top of page


S The ninteenth letter of the alphabet, a consonant, /es/ in the IPA, and SIERRA in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. To remember the way to say it, we have the S as in SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle), or maybe in P.S. (postscript: an additional note to what I have expressed).

SARCASM The best entry in the whole of Not4GrammarBores. Indeed, you have discovered a set of words that will reveal the truth about the English language1 Well... maybe not. Sarcasm is words used to express something which is not the meaning intended or is literally the opposite of the literal meaning the writer intended. So the opening sentence was an example of sarcasm. Often, it can be directed towards a specific individual. See also irony, which was what you hold in your army to press your clothes...

SAXON GENITIVE Also known as the genitive or the possessive case (where you'll find the full explanation).

SCHWA A strange word, this. It is the most common sound in English. It is a weak, unstressed sound and occurs in many words, often being the sound in grammar words such as articles and prepositions by native speakers in natural conversation. And for language students, getting it right can help make pronunciation more natural and accurate. Basically, a schwa is the name of the neutral vowel sound made by - as represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet - /ə/ . Now I do realise that not all of you will know straight away what this sound is, so let's give you a few examples. The /ə/ sound is not an inverted 'e' but sounds like 'uh'. Example of regular words that have the schwa sound are the, brother, trouble, about, waken, parcel, suffix, and bible, but this does depend on your dialect and pronunciation, of course. Now if you hear a native speaker say 'A man looked at the dog', the 'A' and 'the' would probably use the schwa sound so it becomes 'uh man looked at thuh dog'. 

SCRIPT (1) This is the written version of a play, film or television programme, but as Richard Porter, script editor for Top Gear/The Grand Tour points out, "...this can also be a rough guide that tells the performers, the director, the film crew and all the other people involved in the production where the story starts and where it hopes to get to. Top Gear used to embark on two whole weeks of filming for the... Christmas specials with little more than a piece of paper that carried the opening link, justifying why we were there and what we hoped to do, and then a yawning void (a big gap) waiting to see what happened next. This still counted as a script."

SCRIPT (2) As well as being the written version of a play, film or television programme, it is also another name for your system, or style of writing. See also cursive, handwriting

SECOND CONDITIONAL And if you still don't know what a conditional sentence is, then please see conditional! The second conditional is used to talk about a situation that is unlikely to happen, perhaps impossible, or just imaginary. For example: If I won the lottery, I’d go around the world. (But I have not won the lottery, or I am unlikely to win the lottery, and so I can only imagine what would happen next.) If I didn’t know how to drive, I would take lessons. (You can drive, so you consider what you would do if you could not.) What do you think you could be doing now if you weren’t working? (You are working, but you are asked to imagine the likely situation now if this was not the case.) The construction is the if-clause: if + past simple; main clause: would/could/might, etc. + infinitive without to.

SECOND LANGUAGE This is when a person can speak a second language. Obviously. Well, to be more accurate, this is a language that is not the speaker's second language but is used regularly by that person, particularly among others who speak it in an area where it is not the native language. It's also known simply as L2. See also native speaker, English as a foreign language.

SECOND PERSON When we make a statement about people we are talking to, the subject of the statement is about the person (you) or the people that we are talking to (you plural). We refer to this structure as the second person. Although in two forms (singular and plural), the same pronoun - perhaps confusingly for language students - is used for both subjects (you). So the second person singular - You like skiing. You see many people during the day. You drive a Lambourgini. You play the clarinet every day as you are in an orchestra - is the same for the second person plural: DAVID: So you like skiing? JILL Yes, Brian and I love skiing; we go skiing as often as we can. However, for clarity, we usually add quantifiers to make ourselves  more clear: DAVID: So you both drive Lambourginis? JILL: Yes, we do. DAVID: Do you all play in the orchestra or just some of you? JILL, All seventeen of us play in the orchestra! See also first and third person.

SEMANTICS This is an area of linguistics that deals with the study of meaning, changes in meaning, and the principles that tell us how sentences or words work and their meanings. Or to put it another way, the study of meaning in language. It focuses on the question: 'Why does the language do this?' Semantics looks at what the words appear to mean and nothing else: it's what you would expect each word or sentence to mean. However, as we know, language usage is rarely that simple. The meaning of words over history change. Over time, language evolves, and this is where the real study of semantics is involved as some words often change their meanings to something completely different from what they were used for originally. The study of all this is, of course, semantics.

SEMI-COLON In punctuation, this is the mark (;). This is used in writing in order to separate different parts of a sentence or a list to show a pause; it is also used as an alternative to a comma splice to join two independent clauses.

SEMI-MODAL VERBS These are verbs made up of two or more words and act like modal verbs: have to, got to, ought to, be supposed to, be going to, used to. Like modal verbs, they could be expressing the attitude of the speaker (personal) or the likelihood of something happening (logical). This could be ability, permission, necessity, obligation, intention, and possibility: I have to go to work. You’re used to driving on the left, aren’t you? According to the weather forecast, it’s going to rain tomorrow. Well, it’s Tuesday, and they’re supposed to deliver the furniture today.

SENTENCE This is a group of words. When we write down these words, they usually begin with a capital letter. There are many ways these groups of words can end: with a full stop, a question mark, an exclamation mark or even an ellipsis. They may even begin and end in inverted commas if they are used to write down speech. Most sentences contain a subject and a verb. However, there can be several words in the sentence (which was a popular style of writing in the English language during the early part of the 20th century) or even just one or two. Yes, one word can be used in a sentence, such as in this example: "What did you think of the movie?" "Brilliant!"

SENTENCE ADVERB This is an adverb that refers to, or modifies, a whole sentence. For example, if we say or write Honestly speaking, you're making a big mistake, honestly speaking is a sentence adverb. If we compare this with He didn't tell me the truth, frankly it modifies the verb phrase tell the truth.

SENTIMENT This is when you express or hold a view or opinion. I think this section of the website is brilliant, but you may not necessarily agree with my sentiments...


SHIBBOLETH See superstitions.

SHORT ANSWER This is an answer that is made up of a subject (I, you, they, it, the machine, Brian, etc) and an auxiliary verb (be, have, must, would, ought to, etc). 'Who's got the money?' 'Fred has.' 'You would really do that?' 'I would.' 'Who ate the fish?' 'The cat did.'

SHORTHAND This is a quick way of writing, particularly when you want to record what someone is saying. It used to be quite popular with secretaries and journalists, although these days time-saving predictive text on phones, text programs and even recording (witness all those phones stuck in front of somebody as they are making a statement to the media) makes it almost useless. Shorthand uses signs to represent words or syllables.

SIMILE Used in writing as a literary device, this is also a figure of speech which, when used, allows us to comment or express on how similar something is when compared to something else. In speaking and writing, this is usually introduced with 'as', for example: He's as stupid as they come. This machine's as heavy as lead! Often it is not necessary to understand all the words in the sentence, but you would know what the phrases mean (very stupid or very heavy). It can also be introduced with like: I've got a memory like a sieve! You won't be able to leave quietly - he's got eyes like a hawk! See also metaphor.

SINGULAR NOUNS These are nouns but used to describe one of a particular thing: chair, pencil, car, tomato are singular nouns. For more than one thing, these are plural nouns.

SLASH Sometimes known as the forward slash (or in British English, stroke). This is the mark (/), a sloping line to the right. It is used to separate letters, words, or numbers. For example, 456/5/KH would be read as 'four five six slash five slash K H.' (or Brits might read it as four five six stroke five stroke K H'. They are used in dates: 25/12/2015 (or 12/25/2015), abbreviations: n/a (not available), A/C (air conditioner), two options: I don't know who the new actor for Doctor Who will be, but good luck to the man/woman who gets the job. There's also many other things it's used for, but those are the most common. Hopefully. So much do I get for writing that? 15/6 in old money?

SMALL LETTER Also known as a lower case letter.

SOLECISM A wonderful formal word that is used to describe any rule-breaking of language use such as in grammar and usage, or even ungrammatical usage of words. These would be examples of solecisms: We was unlucky. (We were unlucky.) He's the doctor what (who or that) lives next door to Fred. I don't know nothing (I know nothing or I don't know anything). However, some solecisms are accepted without problems in conversational speech, for example 'me and my family' is used by the vast majority of native speakers (rather than 'my family and I', which is regarded as a bit pompous). Many solecisms are disputed: split infinitives being an excellent example. Solecisms are usually the domain of prescriptivists.


SPEAKING This is using your voice to say words. It is also a part of four (or five, depending on how you see the exam) sections of the Cambridge Advanced Exam in English as a foreign language (the other three parts are listening, writing and Use of English/reading). Although this part of the exam only takes a total of 15 minutes, there are four parts. The focus is on your ability to communicate effectively in face–to–face situations with another candidate.


SPEECH This is the ability to speak or the activity of speaking. However, speech has many features about it, and in grammar it is quite a big subject. When analysed - particularly if you choose to write it down - you will see that it can be very different to the written form. It is often colloquial, has lines that are often not finished, repeats often and even has lovely things called hesitators. Oh yes, if you think you've got the English language sorted out, then the study of speech will make you realise that this is not the case...

SPEECH MARKS See inverted commas.

SPELLING With all written language, spelling is simply being able to spell words in the correct way, that is, being able to write or speak each letter in a word, and doing so by saying the individual letters in the word in the correct order. Now try and find some learners who can spell these short but difficult-to-spell words: weird, rhythm, maintenance, pronunciation, occurred, gauge.

SPLIT INFINITIVE When another word, usually an adverb, is added between 'to' and the verb, for example: to eagerly wait, to vastly increase. The infinitive forms 'to wait' and 'to increase' have been split by the adverbs 'eagerly' and 'vastly', and so we get the split infinitive. However, this structure is controversial in that there is no rule that says you can't use them, but many people dissaprove of them. To find out more, click here.

STANDARD ENGLISH The English language as spoken, written and understood. However, what is one rule in British English may be another in a different variety of English. Standard English is the language that agrees what is regarded as current normal usage, that is, those norms that have been widely accepted in dictionaries and grammar books. These are the ‘rules’ that are in place, particularly for written purposes, for education, government and science. For example, it permits a construction such as I don't know anything but would say no to, or proscribe, I don't know nothing. It is the convention used in teaching English to second language students. However, it has evolved and developed over the years, changing with fashion, social and economic changes - and is continuing to do so - and not as a result of policy or planning.

STATEMENT Something that is said or written, usually in a formal way. It is also a word to describe an official or formal announcement. Those last two sentences you've read were statements, and they are also examples of something in grammar known as the indicative mood.


STATE VERBS Also known as stative verbs. Oh look what's coming up...

STATIVE VERB Also known as state verbs. Which you have just discovered if you read the previous entry. These are verbs that are not normally used in continuous tenses as they are used to describe states and conditions and not actions. Or to put it another way, stative verbs such as love, hate, know, etc., are verbs that generally you would not actually see as actions; for example, you cannot actually see someone knowing something. However, stative verbs can be used in the continuous form when they become gerunds, for example: Hating your job is not a good attitude to take. There’s nothing there, you’re seeing things. Knowing that kind of knowledge could be useful. Also, some state verbs that get used as continuous verbs usually have a different meaning: She’s seeing him on Monday (she has an appointment to see the person on Monday).

STEM This is the form of the word where inflections or other letters are added to change the grammatical sense of the original word. For example, from the word 'please' (which is the stem), we can change the inflections by adding a 'd' to make 'pleased', or -ing to make pleasing. However, pleased can become a new stem, as we can now add the letters 'dis' to create 'displeased', but is a word that will always be connected to the original meaning of the word. Compare with root word, which is a word that can be changed in many ways such as play: played, playing, player, wordplay, playful, playtime, and so on, but can have a different meaning to the original root word it comes from. See also base.

STOP Also known as a plosive. This is not to be confused with a full stop, which is something else.

STORY This is a description - usually made up of words, sentences and paragraphs - of people and events, usually not real (imaginary), and is written in a way that lets the listener or reader be entertained. The word is also used to describe an event or something that happened: I've got quite a story to tell you about my holiday in Nepal!  See also tale, fairy tale, novel and literature.

STRESS In linguistics, and particularly phonology, stress or accent is the relative emphasis or prominence given to a certain syllable in a word or to a certain word in a phrase or sentence. Often the terms stress and emphasis are often used synonymously but are sometimes distinguished, as in this example from one of my texts: For the sake of keeping things simple, I have chosen to underline and highlight in red where the IPA sound is being emphasised (but not necessarily stressed) in the word.

STROKE Another name, particularly used in British English, for the punctuation mark slash.(/)

STYLE This is you when it comes to your writing. Your style is what makes your writing different from others. It's yours and it should be unique to you. Often your choice of style is important depending on the context, purpose and your intended audience. Your choices of word, sentence, and fluency all make up your style. Often, sometimes what you just say when speaking is good enough to put in writing as it helps you to find your 'voice', or style of writing. For that reason, having to refer to style guides or a set of writing rules imposed by someone means you are probably writing someone else's words.

STYLE GUIDE Also known as a style manual, it is a set of standards (some say even rules) often put together by newspaper and magazine publishers that they would like their writers to follow. Although in many cases they are well-intended, they often include sets of rules that are just simply preferences and can often affect a writer's style. Grammar usages are a good example, such as the need to particularly avoid split infinitives. Prepositions for ending sentences with. Stating that the passive voice is to be avoided. Using lots of short sentences. No commas after and, and so on. And beginning sentences with conjunctions (sorry, I forgot to mention this) and using too many brackets. (Or parenthesis in American English.) The role of the style guide may be to establish and enforce a style to improve its communication, but the results may be stilted and uninteresting. And even wrong.

SUBJECT These are nouns or pronouns that are used to tell us who or what does an action that the following verb refers to, e.g., Brian works in a bank. (Brian is the subject of the sentence.) The company gave its employees a pay rise. (The company is the subject.) Contrast with object (which in the above examples, would be the bank and the employees.)

SUBJECT No, not an accidental duplication on the glossary, but a different meaning (you know that English loves to have the same words to mean different things.) This is the thing - or even topic - that is being discussed or written about. These can be in the form of conversations, letters, books or other media such as TV or radio.

SUBJECTIVE PRONOUN This is a pronoun used instead of the noun subject that tells us who or what does an action. She (subjective pronoun) gave him (objective pronoun) a present. Subjective pronouns are I /you/he/she/it/we/they. See also objective pronoun. Yes, I know you just read it here, but it does give some more examples...

SUPERLATIVE These are words, usually adjectives, that describe the greatest, the most, or the least of something or someone, e.g.: The Nile is the longest river in the world. The Vatican City is the smallest country. This is the most boring book I’ve ever read! What is the least interesting subject you’ve ever studied? She’s the most intelligent student in class.

SUFFIX These are letters or groups of letters that are added to the end of the word to make up a different word, e.g., meanness, communism, reliable, movement, homeless, careful, lovely, standardise

SUPERSTITIONS This is also a form of usage, but they are more often judgements on how English should be used - often without justification or with good reasons why - rather than general agreements. They are also known as shibboleths (rules that do not exist) and fetishes (have an unhealthy fascination of 'rules' that they firmly believe in and enjoy telling people about).

SVO LANGUAGE Also known simply as VO, SVO is a language such as English that follows a word order rule on the basis of Subject, Verb, Object: for example, Janet (subject) loves (verb) John (object); the factory (subject) is making (verb) lots of money (object).

SWEAR WORD See taboo word.

SWUNG DASH No, not the past tense of swing dash. It's another kind of dash, or hyphen. It looks like this (~) and as it's on the computer keyboard, we'll have to explain it. Bother. Well, idictionaries, it is frequently used to replace the word that is being explained. So for example (thank you Wikipedia), instead of a dictionary entry saying henceforth (adv.) from this time forth; from now on; "Henceforth, she will be known as Mrs. Wales" it will say henceforth (adv.) from this time forth; from now on; "⁓ she will be known as Mrs. Wales". All clear? Good. It's not too important in life...

SYLLABLE A part of a word that contains a single vowel sound or a diphthong, e.g., play has one syllable, pronoun has two, and pronunciation has five syllables.

SYMBOLISM Here, the art of using a word to represent an abstract idea, usually in the form of a symbolic meaning. When authors want to suggest a certain mood or emotion, they use symbolism to hint at it rather than just saying or writing it straight out. Metaphors are popular examples for symbolism, for example, she is my rock is used to symbolize someone who will always be there for you and help keep you grounded, even when you are facing difficulties.

SYNECDOCHE Pronounced sin-nek-doe-key, this is a figure of speech in which a part of something is substituted for a whole, or a whole of something is substituted for a part. For example, as in 50 head of cattle for 50 cows; The world treated him badly (using the world to refer to part of the world); a bug (used to refer to any kind of insect or arachnid, even if it is not a true bug); Glasses or steel (referring to spectacles or sword). (Thanks See also metonomy.

SYNESIS This is when a grammatical construction conforms with meaning and not with syntax, for example: A lot of the problems are caused by traffic. The meaning of a lot of the problems is many problems and is plural, and so should be paired with a plural verb (are caused, not is caused).

SYNONYM This is a word or expression that has a similar meaning as another. For example, synonyms of the word fat with the meaning overweight are gross, heavy, obese, plump, podgy, rotund, stout, tubby, etc. See the next entry.

SYNONYMOUS If something or someone is synonymous with something else, these things are so closely connected that we get the impression one or the other can't exist unless they are together. For example, Pisa is synonymous with the leaning tower. Einstein is synonymous with 'genius'. For the purposes of this article presses and machines are used as synonymous terms. See also synonym.

SYNTAX This is when we talk about the way words are put together to make up a sentence, and then put into the correct order. For example, the hill drove over the car is the incorrect syntax, as the hill is clearly the object of the attention of the car, not the car being the attention of the hill.

SYNTHETIC LANGUAGE First, let's use nice, technical vocabulary. A synthetic language is a language with a high morpheme-per-word ratio, when compared to a low morpheme-per-word ratio (which is then called an analytic language. Or to try and express this in a not-so-complicated way, we have to explain that a morpheme is a word with one meaning. If we add more letters to change it such from pleasant to unpleasant, we now have two morphemes. German and Polish are examples of synthetic languages where they add some extra letters or even words together to make new words and so add more morphemes. Or to put it yet another way, in a synthetic language one word is often sufficient to express what English can only achieve by using multiple words. It's like, for example, saying that a 'big green tank' in English might be, in a synthetic language, 'bigreentank'. But I made that up, just to express the point.

Back to N4GB main page

bottom of page