Linguistic Library (Mike Green)

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A glossary of linguistic terms, designed for A Level (UK) English Language Students.

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Irony is the name given to the effect of meaning created when one thing is said or written but another - sometimes opposite - thing is meant. In speech this effect is created by tone of voice in writing by carefully chosen lexis. The study of such meaning falls within the area known as pragmatics.



The technical term for a single base unit of independent meaning such as a word, especially a word in its 'base form' as found as a head word in a dictionary's pages shown in bold, e.g. interest, bridge, mouse but also including some 'phrasal verbs' that have separate meanings from their constituent lexemes, e.g. 'to see to', 'to break down', 'to put up with', 'to wind up'.

The collection of lexemes that forms your vocabulary is called your personal lexicon. A dictionary is another kind of lexicon.

Lexical verb

Lexical verbs tell of an action (to hit, to call, to sing)

Stative verbs tell of a state of being (to be - am, is, was, were - to think, hope, seem, appear, feel, etc.).


Lexical choice means nothing more than word choice. It's clearly an important aspect of creating a suitable style or register (i.e. when making language choices suited to a particular genre, context, audience and purpose). It might be easier to think of lexis as referring only to the form of a word - its shape and sound as opposed to its content or meaning. So a text containing many polysyllabic word choices, for example, would suggest it is suited for a more educated or older speaker; another example, rhymed word choices might suggest a text written in a style suitable for a younger child, and so on.


Referring to the study or ways of language and the use of words to create meaning.


Minor sentence

A minor sentence is a sentence without a subject and/or verb. Exclamations are an example, “Not on your life!' Poets and writers use them to create the effect of real conversation.

Modal Verb

A type of auxiliary verb that communicates how likely something is to happen, or the degree of intent behind it.

  • He might win
  • she could go
  • She will leave
  • He must lose. 


Modification describes the grammatical process in which the semantic value of a word (usually a noun, verb or adjective) can be 'modified' or changed by the addition of another word or phrase (usually an adjective or adverb).

For example, nouns can be both pre-modified (by adjectives, e.g. A tall dark stranger' or other nouns, e.g. 'oven glove') as well as post-modified, e.g. 'The man with an ice-cream. Prepositional phrases can also act as modifiers when they act as the complement of a verb, as in, 'The man is a pig!'.


An important aspect of grammar, but far less so than syntax. Morphology is the study of the way words are formed from smaller units called morphemes. A morpheme is the smallest part of a word that can create or change the word's meaning or function (e.g. un-, happy, -ness). Prefixes and suffixes (i.e. affixes such as, e.g. un-, -tion) are called bound morphemes because they cannot exist without being bound to a base or root word base words (e.g. interest, intent) are called free morphemes because they can exist as independent root words.



Narrative is the technical term for story. A narrative is a particular form of social discourse in which a story, real or fictional, is told from a certain point of view and in which certain events are selected and made to appear to be a sequence, related by 'cause and effect'.

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