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C The third letter of the alphabet, /s/ in the IPA, a consonant, and CHARLIE in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. To remember the way to say it, think of the C in CD (compact disc), CB radio or more obviously, the C in your Curriculum Vitae, or CV...

CALQUE This is when a word or phrase is borrowed from another language but is literally translated word for word. Sometimes calques are used by language students when, unsure what the actual translation of a word or phrase may be, will literally translate it word for word. For example, the English phrase 'Chicken dishes' translated to Polish is 'dania z kurczaka' but literally translated - a calque - becomes 'Denmark from chicken'. See also loanword and borrowing.

CAPITAL LETTER Also often called 'Big letters' or 'upper-case letters'. They are usually used to begin sentences, as the last two examples (Also... They...). They are also used for the first letters of days of the week, months of the year, and names: Monday, September, Fred, Russia, Jupiter, etc. They are also used in initialisms: BBC, RSPCA, UN, MP. 

CARDINAL NUMBER Perhaps this should belong to mathematics, but basically it's a normal number, a number that tells you the amount, or quantity, of something. Compare this to ordinal numbers, which you'll have to click the 'O' below.

CASE The complicated explanation is that a case is the form that a noun phrase or adjective phrase takes which shows its relationship to the other groups of words in the sentence. Now, depending on what you read, the general agreements appears to be that only three such cases exist: the subjective (also known as the nominative), possessive  (also known as the genitive) and objective (also known as the accusative). It's all rather boring and lots of languages have many examples of other cases, so just look up the examples highlighted in red.

CAUSATIVE This is a term in English to say that we have arranged for someone to do something for us, for example: he's having his car washed (He isn't doing this). She's had the house cleaned (she didn't clean the house herself). They've had their holidays arranged (Someone else arranged the holidays for them). The causative is formed with have + object + past participle

CHARACTER In written or printed text, this is a printed or written letter or symbol such as punctuation. For example, the last sentence contained a total of 62 characters. See also character spaces.

CHARACTER SPACES These are the spaces that separate the written words of a text. For example, the last sentence contained 11 character spaces. In proofing, these are considered important as these are often included in the cost of checking a text, which is usually based on the number of characters to a page, including character spaces.

CIRCUMSTANCE In corpus linguistics, a circumstance is one of the functional parts (also known as constituents) of a clause (scroll down the page to remind yourself what that means). These functional parts (often made up of a participant, process and circumstance) are made up of words or phrases that do a particular job within the clause. The circumstance explains the situation that is a result of the participant (a person or thing) or the process (the verb). Example: After lunch (circumstance) Brian (participant) enthusiastically (circumstance) beat (process) the carpet (circumstance).

CLAUSE As a basic definition, this is a part of a sentence that usually contains a subject and a verb, and is joined to the rest of the sentence with a conjunction. For example: This is the man who took my wallet contains two clauses: This is the man (first clause: man is the subject of this part of the sentence, be is the verb); who (conjunction, or linking word to join the two parts, or clauses, of a sentence: 'and' is the best example of a conjunction) took my wallet (second clause: wallet is the subject, take is the verb). But here is an example of two clauses - two clear parts of the same sentence - where one part does not have to contain a verb but the meaning is clear in the context: Although useless at maths, he is good at English. Whenever in trouble, he'd call his mum. (there are no verbs in the first clauses, although these are clearly two-part sentences).

CLEFT SENTENCE A sentence in two parts. These are sentences that are used to help us to emphasise a point that is being expressed within the sentence. This is done by focusing on a particular part of the sentence, and when we want to emphasise what we want to say, we introduce it or build up to it with additional information in the form of another clause. Because there are two parts to the sentence, it is called a cleft (which is from the verb cleave, if you really wanted to know, which means to divide into two). Cleft sentences are frequently used in speech, but they are useful in writing where we cannot use intonation when we want to put focus or emphasis on something. For example: I've come to discuss the project with you (normal sentence); The reason why I've come is to discuss the project with you (a cleft sentence, split into two parts: The reason why I've come  II  is to discuss the project with you. Here's another: Fred studies harder than any other student (normal); The person who studies harder than any other student is Fred (cleft). See also relative clauses.


CLICHÉ Also spelt cliche without the E with the accent (É), this is a phrase or an idea that gets mentioned or repeated so often that it eventually becomes boring or even irritable. According to the Penguin Dictionary of Clichés (yes, it does exist), often deciding what is a cliché depends on the listener, but what is generally agreed upon is that it is something that is overused. Some examples of well-known phrases from the book: butter wouldn't melt in their mouth (innocent when seen, but the reality is different); a hot potato (something difficult to deal with) and needle in a haystack (an impossible search). Ideas that might be thought of as cliches is very much dependant on the listener. For example, the song Simply the Best, originally recorded by Tina Turner, is something of a cliché to wedding videos as it's often the music chosen to scenes of the bride; in the same vein, panpipe music to Polish wedding videos was ubiquitous when I married in 1999, and for all I know, it still is... 

CLOSED CLASS In the study and analysis of grammar in speech and writing, these are groups of words for which there is a limited, or finite number of words that can be added, and where new additions hardly ever, or never at all, occur. For example, demonstratives are a closed class: only this, that, these and those belong to this group. See also open class.

CLOSED QUESTION This is a question that requires only a yes or no answer which is then usually followed by a short reply. Words that are used to form closed questions are the auxiliary verbs do/did, will, be, and modal verbs: Do you listen to Metallica? Will you be here tomorrow? Are you a student? Must we do our homework? Could we finish now? However, it is often polite to respond with a short explanation of your answer: Do you work here? No, I'm only the cleaning lady. Yes, I'm your new boss. Now that would be embarrassing...

CODE-SWITCHING This is the ability to switch from one form of language to another. This can either be different forms of the same language (changing registers, switching from Standard English to the local dialect) or even from one different language to another (switching from English to French). Now that's useful.

COHESION The way that, if you like, words are connected together to form of piece of cohesive text so that it makes sense to us. The way that phrases, clauses and sentences are all correctly stuck together in written text.

COLLECTIVE NOUN A noun that is used to describe a group of people, animals or to other things of the same kind such as collection, herd, pack, army, etc. A group of students, a collection of songs, a herd of horses, a pack of cards, an army of ants, a sorry of Justin Biber fans. I made that last one up...

COLLOCATION These are words that occur more often when they are linked with other words than you would usually expect by chance. We can describe a car that is able to go at fast speeds as a fast car, but we do not usually say a quick car. By contrast, a quick lunch is more natural as a collocation to native speakers than a fast lunch, a feature of modern life these days, unfortunately...

COLLOQUAILISM An informal word or phrase that is common in everyday conversation, but it is not always considered correct, or perhaps it is inappropriate, particularly in a formal context, e.g., How’s things? Where’s the loo? ( = the toilet) Can I have a can of pop? (a fizzy drink) It ain’t here! (It is not here.) Me and the wife have booked our hols and we’ll bring back some booze and ciggies. (You try and work that one out.)

COLON In punctuation, the colon is the mark : It is often used before a list of things: There are three things we should consider: money, transportation, and practicality. It is used before a description: He was so desperate for a holiday he'll go anywhere, even Luton: a place that's famous only for its airport. Before a definition: Ubiquitous: seemingly everywhere. And even before an explanation: He's off to Ibiza: sun, sea, sex and raves. Note that in British English does not usually capitalise the first letter after the colon, while American English usually does so. See also semi-colon.

COMMA It is this (,), a small, written symbol that is used to separate parts of a sentence (or even items in a list). It is one of many symbols used in punctuation  (and is known as a punctuation mark) and is often used to help break up long sentences to make them easier to read (and also large numbers). However, they sometimes have to be used carefully and in the right way, often at the end of clauses. There is even an argument about a particular comma known as the Oxford comma (sometimes known as the serial comma) which is often placed before a conjunction (a linking word or connective to you and me, such as and) in order to avoid ambiguity - that is, not to make something possibly mean something else. For example: He would like to congratulate his parents, his manager, and his secretary. By not putting the comma after manager, it might suggest that the person's parents were his manager and his secretary...

COMMA SPLICE Also known as a comma fault. This is when a comma is used to join two halves of a sentence (or clauses): If It's necessary to use a comma splice, then one should only use it occasionally. However, there are many people, including style guides (but they're not always right), who advise that in formal writing, you should use the semi-colon instead or, if it doesn't look right, rewrite the sentence completely. Perhaps the best example of a comma splice in regular and Standard English is in conditionals where the 'if' clause is the first clause in the sentence: If you don't like it, don't eat it.

COMMAND An instruction that basically tells you that you must do this instruction. Come here. Get out of the vehicle, please. In written English, they can often be followed by an exclamation mark if the speaker is forceful: Open the gates! I want that report on my desk now! Commands are also known as imperatives.

COMMON NOUN These are nouns that name general items such as woman, hill, dog, food, country, building, lake. Note that they are general names and so do not need a capital letter. Compare with proper nouns: I know a woman (common noun) called Susan (proper noun). My washing machine is a Bosch.

COMMUNICATE The verb form of the noun, which is handily described in the next entry.

COMMUNICATION As a general definition, this is the system or process that we use to express or broadcast information. For our glossary, we can use this term to describe the methods we wish to communicate with each other that has not so much to do with broadcasting, such as telling, requesting, ordering, and so on. This is also known as communicative purpose.

COMMUNICATIVE PURPOSE You've just read that bit. It was under communication.

COMPARATIVE An adjective or adverb showing that something has more of a quality. For example, nicer is the comparative form of nice, and more often is the comparative form of often. Paris is bigger than London. Houses are more expensive in Warsaw than in Radom. Of course, it can work the other way: London is not as big as Paris. Houses are less expensive in Radom than in Warsaw.

COMPLEMENT 'Not4GrammarBores' is the best thing ever when it comes to understanding all these words and terms used in the English language!' Well, thank you so much for the complement, but this is not the meaning we're after here. A complement can be in two forms: it can be a noun phrase that follows a copula or similar verb, for example: they are ice-hockey players. 'ice-hockey players', the noun phrase, complements 'are' (from 'be'). It can also be a clause that serves as the subject or direct object of a verb or the direct object of a preposition, for example (complements underlined): I hoped that he would bring the document.  I told him not to worry.

COMPLEMENT CLAUSE A clause that completes the meaning of a verb, adjective, noun or preposition. For example, we can add to I believe the complement clause in aliens. It's difficult to see what we can do. Friendship means many things.

COMPOUND NOUN This is when two nouns are joined together to make a new noun, either by forming a new word or a new noun phrase. For example, the nouns time and table can be joined together to form timetable, a plan or schedule for a job or journey over a particular period of time, and bus and driver can be joined together to form the compound noun phrase bus driver, which is a person whose job it is to drive a bus.

CONCORDANCE LINES See concordance program, key word.

CONCORDANCER Another name for a concordancing program.

CONCORDANCING PROGRAM This is something like an app that you can get for your computer - and probably your phone these days too - and is very good if you're studying the way we use the English language by using a corpus. When you type in a key word or phrase (for example, the bottom), the program comes up with a lot of lines taken from the corpus that include 'the bottom', for example: I saw him at the bottom of the hill. Sign on the bottom, please. The bottom is the opposite of the top. These lines are called concordance lines because they come from your concordancer (a shorter name for your concordancing program), and the display of all these lines that you see together is known as key word in context (KWIC). And if you still don't know what I'm talking about, then study corpus linguistics...

CONCRETE NOUNS These are nouns that refer to something concrete. Yes, I know that if you've been reading this glossary in alphabetical order, the same 'joke' is found with abstract nouns. So: an concrete noun is a naming word of something that has a physical or concrete existence. In other words, these are things that we can feel, touch, see, hear, or taste. (with abstract nouns you can't.) Examples of abstract nouns are, well, thousands of the things: velvet (feel), chair (touch), view (see), music (hear), mint (taste). 

CONDITIONAL Oh gosh, where do we start with this? Well, basically, if you really want to know, it is a sentence that usually contains the word if or a word with a similar meaning (such as unless, as soon as, when, in case, whether, etc., although these similar meanings can only be used in certain contexts and cannot always be exchanged with if). These are used to talk about a situation which may or could have existed, and is to have or had possible consequences. But the bad news is that conditionals come in many forms, and you're going to have to look them up elsewhere in this list. So, are you ready? See zero (or open) conditional, first conditional, second conditional, third conditional, mixed conditionals. They're useful to know, but I can't guarantee they'll change your lives. Now the present perfect, well...

CONNECTIVE See the next entry, if you would be so kind.

CONJUNCTION Also known as connectives. Probably the best known example of a word that is used to join two parts of a sentence is AND. I like milk AND biscuits. So. Conjunctions are words like and, but, that, because, when, etc., that can be used to join two parts (or clauses) of a sentence together. I left early because I was tired. You can go out when you have finished tidying your room. You can prepare flaki but Anna doesn’t like it. They’ll wash your car and clean the inside, too.

CONSONANCE  The repetition of the same consonant sounds in a line of text which focuses on the sound made by consonants and not necessarily the letters themselves. Similar consonant sounds can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of words, and consonance is created when these words appear in quick succession. People often use phrases with consonance in everyday conversation as they can be effective in expressing familiar meanings. For example: a little later, odds and ends, bold and beautiful. They can also occur in tongue-twisters: Which wristwatch is on my watch wrist on my right?, And even in names: Severus Snape, Bilbo Baggins, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. See also alliteration, assonance

CONSONANT In written English, these are the letters b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z. However, these can be represented differently depending on the pronunciation; for example, the ‘h’ in honest is not pronounced, resulting in onest, and is therefore sounded as a vowel, using ‘O’. The letter ‘y’ can also pose problems for students and needs watching because it's naughty like that.

CONSONANT CLUSTER Also known as a consonant sequence or consonant compound. These are groups of consonants that are not split by a vowel, and are often heard in pronunciation (e.g. the ch in church). Three-letter consonant clusters can be found in the words strong (str and ng) and split (spl). It is possible to have more than three letters in one cluster for words of one syllable in English such as sixths and bursts, and even five: lengths. Clusters of three or more consonants are quite common in compound words such as in handspring. Now the boring bit: when two consonants make a distinct sound such as the ch in church, it is called a consonant digraph. When three consonants are combined to form a sound (str in strong) it is called a consonant trigrap. If you want a thought in-depth analysis on this subject, it won't be here. Sorry.

CONSTITUENCY In linguistics, a constituency is the relationship between a linguistic unit - in this case, a constituent (which can be a morpheme, word, phrase, or clause) - and the larger unit that it is a part of (that is, the clause or sentence).


CONSTITUENT In linguistics, constituents are the functional parts of a clause and the unit that it is a part of. These parts are made up of words or phrases that do a particular job within the clause and are often made up of a participant (person or thing involved), process (what tells us that there is a process going on), and circumstance (explains the situation that is a result of the participant or the process). So, for example, all the words and phrases that make up a clause are said to be constituents of that clause. See also constituency, which is just above.

CONTEXT In understanding language, this is how we describe our choices of words and grammar in communication. Or to put it another way, our choice of communication depends on the context, or situation, that we are using the language. This ranges from deciding what are the best words to use, the choice of grammar, whether it would be good to use idioms, colloquialisms, and so on, depending on what where we are, what we are doing, who we are talking to, and even the choice of communication and if it is appropriate, such as using it is face to face, on a mobile phone, on Skype or even on social media.


CONTRACTION Words where two words, usually a subject and a verb, are joined together as one word, using an apostrophe. For example, we will becomes we’ll; does not becomes doesn’t; they would becomes they’d, and he has becomes he’s: he’s got a car! In novels, authors sometimes quote their characters using double contractions, such as we will have completed our mission by tomorrow written as we’ll’ve completed our mission by tomorrow. Contractions are not recommended in formal texts, and double contractions are not usually written except in stories and very informal written English, such as e-mails. So hopefully you'll've learnt a lot and this'll be clear.

CONTRADICTION Let's go to Monty Python's (not incorrect) definition here (see argument if you want to know the connection here), "Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says." For a dictionary definition (or in this case, a simpler explanation), contradiction is the act of going against what the person is doing or saying. Here's a heavily edited extract from Monty Python's dialogue that will demonstrate this further: 

OTHER MAN: Is this a five minute argument, or the full half hour?

MAN: Just the five minutes.

O: Thank you. Anyway, I did.

M: You most certainly did not!

O: Now let's get one thing quite clear: I most definitely told you!

M: Oh no you didn't!

O: Oh yes I did!

M: Oh no you didn't!

O: Oh yes I did!

M: No you DIDN'T!

O: Oh yes I did!

M: Oh look, this isn't an argument!

O: Yes it is!

M: No it isn't! It's just contradiction!

O: No it isn't!

M: It IS!

O: It is NOT!

M: You just contradicted me!

O: No I didn't!

M: You DID!

CONVENTION A word that means 'an accepted rule or usage' (Collins dictionary). However, it's an important word as regards the English language in its written and spoken forms as different conventions can exist in both forms, often depending on the contexts of where and what for they are being used. As we are mainly dealing with the written word on this site and passing on advice to learners of English, we are using the conventions of Standard English (of the British variety, but we do try to bring any American equivalents to your attention) which is the form that is universally understood and recognised. It is by these standards that educational institutions (okay, schools) will judge and mark your performance in English.

CONVERSATION This is the exchange of information and ideas through speech. Or to put it more informally, this is when two or more people talk to each other about all kinds of things, usually informally.

CONVERSATIONAL ENGLISH Basically this is conversation but is usually a meeting conducted by an English native speaker and a learner of English as a foreign language. The teacher, however, should error correct - if and when needed - if mistakes are made.

COORDINATOR See function words.

COPULA VERB Also known as a linking verb. This is a verb such as be, seem, or taste. These verbs serve to link (or identify the subject) that follows (these being called complements), which can be nouns, noun phrases and adjectives. Some examples: he became the new CEO. That looks good. That soup tastes horrible.  That book looks interesting.  However, do note that while in He studies hard, the verb is being used as a copular verb (This tells us how he studied, and he puts in a lot of effort to do so). However, with he studies hardly, it is not being used as a copular verb as ​this tells us about the person himself - in that he is a lazy individual. Copular verbs are not usually used with adverbs.

CORPORA The singular form of the next entry.

CORPUS The plural form of the word corpora. This is a collection of data that takes the form of texts. These can be in the written form (or writing) in the form of books, letters and newspapers, or even from speaking in the form of transcribed speech which may be from spontaneous conversation, radio and television programmes. All this information is then stored on databases and is analysed in detail by linguists, grammarians and dictionary writers to be studied in ways that are not normally obvious when used in normal contexts. For example, I used the British National Corpus, a database that contains 100 million words that are used in various ways and contexts. See also corpus linguistics. Oooh, look what's next...

CORPUS LINGUISTICS  Ah, hello. Welcome back. Right. Corpus linguistics. To put it in short, this is the study of the English language by use of different types of corpora (if you've forgotten what that is already, see the previous entry).

COUNTABLE NOUN A noun that refers to objects that can be counted. We can count chairs, people, boxes, sheep, oranges, men with terrible haircuts, etc. There are also examples of countable nouns, both regular and irregular, that have no separate plural form: There are three people in the room. There are six sick sheep! I’d like two oranges (drinks).

CURSE WORD See taboo word.

CURSIVE This is a style of handwriting (also known as script, longhand or joined-up writing) in which you can join up letters in a nice flowing style so you can (supposedly) write faster. This can be a mix of joined-up writing (sometimes known as formal cursive) or individually (that is, lifting the pen to then form the next letter of the same word: sometimes known as casual cursive). Unfortunately - but this is in my opinion - the drive to teach young children cursive often leads to some pretty awful handwriting, and if I can't read it, that's marks lost in a test. My writing style is either formal cursive or, more often, print. And all my students can read it and it doesn't take me that long to write examples!

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