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Glossary of grammatical terms


abbrev, abrév

A shortened form of a word or phrase: etc., DNA


In the active form the subject of the verb performs the action: ils [subject] parlent encore de politique, they’re talking (about) politics again. See Passive

Adjectival phrase

loc adj

A phrase that functions as an adjective: out of place, the remark was quite out of place



A word describing a noun: un crayon gras, a soft pencil



A word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb: j’ai parlé trop vite, I spoke too hastily; assez souvent, quite often

Adverbial phrase

loc adv

A phrase that functions as an adverb: less and less, de moins en moins


Articles are used before a noun. The definite article (art déf): in French le, la, l’, les; in English the. The indefinite article (art indéf): in French un, une; in English a/an.


An adjective or noun is attributive when it is used directly before a noun: le grand escalier, the main staircase

Auxiliary verb

A verb used with another verb to form compound tenses; in French avoir and être: j’ai fait une affaire, I got a bargain; il est parti il y a cinq minutes, he left five minutes ago

Cardinal number

A whole number representing a quantity: un/une, deux, trois, one, two, three


A self-contained section of a sentence that contains a subject and a verb

Collective noun

A noun that is singular in form but refers to a group of persons or things, e.g. la royauté, le gouvernement, royalty, the government


A word that regularly occurs with another; for example, typical collocates of lire, to read are [mot, word; journal, newspaper; auteur, author; langue; language]


The form of an adjective or adverb for comparing two or more nouns or pronouns, often using plus, moins, aussi, more, less, as: plus petit, smaller; plus fréquemment, more frequently; aussi étrange, as strange


A unit of two or more separate words with a specific meaning: tout-puissant, all-powerful; porte-clés, key ring

Compound tense

A tense made up of two parts, auxiliary verb and past participle: je suis allée de Bruxelles à Anvers = I went from Brussels to Antwerp; quand tu auras tâté de la prison, when you’ve had a taste of prison

Conditional tense

A tense of a verb that expresses what might happen if something else occurred: je n’aimerais pas être à sa place, I wouldn’t like to be in his/her shoes


Variation of the form of a verb to show tense, person, etc.



A word used to link clauses: et, and; parce que, because

Conjunctional phrase

loc conj

A phrase that functions as a conjunction: your report, in case you’ve forgotten, was due in yesterday, votre rapport, au cas où vous l’auriez oublié, était pour hier


All the letters other than a, e, i, o, u. (y is also a vowel in French)


Countable nouns are those that have both singular and plural forms and can take determiners that accompany distinctions in number: the book, le livre; the books, les livres; un chat, a cat; des chats, some cats

Definite article

art déf

the, le, la, l’, les

Demonstrative adjective

An adjective indicating the person or thing referred to: cette voiture, this car; ce stylo, this pen

Demonstrative pronoun

A pronoun indicating the person or thing referred to: prends une autre chaise, celle-ci est cassée, take another chair, this one is broken


det, dét

A word used before a noun to make clear what is being referred to: le, la, l’, les, the; du/de l’/de la/des, some; mon/ma/mes, my

Direct object

direct obj

The noun or pronoun directly affected by the verb: je mange du chocolat pour me donner du courage, I eat chocolate to keep myself going

Direct speech

A speaker’s actual words or the use of these in writing


Having a word or words omitted, especially where the sense can be guessed from the context


Letters added to the stems of verbs, nouns and adjectives, according to tense, number, gender



A sound, word, or remark expressing a strong feeling such as anger, fear, or joy: attention!, look out!

Exclamatory adjective

adj excl

An adjective used to express an exclamation: quel imbécile!, what an idiot!; quelle horreur, how dreadful!



One of the two gender in French: la femme = the woman; la carte = the card

Future tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something that will happen in the future: I will go, j’irai


One of the two groups of nouns in French: masculine and feminine


A form of a verb that expresses a command: dépêche-toi de finir ton travail, hurry up and finish your work

Imperfect tense

The tense of a verb that refers to an uncompleted or a habitual action in the past: chaque année ils allaient faire du ski, they used to go skiing every year

Impersonal verb

v impers

A verb used in English only with ‘it’ and in French only with ‘il’: it’s raining, il pleut

Indefinite adjective

adj indéf

An adjective that does not identify a specific person or object: pour maint lecteur, for many a reader; nulle autre ville, no other town

Indefinite article

art indéf

un, une, a/an

Indefinite determiner

dét indéf

A determiner that does not identify a specific person or object: il y a trop d’accidents, there are too many accidents; prenez davantage de viande, have some more meat

Indefinite pronoun

pron indéf

A pronoun that does not identify a specific person or object: on, one; quelque chose, something

Indicative form

The form of a verb used when making a statement of fact or asking questions of fact in various tenses: il aime commander tout le monde, he loves ordering everyone about

Indirect object

indirect obj

The noun or pronoun indirectly affected by the verb, at which the direct object is aimed: je lui ai donné un double des clés, I gave him a spare set of keys

Indirect speech

A report of what someone has said which does not reproduce the exact words

Indirect transitive verb

vtr ind

In French, a transitive verb whose object is preceded by the preposition à or de: assister à = to be at; parler de quelque chose/quelqu’un = to talk about somebody/something


The basic form of a verb: to play, jouer


To change the ending or form of a word to show its tense or its grammatical relation to other words: donne and donnez are inflected forms of the verb donner

Interrogative adjective

adj inter

An adjective that modifies a noun in a question: dans quels pays as-tu vécu?, which countries have you lived in?; quelle heure est-il?, what time is it?

Interrogative determiner

dét inter

A determiner used to form a question: de ces deux médicaments, quel est le plus efficace?, which of these two medicines is most effective?; c’est à combien de kilomètres?, how far away is it?

Interrogative pronoun

pron inter

A pronoun that asks a question: qui?, who?

Intransitive verb


A verb that does not have a direct object: il est mort à 95 ans, he died at 95

Invariable adjective

adj inv

A French adjective that is unchanged in the singular and the plural, as French ivoire, = ivory, transmanche = cross-channel

Invariable noun

n inv

A noun that is unchanged in the singular and the plural, as English sheep, species; French aide-mémoire, rabais

Irregular verb

A verb that does not follow one of the set patterns and has its own individual forms, e.g. English to be; French être



One of the two gender in French: le garçon = the boy; le livre = the book

Modal verb

A verb that is used with another verb to express permission, obligation, possibility, such as can, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will. The French modal verbs are devoir, pouvoir, savoir, vouloir, falloir


Expressing refusal or denial: il n’y en a pas, there aren’t any; le bois ne veut pas brûler, the wood won’t burn



A word that names a person, thing, or concept such as Peter, Pierre; a child, un enfant;, a book, un livre; peace, la paix

Noun modifier


A modifier that adds extra information about a noun: altitude training, entraînement en altitude; transition period, période de transition


The state of being either singular or plural



The word or words naming the person or thing acted on by a verb: il a laissé une abondante correspondance, he left a huge number of letters; j’ai lavé les rideaux de la chambre, I washed the bedroom curtains

Ordinal number

A number that shows the position of a person or thing in a series: la deuxième fois, the second time; la Cinquième République, the Fifth Republic

Part of speech

A grammatical term for the function of a word; noun, verb, adjective, etc., are parts of speech


In the passive, the subject of the verb experiences the action rather than performs it: il a été puni de sa paresse, he has been punished for his laziness. See Active

Past participle


The part of a verb used to form past compound tenses with être and avoir: je n’avais pas vu la situation sous cet aspect, I hadn’t seen the situation in that light

Past participle adjective

pp adj

An adjective formed from the past participle of a verb in the perfect tense: dressed, habillé, vêtu; furnished, meublé

Perfect tense

In French the perfect tense is used conversationally to refer to an event in the past: il a mangé au restaurant, he ate in a restaurant; ils ont trouvé qui a volé la voiture, they found the person who stole the car. Note the use of the simple past (preterit) in these English translations


Any of the three groups of personal pronouns and forms taken by verbs. In the singular the first person (e.g. je/I) refers to the person speaking; the second person (e.g. tu/you) refers to the person spoken to; the third person (e.g. il, elle/he, she, it) refers to the person spoken about. The corresponding plural forms are nous/we, vous/you, ils, elles/they

Personal pronoun

pron pers

A pronoun that refers to a person or thing

Phrasal verb

A verb in English combined with a preposition or an adverb to give a particular meaning: run away, wash up. There are no phrasal verbs in French



A self-contained section of a sentence that does not contain a full verb

Pluperfect tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something that happened before a particular point in the past: je n’ai pas eu le temps de dire ouf, il était déjà parti, before I could say Jack Robinson, he’d gone



Meaning more than one: the children, les enfants

Possessive adjective

adj poss

An adjective that shows possession, belonging to someone or something: mon/ma/mes, my

Possessive pronoun

pron poss

A pronoun that shows possession, belonging to someone or something: le mien/la mienne/les miens/les miennes, mine


An adjective is predicative when it comes after a verb such as be or become in English, or after être or devenir in French: il est intelligent et beau, ce qui ne gâte rien, he’s intelligent, and handsome into the bargain


Letter or letters added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning, e.g. anti-, ultra-, non-


A word standing in front of a noun or pronoun, usually indicating movement, position or time: on the chair, sur la chaise; he came towards me, il vint vers moi

Prepositional phrase

loc prep

A phrase that consists of a preposition and a complement: au-dessous du genou = below the knee; de sorte à ne pas faire = so as not to do

Present participle

p prés

The part of a verb in English that ends in –ing; the corresponding ending in French is -ant

Present participle adjective

pres p adj

An adjective formed from the present participle of a verb in the present tense: competing = rival; dizzying = vertigineux/euse

Present tense

pres, prés

The tense of a verb that refers to something happening now: je fais I make, I am making


pret, prêt

Another term for the simple past tense in English, eg I went, or the passé simple in French, eg j’allai. Note that the simple past tense in English corresponds to the perfect tense in French: I went = je suis allé(e)



A word that stands instead of a noun: il, he, elle, she, le mien/la mienne/les miens/les miennes, mine

Proper noun

pr n

The name of a person, place, institution, etc, generally written with an initial capital letter: France, the Alps, Madeleine, l’Europe are all proper nouns



A word or phrase that specifies the quantity of a noun: several, plusieurs; a lot of, beaucoup de

Reflexive pronoun

A pronoun that goes with a reflexive verb: in French: me, te, se, nous, vous, se; in English: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves

Reflexive ver

v refl

A verb whose object is the same as its subject. In French it is used with a reflexive pronoun and conjugated with être: le chat s’est glissé sous la voiture = the cat crept under the car

Regular verb

A verb that follows a set pattern in all its different forms

Relative pronoun

pron rel

A pronoun that introduces a subordinate clause, relating to a person or thing mentioned in the main clause: le livre que j’ai choisi, the book which I have chosen

Reported speech

Another name for Indirect speech


A sequence of words, with a subject and a verb, that can stand on their own to make a statement, ask a question, or give a command


One only: the tree, l’arbre


The part of a verb to which endings are added; donn-is the stem of donner


In a clause or sentence, the noun or pronoun that causes the action of the verb: il a attrapé le ballon après le rebond, he caught the ball on the rebound



A verb form used in French after certain conjunctions and with verbs of wishing, fearing, ordering, forbidding followed by que: elle veut que tu sois heureux = she wants you to be happy; il est bien possible que le concert soit annulé, the concert might well be cancelled

Subordinate clause

A clause which adds information to the main clause of a sentence, but cannot function as a sentence by itself, e.g. I knew him when he was plain Mr Spencer, je l’ai connu quand il s’appelait M. Spencer tout court


A group of letters added to the end of a word to form another word, e.g. -able in workable; –eur in grandeur or –able in véritable


The form of an adjective or adverb that makes it the ‘most’ or ‘least’: the biggest house, la plus grande maison; the cheapest CD, le CD le moins cher


The verb form that tells when the action takes place: present, future, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect are all tenses

Transitive verb


A verb used with a direct object: il a bu trois verres, he drank three glasses



Uncountable nouns do not have a plural form: water = l’eau; understanding = la compréhension



A word or group of words that describes an action: les enfants jouent, the children are playing


One of the following letters: a, e, i, o, u and in addition, y in French

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