“The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.” – Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science
I am sure you have found many, many words related to the study of language. Following is a listing of selected words to help you in your ESL studies. The added explanations and examples are written to help you with understanding how this word relates to the English language, to assist you in your own English language learning, and to build your confidence. The list is designed to be used as a reference. Whether you read the entire list at one sitting, a few words at a time, or choose to skim through and read the words you don’t know, I hope it is purposeful in your English study.
Accent – certain pronunciation features that signal a regional form of speech; to help you pronounce words. Examples: café, déjà vu, piñata.
Adjective – a word that describes a noun or pronoun. Example: The news article was “lengthy”. The word “lengthy” describes the noun “news article” so it is an adjective.
Adverb – a word that describes a verb or another adverb. Example: I read the lengthy news article “quickly”. The word “quickly” describes the verb “read” so it is an adverb.
Affix – part of a word that is added to either the beginning or end of a word to change the meaning of the word; affixes include prefixes (those parts added to the beginning of words) and suffixes (those parts added to the end of words). Example: The marketing firm “tried” to expand its business into other “regions” of the world, but it was “unsuccessful”. – The words “tried”, “regions” and “unsuccessful” have affixes. “Tried” is the past tense of “try”; “regions” is the plural of “region”, and “unsuccessful” is a word made up of the prefix “un” and the suffix “ful” to mean “not filled with success”.
Alliteration – is the use of repeating consonant letters often used in writing or speech to make an impact or to help with memory of important concepts; it is often used in tongue twisters and to give the language vibrancy and fun. Example: She sells seashores by the seashore.
Alphabet – a set of symbols to make a writing system; in the English alphabet the symbols are the 26 letters of the alphabet. Example: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.
Archaic – wording or phrasing that was at one time used regularly in everyday language, but it is used no longer. Examples: afore (before), agone (ago), beforetime (formerly).
Association – the meaning of a word and how it relates to other words. Example: The word “coffee” is associated with hot beverages like tea, or types of coffee like decaffeinated or regular.
“Coffee” is associated with sugar, cream, and flavorings.
Assonance – is the use of the repetition of vowel sounds for effect. Example: Ann always argued.
Auxiliary verb – a verb that is used with a main verb. Example: Her boss “is going” to China on business this week. The auxiliary verb “is” combines with the verb “going” in this example.
Clause – a unit of syntax that is smaller than a complete sentence but larger than a single word. Example: The student, “who was from Saudi Arabia”, was accepted at the local university to study business. The clause “who was from Saudi Arabia” is used in this sentence to describe the student.
Comparative – forms of expression whereby things are compared. Example: This job is “large”. This job is “larger”. This is the “largest” job. Usually when 2 things are compared, the suffix “er” is added to the word; and when 3 or more things are compared, the suffix “est” is added to the word. There are also times when the words “more” and “most” are used with the comparison word instead of adding an “er” or “est”. Example: That movie was “popular”. The other movie was more “popular”. That movie was the “most” popular of all.
Conjunction – a part of speech that is used in sentences to connect and to join similar thoughts and actions. Example: The marketing director took control of the print ads “and” he took control over all of the mailings. The conjunction “and” is used to combine two related sentences.
Connotation – any personal additional meaning which we bring to the word or phrase. Examples: (Positive connotations) home, thrifty, youthful, energetic; (Negative connotations) chatty, chicken (coward), pushy; (Connotation pairs) bossy-dominant, disaster-problem, fired-terminated.
Determiner – a word which expresses a number or quantity and describes a noun. Examples: a, an, some, the.
Dialect – language (syntax and vocabulary) that identifies the speakers by location. Examples: (from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn) Jim says, “We’s safe, Huck, we’s safe! Jump up and crack yo’ hells. Dat’s de good ole Cairo at las’. I jis knows it.”
Discourse – having continuous speech especially with more than one speaker. Examples: The CEO of the company likes to engage in lively “discourse” with the visitors from China. At the recent meeting, the lawyer recapped an informative “discourse” about the current state of the company’s merger.
Figurative language – an expressive and non-literal use of the language. Example: The “job was a piece of cake”. This expression means the job was easy and has nothing to do with eating and cake.
Genderlect – a variety of language that is characterized by being spoken by either a male or female. Women may use different words and meaning of these words than men do, so it is important to realize there may be differences between the genders when you communicate. For example, if a work project were team-based, women might look at this experience as a time to connect; whereas, men might view this as a time to show their status and competition.
Head word – the most important part of a phrase or the word under which a set of related dictionary or encyclopedia entries appear. The headword is used to locate the entry and dictate its alphabetical position. The Merriam-Webster Third International Dictionary has 430,000 head words. Example: print (followed by printed, printing, print making, etc.
Ideograph – is a word frequently used in political discourse that uses an abstract concept to develop support for a political position or platform. Angle brackets are used to mark off the words. Example: <liberty> and <rights>.
Idiolect – the unique speech variety of an individual. This includes a person’s vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Perhaps they repeatedly use a certain word or phrase in their speech or they say something a certain way (either grammar-wise or how they pronounce it). Each of us has an idiolect. Some of us have more pronounced ways we speak.
Indo-European – one early source language from which originated many modern European languages. Today, Indo-European languages are spoken by almost 3 billion native speakers, the largest number of any recognized language family. Over half of the 20 languages with the largest numbers of native speakers are Indo-European. These include: Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, German, Sindhi, Punjabi, Marathi, French, Urdu, and Italian. How difficult it is to learn another language is based on many factors.
Infinitive – the basic or non-finite form of a verb that usually begins with the word “to” followed by a simple verb. Examples: “to run”, “to work”, “to talk”.
Inflection – a suffix which marks a tense or case; inflected languages are comprised of complex endings that describe position, possession, and relationship. Example: write, wrote, written.
Intensifier – a word that is used to add force or emphasis that is typically added to an adjective. Example: The “very big, extremely dangerous” situation made the company expansion impossible.
Interjection – a word that is part of speech often used at the beginning of a sentence to show emotion; it is usually followed by an exclamation point. Examples: Oh! Wow! Hey!
Intransitive – verbs that do not take a direct object. Examples: Are you going to work now? Yes, I’m going.
IPA – the International Phonetic Alphabet; the standard phonetic script.
Letter – symbol used in an alphabet system. Example: the 26 letters of the English alphabet A-Z. There are small letters and capitalized letters; there are printed letters and cursive letters; there are typed letters.
Metalanguage – the language used to describe and talk about language. Example:
Metaphor – a figurative device that describes something that is not literal. Whereas similes use like or as, metaphors state something is something. Example: “Step up to the plate” and start doing a good job. The job was “cut-throat”.
Metonymy – a literary device where part of it is used to describe a whole. Example: “suit” for business executive, “track” for horse racing, “sail” for boat.
Modal – a verb which shows the attitude or mood of the speaker. Examples: We “may go” to the meeting. We “can” do the job well.
Mode – the medium of communication. Examples: communication through speaking, reading, writing, television, etc.
Modifier – usually words used to change the form of the word like adjectives or an adjectival phrase which precedes a noun or follows a noun. Example: The five quite young interns began work today (“five quite young”). The boss with the thick accent and long hair… (with the thick accent and long hair).
Morpheme – the smallest contrastive unit of grammar. Examples: man, de-, -tion, -s.
Non-fluency features – speech features that are used in spontaneous speech. Examples: hesitation, filler, stuttering, etc.
Noun – A classification of speech that describes a person, place or thing; nouns can be common or proper.
Onomatopoeia – words that sound like the thing they describe. Examples: ping, zing, zip, pitter patter.
Orthography – the traditional spelling and study of letters in spelling.
Paradox – the apparent contradiction of something which contains a truth; a paradox is often used for effect in speaking. Example: jumbo shrimp (aren’t shrimp small?), a compulsive liar (is he telling the truth or not?
Phoneme – the very smallest unit in the sound system of a language. Letters are phonemes.
Phrase – a grammatical unit that is smaller than a clause. Example: John, yes, he is going. “Yes” is the clause.
Pictograph – a picture that is used as a symbol of writing. Oftentimes these are universal like the no smoking or no littering signs.
Pragmatics – the study of the factors that decide our choice of language in social interaction and the social rules that affect that choice.
Prefix – a part of a word that is added to the beginning of a word to change the meaning of the word. Example: pre (precook); re (redo), dis (dismount.
Preposition – a word that describes the position of another word, especially a noun. Examples: to, in, by, next to, under, above, over.
Pronoun – a word that takes the place of a noun. Examples: I, you, me, she, he, we, they, them, our.
Psycholinguistics – the study of the relationship between language and the psychological processes such as attention and memory.
Rhetoric – the language used in public or persuasive speaking and writing.
Rhyme – matching sounds in the final syllable of 2 or more words, especially at the end of lines of poetry. Example: call, hall, fall, ball, mall, maul, Paul, tall, y’all, wall.
Semantics – the study of linguistic meaning.
Sentence – an independent grammatical structure that includes a subject and a verb. Sentences can be any length but they must include a subject and a verb.
Sociolinguistics – the study of the relationship between society and language.
Standard English – the generally accepted formal grammar of English. It is the language that is acceptable in speech today. Slang words like “yous guys” is not Standard English.
Suffix – the ending part of a word that changes the meaning of a word. Examples: computers (s), companies (es), printing (ing), talked (ed), successful (ful), worthless (less).
Superlative – a contrasting adjective with of 3 or more things. Example: “Of the three workers, John is the “fastest”.”
Syntax – the methodical system of sentence structure and word combinations in relation to each other.
Transitive – a verb which takes a direct object.
Typography – the study of printed letter forms and the arranging of letter forms to make it more appealing (typefaces, print size, line length and line spacing.
Verb – a part of speech which expresses a state of being or an action. Examples: We “took” the taxi to the company party, but only she “is taking” the taxi home. The rest of us “will catch” the midnight train.
Word – the smallest unit of language that can stand alone.
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