal criterion. One result of this is that English tolerates many more alternative spellings than other languages. Such alternatives are based on patterns of word formation and variation in the different languages through which they have passed before reaching ours. The following notes offer guidance on difficult and controversial points of grammar usage and style. An asterisk (*) denotes an example of incorrect usage. ACCENT 1 A person’s accent is the way he or she pronounces words. People from different regions and different groups in society have different accents. For instance, most people in northern England say path with a ‘short’ a, while most people in southern England say it with a ‘long’ a. In America and Canada the r in far and port is generally pronounced, while on south-eastern England, for example, it is not. Everyone speaks with an accent, although some accents may be regarded as having more prestige, such as ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP) in the UK. 2 An accent on a letter is a mark added to it to alter the sound it stands for. French, for example, has ´ (acute), as in état ¨ (diaresis), as in Noël ` (grave), as in mère ¸ (cedilla), as in français ^ (circumflex), as in guêpe and German has ¨ (umlaut), as in München. There are no accents on native English words, but many words borrowed from other languages still have them, such as façade. ADJECTIVE An adjective is a word that describes a noun or pronoun, e.g. red, clever, German, depressed, battered, sticky, shining Most can be used either before a noun, e.g.

the red house

a lazy man

a clever woman

or after a verb like be, seem, or call, e.g. The house is red. I wouldn’t call him lazy. She seems very clever. Some can be used only before a noun, e.g. the chief reason (one cannot say *the reason is chief) Some can be used only after a verb, e.g. The ship is still afloat. (one cannot say *an afloat ship) A few can be used only immediately after a noun, e.g. a writer manqué (one cannot say either *a manqué writer or *as a writer he is manqué) See also notes at COMPARATIVE and SUPERLATIVE. ADVERB An adverb is used: 1 with a verb, to say: a how something happens, e.g. He walks quickly. b where something happens, e.g. I live here. c when something happens, e.g. They visited us yesterday. d how often something happens, e.g. We usually have coffee. 2 to strengthen or weaken the meaning of: a a verb, e.g. He really meant it I almost fell asleep. b an adjective, e.g. She is very clever. c another adverb, e.g. It comes off terribly easily. This is a slightly better result.

The boys nearly always get home late.

3 to add to the meaning of a whole sentence, e.g. Luckily, no one was hurt. He is probably our best player. In writing or in formal speech, it is incorrect to use an adjective instead of an adverb. For example, use Do it properly. and not *Do it proper. Note that many words are both an adjective and an adverb, e.g.

a fast horse a long time APOSTROPHE ’

He ran fast. Have you been here long?

This is used: 1 to indicate possession: with a singular noun: a boy’s book a week’s work

the boss’s salary

with a plural already ending with -s: a girls’ school two weeks’ newspapers the bosses’ salaries with a plural not already ending with -s: the children’s books women’s literature with a singular name: Bill’s book Nicholas’ (or Nicholas’s) coat Barnabas’ (or Barnabas’s) book John’s coat with a name ending in -es that is pronounced /-IZ/: Bridges’ poems Moses’ mother in phrases using sake, for God’s sake for goodness’ sake but it is often omitted in a business name: Barclays Bank. 2 to mark an omission of one or more letters or numbers: he’s (he is or he has) haven’t (have not) can’t (cannot) we’ll (we shall) won’t (will not) o’clock (of the clock) the summer of ’68 (1968) 3 when letters or numbers are referred to in plural form: mind your p’s and q’s find all the numbers 7’s but it is unnecessary in, e.g. MPs; the 1940s. AUXILIARY VERB An auxiliary verb is used in front of another verb to alter its meaning. Mainly, it expresses: 1 when something happens, by forming a tense of the main verb, e.g. I shall go. He was going. 2 permission, necessity, or possibility to do something, e.g. They may go. You must go. I can’t go. I might go. She would go if she could. 1002 for Nicholas’ sake

These auxiliaries (and those listed below except be, do, and have) are sometimes called modal verbs. The principal auxiliary verbs are: be have can let could may do might must ought shall should will would

BRACKETS ( ) [ ] Round brackets, also called parentheses, are used mainly to enclose: 1 explanations and extra information or comment, e.g. Congo (formerly Zaire) He is (as he always was) a rebel. This is done using integrated circuits (see page 38). 2 in this dictionary, the type of word which can be used with the word being defined, e.g. crow2 … (of a baby) utter happy cries backfill ...refill (a hole) with the material dug out of it Square brackets are used mainly to enclose: 1 words added by someone other than the original writer or speaker, e.g. Then the man said, ‘He [the police officer] can’t prove I did it.’ 2 various special types of information, such as stage directions, e.g. HEDLEY: Goodbye! [Exit]. 3 in this dictionary, etymologies, e.g. babushka … [Russian, literally ‘grandmother’] CLAUSE A clause is a group of words that includes a finite verb. If it makes complete sense by itself, it is known as a main clause, e.g. The sun came out. Otherwise, although it makes some sense, it must be attached to a main clause; it is then known as a subordinate clause, e.g. when the sun came out (as in When the sun came out, we went outside.) COLON : This is used: 1 between two main clauses of which the second explains, enlarges on, or follows from the first, e.g. It was not easy: to begin with I had to find the right house.

2 to introduce a list of items (a dash should not be added), and after expressions such as namely, for example, to resume, to sum up, and the following, e.g. You will need: a tent, a sleeping bag, cooking equipment, and a rucksack. 3 before a quotation, e.g. The poem begins: ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’. COMMA , The comma marks a slight break between words, phrases, etc. In particular, it is used: 1 to separate items in a list, e.g. red, white, and blue (or red, white and blue) We bought same shoes, socks, gloves, and handkerchiefs. 2 to separate adjectives that describe something in the same way, e.g. It is a hot, dry, dusty place. but not if they describe it in different ways, e.g. a distinguished foreign author or if one adjective adds to or alters the meaning of another, e.g. a bright red tie. 3 to separate a name or word used to address someone, e.g. David, I’m here. Well, Mr Jones, we meet again. Have you seen this, my friend? 4 to separate a phrase from the rest of the sentence, e.g. Having had lunch, we went back to work. especially in order to clarify the meaning, e.g. In the valley below, the village looked very small. 5 after words that introduce direct speech, or after direct speech where there is no question mark or exclamation mark, e.g. They answered, ‘Here we are.’ ‘Here we are,’ they answered. 6 after Dear Sir, Dear Sarah, etc., and Yours faithfully, Yours sincerely, etc. in letters. 7 to separate a word, phrase, or clause that is secondary or adds information or a comment, e.g. I am sure, however, that it will not happen. Fred, who is bald, complained of the cold.

but not with a relative clause (one usually beginning with who, which, or that) that restricts the meaning of the noun it follows, e.g. Men who are bald should wear hats. (See note at RELATIVE CLAUSE) No comma is needed between a month and a year in dates, e.g. in December 1993 or between a number and a road in addresses, e.g. 17 Devonshire Avenue. COMPARATIVE The form of an adjective used to compare two people or things in respect of a certain quality is called the comparative. Comparative adjectives are formed in two ways: generally, short words add -er to the base form, e.g. smaller, faster, greater. Often, the base form alters, e.g. bigger, finer, easier. Long words take more in front of them, e.g. more beautiful, more informative. COMPLEMENT A complement is a word or phrase that comes after a verb but has the same reference as the subject or object, e.g. the culprit in The dog was the culprit. president in They elected him president. CONJUNCTION A conjunction is used to join parts of sentences which usually, but not always, contain their own verbs, e.g. He found it difficult so I helped him. They made lunch for Alice and Mary. I waited until you came. There are two types of conjunction. Coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but) join two equal clauses, phrases, or words. Subordinating conjunctions join a subordinate clause to a main clause. The most common subordinate conjunctions are: after like though although now till as once unless because since until before so when

for if in order that 1003

so that than that

where whether while

DASH – This is used: 1 to mark the beginning and end of an interruption in the structure of a sentence: My son – where has he gone? – would like to meet you. 2 to show faltering speech in conversation: Yes – well – I would – only you see – it’ not easy. 3 to show other kinds of break in a sentence, often where a comma, semicolon, or colon would traditionally be used, e.g. Come tomorrow – if you can. The most important thing is this – don’t rush the work. A dash is not used in this way in formal writing. DEFINITE ARTICLE See note at DETERMINER. DETERMINER A determiner is a word that starts a noun phrase, determining its role in relation to the rest of the text in which it occurs. The most common determiners are the (sometimes called the definite article) and a or an (sometimes called the indefinite article). A or an is used with a singular noun phrase that is introduced as new information in a text; the is used with information that is already established (A man came in … The man went up to Jim) or that is regarded as common knowledge (the Moon, the sea). Other kinds of determiners are: possessive determiners (sometimes called possessive adjectives): my, your, his, her, its, our, their. demonstratives: this, that, these, those. DIALECT Everyone speaks a particular dialect: that is, a particular type of English distinguished by its vocabulary and its grammar. Different

parts of the world and different groups of people speak different dialects: for example, Australians may say arvo while others say afternoon, and a London Cockney may say I done it while most other people say I did it. A dialect is not the same thing as an accent, which is the way a person pronounces words. See also note at STANDARD ENGLISH. DIRECT SPEECH Direct speech is the actual words of a speaker quoted in writing. 1 In a novel etc., speech punctuation is used for direct speech: a The words spoken are usually put in quotation marks. b Each new piece of speech begins with a capital letter. c Each paragraph within one person’s piece of speech begins with quotation marks, but only the last paragraph ends with them. For example: Christopher looked into the box. ‘There’s nothing in here,’ he said. ‘It’s completely empty.’ 2 In a script (the written words of a play, a film, or a radio or television programme): a The names of speakers are written in the margin in capital letters. b Each name is followed by a colon. c Quotation marks are not needed. d Any instructions about the way the words are spoken or about the scenery or the actions of the speakers (stage directions) are written in the present tense in brackets or italics. For example: CHRISTOPHER: [Looks into box.] There’s nothing in here. It’s completely empty. EXCLAMATION MARK ! This is used instead of a full stop at the end of a sentence to show that the speaker or writer is very angry, enthusiastic, insistent, disappointed, hurt, surprised, etc., e.g. I am not pleased at all! I wish I could have gone! I just love sweets! Ow! Go away! He didn't even say goodbye! FULL STOP . This is used: 1 at the end of a sentence, e.g.

I am going to the cinema tonight. The film begins at seven. The full stop is replaced by a question mark at the end of a question, and by an exclamation mark at the end of an exclamation. 2 after an abbreviation, e.g. H. G. Wells Sun. (= Sunday) Full stops are not used with: a numerical abbreviations, e.g. 1st, 2nd, 15th, 23rd b acronyms, e.g. FIFA, NATO c abbreviations that are used as ordinary words, e.g. con, demo, recap d chemical symbols, e.g. Fe, K, H2O Full stops are not essential for: a abbreviations consisting entirely of capitals, e.g. BBC, AD, BC, PLC b C (= Celsius), F (= Fahrenheit) c measures of length, weight, time, etc., except for in. (= inch), st. (= stone) d contractions (i.e. where the last letter is the same as the last letter of the full word), e.g., Dr, Revd (but note Rev.), Mr, Mrs, Mme, Mlle, St (= Saint) e certain other conventional abbreviations which are not directly related to the full word, e.g. Hants, Northants HYPHEN This is used: 1 to join two or more words so as to form a compound or single expressions, e.g. mother-in-law non-stick This use is growing less common; often you can do without such hyphens: treelike dressing table 2 to join words in an attributive compound (one put before a p.19 (= page 19) Ex. 6 (= Exercise 6)

noun, like an adjective), e.g. a well-known man (but the man is well known) an out-of-date list (but the list is out of date) 3 to join a prefix etc. to a proper name, e.g. anti-Darwinian half-Italian non-British 4 to make a meaning clear by linking words, e.g. twenty-odd people or twenty odd people or by separating a prefix, e.g. re-cover or recover re-present or represent re-sign or resign 1004 5 to separate two identical letters in adjacent parts of a word, e.g. pre-exist Ross-shire 6 to represent a common second element in the items of a list, e.g. two-, three-, or fourfold 7 to divide a word if there is no room to complete it at the end of a line, e.g. … dictionary … The hyphen comes at the end of the line, not at the beginning of the next line. In general, words should be divided at the end of a syllable; dicti-onary would be quite wrong. In handwriting, typing, and word processing, it is safest (and often neatest) not to divide words at all. INDEFINITE ARTICLE See note at DETERMINER. INTERROGATIVE PRONOUN Interrogative pronouns (who, whom, which, what) introduce direct and indirect questions: What did he say? She asked him what he had said. Who are you? She asked him who he was.

A question mark is used after a direct question, but not after an indirect question. INTRANSITIVE VERB See note at TRANSITIVE VERB. MAIN CLAUSE See note at CLAUSE. METAPHOR A metaphor is a figure of speech that goes further than a simile, either by saying that something is something else that it could not normally be called, e.g. The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. Stockholm, the Venice of the North or by suggesting that something appears, sounds, or behaves like something else, e.g. burning ambition blindingly obvious the long arm of the law NOUN A noun denotes a person or thing. There are four kinds: 1 common nouns (the words for objects and creatures), e.g. The red shoe was left on the shelf. The large box stood in the corner. The plant grew to two metres. A horse and rider galloped by. 2 proper nouns (the names of people, places, ships, institutions, and animals, which always begin with a capital letter), e.g. Jane USS Enterprise Bambi London Grand Hotel 3 abstract nouns (the words for qualities, things we cannot see or touch, and things which have no physical reality), e.g. truth absence explanation warmth 4 collective nouns (the words for groups of things), e.g. committee squad the Cabinet herd swarm the clergy majority team the public OBJECT There are two types of object: 1 A direct object refers to a person or thing directly affected

by the verb and can usually be identified by asking the question ‘whom or what?’ after the verb, e.g. The electors chose Mr Smith. Charles wrote a letter. 2 An indirect object usually refers to a person or thing receiving something from the subject of the verb, e.g. He gave me the pen. (me is the indirect object, and the pen is the direct object.) I sent my bank a letter. (my bank is the indirect object, and a letter is the direct object.) Sentences containing an indirect object usually contain a direct object as well, but not always, e.g. Pay me. ‘Object’ on its own usually means a direct object. PARTICIPLE There are two kinds of participles in English: the present participle, which consists of -ing added to the base form of a verb, and the past participle, which for most verbs consists of -ed added to the base form. There are three main uses of participles: 1 with be or have to form different tenses: She is relaxing. She has relaxed. 2 to form verbal adjectives: a relaxing drink a leaving present

3 to form verbal nouns: I don't want your leavings. PASSIVE A verb in the passive takes the object or person affected by the action as its subject. Passive verbs are formed by placing a form of the auxiliary verb be in front of the past participle: This proposal will probably be accepted. Several people were injured. He was hit by a train. The passive is often used when the writer does not want to say who exactly is responsible for the action in question: I’m afraid your ideas have been rejected. PHRASAL VERB A phrasal verb is a verb made up of an ordinary verb plus an adverb or preposition, or both. Give in, set off, take over, and look

down on are phrasal verbs. The meaning of a phrasal verb can be quite different from the meanings of the words of which it is composed. PHRASE A phrase is a group of words that has meaning but does not have a subject, main verbs, or object (unlike a clause or sentence). It can be: 1 a noun phrase, functioning as a noun, e.g. I went to see my friend Tom. The only ones they have are too small. 2 an adjective phrase, functioning as an adjective, e.g. I was very pleased indeed. This one is better than mine. 3 an adverb phrase, functioning as an adverb, e.g. They drove off in their car. I was there ten days ago. POSSESSIVE DETERMINER See note at DETERMINER. 1005 POSSESSIVE PRONOUN A possessive pronoun is a word such as mine, yours, or theirs, functioning as subject, complement, or direct or indirect object in a clause. This one is mine. That one is yours. Hers is no good. PREPOSITION A preposition is used in front of a noun or pronoun to form a phrase. It often describes the position or movement of something, e.g. under the chair, or the time at which something happens, e.g. in the evening. Prepositions in common use are: about behind into above beside like across between near after by of against down off along during on among except outside through till to towards under underneath until

around as at before

for from in inside

over past round since

up upon with without

PRONOUN A pronoun is used as a substitute for a noun phrase, e.g. He was upstairs. Did you see that? Anything can happen now. It’s lovely weather. Using a pronoun often avoids repetition, e.g. I found Jim – he was upstairs. (instead of I found Jim – Jim was upstairs.) Where are your keys? – I’ve got them. (instead of Where are your keys? – I’ve got my keys.) Pronouns are the only words in English which have different forms when used as the subject (I, we, he, she, etc.) and as the object (me, us, him, her, etc.). See also notes at INTERROGATIVE PRONOUN, POSSESSIVE PRONOUN, REFLEXIVE PRONOUN, and RELATIVE CLAUSE. QUANTIFIER A quantifier is a word such as some, all, or enough, used to describe the amount of something. Most quantifiers, like numbers, can be used either as determiners or with an ‘of the’ structure: some dresses enough soap all students some of the dresses enough of the soap all of the students

A few quantifiers are also found before the or a possessive determiner: all the dresses both her shoes QUESTION MARK ? This is used instead of a full stop at the end of a sentence to show that it is a question, e.g. Have you seen the film yet? You didn’t lose my purse, did you? It is not used at end of a reported question, e.g. I asked you whether you’d seen the film yet. QUOTATION MARKS ‘ ’ “ ” These are also called inverted commas, and are used: 1 round a direct quotation (closing quotation marks come after any punctuation which is part of the quotation), e.g.

He said, ‘That is nonsense.’ ‘That’, he said, ‘is nonsense.’ ‘That, however,’ he said, ‘is nonsense.’ Did he say, ‘That is nonsense’? He asked, ‘Is that nonsense?’ 2 round a quoted word or phrase, e.g. What does ‘integrated circuit’ mean? 3 round a word or phrase that is not being used in its central sense, e.g. the ‘king’ of jazz He said he had enough ‘bread’ to buy a car. 4 round the title of a book, song, poem, magazine article, television programme, etc. (but not a book of the Bible), e.g. ‘Hard Times’ by Charles Dickens 5 as double quotation marks round a quotation within a quotation, e.g. He asked, ‘Did you know what “integrated circuit” means?’ In handwriting, double quotation marks are usual. REFLEXIVE PRONOUN Reflexive pronouns (himself, yourselves, etc.) are used in two ways: 1 for a direct or indirect object that refers to the same person or thing as the subject of the clause: They didn’t hurt themselves. He wanted it for himself. 2 for emphasis: She said so herself. I myself do not believe her.

RELATIVE CLAUSE A relative clause is a subordinate clause used to add to the meaning of a noun. A relative clause is usually introduced by a relative pronoun (who, which, that). Restrictive relative clauses are distinguished from non-restrictive relative clauses by punctuation. A non-restrictive relative clause has commas round it, e.g. Please approach any member of our staff, who will be pleased to help, and discuss your needs. The shopkeeper who left the commas out turned this into a restrictive relative clause, implying that there were other members of staff who would not be pleased to help! The relative pronoun whom (the objective case of who) is now used

only in formal writing. The person whom he hit was a policeman. (formal) The person who he hit was a policeman. (less formal) The relative pronoun may be omitted if it is the object of the relative clause: The person he hit was a policeman. SEMICOLON ; This is used: 1 between clauses that are too short or too closely related to be made into separate sentences; such clauses are not usually connected by a conjunction, e.g. To err is human; to forgive, divine. You could wait for him here; on the other hand I could wait in your place; this would save you valuable time. 2 between items in a list which themselves contain commas, if it is necessary to avoid confusion, e.g. The party consisted of three teachers, who had already climbed with the leader; seven pupils; and two parents. SENTENCE A sentence is the basic unit of language in use and expresses a complete thought. There are three types of sentence, each starting with a capital letter, and each normally ending with a full stop, a question mark, or an exclamation mark: Statement: You’re happy. Question: Is it raining? Exclamation: I wouldn’t have believed it! 1006 A sentence, especially a statement, often has no punctuation at the end in a public notice, a newspaper headline, or a legal document, e.g. Government cuts public spending A sentence normally contains a subject and a verb, but may not, e.g. What a mess! Where? In the sink. SIMILE A simile is a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another of a different king, using as or like, e.g. The water was as clear as glass.

Cherry blossom lay like driven snow upon the lawn. Everyday language is rich in similes: with as: as like as two peas as poor as a church mouse as rich as Croesus with like: spread like wildfire sell like hot cakes like a bull in a china shop as strong as an ox

run like the wind

Standard English is the dialect of English used by most educated English speakers and is spoken with a variety of accents (see note at ACCENT). While not in itself any better than any other dialect, standard English is the form of English normally used for business dealings, legal work, diplomacy, teaching, examinations, and in all formal written contexts. SUBJECT The subject of a sentence is the person or thing that carries out the action of the verb and can be identified by asking the question ‘who or what’ before the verb, e.g. The goalkeeper made a stunning save. Hundreds of books are now available on CD-ROM. In a passive construction, the subject of the sentence is in fact the person or thing to which the action of the verb is done, e.g. I was hit by a ball. Has the programme been broadcast yet? SUBORDINATE CLAUSE See note at CLAUSE. SUPERLATIVE The superlative form of an adjective is used to say that something is the supreme example of its kind. Superlative adjectives are formed in two ways: generally, short words add -est to the base form, e.g. smallest, fastest, greatest. Often, the base form alters, e.g. biggest, finest, easiest. Long words take most in front of them, e.g. most beautiful, most informative. SYLLABLE A syllable is the smallest unit of speech that can be pronounced in isolation, such as a, at, ta, or tat. A word can be made up of one,

two, or more syllables: cat, fought, and twinge each have one syllable; rating, deny, and collapse each have two syllables; excitement, superman, and telephone each have three syllables; America and complicated each have four syllables; examination and uncontrollable each have five syllables. SYNONYM A synonym is a word that has the same meaning as, or a similar meaning to, another word: cheerful, happy, merry, and jolly are synonyms that are quite close to each other in meaning, as are lazy, indolent, and slothful. In contrast, the following words all mean ‘a person who works with another’, but their meanings vary considerably: colleague ally conspirator accomplice

TRANSITIVE VERB A transitive verb is one that has a direct object, e.g. John was reading a book (where a book is the direct object). An intransitive verb is one that does not have a direct object, e.g. John was reading. Some verbs are always transitive, e.g. bury, foresee, rediscover; others are always intransitive, e.g. dwell, grovel, meddle. Many, as read in the examples above, are used both transitively and intransitively. VERB A verb says what a person or thing does, and can describe: an action, e.g. run, hit an event, e.g. rain, happen a state, e.g. be, have, seem, appear a change, e.g. become, grow Verbs occur in different forms, usually in one or other of their tenses. The most common tenses are: the simple present tense: the continuous present tense: the simple past tense: the continuous past tense: The boy walks down the road. The boy is walking down the road. The boy walked down the road. The boy was walking down the road.

the perfect tense: the future tense:

The boy has walked down the road. The boy will walk down the road.

Each of these forms is a finite verb, which means that it is in a participle tense and that it changes according to the number and person of the subject, as in I am you walk we are he walks An infinitive is the form of a verb that usually appears with to, e.g. to wander, to look, to sleep. See also notes at PARTICIPLE, PASSIVE, PHRASAL VERB, TRANSITIVE VERB. 1007


DK Illustrated Oxford Dictionary: Reference Section, Grammar and Style, pages 1002-1007, Published by: Dorling Kindersley Limited and Oxford University Press, 2003, ISBN: 978-0-7513-6436-1 (Preview Only – Copyright Material) [from]

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