Grammatical terminology for schools

The glossary and its aims

In December 2014, the committee of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain agreed to adopt a glossary of grammatical terminology whose current version, dated 3 September 2014 and containing about 300 entries, is available in two formats:

The aim of this glossary is to guide teachers and publishers. A standardised terminology allows each teacher to build on the grammatical metalanguage that children have learned from other teachers; and in particular, it allows Foreign-language teachers to build on the grammatical terms that children have learned in English (and vice versa). At present, there is no such standard terminology in our schools; and even within a single subject different teachers may use different terms (or may give terms different meanings).

The glossary is firmly based on academic research in grammar, but it does not follow any one research tradition. Instead, it is intended to satisfy four criteria:

  • internal consistency: almost every term is defined in relation to other terms, so definitions must be mutually compatible.
  • widespread use: terms must be widely used, with the meanings given, by researchers and influential authors, even though different terms may be used in different research communities.
  • accessibility: terms and definitions must be reasonably easy to explain and to understand, and must not presuppose a deep theory of grammar.
  • relevance: terms are included if they are important for teachers, even if they are marginal in research grammar; for instance, the glossary includes some terminology related to punctuation.

The glossary is not intended:

  • to provide a list of terms that should be known by every relevant teacher, and less still as a list to be learned by pupils. It goes well beyond the pedagogical needs of most teachers, and especially of primary teachers. However, different teachers have different needs, the most obvious differences being between teachers of English and of Foreign Languages, so the glossary may be seen as a resource out of which smaller glossaries might be constructed.
  • to provide a course in grammar, either for teachers or for pupils. A course needs to be linear, but the terms are linked together in a complex network. We hope that publishers will commission course-books which will take learners through the network.
  • to explain why grammar is worth teaching at school, or to show how grammar might be taught at school. Research grammarians have no special expertise in this area, so we leave it to others to develop good pedagogy.
  • to explain how to apply the categories in a grammatical analysis. University lecturers do have a great deal of expertise in teaching undergraduates which is probably relevant to school pupils, and in an ideal world the glossary would be accompanied by a tutorial on how grammar is done – how grammarians treat data, how they argue, and how they apply terminology in analyzing examples.  However, this tutorial has not yet been written.
  • to restrict the terminology used in either teaching or research at university, where theoretical frameworks are likely to play a more important part than in schools and differences of terminology are arguably less important than different theoretical assumptions.

The glossary as a work in progress

  • September 2012. The project of building the glossary was initiated in a meeting during the Association’s annual conference in 2012
  • 2012-14. The project was carried forward by a group of LAGB members advising the editor, Dick Hudson. The various versions of the glossary, with tracked changes, can be found here.
  • 2014 on. The glossary is neither perfect nor future-proof, so it can be seen as a work in progress. Any further changes will be overseen by a standing committee consisting of:

Dick Hudson will welcome suggestions for changes, and all such suggestions will be considered by the standing committee.


The UK government requires schools in England to teach a certain amount of grammatical terminology, and its recent (2013) National Curriculum for English  includes both a table of terms that primary pupils of different ages should know, and also a short glossary  which lists these terms and explains them. This list is statutory, i.e. schools are legally obliged to teach it, but the explanations are non-statutory. Linguists will no doubt welcome this standardization of terminology, especially as the terms and explanations are informed by modern grammar.

The National Curriculum table of terms and the glossary only cover the primary years, and makes very little allowance for foreign languages, so schools will need more terminology for the secondary years. In 2012, the LAGB Education Committee convened a discussion on grammatical terminology during the Salford meeting. One outcome of this meeting was an agreement to try to construct an extended glossary of grammatical terminology for use in schools (bearing in mind that a similar project in the early 1900s had failed).