© 2019 Steve Campsall

Narrative & Myth

Whilst it's true to say that a narrative is no more than a story, the important realisation from an analytical viewpoint is that when we tell or write a story, we all tend to use a very similar form and structure, no matter what the story and whether it is imaginary or not. Narrative is easily one of the most common varieties of social discourse and a day will not pass without you reading or hearing a story - or constructing one of your own.

In a narrative, events (whether they be real or fictional) are told in certain ways: they are told ('narrated') from a certain point of view (e.g. 'first person', 'third person', 'multiple viewpoint', etc.), they are carefully selected for their value in creating a sense of involvement, interest and tension; the events are unified and coherent, they have an apparently logical 'cause and effect' structure. The events typically involve a main character (called, 'the protagonist' or 'hero'); the life of the protagonist is usually disturbed from an initial - or presumed - state of 'normality' or equilibrium; this disturbance is created by a conflict that is introduced by a second character (called the 'antagonist' or 'villain' - also sometimes a social institution); the conflict is tackled by the 'hero' during the development or rising action of the narrative; this leads to a climax of action followed by a winding down and tying up of loose ends called the d�nouement; during this final part of the story, there is the formation of a new equilibrium and a final resolution. Typically, by the end of the narrative, the protagonist's life will have changed in some way and he or she will have learned something useful about life.

From early childhood, we become accustomed to making sense of the complex events of the world through the simplifying and satisfying means of narrative, not noticing the way the form and structure of narrative orders and simplifies reality, most particularly the way it positions people as either wholly 'good' (= heroes and helpers) or wholly 'bad' (= villains and accomplices). The fact that this is merely a point of view and a massive over-simplification of the realities of life passes us by as we become absorbed by and relate to the characters and events of the narrative. It has been suggested that we might even be born with such basic structures and forms embedded within our subconscious; they certainly have an enduring and unshakeable impact upon our psychology. Certainly, it is clear that as human beings we do have a need for security, control and order within our lives and narrative, along with genre, are two very important means by which order and security can be created in what is, in reality, a disordered and even potentially dangerous universe.

Many narratives are so ancient and enduring that they are called myths. Examples are the romance myth, the family myth, the hero myth and so on. Narratives usually have a relatively fixed structure: a 'beginning' (where a setting creates mood or atmosphere and characters are introduced), linked to a 'middle' (where the hero meets a problem and works to overcome the problem and where the plot becomes interesting and reaches a climax) linked to an 'end' (where a satisfying sense of closure is introduced - the plot draws to a conclusion).

Nonce word

'Nonce' is an archaic word meaning, 'for the one time'. A 'nonce word' is a word that is coined for a particular occasion. Nonce words sometimes catch on and enter everyday usage, initially as neologisms or new words - they are especially common in pop culture, e.g. 'poptastic'; Linguist David Crystal mentions the word 'floodle' someone once used to mean a stretch of water bigger than a puddle but smaller than s flood.


A noun is any word that can form the head word in a noun phrase or be the subject or object of a verb. Semantically speaking, a noun is any word that 'labels' or 'names' a person, thing or idea.

There are several types of noun: common noun (e.g. computer, sandwich, cats), proper noun (proper nouns are names for individual nouns, e.g. Coke, London, Simon), abstract noun (abstract nouns are 'ideas', e.g. death, hunger, beauty), concrete nouns (concrete nouns are solid objects in the real or imaginary world, e.g. bread, butter, clock) collective nouns (collective nouns name groups of individual or things, e.g. parliament, audience collective nouns are often treated as if they were singular, e.g. 'The choir is singing well.'), mass (or non-count) nouns (mass nouns exist as an undifferentiated mass, e.g. card, beer, milk, cake), and count nouns (count nouns exits as countable items, e.g. bottle, pencil).


Orthography is the term used in linguistics used to refer to the way that words are spelled.


Words made from verbs that are used either with an auxiliary to create a verb tense (e.g. was eaten) or as an adjective to describe a noun (e.g. an eating apple) or as a noun to label a thing (e.g. the singing was loud). Notice that because the participles all derive from verbs, they always retain the idea of action in their meaning.


This term is used to describe pronouns. A pronoun always has a referent (i.e. a noun to which it refers). The referent of 'I' is always the writer or speaker of a sentence and is referred to as the first person singular pronoun 'we' is called the first person plural pronoun the person or people spoken to is referred to as the second person pronoun, i.e. 'you' (both singular and plural) the person or people spoken about is referred to as the third person pronoun, i.e. he / she / it (third person singular) or they (third person plural).




Phonetics is the study of the way people physical produce and perceive the different sounds we use to create speech. These sounds are called phonemes and are created by the various 'organs of speech' in the body, including the tongue, the soft and hard palate, lips, pharynx, etc. Phonetics, unlike phonology, is not concerned in any way with the meaning connected to these sounds.

Phonology is the study of the way speech sounds are structured and how these are combined to create meaning in words, phrases and sentences. Phonology can be considered an aspect of grammar and, just as there are grammar 'rules' that apply to the syntax of a sentence and the morphology of words, there are phonological rules, too.

Even in very early childhood, children are said to be able to produce (i.e. they can articulate) the full range of sounds needed to create all of the words used in any world language, yet as language acquisition progresses, those phonemes that do not apply to their mother tongue become forgotten. This is so much so that in later life, if a second language is then attempted, the pronunciation of non-English phonemes needs to be re-learned - this time at a wholly conscious level, as opposed to the ability to pronounce each English phoneme without any conscious thought. Even 'non-words' such as 'erm', 'uh?', etc. use English phonemes.

An important part of phonology is the study of those sounds that form distinct units within a language. The smallest unit of sound that can, in itself, alter the meaning of a word is called a phoneme. Although there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, it's interesting to note that there are around 44 phonemes in the dialect called Standard English. This means that letters cannot represent phonemes as such and so other symbols are used. Each phoneme is given a symbol so that the accurate pronunciation of any English word can be represented in writing. Here is the (American) English phonetic alphabet - version of the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA:

The extra sounds we have above the number of letters we have available in part explains the complexities of English spelling (see orthography). Consider the word might, in which there are three phonemes m-ight-t (represented as m/ai/t using the Phonetic Alphabet), changing just a single phoneme can completely change the meaning of this word, e.g. mate, m-a-te (represented as m/ei/t phonetically).

Some of the extra sounds are there because we use phonemes that are called diphthongs. If the tongue has to move significantly to make a vowel sound, the result is a diphthong; it sounds like a rapid blend of two vowel sounds. The letter 'i' in the word 'kite' is a diphthong - it is a rapidly made blend of an 'a' and an 'i' sound. The movement of sound from the 'a' to the 'i' is called a glide.

Phonology also covers the study of important sound features such as rhythm, pitch, tone, melody, stress and intonation. These phonological features of language are aspects of prosody - they are referred to as the prosodic or suprasegmental features of language.


A phrase is a key grammatical unit. In terms of its meaning, a phrase expresses one complete element of a proposition. It will be made up of one or more words and occupy a particular syntactic slot within its clause or sentence, e.g. as subject, predicate or object. A useful rough and ready 'test' for a phrase is that it can be 'replaced' in its clause or sentence by a single word that is roughly its equivalent. Thus in the sentence, 'That old guy over there has been patiently waiting for three and a half hours already', the noun phrase, 'The tall man over there' could be replaced by 'he'; the verb phrase 'has been patiently waiting' could be replaced by 'waited', the prepositional phrase 'for three and a half hours' could be replaced by 'ages'!

  • A phrase acts as a unit with individual meaning, but without sufficiently completeness to be a clause or sentence by itself.

Noun phrase

A noun phrase always has a noun as its head word, e.g. "a cat"; "the naughty cat"; "that furry black mangy old cat".

Verb phrase
(sometimes called a verb chain)

A verb phrase always has a verb as its head word, "drink"; "has drunk"; "has been drinking"; "seems"; "will be"; "might have been"; "explained"; "has been explaining".

Adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase)

An adjective phrase always has an adjective as its head word, e.g. "gory", "absolutely foul".

Adverb phrase (or adverbial phrase)

A phrase with an adverb as its head word, e.g. soundly; too evidently; as quickly as possible

Prepositional phrase (a special kind of adverbial phrase)

A phrase which has been constructed from a preposition with a noun phrase linked to it to form a single unit of meaning, e.g. "up the road"; "across the street"; "round the bend".

Phrases - with words - are the basic building blocks of clauses and sentences. A phrase can always be split into two parts: its head word which is linked to some kind of modification of the head word. The head word is the central part of the phrase and the remaining words act to modify this head word in some way, e.g. "The peculiarly strong creature" - can you see that the head word of this noun phrase is the noun, "creature"?

As suggested above, a phrase does, in fact, act just like an individual word. The next example sentence contains three phrases and a single main clause. Can you recognise which are the phrases and which is the clause?

In a frenzy, without thinking, he grabbed him by the neck.

You might like to think that, between each word of the three phrases above, there exists a kind of 'word glue' that gives the phrase its coherent quality. The phrases "In a frenzy", "without thinking" and "by the neck" all can be seen to exist as individual units of meaning, i.e. as individual phrases.

  • Notice that the clause in the above sentence cannot be called a phrase because it is built around a verb (i.e. a verb phrase), "he grabbed him"



Pragmatics is an aspect of how language generates meaning - and as such, it falls under the 'umbrella' of semantics, which is the study of meaning. Semantics is often, simplistically, said to be the the study of surface 'sentence meaning' and pragmatics to be the study of the deeper, inferred 'social force' of language.

The clearest way we can communicate our ideas and thoughts is through language. To achieve this, the ideas and thoughts we want to communicate become 'encoded' either phonologically (by the sound of spoken words) or graphically (through marks on a handwritten or printed page). When this meaning is conveyed semantically, the encoded meaning - the words, phrases and sentences we create - can be easily de-coded without particular thought of the context. Sometimes, however, a deeper, inferred meaning is also encoded within language, and this creates a pragmatic force within the text. Thus, pragmatics operates whenever we write or say one thing semantically but mean to infer extra force to our text or utterance.

  • Pragmatics is an absolutely key aspect of any A-level textual analysis as it is so very revealing of important linguistic aspects.

  • If you ignore the pragmatic force of language in your analyses, you will lose many marks.

An example will make this clearer. If you think about the phrase, 'Give him one!', the meaning this contains will very much depend upon the social situation in which it is used. It is the noun 'one' that, in certain social situations, will carry different levels of force: it is a pragmatically loaded word, where its precise meaning can only be inferred by the context of the language use.

  • Pragmatic meanings can be inferred in this way because, owing to the context of the language use, we are able to 'read into' a word the extra meaning - the utterance's pragmatic force - conferred on it by the way it is used within a particular social situation.  

Pragmatics can allow language to be used in interesting and social ways: knowing that your listener or reader shares certain knowledge with you allows your conversation to be more personal, lively or less extended. It also allows you to use words and give them inferred elements such as power aspects, because your listener is aware of your social standing, for example. Similarly, language can act in ideological ways to reinforce a society's values - again, pragmatically. At another level, language users can rely on pragmatics to help them cut down on the number of words needed to make meaning clear - and hence contributes to a more lively style.

Here are a few examples that require more than a semantic analysis to reveal the intended meaning of the text's words and phrases, but where the pragmatic meaning is perfectly clear:

  • 'BABY SALE - GOING CHEAP' (poster seen in shop window - but no babies are for sale).

  • 'Quick! Fire!' (and you know you must run).

  • 'Pass the salt' (and you know it's not an order).

  • 'Are you going into town?' (and you know it's a request for the person to come with you).

  • 'He's got a knife!' (and you don't ask how sharp it is)

  • 'I promise to be good.' (and you don't expect a repeat of the bad deed).

  • 'The present King of England is bald.' (said on TV, yet you can work out what is meant even though we have a queen).

  • 'Another pint...?' (and you know you've already had one).

  • 'I said, 'Now!'' (and you know when).

  • 'Gosh - it's cold in here!' (and someone shuts the door or window).

An important area of pragmatics is in the study of language and power. The implicit understanding of a power relationship between, say, two speakers, is often indicated by the meanings implied by the language used. This meaning can be very context dependent.


The predicate is all that is written or said in a sentence or clause about its grammatical subject, e.g. The young choir boy [subject] sang every song in the book [predicate].


A prefix is a type of affix (i.e. a bound morpheme) that is added to the beginning of a word to change its grammatical function or meaning (e.g. un+happy) - see suffix.


A small word or phrase that begins a longer adverbial phrase (called the object of the preposition) that acts to tell about place, time or manner and relate this aspect to some other word in the sentence, e.g. in, on, by, ahead of, near.

Progressive / continuous

A verb form created from the present (i.e. -ing) participle to tell of a continuing event, e.g. he is laughing his socks off.


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.'.


Repossession is a term used in the study of language change. It is used to describe a word that has fallen out of general use because it is deemed politically incorrect begins to be reused by the minority group it once referred to, e.g. the use of the word 'queer' to refer to a homosexual.

Root words

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.


Semantics is the study of word and phrase meaning (but also see pragmatics). In the new exam specifications for A-level English Language (from 2008-9), it has been combined with lexis.

Writers often play with semantics to create interesting stylistic effects or to create a style suited to a particular context or audience. For example, a simplified semantic level would be chosen to suit a younger audience, and so on. When examining a text at the level of its lexis and semantics, it's important to look out for uses of, for example, irony, simile, semantic fields (see below) metaphor or hyperbole (called figurative language).

Semantic/lexical field or set

This term refers to a relationship that exists between some of the words or phrases used in a text. This might be because the words have all been chosen from a similar area of knowledge or interest, e.g. the lexical field/set of agriculture includes: farm, farming, tractor, meadow, crop, etc. Semantic or lexical fields can be important in the use of metaphor. A metaphor is a figurative use of language in which a thing from one semantic field is described in terms of a different semantic field. For example, in the following description of a football match, the semantic/lexical field of war is used to create particular rhetorical effects: 'The home side gunned down the opposing side with consummate ease'.

Semantic value

The semantic value of a unit of something is the meaning it contains. By forming words and structuring sentences following the rules of standard grammar, the semantic value of the sentence and its words and phrases will be clear and unambiguous.


A sentence is a sequence of words constructed in accordance with the conventions of standard grammar. Such a group will have a sense of completeness and a clarity of meaning. It will usually be constructed around a noun phrase acting as the subject of a finite verb, i.e. it will contain at least one main clause. The rules of grammar concern the order of words in a sentence, technically called its syntax and the form of the words, 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.

'Minor sentence'

A minor 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.


A sociolect is a variety of language used by a particular social group; a dialect is a variety of language used in a particular geographical region; and an idiolect is the variety of language used by a particular individual.

Sign / signifier / signified

A sign is anything that creates meaning. Words are an important kind of sign composed of symbols called letters. The brain recognises a word and unconsciously gives it an agreed meaning, but, in fact, the word is merely a symbolic code, one that we learn, mostly during childhood, to 'decode' to find its meaning.

Standard English

This is the agreed standard national dialect of English. Standard English is generally considered to be the clearest way of expressing meaning and as such is accepted for use in most textbooks, by teachers, in the news media and as the basis for English teaching across the world. Non-standard English includes regional dialects and slang. There are also 'standard forms' of important international English languages such as 'standard American English'.


The 'core' part of a word to which prefixes and suffixes can be added, e.g. interest which can become uninteresting by adding affixes, the prefix un- and the suffix -ing.

(structured / structural)

The structure of something refers to the form of the complete item - such as a sentence or a text - and the way its individual parts have been put together to create a coherent (interrelated) whole. In a phrase, clause or sentence the individual words are related both by their grammatical structure and their semantic properties in a text, the relationship and connections between its structural parts (e.g. its sentences and paragraphs) is considered using discourse analysis.


Style is the result of the choices a writer (or speaker) makes regarding aspects of language, language features and structure with regard to creating a text or discourse that will suit a particular genre, context, audience and purpose. Three key aspects of style that are often worthy of comment are a text's degree of formality or informality, its use of standard or non-standard grammar and its discourse structure. Some skilled writers also develop distinctive, individual aspects of style, which may also be called a 'voice' - akin to a person's spoken idiolect.

Subject and object

The word 'subject' needs care as it has a particular - and very important - meaning that is quite distinct to grammar and which is different from its everyday, non-grammar meaning.

In grammar, the subject (S) is a syntactical position or element within a clause. The subject can be either a word or a phrase, usually a noun phrase. In the sentence, 'I gave him a present', 'I' is the grammatical subject and 'gave' is its associated verb in the sentence (in the past tense). In the simple sentence, 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog', the subject is 'The quick brown fox'. This is a noun phrase that has as its associated finite verb, 'jumped'. Most English sentences need a subject but sometimes this can be one of the small words (called pronouns) 'it' or 'there'. This type of subject can be tricky to recognise as proper subjects.

Some typical word orders of simple declarative sentences are: SV (subject-verb), SVO (subject-verb-object), SVC (subject-verb-complement) or SVA (subject-verb-adverbial).

Some types of verb transfer their action from their subject onto something else (the thing receiving the action of the verb is called its object). These are called transitive verbs. In the above sentence, the verb 'gave' is transitive as action transfers to the object, the noun 'a present'.

Verbs are called intransitive if they do not transfer action, but, instead, act to tell what their subject is doing, e.g. 'He is working.', 'It died.' Some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive according to their usage in the sentence, e.g. 'He is singing.' (intransitive) and 'He is singing a song.' (transitive).

A few special verbs (stative verbs) have no sense of direct action but, instead, act to make a statement about their subject's state of being. These verbs are called copular or linking verbs, e.g. He seems ill, She is clever, he was a criminal, it appears dark, etc.. The word that follows a stative verb has no action passing on to it so it cannot be called an object; instead, it is termed a complement.

Confusingly, Some verbs can take two objects:

'I gave Sally a present.' (i.e. 'I gave a present to Sally')

In this type of sentence, the object is 'a present' (= the thing given; this is called the DIRECT OBJECT); but there is a second 'object' - the 'receiver' of the direct object. This is termed the INDIRECT OBJECT. Notice that all sentences of this type can be re-written as shown using the word 'to'.


Verb mood used to show a hypothetical situation, e.g. If it were possible, I would do it.


An affix (a morpheme) added to the end of a word to alter its grammatical function, e.g. the noun luck can become an adjective by adding the suffix (or 'adjective marker') -y, as in lucky.

Synonym / antonym

A word that has a closely similar meaning to another word. English has very few true synonyms (e.g. sofa / couch / settee), but many near synonyms, e.g. house - dwelling - home - abode - pad. The existence of synonyms allows variety of word choice according to style and register. A list of synonyms is available in a thesaurus.

An antonym is a word with directly 'opposite' meaning, e.g. black/white good/bad.

(syntactic / syntactical)

Syntax is the most important aspect of English grammar. It refers to the way words are put together in a group to create meaning as phrases, clauses or as a sentence. Studying the syntax of a sentence involves investigating the structure and relationships of its words.

Standard syntax refers to the syntax of a particular dialect of English called Standard English - this is the syntax you will read in most written texts and hear from teachers in lessons, newsreaders and in any other more formal context. Non-standard syntax is a normal part of much spoken English and is common in regional dialects. Syntax does not have to be standard for meaning to be clear such as here in the screen play from the film Star Wars when Yoda speaks:


Ready, are you? What know you

of ready? For eight hundred years

have I trained Jedi. My own counsel

will I keep on who is to be trained!

A Jedi must have the deepest

commitment, the most serious mind.

(to the invisible

Ben, indicating Luke)

This one a long time have I watched.

All his life has he looked away...

to the future, to the horizon.

Never his mind on where he was.

Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.

Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh!

A Jedi craves not these things.

(turning to Luke)

You are reckless.


Tense refers to the way the time of an action can be directly indicated in a verb by changing its form (i.e. morphologically). English only has two verb tenses - present tense 'I leave.' and past tense, 'I left.'. However, we have many other ways of creating the idea of tense by using auxiliary verbs or other structures that indicate the time of an action. For example, each of the following grammatical structures suggests a future event, or a future aspect (the 'will' construction is often, but loosely, called 'the English future tense'):

  • I will leave in the morning.

  • I am going to leave in the morning.

  • I shall leave in the morning.

  • I leave in the morning.

  • I am leaving in the morning.


Within linguistics, the word 'text' means any continuous and coherent sequence of writing or speech. See also discourse.


A linguistic term that refers to a spoken text of any kind.


Combined with its subject, the verb becomes the central element of a sentence or clause.

  • A main verb is the head word of a verb phrase - sometimes called a verb chain, e.g. 'He hit him hard.'

  • A lexical verb is the part of the verb chain that suggests the action involved, e.g. He might have hit him.

  • A verb that tells of a 'state of being' is a copular or stative verb, e.g. is, was, seems, appears, becomes, etc.

Verbs that work along with a subject are called finite (e.g. the girl looked). But verbs do not have to work with a subject within a sentence - these are called a verb's non-finite forms (e.g. I like to run). Non-finite forms of verbs can act as other parts of speech:

  • The infinitive from of the verb (often used with 'to'), e.g. 'He used to love me.'

  • The -ed participle form (usually ending with the suffix -ed):

    • 'Only the cooked apples should be used.'

  • The -ing participle form:

    • 'He used cooking apples' (adjective).

    • 'The cooking was superb' (noun).

    • 'He will be cooking this evening' (continuous aspect).

Verb chain / phrase

A verb chain has a head word that is a main verb along with one or more 'helper' or auxiliary verbs. Many grammarians reserve the term verb chain for the verb elements alone and use the term verb phrase to include any adverbials that function to modify it, e.g. The car was parked / on the pavement.

Grammatically, a verb chain is always directly linked to and usually follows its subject, usually a noun phrase. The two grammatical units create a clause.

In a verb chain, the main verb can be inflected to show tense (e.g. eat, eaten, ate), agreement (e.g. I eat, she eats) or continuous action (e.g. He is eating). It can also be pre-modified with an adverb (e.g. He is quietly eating). The auxiliary verbs in a verb chain can be inverted to form a question (e.g. Do you eat spaghetti?).


The voice of a verb can be either active or passive. The active voice is the most common and preferred in English usage. In an active clause the subject and object of the main verb are in their usual position, i.e. SVO, 'Alex caught the thief' however, in a passive sentence, the object is transferred to the subject position, e.g. 'The thief was caught by Alex.' This can have the effect of emphasising the object or diminishing the effect of the subject. in fact, in a passive construction, the subject can be hidden completely, e.g. 'The thief was caught.'

Word class

One of the eight parts of speech of traditional grammar in which words that have a similar grammatical function are grouped together: noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection.