© 2019 Steve Campsall

Accent and dialect

Accent refers solely to the way words are pronounced, e.g. in the south of England, it is normal to pronounce the word path as p-ar-th, but in the Midlands and the North, the phoneme 'a' is articulated as a short vowel and pronounced as in, 'cat'. The accent known as 'Received Pronunciation' is considered as a prestige accent and is one frequently heard on television and radio news bulletins, for example.

Dialect refers to choices of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation made by people in different geographical regions or social contexts. The dialect known as 'Standard English' is generally considered to be a prestige dialect and is the choice of many teachers, business people, newsreaders, etc.

Active and passive voice

This is an important stylistic choice that concerns the way we use verbs. A typical English sentence will be cast in what is called the active voice, e.g. 'The teacher led the lesson'. In such a sentence, the subject (S) is also the agent of the action told by the verb (V). This action is transferred to the object of the sentence (O).

A different type of sentence construction is possible. In this, the subject position can be filled not by the agent but by what, in the active sentence, was the verb's object, e.g. 'The lesson was led by the teacher.' The grammatical subject position is now filled by the noun phrase, 'the lesson' and the agent becomes a part of a phrase that follows the verb, introduced with the preposition 'by': 'by the teacher'. This is called a passive construction.

Importantly, passive constructions can even allow for the agent to be deleted and the sense still retained, e.g. 'The lesson was led'. This makes passive sentences potentially interesting as they can be made to carry a different pragmatic force, one that leads to different inferred meanings being created.

By fronting the object in place of the subject, the force of the sentence can be changed and the role of the agent can be diminished. Passive constructions are popular in newspaper headlines as it gives a concise, authoritative and impressive style but one that does not risk 'pointing the finger' of blame, e.g. 'Woman murdered in gangland shooting'. Here the subject is not even mentioned. See also voice.


A word class which contains words that can add more detail (i.e. modify) to a noun or pronoun with which they often form a noun phrase, e.g. 'The busy teacher' (pre-modification).

Adjectives can also post-modify a noun, as in: 'The dinner was awful'. Adjectives are gradable depending on whether a comparison is made with one other thing or many other things: big, bigger, biggest difficult, more difficult, most difficult.


The grammatical agent is the participant in a clause or sentence that carries out the action told by a verb. In the following sentence, the 'cat' is the agent: 'The cat sat on the mat'. In the passive form of this sentence, 'The mat was sat on by the cat', the 'cat' remains the agent, but the subject now becomes 'mat'.

It is easy to confuse the two terms agent and subject: the word subject refers syntactically to the word in a sentence or clause that is grammatically linked to a verb and which makes the verb finite. For more, see active/passive.


In English grammar, it is necessary that certain linked words 'agree' with each other, for example, a verb is given an inflexion (suffix) to allow it to 'agree with' its subject when in the 'third person', e.g. he talks (not he talk).


A class of words (many ending with the suffix -ly) that are often found helping to modify a verb in order to provide extra detail about the way the action told by the verb occurred; however, adverbs are also used to modify other adverbs or adjectives, e.g. 'The girl worked especially hard.' 'He was just too much!' Adverbs can give detail concerning time (e.g. soon, quickly), place (there, here), reason or purpose (consequently, since) and manner (wisely, almost).

'Adverbial' / Adjunct

A phrase that acts like an adverb to provide extra information about time, place, reason or manner. These are also called adjuncts. A sentence can contain several adverbial structures (which, unusually, can be located in more than a single syntactical position without any change of function). Adverbials are usually 'optional' elements in a clause - its central meaning being unaffected if they are left out.


during each day

I exercise

in the gym

in town







This means 'more than one possible meaning'. The rules of grammar exist to allow a structure of words to be created that has a single meaning, i.e. to be unambiguous. Here is an ungrammatical sentence that was an actual warning notice at the bottom of an escalator: 'Dogs must be carried on the escalator'. What does this mean? Are you allowed to ride on the escalator without a dog in your arms?


If a word is described as archaic, it suggests its use is now old-fashioned. Many words in poems are still used that seem archaic, and many formal words may seem to be so, especially in a religious or legal register. Such words may not be really archaic - it may simply be that you are unaware of these particular registers. Take great care when writing about language in A2 change not to label a word archaic simply because you haven't heard of it - better to say 'formal'.


One of a class of words, akin to adjectives, called determiners. The definite article is the and the indefinite article is a or an.


Audience means the kind of reader or listener the text was intended for. As this is unlikely to be you, sadly you do need to attempt the near impossible and 'become' the intended reader. Always consider a text in this way or you will run the risk of 'misreading' it. Also, avoid being overly specific or informal when describing an audience’s likely characteristics: 'this writing is suitable for clever so and so’s of about 23 and over' sounds rather less impressive than, 'the style of this text seems geared towards an educated and sophisticated adult audience'. For module 1 in your exam, audience is one way to categorise similar texts.

Auxiliary verb

English verbs are limited as to what they can indicate alone, i.e. through their own morphology. Morphological inflexions can be used, for example, to show that an event occurred in the past (e.g. cooked) and in the present (e.g. cook); they can also show third person agreement (e.g. she cooks) and continuous action (e.g. cooking).

More often, the main verb needs to be linked with a secondary verb form which accompanies it to create a verb phrase. These secondary verbs are called auxiliaries. Auxiliary verbs are used, for example, to give a sense of time to the main verb (e.g. 'He will be working soon.') or to create a question, 'Have you won?', 'Do you believe it?', 'Could it be true?'.

Common auxiliary verbs are forms of to be (is/am/was/are/were/will), to have (has/had/have) and to do (does/did).

Some auxiliary verbs are used to indicate that an action is not real but simply an idea or possibility. These are called modal auxiliaries, e.g. may, might, would, could, should.


A clause is a key grammatical structure and this means that clauses are things that you need to have, at the very least, a basic grasp of. Thought of at its simplest, a clause can be considered as a short 'sentence' - one that occurs either on its own (e.g. "I ate the jelly") or together with other clauses to make a longer sentence (e.g. "because I was hungry").

  • A clause, then, is a group of words that is either a whole sentence or is a part of a sentence.

  • Clauses are built up from individual words or from small clusters of words called phrases.

  • Most clauses are built around a main verb which tells, often, of an action, thought or state, e.g. "I ate the jelly because I was hungry".

A clause can be what is called independent. This mean it is acting as a simple sentence, as in the example, "I ate the jelly". Independent clauses can also exist as a part of a larger sentence when they are called not an "independent clause" but a main clause.

Another common type of clause exists just to help out the meaning of a main clause. This second kind of clause is, therefore, dependent on its main clause for its meaning. An example would be the dependent clause, "because I was hungry"; you'll see here that there is an extra word at the start of the clause: "because". It is this extra word that stops the clause being able to be independent or to be a main clause; the word "because" forces the clause to be dependent on some other main clause, e.g. "I ate the jelly because I was hungry". This words acts to subordinate its clause and so is called a subordinator. Subordinators create dependent clauses - more often, these days, called subordinate clauses (sometimes reduced to "sub-clauses").

There are many subordinators. Look at this example: "He hit him even though he was a friend":

He hit him

even though he was his friend.


DEPENDENT (subordinate) CLAUSE

An important kind of clause acts as if it were an adjective - it adds extra information about a noun or noun phrase. These clauses are called relative or adjectival clauses. They can seem confusing because they can be inserted in between their main clause, e.g. "The girl who wore a red dress left early." This sentence contains one main clause "The girl left early" and one dependent or relative clause, "who wore a red dress".

  • The subordinator in this example, the word "who", is acting as a pronoun (i.e. it is a word that takes the place of, and stands in for, a noun). Here it is called, therefore, a relative pronoun because it introduces a relative clause.

  • Other relative pronouns are "that" and "whom".

  • Sometimes the relative pronoun can be missed out to create an elliptical relative clause, e.g. "The joke [that] he told was funny"; here the relative clause is "he told".

The structure of clauses is fairly fixed in English syntax (S = subject V = verb O = object C = complement A = adverbial). In certain dialects and in poetry the syntax can be varied and the sense still kept, e.g. "A ballad Alison sang".

  • S+V: Alison / sang.

  • S+V+O: Alison / sang / a song.

  • S+V+C: Alison / is / a good singer.

  • S+V+A: Alison / sings / in the choir.

  • S+V+O+O: Alison / sang / her mum / a ballad.

  • S+V+O+A: Alison / sang / the song / from the song-book.

(cohere / coherent / coherence)

Many patterns of words exhibit a quality known as cohesion. This means that they form coherent units. Phrases are an important coherent grammatical unit. Words that cohere are cohesive: they appear to act not as individual words but as a single unit, e.g. 'inside out', 'at three o'clock', 'the awful creature', 'has been eating', 'in a traditional manner'. These examples of coherent groups are all phrases, but clauses, sentences and discourses are also, if they are to be effective in communicating ideas and facts, coherent.

At the level of discourse, the reader or listener also needs to be able to link the different sentences and paragraphs (or stanzas in a poem, etc) in a logical way. This is achieved by many linguistic means including graphology, semantics, pragmatics, narrative structure, tone, lists, pronouns, proper nouns, repetition of either logical or similar ideas, use of synonyms, and so on. The analysis of the cohesive qualities (i.e. the coherence) of a text is the analysis of discourse structure.

(collocates / collocated)

Many words are habitually put together - or collocated. A collocation is any habitually linked group of words - a kind of lexical partnership, e.g. 'fish and chips', 'salt and pepper', 'don't mention it', 'it's nothing...', 'Oh well!', 'bangers and mash'... and so on. Many idioms or idiomatic phrases exhibit collocation, e.g. in a jiffy.

Colloquial / slang

A 'colloquy' is a formal word for 'conversation', so colloquial language means the everyday language or register we adopt when chatting to friends, for example, e.g. 'Hello Fred, how's the new mother-in-law these days?'.

Slang is a particular form of colloquial language used by certain social groups, e.g. 'Hey-up Fred! How's the new battle-axe then?'; 'Hey that's some cool dude there!'


A word, phrase or clause that follows a verb and which simply adds further information concerning, usually, the verb's subject. Complements usually follow stative verbs such as 'to be' to create a statement (i.e. a declarative sentence), e.g. 'He is happy'. Here the adjective 'happy' is the subject complement. However, in the sentence, 'He made me happy', the adjective happy is called an object complement as it gives more information about the verb's object, me.


A word used to link words, phrases and clauses. Common conjunctions are and, but, or, either... or, neither...nor. These can link 'equal units' such as words, phrases or main clauses. A special kind of conjunction that can link 'unequal' independent and dependent clauses is called a subordinating conjunction. There are many of these, e.g. if, when, where, unless, etc. Also see sentence and clause.

Connotation / denotation
(connote / connotative denote / denotative)

The denotation of a word is its direct, literal or specific meaning (as can be found in a dictionary). If a word also has implied or associated meanings when used in a certain way, these are called the word's connotations. The word 'bat' in this sentence is being used with its denotation: 'A bat is a flying mammal.' however, the word, 'bat' can also take on extra meanings, often metaphorical, e.g. 'He went like a bat out of hell'.

Interestingly, the word 'bat' also happens to have several possible denotations: 'a cricket bat', 'a vampire bat', 'They bat next' (as well as other slang and dialect meanings): words that have several denotations are called polysemic. Polysemy is an area of semantics and pragmatics.

(contextual / contextualise)

Context is always an important aspect to consider whenever you analyse a text. Context refers to those particular elements of the situation within which the text is created and interpreted that in some way or another affect it (for example, the effects of time, place, ideology, social hierarchies, relationships, etc.).

Importantly, language has two potentially important contextual aspects: the context in which it was created and that in which it was interpreted. For example, a letter from a manager to one of his staff will be affected by context such as the situation itself, the power relationship that exists between the manager and the worker, the historical conditions and so on. Another example, when you speak to your parents or when you speak to a friend on the phone you will see that context naturally affects the linguistic choices - the style - of the discourse in important ways. Also see register.


Copula / linking verb

Verbs that act to link a subject to a complement, for example, the verb 'is' in, 'The rabbit is soft and furry', are called 'copulas' or 'linking verbs'.


One of a small group of words - a word class - that precedes and pre-modifies a noun and creates a noun phrase, e.g. a, the, some, this, that, those, each.

  • Determiners include the three 'articles' (i.e. a, an, the) and similar words: e.g. some, those, many, their. Each of these are said to determine the number or 'definiteness' of their noun, e.g. 'That man is the one!'

Confusingly, determiners can themselves be pre-modified by 'pre-determiners', e.g. 'Even the apples were rotten' 'All the books were lost.'

Discourse / discourse analysis / discourse structure / discourse community / discourse communities

Whenever we use language for any purpose we create a discourse. What we are doing when we enter into a discourse is to try to express to someone else some of our thoughts, ideas and (whether on the surface or implied) feelings. These thoughts will have arisen as a reaction of our mind to the context in which it finds itself. Texts - discourses - arise from an individual's context. Sometimes this context will involve communication with a known person, sometimes with a group or audience, sometimes with an unknown individual or group. Conversation and letter writing are examples of the former, drama and media texts of the latter.

We have evolved into very sophisticated communicators; and of course we know how to use more than just language to create our discourse: we use language and paralanguage (non verbal features) as well as kinesics (body language). This all combines to make discourse a subtle, sophisticated and complex area of study. But, even a basic understanding of discourse can help push your marks up to the highest bands.

Aspects of communication that affect discourses include genre, context, audience and purpose ('G-CAP'). All of these, and especially the first three, will act to affect our language choices, often to 'constraint' what we can say or write. 'Freedom' of speech is an illusion!  Context is an especially important aspect of discourse analysis as the social and hierarchical aspects of life often bring all kinds of pragmatic meanings into the discourse.

A discourse occurs whenever we put thought into language. This could be for a whole range of reasons - we might be in a conversation, writing a novel, producing a piece of homework, holing someone to ransom, texting a friend... all kinds of reasons. The result of this 'conversion' of thought and ideas into language is the production of a discourse between the parties involved. And these discourses can ne productively analysed as an analysis at the level of discourse will reveal many interesting and subtle areas of language use.

Discourse, therefore, is no more than language - a kind of 'text' - but considered as a part of the original context of its use. When considering discourse, therefore, you need to consider all of the important aspects of context that affected either its creation, its reception or its interpretation. And remember that discourses or spoken - planned, spontaneous, to a known audience, an unknown audience, historical, etc..

Thus, everyday language, technical language, business language, children's language, cookery-book language, newspaper language... any and all kinds of language, can all be considered at the level of discourse. All texts will contain within them some discernible aspects of their user's personal, cultural, social and historical situation. Discourse analysis comments on these contextual aspects.

  • Commenting on the situation in which a discourse arises means taking account of aspects of both its local and ideological or cultural context.

When analysing a text, it can be fascinating (and gain many extra marks because of its subtlety) to dig deeper than the surface meaning of the words to try to reveal interesting contextual aspects of the text's users. To make this clearer, you can imagine that our own society is far more liberal-minded than, say, the society of a century ago. This aspect will show up in the texts written in these periods through a variety of aspects including word choice and grammar. Similarly, aspects of social hierarchy and social power always manifest themselves within texts. Imagine a conversation between a patient and a doctor, for example  - again, discourse analysis seeks to reveal this.

We can, somewhat artificially perhaps, but useful, 'lump together' certain discourses and see that they contain broadly similar elements because of the context, for example, in which they occur. Thus the idea of a 'discourse community' or discourse communities can be used, similar to the idea of a 'register'. Young people, to take an example, tend to use language that shares many similar features, and they can be called a 'discourse community'. In this instance, this is similar to the idea of sociolect, also - but not all discourse communities share a sociolect.

An important part of discourse analysis is to determine what are called the orders of discourse. In any discourse, it is clear that speakers or readers are rarely 'on equal terms'. Usually there is a hierarchy of power or a power relationship involved, wherein one participant - through language choices - can 'position' the other participant in a less powerful position. An analysis of men and women in conversation has revealed many ways in which apparently innocent uses of language create a power relationship between the participants.

'Frameworks' are recommended by most exam boards to help you to analyse discourse. The basic aspects of a discourse are lexis and grammar; but meaning can be signified directly ('semantically') or through implication ('pragmatically'); the form of language is also important (graphologically and phonologically); and the discourse structure is crucial (see below). Thus you can use frameworks to analyse discourse effectively.

Discourse structure can be a useful part of discourse analysis and is generally rewarded highly in your exams. Analysing a text at the level of its discourse structure sets out to reveal the various methods used, effects created and purposes intended by the language user to create a coherent and unified stretch of language. A text aimed at a child, for example, will have a much more obvious structure with clear 'linguistic signposts' to guide the child through it. If you compare such a text with, say, a broadsheet newspaper article, you will immediately notice that the means of linking ideas in the latter will be far more complex, sophisticated and subtle. Discourse structure, therefore, is one of the elements of style: those choices a language user makes to suit context, genre, audience and purpose.


An element is a distinct grammatical unit - a 'building block' or segment of a sentence there are three important grammatical elements: word, phrase and clause. Some of the elements of a discourse or text are their sentences, paragraphs, chapters and so on.

(to elide)

Elision is the omission of one or more sounds from a word, e.g. a vowel, consonant or a whole syllable. It is used to create a word or phrase that is easier or more casual to suit an informal context, for example, e.g. the word 'comfortable' is usually elided when spoken.


Grammar allows some words to be missed from a grammatical construction (i.e. for sentences to be grammatically abbreviated) and yet for the sentence still to be meaningful, e.g. 'I bought half a dozen eggs and [...I also bought...] six rashers of bacon.' The reader or listener is able to 'add back in' the elements that have been left out and thus understand what is meant.


A term that means 'lasting for a short time', i.e. transitory. In the study of language change, it refers to fashionable words that drift in and out of fashion. Speech is often considered to be an ephemeral thing in contrast to the more permanent nature of writing.

Finite / non finite

This word applies only to certain verbs. A verb in a sentence can exist on its own as in these examples: 'It's good to exercise' or 'I enjoy exercising'. In each of these sentences, the form of the verb is termed non-finite.

Alternatively - and every complete grammatical sentence has one at least by definition - the verb can be made finite. This simply means that it is 'attached' grammatically to a subject word. This subject is usually either a noun or noun phrase. Look at this example: I exercise to keep fit'). In this latter case the subject/verb combination work together to create a clause.

Form and content

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.

The content is the meaning contained by a word, phrase, clause or sentence and this is involved with its function. The separation of form, function and content is a theoretical way of discussing the effect of each even though all three are inextricably linked.


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.


Genre is a way of categorising texts according to similarities they share with those we already know. More generally, genre is a way of making the unfamiliar seem more familiar and hence, be more easily and quickly recognisable. New things might be unwanted, uncomfortable or even threatening. For instance, if we see an insect that looks different from a wasp but has black and yellow stripes and a pointy body – 'genre' allows us to quickly label it and either run, squash or collect it. Genre is a kind of 'survival instinct'. The world is naturally (sometimes worryingly and even threateningly) chaotic things can and do happen at random – even dangerous things. To feel safe, we force order upon as much of the world as we can: we build houses, store food, name things and so on. We must feel secure. Your bedroom might not seem to reflect your instinctive ordering mentality, but it most certainly does: firstly, it is a defined space (it is a piece of the world that is more secure because it is contained) and, although your belongings may look like pure chaos to an untrained observer such as mum and dad, you know precisely what is in that heap of clothes, CDs, magazines, English Language homework and whatever else.

What has this to do with language study? Well, surprisingly, we impose order and give labels even to things as unthreatening as language and media texts (you wouldn’t want a romantic film to turn into 'The Chain Saw Massacre'). So, texts that share content (e.g. chain saws, fondling couples), function (e.g. to frighten, to arouse), and form (e.g. books, films) are categorised and 'made safe'. But because, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt, genres can and do change – but slowly (see Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs for evidence).

Genre is an important idea because it affects the production as well as the reception of texts. Writers know what we expect from a particular genre, and – to keep us receptive and comfortable (and hence – importantly for language study – more easily influenced or persuaded) – they will stay broadly within a particular genre’s expectations. Typical genres of fiction are adventure, detective and horror, and of non-fiction, reports (e.g. newspaper, school), biographical writing, advertising, recipes, etc. Taking account of genre allows you to comment on effective genre indicators ('signifiers') and stylistic devices within a text. Of course, genre is an ideal way of categorising similar texts.

(grammatical / grammaticality)

Grammar is the set of rules that tells how words can be put into a sequence and a form that allows their meaning to become unambiguous in a sentence. The order of words in a phrase, clause or sentence is called its syntax and the form of words is called morphology (for example, to show plural we add the morpheme s, to show possession, we add the morpheme 's).


Graphology is easily misunderstood and many teachers advise students to pay it little attention as it can lead to analysing the images and diagrams in a text - a habit that loses many marks in a language exam. But it needn't be that way at all as, properly applied, a graphological analysis can be very useful and subtle.

Originally, graphology applied only to the appearance of a person's handwriting; for your course, however, it applies to any aspect of the form and appearance of a text that modifies meaning in any way.

  • It is the graphological qualities of any written or printed text that we first notice.

This means you would do well to consider analysing a text at the level of its graphology before looking at other methods of analysis such as lexis or grammar. The graphological features of a text determine subtle and important aspects such as genre and ideology: how we react to the text itself. Graphological features, therefore, carry pragmatic force and are an important part of our society's discourse.

For example, a text's layout, presentation, use of paragraphs, lists, 'bullets', font choices, underlining, italics, white space, colour, etc. can all create different kinds of impact, some of which will cause the reader to react differently for example, graphological aspects can create important pragmatic perceptions of power and influence.

Head / head word

All phrases have what is called a head or head word. This is the word within the phrase that determines its grammatical function (and which acts to provide its most general meaning); other words within the phrase act in a modifying capacity. For example, in the noun phrase 'the old-fashioned door', the head word is the noun, door - the remaining words within the phrase act to modify this head word; in a verb phrase such as 'might be hit', the head word is the finite verb hit and in a prepositional phrase such as 'on the table', the head word is on.


Ideology refers to the values and attitudes we all share towards such things as ourselves, others and institutions. Ideologies are general or cultural ways of thinking that form the foundation of the many important 'belief systems' that are adhered to by groups or whole societies. They form a society's and individual's 'world view' or 'mind set' concerning how things are and ought to be. A society is a group of people who share certain key values and ideas; these values and ideas are called that society's ideologies.

Texts are created by speakers and writers who share society's beliefs concerning 'what is right' and 'what is wrong' or about 'the way things should be for the best' in society. These ideologies mw be 'hidden' because they seem 'natural' or 'common sense', as the result of 'progress' in our 'advanced' society, and so on.

If we closely examine and consider some important ideologies, it can be seen that those ideas act to reinforce the structure of our society. Some thinkers - called Marxists - conclude that this might not be a healthy thing for a society as it helps maintain what they call society's status quo - ideas that maintain the existing social hierarchies and power structures (with, for example, the wealthy holding the reigns of power, and the poor being attached in important ways to those reigns, perhaps?).

This 'political' way of considering the effect of ideologies arose in the theories of the key nineteenth century philosopher, Karl Marx. Marx recognised that those with power naturally enough wish to hold on to their status (those who 'own the means of production', i.e. the powerful, he called the bourgeoisie lesser mortals are the proletariat or the masses). Marx thought that the bourgeoisie were able to create and reinforce particular 'ways of thinking' that would act to reinforce and maintain a society’s status quo and hence, existing hierarchies of status and power.

Ideas that 'maintain the status quo' are referred to as a society’s dominant or prevailing ideologies. An example of such an idea might be, 'He deserves to be rich because he’s worked hard for all he has' but this ignores the plight of millions who work even harder but stay poor. The point of ideological thinking is just that – it ignores, hides, sidelines, and 'disappears' those groups whose ideas it does not support.

Marx felt that such ways of thinking act not only to keep the powerful in power but also to create the conditions necessary for the masses to justify their own lower position in society. The means by which ideas can support the status quo is called hegemony. Prevailing ideologies become a part of us as we grow up we become 'conditioned' into thinking that the way our society operates is for the best. This 'social conditioning' is created through the family, school, religion, law and – very importantly for language study – the mass media indeed, the media receive much of the focus of Marxist criticism because it is considered a major means through which powerful elite groups can increase their hegemony over others. It is hegemony that causes us to view our capitalist, consumerist 'social-democracy', with its hierarchies of status and power, its elitism, its individualistic self-centredness, its poverties and its suffering… as 'the best of all possible worlds'.

In studying a text for its hegemonic or ideological power, you must learn to look for what is termed 'ideologically loaded' language. Such language is that which has judgemental value as well as meaning. Look out for such language and consider its seductively persuasive effect as it subtly 'ideologically positions' you as reader. Many ideologically loaded words have their judgmental value because their meaning is relational: they exist as 'binary pairs', e.g. 'master/mistress', 'housewife/working mother', 'middle class/working class', 'freedom fighter/terrorist', 'hero/coward', 'normal/abnormal', 'gay/hetero', 'feminine/feminist, 'The West/the East', etc. Some linguists maintain that all language – all meaning – is an 'ideological construct'.

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Idiomatic language
(idiom / idiomatic phrase)

Idiomatic language refers to many words or phrases that are a familiar and everyday feature of our language. Idioms are a part of the comfortable, conversational style of language we use daily - but to a foreigner, idioms are difficult to understand because their meaning is very different from the literal meaning of the words that make them up, e.g. 'He wants his pound of flesh.' 'You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' 'That's real cool' 'No way, José', 'He's a pain in the neck!', etc. Each of these are idioms - or idiomatic phrases. You will notice that idioms always exist as fixed collocations which do not work if the phrase order is altered at all. For example, we cannot really say, 'He scratched my back and I scratched his...'.


Words can be chosen to create more than just meaning: they create feeling, too. Some words or phrases are able to create a particularly vivid mental sense of a picture, person, sound, taste, etc. This effect is called imagery. Imagery is a very important feature of all descriptive writing and, especially, of poetry. The most common way by which a writer can create imagery is through the use of figurative or metaphorical language, typically through the use of metaphor, simile and personification. Truly effective imagery acts almost to etch itself onto the reader's mind. This can be a very emotional and persuasive device as it acts to engage the reader intensely in the subject matter of the writing.


A command sentence which uses the second person plural form of a verb but misses out the subject pronoun 'you'. It gives orders, e.g. Leave now! Sit down.


A form of a verb without tense and often introduced by 'to' infinitive forms can replace noun phrases as subject or object of a verb, e.g. Object: He likes to eat subject: To fish is a very relaxing way to spend the morning.

(inflexion / inflect / inflects / inflected)

The way words can change their form to show, for example, that they are singular or plural (e.g. table becomes tables) and to indicate tense (e.g. change becomes changes/ changed/ changing) or possession (The cat's whiskers).


Intensifiers are a special kind of adverb. An intensifier is used when the semantic value of another adverb or adjective needs to be altered. Examples of intensifiers are: very, quite, absolutely and extremely but there are many more.

Intensifiers act to pre-modify their adverb or adjective. Can you identify the intensifier in this sentence: 'It's a terrifically bad accident.'?


A word class that is used to show emotion, e.g. 'Ouch!', 'Hey!'


A verb is called intransitive when no action transfers from their subject to an object, e.g. we swam like a fish they sang beautifully he died. A transitive verb always takes an object - the thing that takes its action, e.g. He hit his thumb with the hammer.


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.


This term refers to those many rather formal words in English that derive from either Latin or French. These words entered the language most notably during the period following the Norman Conquest (1066). King William I spoke a northern French dialect that itself was heavily influenced by the classical Latin language of ancient Rome; he insisted that the nobility of newly conquered England learn to speak French and, from this, many French/Latin words entered the language. The Latinate equivalent now sits alongside the original Old English/Anglo-Saxon term and tends to be used in more formal occasions. Examples are motherly (Anglo-Saxon)/maternal (Latinate); inn (Anglo-Saxon)/hotel (Latinate). As a rule of thumb, if you can pronounce the word in a French accent it is Latinate! A text that relies heavily on Latinate words will be aimed at a more educated audience.

(lexical item / lexemic / lexicon)

A lexeme or lexical item is a word - or occasionally phrase - in its most basic form, like the head words found in a dictionary that are listed each as separate entries. An example is the word 'spell'; from this lexeme there can be several derivations, e.g. spelled, spelt, spelling, etc. These inflected forms of the root word are not counted as lexemes. The word 'crane', as an example, is two lexemes, one meaning a large bird and the other a machine for lifting.

Also included under the heading of lexemes are the so-called phrasal verbs; these are short phrases whose meanings are different from their constituent lexemes, e.g. 'see to', 'break down', 'put up with', 'wind up'.

Idiomatic phrases that carry meaning as a unit are also counted as lexemes, e.g. 'give over, 'rain cats and dogs', etc.

The collection of lexemes that forms a person's vocabulary is called his or her lexicon. A dictionary is another kind of lexicon.

Lexical (dynamic) and stative verbs

Lexical or dynamic 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.).


Lexis means the vocabulary of a language as opposed to other aspects such as the grammar of the text. Lexis is clearly an important aspect of creating a suitable style or register (i.e. when choosing language and language features to suit a particular genre, context, audience and purpose).

Lexis and semantics are very close and often used interchangeably.

Lexical cohesion occurs when words have an affinity for each other as in collocations.


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

Modifier / Modification /
e-modification /

Modification describes the grammatical process through which the meaning of a head word within a phrase can be altered, refined or modified. This is done by the addition of one or more words. The result of the modification of a word is the creation of a phrase e.g. in the noun phrase, 'A criminal act', the head word (the noun 'act') is modified by the noun 'criminal'.    

Nouns can be both pre-modified (by linking with one or more adjectives, e.g. A tall dark stranger' or with 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, 'He's in a mess'.


'Mode' refers to the channel of communication of a text. A text might be spoken or written, for example, or it might show features of being 'mixed mode' is the sense that it contains features of both speech and writing, as in text messages and email.

(modal / modality)

'Mood' is an aspect of English verbs. Verb phrases can be categorised according to whether they express an actual or a potential action or state. The moods are: indicative mood: 'He plays well'; 'She is happy' (indicating an actual event or state); imperative mood: 'Sit down!' (issuing a command); interrogative mood: 'Will you please sit down?' (asking a question); subjunctive mood: 'If she were alive, then...' (pointing to a possibility or wish).

Mood is often created in a verb phrase through the use of a modal auxiliary. This kind of auxiliary verb usually creates the effect of suggesting that the action told of by the verb is not real but is potential.

Morphology / morpheme

The suffix "morph-" is to do with shape, and morphology concerns the form and shape of words. It is an important aspect of grammar (along with syntax); morphology is the study of the way words are formed. The smallest part of a word that can exist alone or which can change a word's meaning or function is called a morpheme (e.g. un-, happy, -ness).

A bound morpheme is an affix, i.e. usually a prefix or a suffix, e.g. un-, -tion. These are 'bound' called  because they must be attached to another morpheme to create a word. Morphemes that can exist alone as a complete word are called free morphemes, e.g. happy.