M The thirteenth letter of the alphabet, /em/ in the IPA, a consonant, and MIKE in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. To remember the way to say it, we have the M in MI5, M1 motorway, and M as in the character who is James Bond's boss.

MAIN VERB Another way of saying verb, but particularly it is the most important of two verbs that are together, the other usually being the auxiliary verb. For example: I had played tennis (had, the past tense of have is the auxiliary, and played, the past tense of play, is the main verb.

METAPHOR Used in writing as a literary device, this is when you want to describe something by referring to something else which is the same in a particular way. He's as busy as a bee! (Bees are busy creatures!) I went on holiday to Tunisia and I met my friend there! It's a small world!  See also simile.

MIDDLE ENGLISH This was the English language from about 1100AD (just after the Norman conquests) to about 1450AD at the time of the Renaissance, the reformation, and the arrival of the printing press. For a more detailed account on this and the history of the English language, check out the feature in this site here.


MIXED CONDITIONAL It would be a good idea to read up on conditionals first if you haven't already done so, particularly if you don't know what they are. But if you do, well, mixed conditionals are, as we can put it, a mixed bag. They are a mix of the second and third conditionals. These are sentences that take a mix of both forms and can be used to talk about the past, present and future. For more details, see our article on conditionals here.

MIXED METAPHOR This is basically what it says. It's a situation in a sentence or paragraph when two metaphors, or parts of two metaphors, are used together to make a comparison, but the comparison can often be very silly or perhaps confusing. For example: I thought I saw the writing on the wall for the project (the project was going to come to an end) but there was suddenly light at the end of the tunnel (something happened that suggested this was not going to happen). Once you understand the metaphors, the sentence will make sense but, stylistically, might be considered rather ludicrous (another word for silly).  

MNEMONIC This is a word, sentence or even a short poem that tries to help you to remember things. They're mentioned here as they can be particularly useful for remembering grammar rules or spelling. Perhaps the best known example (but is not always true) is 'i before e, except after c', used to help people remember how to spell words like 'friend' and 'receive', although not much use for examples such as 'neighbour'. In my book, two good mnemonic devices come in to explain the abbreviations e.g. (Example Given) and i.e. (I'll Explain [what I mean]) as these are often confused.

MODAL AUXILIARY Try the next entry, okay?

MODAL VERB These are auxiliary verbs (also known as modal auxiliaries) such as can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would, and they tell us how the meaning of the verb that follows is to be spoken.  This could be expressing the attitude of the speaker (personal) or the likelihood of something happening (logical). This could be about ability, permission, necessity, obligation, intention, and possibility. e.g., You can open the window. ‘Can’ is the modal verb, and is used here to express permission. See also semi-modal verbs.

MODERN ENGLISH This is the English language since about 1450 as developed after the periods of the Reformation and the Renaissance. This version of English was the form that was largely developed when a standardised form of the language was needed for the printed word. For a more detailed account on this and the history of the English language, check out the feature in this site here.

MOOD No, not about the way you feel. This is English grammar, remember? But there is something that can be a little moody... clauses. When we want to talk about the way verb forms are being used to show whether the clause is a statement (I'm eating now), a question (are you eating now?) or an instruction (Use your spoon to eat now), we are describing the mood. The statement would be known as the indicative mood, the question the interrogative mood, and the instruction as the imperative mood. There's also something else called the subjunctive mood, which we'll explain at a later date...

MORPHEME In typical formal academic language, this is the smallest structural unit that has a meaning. In nice, simple, TEE language, think of it this way: interest is a morpheme and has a meaning. But when we add more letters to it (usually affixes, which is another way of saying prefixes (adding letters to the beginning of the word) and suffixes (to the end of the word), we are adding morphemes. So if we add the suffix -ed to interest, we get interested, so that is two morphemes. But if we add the prefix -un to interested, we get uninterested, and so that is three morphemes. Great, isn't it! And if you want to know what the word is that explains how morphemes work...

MORPHOLOGY And that is the part of grammar that explains how morphemes are put together to make words!

MULTIPLE ADJECTIVES This is when three or more adjectives are used to describe something such as large green plastic container. Anything more than three is unusual or uncommon but not impossible, but it's usually used for emphasis: You stupid great big idiotic excuse for a human being!

N The fourteenth letter of the alphabet, /en/ in the IPA, a consonant, and NOVEMBER in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. (Oh look, that's the next entry!) To remember the way to say it, we have the N in NBA (National Basketball Association), or NBC (an American TV company). It can also be pronounced in another way when it becomes the short form of 'and', when instead of saying 'Rock and Roll', we say Rock 'n' Roll, and is pronounced /ən/, sounding rather like a soft form of 'in' or 'an'.

NAME This is a word or a group of words that is used to identify a person, place or thing. What is his name? I don't know the name of the company. I think the name of that Street is Castle Lane. See also noun.

NATO PHONETIC ALPHABET This is the most popular spelling alphabet used, particularly with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and is also known as the International (Radiotelephony) Spelling Alphabet.  It has no links with any existing pronunciation systems (such as the International Phonetic Alphabet) but uses codewords to ensure that the letter’s name uses a letter that clearly begins with the letter itself. (This is called acrophony.) As a result, important combinations of letters that are transmitted by radio are clearly understood regardless of the listener or speaker’s native language. Indeed, for many telephone services and in warehouses, this is the preferred way of spelling out important information. For what these codewords are for each letter, see A, B, C, D... you get the idea.

NATIVE LANGUAGE See native speaker. And that is the next entry, which is very handy.

NATIVE SPEAKER This is what we call a person who use the language they have most likely used regularly since learning to speak as their first language (and so known as their native language), and not a language that they have learnt as a foreign language.  As an example, it is generally regarded that English is the most widely spoken language around the world if we include people who have learnt it as a second language. But if our list is only about native speakers, then English is in third position behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

NEOLOGISM This is an invented word that perhaps started its life as a nonce word (a word originally invented for one use only), only to become popular and then enter the dictionary as a neologism.

NODE See key word. NOT keyword.

NOMINAL This is a term that refers to any group of words that work as a noun, as as we in the business like to call it, a noun phrase. For example, a lovely piece of chocolate cake (that's what I just happened to think of as I was writing this, so you can draw your own conclusions on my way of thinking!) can be broken down like this: 'a lovely piece of' is being used as a modifier to the phrase chocolate cake, so we can say that chocolate cake is a nominal; it's larger than a single noun but it is smaller than the whole noun phrase.

NOMINATIVE CASE See subjective.

NONCE WORD This is an invented word that is used for a single or particular occasion, perhaps once in an entire written record of a language, an author's work or even in a single text. For example, I might describe my website as 'florigulous', meaning 'fluid in expression, sometimes ridiculous in expression', but you won't find it in any dictionary because I've just made it up for this glossary. But if you all like it and it becomes popular to the point that it enters popular culture, then it becomes a neologism, meaning 'a new word'. 

NON DEFINING RELATIVE CLAUSE See non-restrictive relative clause.

NON-RESTRICTIVE RELATIVE CLAUSE Assuming you know what a relative clause is, then look at this example: The example, which was added to the A-Z extras section of TEE, is full of mistakes. The words between the commas form a relative clause. If you removed these words, the sentence would still make grammatical sense; the clause simply adds additional information and so is called a non-restrictive relative clause. There is an argument that says these particular clauses should always use which and not that; this is something debated in what's the difference in this site. See also restrictive relative clause

NON-STANDARD ENGLISH This is the type of English usually spoken by native speakers, and this can be in the form of English that clearly does not follow the rules of what we regard as Standard English. This form is usually in local, regional and social dialects of English, is used in plays, films and songs and daily conversations. For example, I don't need education would be regarded as Standard English, while I don't need no education would be considered non-standard, but not unacceptable. The second example is what we call a double negative, and is often used to emphasise further a negative statement. However, while this is generally accepted in spoken English and informal written English, it would be regarded as unacceptable in formal written English.


NOUN A word that is used to name people or things, and can be used with the articles a, an, and the. Examples of nouns: a chair (this is the name of the thing we sit on), a book (the name we give to something that has a number of pieces of paper that are put together and fixed inside a cover of stronger paper or card). Nouns, bless them, come in many forms and many names, as I'm sure you're about to find out: see abstract nouns, compound nouns, common nouns, concrete nouns, plural nouns, proper nouns, singular nouns.

NOUN PHRASE This is a group of words that gives extra information about the noun. Or if you like, this is a noun that is made up of (usually) more than one word. They are linked to the noun that can be either (or both) the object or the subject of the sentence, e.g., the noun phrase an interesting book (book is the noun, and it is the object that is interesting.) It is possible for there to be only one word in a noun phrase, for example: A: What would you like to drink? B: Coffee.

NOVEL This is another word for a story, although it's often long and is about events or people that are imagined. See also tale.

NUMBER Perhaps not something that really needs mentioning here, but this is a word such as 'three', 'fifty-one', or 'four hundred.', It is also a symbol such as 3, 51 and 400. However, some publishers and style guides do insist that, in the printed form, numbers between one and nine should be written as a word and anything higher should be written as a number.

NUMERAL In grammar, this is a word to indicate the number of something: I’ve only got one car. There are two books on the shelf. Can you believe one-hundred and thirty-seven people applied for the job?

O The fifteenth letter of the alphabet, // in the IPA, a vowel,and OSCAR in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. To remember the way to say it, we have the O in O2 (Mobile phone provider) or more obviously O as in OK.

OBJECT This is a noun or pronoun that finishes the structure of a word or phrase that started with a verb or preposition, and is usually the attention of the subject, e.g., I like Fred (Fred is the object of what you – the subject – like). The company gave its employees a pay rise (the employees are the object of the company’s – the subject – attention).

OBJECTIVE PRONOUN This is a pronoun used instead of the noun - in this case, the noun is also the object - when following the verb. She (subjective pronoun) gave him (objective noun) a present. Think of it in this way: he is the object of her attention, and so he becomes the object. It can be used on its own: A: Who did it? B: Him! Objective pronouns are me /you/him/her/us/them. See also subjective pronoun.

OBLIQUE GENITIVE See double genitive.

OLD ENGLISH This was the English language from the time of the earliest settlements in the fifth century ad (around 449AD) when the first major attacks came after the Roman Empire left Britain. These invaders were the Anglo-Saxons who were from the parts of Europe that are now Northern Germany. And it was their language that formed the basis of what we understand as the English language today. The original English came from mainland Europe! For a more detailed account on this and the history of the English language, check out the feature in this site here.


ONOMATOPOEIA These are words that sound like the noise they refer to. Some examples of onomatopoeic words are baa! (the noise a sheep makes), bang (sound of a gun), crash, smash, splash, pop, rip, and so on. WOW!

OPEN CLASS In the study and analysis of grammar in speech and writing, these are groups of words for which it is impossible to list all the members that belong to that particular class. Nouns, verbs and adjectives are examples where new words are always being created to fit these classes. See also closed class.


OPEN CONDITIONAL See zero conditional.

OPEN QUESTION see question word.

ORDINAL NUMBERS These are words such as first, second, third, and are also used as adjectives to tell you where something occurs in a sequence, e.g., In first place, Australia; Second, India; and third, Luxembourg. (Note: We do NOT say number first, number second, etc: this should be number one, number two.) It is also used as a signal: First, we’ll talk about the main points; second, the plan of action. In spoken English, they are also used to express the date: I’d like the report on the twenty-first.

ORTHOGRAPHIC WORDS This is a nice formal definition (and you know we don't like formality here) about the area of language study that concerns writing words that we all understand and accept, along with the study concerned with the letters used and how the words are spelt. So a single orthographic word is a word that we recognise, that is, as well as how it is spelt, it also has spaces each side to mark it as an individual word. For example, won't is a single orthographic word, but will not is two words, even though the meanings of both are the same. For you and me, we'd call them just words because we can clearly see this, but computer software might have problems recognising don't as one orthographic word and do not as two.

ORWELLIAN An eponymous term, this is a style of writing that is closely connected to the author whose name has now become eponymous with it, although the reality is that its use has been extended beyond its original meanings of totalitarianism (having complete control over people) to using technology to track people. See also eponym, Kafkaesque. 

OXFORD COMMA see comma.

OXYMORON This is a phrase that puts together words that represent two opposite qualities or ideas and therefore seems impossible. A deafening silence and a seriously funny comedian are examples of oxymorons.

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