top of page


F The sixth letter of the alphabet, /ef/ in the IPA, a consonant, and FOXTROT in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. To remember the way to say it, think of the F in FC Barcelona. If you follow football of course.

FABLE This is a story - usually with animals as the main characters - that usually expresses and teaches some kind of moral lesson. Aesop's Fables is probably the most example, with short stories such as The Tortoise and the Hare, where the moral of the story is More Haste, Less Speed, or the quicker you try to do things, the slower you'll be. See also parables

FAIRY TALE  Sometimes written with a hyphen (fairy-tale), this is a story that is usually told to children. Often these stories involve magical events and things that are imaginary, such as fantastic castles, evil witches and fantastic creatures. Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are probably the best known writers of such stories. The term is also used to describe a place that feels unreal but it's really there because it seems so wonderful and fantastic: Moszna Castle in Poland looks like something from a fairy tale. It can also mean 'totally unbelievable' because the situation it describes seems so unrealistic: There's a monster under your bed? Don't talk fairy tales!

FALSE FRIEND No, not a friend that isn't real. This is a section on grammar. A false friend is a word that looks and sounds similar in another language but has a different meaning, e.g., a baton in English can be a music conductor’s stick, or a stick passed from one runner to the next in a race. In the Polish language, however, it means a chocolate bar or a long piece of bread. Perhaps in other languages it may even more interesting...

FETISHES No, that kind of fetish, thank you very much. We're dealing with the serious business of language here, so see superstitions.

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE See figure of speech. That's next, conveniently. 

FIGURE OF SPEECH This is an expression or a word that is used with a metaphorical meaning rather than literal. Often they are used to further explain something: We had success from the beginning: we just happened to be in the right place and the right time, or it can be the repetition of alliteration: My Tuesday two trip tram ticket, or even an exaggeration to give further emphasis or effect: Gosh, it's going to take hours to do the food shopping! I have masses of homework to do! See also simile, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia, oxymoron, hyperbole, allusion, idiom, imagery, symbolism, alliteration, assonance, consonance, metonymy, synecdoche, irony, sarcasm, litotes, pun, anaphora, tautology and understatement.


FINITE VERB/CLAUSE When a verb is marked for tense, that is, it agrees with its subject for number, for example the verb play: I play, you play, he plays, I am playing, was playing, will be playing, has been playing, and so on. The sentence I driving to work is clearly not an example of a verb agreeing with its subject! A non-finite clause uses the participle form or the infinitive form as its verb, for example, Having told him once, he told him again. To be told what to do more than once was rather annoying.

FIRST CONDITIONAL If you don't know what a conditional sentence is, see conditional. The first conditional is used to talk about what is likely to happen (but may not happen for sure) as a result of an act. For example: If it rains, I’ll take an umbrella. (It is not raining now, but should it do so, I will take an umbrella.) I’ll get the milk if you give me some money. (I do not have money now, but should you give me some, then I will get the milk.) We can also use when and unless instead of if, although it is not always possible to replace if with these words. The construction is the if-clause: if + present simple; main clause: will/may/might/should, etc. + infinitive without to.

FIRST LANGUAGE Also known as a native language, but would perhaps be more connected with speakers who are able to communicate by using more than one language, but the first language would be the language that they grew up with and was the language spoken within the family when growing up.

FIRST PERSON When we make a statement about ourselves (or when you make a statement about yourself), the subject of the statement is about yourself (I), or about yourself and someone else (we). We refer to this structure as the first person. This can be in two forms, the first person singularI like skiing. I see many people during the day. I drive a Lambourgini. I play the clarinet every day as I am in an orchestra, or the first person plural: We like skiing. We see many people during the day. We drive Lambourginis. We play the clarinet every day as we are in an orchestra. See also second and third person.

FLAT ADVERB First, if you didn't already know (particularly if you haven't been reading this from A-Z), an adverb is a word such as today, twice, there, nicely, carefully, and which adds information about any action or event (which is usually, but not always, expressed by a verb): play nicely. drive carefully, for example. A flat adverb is an adverb that has the same form as its adjective, for example: You're a fast driver/you drive fast.  He works hard/he's a hard worker. It's a bright sun/the sun shone bright (brightly as a normal adverb is also correct).

FLUENCY When you talk about someone's fluency, you are talking about their ability to speak and write and not make mistakes in doing so. So if you meet someone who, for example, comes from a country where English is not the first language but are able to speak it and write it as if they were a native speaker, then they are fluent in the language.

FORMAL WRITING This is a form of writing in which the choice of vocabulary and the way these words are put together are such that their intended readers are usually of a professional or academic background. However, it is sometimes used unnecessarily as the writer either forgets who their intended audience is or is trying to prove that they are brilliant at their language. Good writing means what helps you to express your message in a way that communicates both clearly and persuasively, particularly to your intended audience. In English, register is very important. But academic writing can be dull and depressing and not enjoyable to read. You need a style that retains its formality but becomes enjoyable to read. And if your audience places that criteria above a set of narrow-minded grammar and register rules, you've won over half your battle.


FREQUENCY ADVERB  When we have an adverb that describes how often something happens, we call this an adverb of frequency or frequency adverbs. These can be split into two more categories: definite frequency adverbs are examples such as yearly, weekly, monthly, daily, hourly, and so on; it's clear how often is meant. Then we have indefinite frequency adverbs, which are not so clear: these are examples such as always, usually, sometimes, often, mainly, once in a while, and so on. Another name for adverb of frequency.

FRICATIVE These two classes of consonants are the plosives and fricatives. Plosives are the kinds of sounds usually associated with the letters f & th, in which the air flow from the lungs is forced through a narrow slit that is formed at some point in the mouth. This produces some kind of friction as the air comes out of the mouth. Examples of the fricative (which are underlined) can be heard in the words fire, vase, thing, the, soup, zip, shake, azure and heat. It's quite complicated stuff and really is the field of serious language study. I mean, really serious.

FRONTING As discussed in many places (the book, the website, the movie, the tee-shirt, and so on), the English language follows some kind of order, that is, we would usually say He borrowed a pen and not A pen he borrowed. When we want to focus on something important, the subject of the sentence or response is usually put at the front of the clause as we are putting stress or importance on that part of the answer: My family is important (NOT: important is my family). But in many cases, fronting can be used if the speaker wants to place importance on something ahead of the subject of the sentence; so for example, instead of I had breakfast at 8 o’clock they might want to say At 8 o’clock, I had breakfast as they want the listener to understand that the time factor was significant. He was told to borrow a pen, and so, a pen he borrowed.

FULL INFINITIVE Probably better known as simply the infinitive. The verb with 'to', for example: to play, to eat, to get in, etc. The bare infinitive is without 'to': play, eat, get in, etc.

FULL STOP In American English, this is better known as a period. It looks like this (.). Just a simple dot. In written text, it is a punctuation mark used at the end of a sentence when it is not a question or exclamation. This symbol has other uses too, but when it is, it's not called a full stop.

FUNCTIONAL GRAMMAR In the study of grammar, functional grammar is the focus on describing words or groups of sentences according to what they do within a sentence. Or to put it another way, it involves looking at the different parts that make up a sentence. Now to you and me this perhaps only means words, but it's much more than that: you'll find out about clauses, which is a part of a sentence that usually (but not always) includes a verb; a phrase, which in this case, means phrases that are in fact nouns, verbs, and adjectives that can be made up of more than one word; then we have words, and finally, we get morphemes. For example, dog is a word and one morpheme, but dogs - with the word receiving an extra letter to give it a different function, in this case, to make it plural - is two morphemes. See also rank, noun phrase, verb phrase, adjective phrase and adverb phrase.

FUNCTION WORDS Also known as functors, these are words that have little or no actual meaning and are used to help show the grammatical relationship with other words within a sentence; you could say, it is these words that keep the sentence together. In this sense, these words are also known as coordinators, in that they 'connect' or 'co-ordinate' two or more words, phrases or clauses which have equal status. Such words are usually prepositionspronounsauxiliary verbsconjunctions, grammatical articles or particles. Examples of functional words are underlined in this entry.

FUNCTOR  See functional words. Up there.

FUSED PARTICIPLE This is when the participle (the -ing word) in a sentence such as The teacher had a problem with the child using spoons is being used as a noun, or as we like to call them, a gerund; but in this case, we're talking about this particular structure of the sentence, rather than The teacher had a problem with the child's using spoons. This is one is mildly controversial as grammar pendants would prefer you to use the second version of the sentence because... well, they say the subject of the sentence (child) is not in the possessive case (child's) and so does not have the correct grammatical relationship to the noun (spoons). Ignore them.

FUTURE CONTINUOUS Also known as the future progressive. Also known to students as yet another tense. The structure is will + be + –ing: They’ll be working all day tomorrow. This is used to describe a continuous activity (NOT a single action, that's the future simple - or simple future) that will occur at or around a point in time in the future: We’ll be playing tennis at 3pm tomorrow. It can also be used as a polite and formal question: Will you be paying by cash or card?

FUTURE INTENTION This is just another, but a far less well-known name for, the present continuous with 'going to'.

FUTURE PERFECT  This is a tense that is not often used in speaking, but is a little important, so sorry, tense haters. The future perfect is used to describe a completed act that will occur by a particular point in the future, but does not state exactly when. For example, you are flying to Beijing on Monday, and this is the starting point of your ‘story’. Any completed acts you mention as completed before that point go into the future perfect: By next Monday (the day you are flying), I’ll have changed my money, I’ll have packed my bags, and I’ll have bought all my travel guides. We use will + have + past participle.

FUTURE PERFECT CONTINUOUS Now I don't remember who it was, but this particular teacher described this particular tense as being almost useless to the point that, as learners, you don't really need to know about it. Well, for sure I rarely use it, if at all, in conversation, but in certain situations it does become necessary. Anyway, what is it? Well, it's a tense used to describe a continuous activity that will still be happening by a particular point in the future. For example, you are working on a difficult project. You started work on the project five months ago and expect to be still doing the project when the next month begins: By next month, I’ll have been working on this project for six months. We use will + have + been + –ing.

FUTURE SEMICONDITIONALLY MODIFIED SUBINVERTED PLAGAL PAST SUBJUNCTIVE INTENTIONAL Remember this one, everybody because there'll be a test later. This is a ‘tense’ used when describing time travel depending on your perspective that most language learners eventually give up on. Or a piece of grammar created by the mad genius of author Douglas Adams from his book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Look up Doctor Fullstop’s panel on tenses used to describe the future in Unit 5, and will probably be added here in the near future. But -  if you are still intent on learning more - the tense doesn’t exist. It’s a joke!

FUTURE SIMPLE This is one of many tenses (Yes, I'm sorry, I apologise for the fact that there is more than one tense to describe the future) that are used to describe activities in the future, but it is the most common. With the future simple (or simple future), we use will + infinitive (without ‘to)’ to give information about the future or to talk about possible future events: India will beat England in the one-day cricket. She will go to work next week. We also use shall + infinitive (which is considered unusual in American English): We shall make arrangements by the end of the week. Will is also used when we wish to express intentions: You’ll be punished if you don’t stop doing that! (Note that this is also a conditional sentence.) Also, decisions made at the time of speaking: He’ll call him now. Take a bus? No, I think I’ll take the train, it’s faster.

Back to N4GB main page

bottom of page