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P The sixteenth letter of the alphabet, a consonant, /p/ in the IPA, and PAPA in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. To remember the way to say it, we have the P in pm (What time is it? It's 3pm!) or more obviously P as in PC (Personal computer).

PAGE In a book, newspaper, magazine or even handwritten texts such as essays, a page is one or both sides of a sheet of paper. For example, if you bought my lovely book Typical Errors in English, you'll find it contains a total of 304 pages, using a total of 152 sheets of A5 pieces of paper, and all bound together into this book.

PARABLE This is a short story, often in the form of fables and fairy tales, that is told in order to make a point about something, usually because it expresses morality (particularly in religion). The Bible contains plenty of examples here, but probably better known are examples of short stories contained in Aesop's Fables such as The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, The Lion and the Mouse and The Tortoise and the Hare. Outside of Aesop, the most well-known story (at the time of writing) is a parable about what love is - it's not always on the outside, but it's what inside that counts. Beauty and the Beast, anyone?

PARAGRAPH This is a section of a piece of printed text or writing, and usually deals with a particular point or an idea. A paragraph always begins on a new line and contains at least one sentence but can also be made up of several sentences, filling a full page or even more. They are often used in formal writing to organise longer pieces of prose, making them easier to read. However, several websites (including news websites such as the BBC) often use several short paragraphs in written reporting, usually consisting of a single sentence to make reading and absorbing information easier.

PARENTHESIS American English for brackets.

PARTICIPANT In corpus linguistics, a participant is one of the functional parts of a clause. These parts are also known as constituents and are made up of words or phrases that do a particular job within the clause and are often made up of a participant, process and circumstance. The participant is the person or thing involved. Example: Brian (participant) hated (process) the fish (circumstance).


PARTICIPLE This is a form of the verb that is used when letters are usually added to the infinitive form (play, eat, cook, etc). There is the past participle, which usually ends in '-ed' but can be different when it comes to the 'third' form of the verb (e.g. eat (1st form, ate 2nd form, and eaten 3rd form), and the present participle, which are those verb forms that ends in '-ing': I am playing football. Driving is fun. Ordering in a foreign language can be difficult. There is also the perfect participle having + past participle. See all the above for a more detailed explanation of each. But when they are used within a sentence or clause, then they are known as participial clauses.

PAUSE In grammar, this is an example of dysfluency: a pause is when the speaker stops talking in order to mentally plan ahead as to what they would like to express when speaking. See also hesitators and repetitions.

PASSIVE See passive voice. Oh, that's next.


PASSIVE VOICE These are phrases formed by using be and the past participle. We use this term to describe something that is affected by an action, and not by the person or thing that performed it, or we are more interested in the action instead of who/what did the action, e.g., Wine is made in France (but we do not say who in France made the wine). The party has been organised (we do not say who organised the party). As a result, problems were being created (but we do not say who or what was creating these problems). Six million pounds was stolen last night (We do not know who stole this money). It is possible to make a passive sentence that tells us who or what did the action, and we do this by adding by + the ‘doer’ (also known as the agent): The party has been organised by the company. Problems were being created by the new software system.

PAST CONTINUOUS  Also known as the past progressive. This is a tense used to describe being in the middle of a continuous activity that occurred in the past, and at a certain time. We are focussing on the activity - not on one single action - and this had already started before this time, but had not finished: She was watching television last night. He was working in his garden all day yesterday. They were hiking in the mountains last month. At 3pm yesterday I was cooking dinner.

PAST PARTICIPLE The form of the verb that is often described as ‘the third form’ (for example, drive is the first form, drove is the second form, and driven is the third). They are used either to express perfect tensesI have written a report. I have bought a car, or the passive forms: Many reports are written in a hurry. The car has been bought. Some are also used as adjectives, e.g., A bought car. A carefully-written report.  

PAST PERFECT It hasn't been always so when you look back at history. Okay, seriously: This is used to generally describe a completed act before a particular event in the past. For example, yesterday, you left home to go to work at 7.30am. This is the starting point of your ‘story’, and any completed acts before that point that you describe – but not specifying when these happened – go into the past perfect: By the time I left home, I had taken a shower, I’d got dressed and had had breakfast. We use had + past participle.

PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS Also known as the past perfect progressive. This is used to describe something that had been happening continuously up to a particular point in the past. For example, Julie arrived at your house yesterday (the start of your story), but she drove for six hours to get there: When she arrived, she had been driving for six hours. We use had + been + –ing.

PAST SIMPLE Also known as the simple past. This is a tense used to talk about a finished action that was completed in the past, often saying the exact time of the action, e.g., Yesterday I went to London; I played tennis two hours ago. England won the World Cup in 1966.

PEDAGOGIC GRAMMAR A type of grammar book that gives descriptions of Standard English and are designed to help people learn English if they are not native speakers of the language. They combine parts from both descriptive and prescriptive grammar, but focusing on what is often said and written rather than telling students what they should say and write.

PEDANT As far as English is concerned, this is an individual who is far too concerned about grammar and vocabulary details, especially with what they believe are 'the rules' of the language, even though there are none. They have other names too, such as purist and, very derogatorily, grammar nazi. See Standard English.

PEN NAME See pseudonym.

PERFECT ASPECT If we take the word aspect on its own, this means 'to describe a perspective' or to describe a certain situation as you understand it. In grammar, the perfect aspect describes the perspective that a speaker is looking back from - that is, from the start of a situation up to a point that is stated or not made clear. so the present perfect, present perfect continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, future perfect, and future perfect continuous all come under this aspect.

PERFECT PARTICIPLE Interestingly, the Collins Cobuild dictionary describes the perfect participle as another name for the past participle. Actually, that's only fifty per cent true. The past participle, if you've not already looked it up, is essentially the so-called third form of the verb: drive (1), drove (2) driven (the third form). The perfect participle is formed by using having + the past participle, so you get Having ordered the pizza, he soon regretted it. Not having studied, he failed the exam. See also present participle.

PERIOD The symbol (.) in American English, known as a full stop in British English. See also dot, decimal mark, and point.

PERMISSIVE Also known as the permissive mood, this indicates that an action is permitted by the speaker. For example, you may open the door. You can open the window.

PERSONIFICATION Used in writing as a literary device, this is used to express human traits and qualities such as emotion, desires, sensations, gesture and speech, often by way of a metaphor. Some examples: The leaves waved in the wind. The ocean heaved a sigh. The Sun was smiling down on us. The steady marching of time took a toll on my elderly mother.

PHONEMES These are the individual units of sounds made when speaking. English has 44 phonemes. For example, the first phoneme in the word morning is m, and the second is or. There is a list of the phonemes, presented in the International Phonetic Alphabet, in Unit 7.

PHONETICS This is basically the science or study of speech sounds in the field of phonology. That is, how these sounds are produced, how they are expressed by the speaker and how the listener hears them. There is also the analysis of the subject, along with classifications and how to express them in a written form, usually in the form of symbols and is known as the International Phonetic Alphabet.

PHONICS This is a method of trying to teach people to read by connecting written letters with their sounds. Although  

English spelling is generally based on using letters to represent speech sounds (also known as phonemes) - for example, hat is spelt with three letters, each representing a phoneme (/h/,  /æ/, and /t/) - the number of words borrowed from other languages means that English spelling can vary and don't always appear to follow regular patterns: for example, the 'ch' sound could be presented as /tʃ/ (as in children), /ʃ/ (as in parachutes) and /k/ as in chemical and school.

PHONOLOGY This is the study of speech sounds, usually in a particular language. See also phonetics.

PHRASAL VERB Also known as two or three-word verbs, and often have idiomatic meanings. These are verbs made up of two parts, the first being a ‘base’ verb (such as get, bring, turn, etc.,) and a small word called a particle that is either an adverb or a preposition. These get together to form a new meaning, e.g., ‘to get along (with somebody)’ [to have a friendly relationship with someone] has a different meaning to ‘get’ on its own.

PHRASE These are usually made up of two or more words together to make a phrase, e.g., A nice day; they have been reported to the police; my brother’s in the army. However, a one word phrase is possible: A: How was the movie? B: Brilliant! A: Really? B: Yes!

PITCH This is the degree of highness or lowness of a tone when speaking. He speaks with a high-pitch voice.

PLAY No, not a telephone service provider. Play has several meanings, but the one we're concerned with is the meaning that it is a piece of writing performed in a theatre, or on the radio, or on television.


PLOSIVE This is a particular sound made in speech. The basic plosives (which are consonants) in English are t, k, and p (voiceless) and d, g, and b (voiced). Plosives are formed by saying these sounds in a way that, first of all, stops a flow of air coming out of the mouth by using the lips, teeth, or palate (the top part of the inside of your mouth), which is then followed by a sudden release of air. It's also known as a stop.

PLUPERFECT This is the little-known same-meaning brother of past perfect. But it's mentioned here because of the next entry...

PLUPLUPERFECT No, I didn't make this one up, it does exist. This is the pluperfect (see above) or, as we'll call it by its better-known term, the past perfect, and this is where an additional auxiliary verb is often added. For example: instead of saying If I had turned left we would have got there on time (had being the existing auxiliary verb to the main verb turn), we might say: If I had've turned left we would have got there on time. In fact, have is the most used extra auxiliary. It is a non-standard use of English and is mostly used when speaking, but it has been used in text. It's believed that its use adds emphasis to a sentence.

PLURAL The form is used when talking about more than one thing, e.g., the plural of ‘dog’ is ‘dogs’. The general rules of making words plural are these:

  • you add s;

  • If the word ends in s, x, ch or sh, you add –es, for example a bus/some buses; a box/some boxes; a watch/some watches; a bush/some bushes.

  • If the word ends in a consonant and y, change the y to i and add -es: a diary/some diaries; a party/some parties.

  • If the word ends with a vowel and y, just add s: One monkey/two monkeys; one journey/many journeys; one boy/two boys.

  • If the word ends with f or fe, you change the letter f to v and add -es: One knife/two knives, one wife/many wives, one leaf/many leaves.

  • There are words that do not follow these rules and are known as irregular plurals. Some words change: a person/some people (but persons is possible when used in a formal context); a goose/some geese; one foot/two feet, one child/two children, but some stay the same in singular and plural: There are three sheep in the field.

PLURAL NOUNS These are nouns but used to describe more than one of a particular thing: chairs, ten pencils, several cars, lots of tomatoes.

POEM This is when the words in some text have been written and carefully arranged. These words have been chosen particularly for their sound and beauty, and are often arranged in short lines and can rhyme. See also poetry and haiku.

POETRY This is the formal word, as used in literature, to describe poems. The word is also used to describe something that is very beautiful: Oh, the engine in that Lamborghini! It's just poetry!

PORTMANTEAU WORD This is mixing the sounds and meanings of two words to produce a new word, and are often invented by writers to produce some comic effects in their texts and so do not usually exist in a dictionary. For example, Lewis Carroll - who invented the term - came up with ‘slithy’ (meaning “lithe and slimy”) and ‘mimsy’ (“flimsy and miserable”). (Poglish meaning Polish and English - by mixing the two languages when speaking, anybody? I'm feeling a bit spragniony. Could I have a kielizanka of sok? :-) ee how I cleverly got a Polish portmanteau word in there!) However, when a portmanteau word becomes popular and is used regularly by people - often not realising that they were invented - it will enter the dictionary, and in turn get a new name - a neologism. For example: motel (motor/hotel), shopaholic (shop/alcoholic: somebody addicted to shopping), brunch (a meal that is a mix of both breakfast and lunch). See also invented word and nonce word.

POSSESSIVE This is the form used to show that someone or something has or possesses something else, or has similar ideas, e.g., John’s dog. Our friends. This book is mine. That was his suggestion.

POSTGENITIVE See double genitive.

POSTMODIFICATION This is a word or phrase (usually an adverb) that occurs after the main subject (known as the head) of the clause. See qualifier.

PREDICTIVE TEXT Frequently found in virtually all electronic devices that you can type in words (and often resulting in a lot on unintentional results), this is software that suggests or tries to complete whole words on the basis of the first letters that the user types, or keys in.

PREFIX These are letters or groups of letters that are added to the beginning of the word to make up a different word, e.g., unhappy, displeasure, stepbrother, undo, ex-husband, counterpart, anti-war.

PREMODIFICATION This is a word or phrase (usually an adverb) that occurs before the main subject (known as the head) of the clause. For example: An important piece of art. See also postmodification.

PRE-NUMERATIVE This is when a quantifier (the grammar term for a specific number) comes before another quantifier. For example: One of the five houses in the street. We already have our quantifier, five, and so one of can be described as a pre-numerative as this comes before the main quantifier.

PREPOSITION These are words such as ‘for’, ‘in’, ‘with’, etc., which are usually followed by a noun phrase, e.g., A present for you. Put the biscuits back in the cupboard. I’m going with David to the party. The main job of the preposition is to inform you of the relation of one thing or person to another.

PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE This is when the the preposition qualifies the main noun, or head, in a noun phrase. For example:  I was reading the newspaper near the heater. The prepositional phrase is near the heater, as near the qualifies the location where I was reading the heater. See qualifier, determiner.

PRESCRIPTIVIST Not a very common word, but it is the closest to a neutral form I can find: this is a person who believes, often without the necessary evidence, that certain language forms are wrong, illogical, or simply not used in the right way, and that the words and grammar they use are, in their opinion, the correct way. For example, many prescriptivists believe that you should not split infinitives (click here for a more in-depth article), when history shows that it is, in fact, a made-up rule based on Latin. There are more words that describe a prescriptivist, but they are not very complementary. See also descriptivist.

PRESCRIPTIVE There are two contexts in which we use this word for the subject of English. When we describe somebody who is prescriptive, they are the kind of people who like - often in their opinion, rather than based on the facts and evidence available - telling people how English should be used. Even if they are wrong. When we talk about a prescriptive grammar, this is a set of rules about what are the correct and incorrect stylistic choices, but are not always in the ways that many people understand. See also descriptive and pedagogical.

PRESENTATION There are many meanings for this word, but in the context of our guide, this is when someone gives some kind of formal talk, often with visuals in the form of slides, white boards, practical demonstrations or even audience participation, usually in order to promote something (perhaps themselves), to sell something or to get support for a proposal.

PRESENT CONTINUOUS Also known as the present progressive. These are formed by the auxiliary verb be (am, are, is) which is then followed by the main verb (sometimes losing the last letter or adding another letter) and by adding –ing to the end (play/I am playing, eat/they are eating, bake/she is baking, etc.). They are used to express an activity that is happening at or around the time of speaking, and is not yet completed: He’s watching TV. George, let me tell you about this book I’m reading. It is used for temporary situations: I’m living with my parents until my new house is ready. It is used to describe a trend or changing situation: People are becoming more interested in learning English. Continuous verbs (without the auxiliary) are also used as nouns to express activities (and are then called gerunds): singing is lovely. See also the present continuous with 'going to', which you'll find in the next paragraph.

PRESENT CONTINUOUS WITH 'GOING TO' Sometimes, but not very often, known as the future intention. It is used to describe the future, although there is a small difference when using either the present continuous (We're organising a party) or going to (we're going to organise a party). We do, however, tend to use the present continuous (without 'going to') when the plan is more arranged or fixed. Compare: I’m flying to Spain tomorrow suggests that the speaker not only intends to fly to Spain, but arrangements such as buying the plane ticket have also been completed; I’m going to fly to Spain next summer (the present continuous with ‘going to’) suggests that the speaker intends to go to Spain, but the arrangements have not yet been made to do this.

PRESENT PARTICIPLE Perhaps the not-so-well-known cousin of the past participle, these are those verb forms that ends in '-ing': I am playing football. Driving is fun. Ordering in a foreign language can be difficult.

PRESENT PERFECT In general terms, this is a tense used for a finished action in the past (when this is finished is not stated) but is connected with the present. We do not use it when we talk about a finished period of time (an hour ago, yesterday, last week, last November, seven years ago, etc.). We would use the past tense. (For more information, see Doctor Dot Fullstop’s article on present perfect tenses in Unit 5 of Typical Errors in English, an excellent book if you haven't already got it. And if not, why not?)

PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS Also known as the present perfect progressive. In general terms, this tense is used for an action that started at some point in the past, but at or around the time of speaking, has not yet been completed. (For more information, see Doctor Dot Fullstop’s article on present perfect tenses in Unit 5. In that same book which I mentioned above. Please get it if you haven't already...)

PRESENT SIMPLE  Also known as the simple present.This is a tense that is used to talk about things in general, that happens all the time, or is repeated, e.g., I speak French very well. How often do you play cricket? The shop opens at 7.30am every day. The Earth goes around the sun every 365¼ days. It is used to describe permanent situations: My friend lives in Manchester and has always lived there. It is also used to talk about schedules and timetables in the future: The flight departs at 0730. What time does the bus leave tomorrow? (Did I mention there is a book?)

PRIMARY AUXILIARIES One of two groups of verbs - the other known as modal auxiliaries -  that are placed just before the main verb in a sentence or question. Its job is to show how the verb that follows is to be understood. The primary auxiliary verbs are be, have and do. Have is used in the perfect tenses (past perfect, present perfect, future perfect and all the perfect continuous tenses): I have got a million pounds. Be is used in both the continuous tense and in the passive voice: I am thinking of you. It was sent to me last week. Do is used in questions and negative statements: Do you watch Sherlock? I don’t like cheese. Short answers to questions use the auxiliary verb, not the main verb: Have you got a car? Yes, I have/No, I haven’t. NOT: Yes, I got. In British English, the main verb have is often used instead of the auxiliary do in short answers: Do you have all the components? Yes, I have.

PRIME SYMBOL A term used to describe the inverted comma (') when it follows a number, e.g.: 5' (5 minutes, 5 feet [imperial measurement]). See also double prime symbol.

PRINT In handwriting, this is when the letters are written individually with a pen, pencil or any other writing tool and are not joined up or cursive. It's very neat, easily readable and very handy for teachers when writing clear information on a whiteboard. Sensible!

PRINTING This is not only the mass-production of books and other material as usually done by a machine, but it can also refer to a style of handwriting (which I use a lot). If you are printing, or writing in print, you're writing the letters of each word separately and not all joined together. Frankly, there's an awful lot of joined-up writing that's pretty awful out there. Sorry. See also cursive.

PROCESS In corpus linguistics, a process is one of the functional parts of a clause. These parts are also known as constituents and are made up of words or phrases that do a particular job within the clause and are often made up of a participant, process and circumstance. The process is what tells us that there is a process going on, such as laughing, eating, drinking. Example: Brian (participant) loved (process) physics (circumstance).

PROFANITY This is another name for a swear word. So if someone is swearing a lot, they are shouting or issuing a lot of profanities. See taboo word.

PRO-FORM This is a word used to replace or substitute a word, phrase, or clause but you can usually understand its  meaning from the context. These pro-forms themselves can be split into wonderful classifications, and here's the list, complete with examples: Interrogative Pro-Form (question words): Who (the person I am referring to) is that man?; Pro-Adjective (replacing an adjective or a phrase that functions as an adjective) He's not so as I expected (so replacing 'as experienced': to be fair, this is very rare and I think you'd struggle to find this used often); Pro-Adverb (replacing an adverb or adverb phrase) You can't see the cheese in the fridge? Look again! It's in there! ('there' replacing 'fridge'), Pronouns (It's Fred's money - give it to him. (It being the money, him being Fred); and Pro-Verb (replacing a verb or verb phrase) Do you like chocolate? Yes, I do!


PRONOUN These are words such as it, their, mine, she, etc., that are used instead of a more precise noun or noun phrase, e.g., Did you feed the dog? Yes, I fed it. Where does Anne live? She lives in Derby. Give it to me. You should take our advice. That’s not mine, it’s yours. See also reflexive pronouns, objective pronouns and subjective pronouns.

PRONUNCIATION This is the way that a word or language is said using particular sounds. With spoken English, there can be variations as to how a word is said, for example: often is pronounced either as offen /ɒfən/ or of-ten /ɒftɛn/ (putting stress on the t).

PROOFING This is the process of checking a text before it is approved for printing. Proofing includes checking spelling and general grammar, along with even rewriting a text due to a poor translation. See also editing, of which proofing can be

one element of that process.

PROPER ENGLISH Well, what exactly is 'proper English'? The English language has changed over the years, and with it what could be defined as 'proper English'. The English language comes in many forms. We have Standard English, which perhaps could be what is described as 'proper English' from a British English point of view, but then we have American English, Australian, Canadian, Jamaican, all the different Englishes used in writing and speaking, and so on. There is no absolute answer to this one.

PROSCRIBE With the rules of Standard English - that is, what is generally known, understood, and generally agreed on what is essentially correct - anything that does not meet those rules, or the conventions of Standard English, is proscribed. So for example, Standard English allows I drive every day but proscribes I drived every day as drive is an irregular verb. Compare with prescriptive.

PROSE This is ordinary written language. Of course, the way that prose is presented is often referred to as style, and the style you choose depends on who you want to read your prose or, if you are writing for a magazine, the style they want you to write in (see style guide). So if, for example, your intended piece of prose is to be written in a style that would be appreciated by a group of professors, then you need to write using an academic register

PROVERB This is a short sentence that gives you and other people a bit of advice or something about life which can also be a general truth. For example: Ignorance is bliss (What you don't know won't harm you); You mustn't cry over spilt milk (What's done is done and there's nothing you can do about it); A poor workman always blames his tools (it's never their fault if something goes wrong).

PSEUDONYM  Also known as a pen name, this is a name that an author uses instead of their real name when it comes to publishing their works. This may be because this name may be more easily remembered than their own, to disguise their gender, or to put some distance from their real name in order to be recognised as someone who can write in different styles and genres. It can also be a name that is used to combine several authors.

PUN This is a word or phrase that has two meanings (or words that have the same or similar sound but different meanings). For example, a music shop could have the sign 'Gone shopping. Back in a minute' punned by using musical references to read 'Gone Chopin. Bach in a minuet.' Perhaps more obviously, they appear in children's jokes: Why are teddy bears never hungry? They are always stuffed! Why did the spider go to the computer? To check his web site.

PUNCTUATION Marks that are added to writing so that it makes the text easier to read and to understand. Examples: (,) comma; (.) full stop (or period in American English); (!) exclamation mark; (‘) apostrophe (and sometimes used as a speech mark).

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