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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This word applies to verbs. A finite verb is one whose meaning is 'held' or 'bounded' by its attached subject, as in the clause, 'The athlete fainted'. Here, the past-tense verb 'fainted' is made finite by (i.e. it is limited by) its subject. This perhaps becomes clearer when you consider what a 'non-finite' verb is! Some forms of a verb do not take subjects and so are not 'bounded' by them with regard to their meaning as in these three sentence: 'Cooked meat is safer than uncooked' 'Cooking is fun' 'I like to cook' and 'Let's cook!'. One of the definitions of a sentence is that it is a group of words containing a finite clause.


Form means the sound, shape and appearance of something, e.g. two forms of the word please, are pleases and pleased. The form of the sentence, e.g. 'He pleased himself.' can be explained by referring to two kinds of structure: that of its individual words (i.e. their morphology) and the way its words relate to each other (i.e. their syntax). The study of both of these aspects of sentences is called grammar.  The study of the form of a text is called discourse analysis.

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Formality is an important aspect of register. Informal language is friendly, familiar, and casual. Strict accuracy and correctness are not important in informal language. Formal language is authoritative, and more impersonal.

Speech tends to be informal, Writing tends to be formal.


The function of a word is what it 'does' in its sentence, e.g. its function is to act as a subject, object, verb, etc. The function of a sentence is what it is intended to 'do', e.g. to make a statement, ask a question or give a command or order.