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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A word used often - but not always - to replace a noun, e.g. Alex, when the teacher came into the classroom, you mean you really didn't see her? See also person .


Purpose is the reason why a text was created. This may be, for example, to entertain, explain, instruct, persuade or inform. The purpose of a text is its writer or speaker’s controlling idea: the message they wish the text to leave with the reader or listener. When you consider a text’s purpose, you need to recognise how the writer has chosen stylistic devices to bring about a particular series of effects on the reader. One of the most common purposes is to persuade – and it can be one of the most difficult to determine because professional writers are experts at making persuasion appear to be information: quite a different thing (as wartime propaganda has shown). Audience is also a way to categorise texts.



A referent is the word to which another word in a sentence or text refers. It is an important element of textual cohesion . For example, a pronoun must have a referent noun which is already understood (this noun is called the pronoun's antecedent) or its meaning will be unclear or ambiguous.

Referents can be

  • exophoric (when the referent is outside of the text),
  • endophoric (when the referent is within the text),
  • anaphoric (when the reference precedes the pronoun, e.g. 'John will cook the meal he is a fine chef.' Here, the pronoun, 'he' is an anaphoric referent) or
  • cataphoric (when the referent follows the pronoun, e.g. 'I know what he means about it' said the captain about the steward's behaviour.' - here, the pronouns 'I', 'he' and 'it' all have cataphoric referents).


When context results in a commonly recognisable style to be produced, the resulting style is called a register (e.g. an informal register, a medical register, a scientific register). Context can be an effective way to categorise texts.

Relative clause

A kind of clause (a group of words built around a subject and verb ) that is a variety of adjectival clause . Relative clauses are used to give extra detail about the subject or object noun of a main clause in a sentence. e.g. A main clause might be, “The butcher sold me some sausages.' and a relative clause could be, ' who works in Tesco's' . The sentence could then become, 'The butcher, who works in Tesco's, sold me some sausages.'

A relative clause usually begins with a relative pronoun such as: that, which, who, whom, although 'that' is often elided as in: 'He knew [that] we were going early.'.

Root Word

A free morpheme to which can be added a affix (a prefix or suffix) that acts to change the root word's meaning or function.


Semantic field

A group of words that are related because they are from the same area of knowledge or interest, e.g. the semantic field of agriculture includes: farm, farming, tractor, meadow, crop, etc. This is sometimes also called lexical field. Semantic fields can be important in the use of metaphor. A metaphor is a description of a thing from one semantic field (e.g. football) spoken of as if it were from a very different semantic field ('the home side gunned down the opposing side with ease' - the semantic field of war).


Semantics is the study of the meanings created by words and phrases (see also pragmatics - the study of the way context can infer or imply extra meanings and so add to their semantic value or content). Writers often play with the semantics of words to entertain or intrigue a reader - examples are when a writer uses irony, simile, metaphor or hyperbole (called figurative language). An important area of semantics is idiomatic language .


A sentence is a sequence of words constructed in accordance with the rules of grammar. Such a group has a sense of completeness and clarity of meaning. It will be constructed around at least one noun phrase acting as the subject of a finite verb, i.e. it will contain at least one main clause The rules of grammar mainly concern the order words must take in a sentence, technically called its syntax and, to a lesser extent, the form words must take, called their morphology.

Sentence 1) below shows standard syntax and morphology (i.e. standard grammar):
1). 'The cat sat on the mat.'

Sentence 2) shows non-standard morphology:
2). 'The cat sitted the mat on.'

Sentence 3) shows non-standard syntax:
3). 'The cat on the mat sat.'

A group of words that is a sentence is made obvious to the eye (i.e. in writing) by an opening capital letter and a final full stop, question mark or exclamation mark. It is made obvious to the ear (i.e. in speech) by the use of pauses. It is made obvious to the mind because it makes sense alone.

A sentence may loosely be said to be a coherent group of words that expresses a single complete thought about something (or someone).

A sentence can be one of three main types:

1. A simple sentence is a sentence that contains a single subject and verb, i.e. an independent clause.

2. A compound sentence is a sentence that contains more than one main clause. These clauses must be linked by co-ordinating conjunction or a semicolon.

3. A complex sentence is a sentence that contains a mixture of clause types. A complex sentence must contain (as all sentences) at least one main clause but will also contain a second kind of clause acting as a dependent or subordinate clause. Subordinate clauses often begin with a subordinating conjunction such as however, although, even though, because, etc. There is also a special kind of sentence, often used in speech, called a 'minor sentence'.

A sentence can fulfil one of four functions:

1. It can make a statement. This is called a declarative sentence, e.g. 'I am overweight.' Declaratives usually follow the word order SV (subject first, verb second)

2. It can ask a question. This is called an interrogative sentence, e.g. 'Am I overweight?' and indicated by a question mark. Interrogatives usually follow the word order VS (verb first, subject second)

3. It can demand an action. This is called an imperative sentence, e.g. 'Sit down, please.' indicated by a lack of subject (but 'you' is implied).

4. It can make an exclamation. This is called an exclamatory sentence, e.g. 'What a mess!', indicated by an exclamation mark.


a variety of language used by a particular social group.

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