ELT terms - defined and referenced!

Welcome to the NILE ELT Glossary


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(Definitions written by Mary Spratt, edited by Alan Pulverness)

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This is a grammatical term that refers in English to two parts of a verb: the present participle(e.g. studying) and the past participle (e.g. studied). Participles are non-finite parts of a verb, meaning that they don’t in themselves indicate time.


Here’s an example of a mistake my students often make with the grammatical meaning of the present participle: Walking along the beach, the sun was bright and hot.

With the past participle their main problems seem to be remembering irregular forms, and their pronunciation and spelling too.

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.




Entry link: Participles


This is an acronym for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms and Pork. It refers to the common practice amongst publishers and exam boards of excluding sensitive or taboo topics from the content of their products so as not to give offence and to facilitate the sale of these products.  Some people believe that this practice is one factor contributing to the lack of real meaning and relevance that is sometimes noted in ELT materials.


When you get to know a class, you become aware of their sensitivities and interests. You’re then in a good position to judge how much or what parts of PARSNIP to adopt or ignore when choosing materials or topics to use in class.

Further reading

Gray, J. (2002). ‘The global coursebook in English language teaching’. In Block, D., and Cameron, D. (Eds.) Globalization and Language Teaching. London: Routledge.

Block, D. and Cameron, D. (2002) . Globalization and Language Teaching. London:Routledge.

Harwood, N. (2010).  English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Meddings. L. (2006). "Embrace the Parsnip" http://www.theguardian.com/education/2006/jan/20/tefl4




Entry link: PARSNIP


This is the way in which we express our attitude to what we are saying. We often associate modality with verbs (obligation, possibility, ability, necessity etc) but modality can also be expressed through adjectives, adverbs and nouns. This latter is called lexical modality.


In the sentence He may come tomorrow we see modality expressed in the modal verb may. We can use lexical modality to express this too e.g. Perhaps he will come tomorrow (modal adverb), there’s a chance he will come tomorrow (modal noun), it’s possible he’ll come tomorrow (modal adjective).

Further reading

Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fachinetti, R., Krug, M.G/ Palmer, F.R. (2003) Modality in Contemporary English. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.



Entry link: Modality

Mandative subjunctive

This is the use of the subjunctive ‘in a subordinate clause that follows an expression of command, demand, or recommendation’ (http://grammar.about.com/od/mo/g/Mandative-Subjunctive.htm), for example: they recommended that he get some work experience /she suggested he dress more smartly. It is formal in use and contrasts with the formulaic subjunctive in which the subjunctive is used in a chunk as part of a fixed expression e.g. heaven forbid, so be it, come rain come shine.


The mandative subjunctive is rare in English, but not in some other languages. You really need to get a feel for when to use it – in romance languages it’s often used to express doubt, wishes or commands. Is it used in your language? When?

Further reading

Chalker, S. (1995).Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press.

Leech, G. and Svartvik, J. (2003). A Communicative Grammar of English, 3rd edition. Oxford:Routledge.





Entry link: Mandative subjunctive


This refers to the process of adding a morpheme to a word to change its grammatical meaning (e.g. tense, person) but not its word class. In English it applies particularly to verbs, nouns and adjectives.


Some languages make heavy use of inflections, German, Greek and Turkish, for example. This makes it a challenge for learners to speak these languages accurately – a language might, for instance, have at least seven different inflections for nouns: singular, plural. nominative case, genitive, vocative, dative, accusative. What a nightmare for those seeking to achieve perfection!

Further reading

Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge Grammar of English.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.





Entry link: Inflection


The part of the verb used to give orders or instructions. In English the positive form of the imperative  is the base form without ‘to’ e.g. brush your teeth, keep quiet, drive carefully. Its negative form is don’t/ do not + base form e.g. don’t worry about that, don’t forget your keys, don’t lose it.


It’s quite important to teach the register of the imperative in English. Learners sometimes think it’s the same as a polite imperative in their own language and don’t realise that in English it can be quite direct and abrupt.

Further reading

Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, econd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.




Entry link: Imperative


This acronym stands for International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. Its aims are to ‘to link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals around the world’ (http://www.iatefl.org/). IATEFL’s main activities are organising an annual conference for teachers and local seminars, awarding grants and scholarships, publishing a newsletter and magazine, and putting on webinars.


Teachers come from all over the world to attend the IATEFL annual conference. It gives them an opportunity to give a talk on an area of interest, or to listen to a wide range of speakers speaking on a wide range of ELT related subjects. It is also a great opportunity to meet teachers from different countries and to visit a well-stocked resources exhibition.

Further reading


Conference video: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/




Entry link: IATEFL


Hyponym is a term used to describe a lexical relationship between words. Hyponyms are the words that are examples of a particular category, for example, pens, pencils, paper, sellotape are all hyponyms of the category, stationery. Hyponyms form a large part of lexical sets.


At beginner and elementary level we often teach hyponyms of everyday categories such as members of the family, types of shop, items of clothing, days of the week, types of food, colours, types of leisure activities. At the end of last term I divided my class into groups and gave them each an area of vocabulary, a superordinate. They then drew mind maps, posters or other drawings with all the hyponyms they could think of for their area. They drew some great things, for example, people in national dress from different countries of the world to illustrate different items of clothing.

Further reading

McCarthy, M. (1990). Vocabulary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nation, I.S.P.(2001).Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I., (2000). Learning vocabulary in lexical sets: dangers and guidelines. TESOL Journal/9.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Yule, G. (2014). The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






Entry link: Hyponym


This is a teaching technique, also known as grammaticization, in which students are given key words, e.g. from a dialogue or text that have just read or are about to read, and asked to add ‘grammar’ words to these key words to produce a text that makes sense. Behind this technique is Diana Larsen-Freeman’s idea of ‘grammaring’, the skill of relating form and structure to meaningful units.


I like doing grammatisation with my students and they like it too. I just give them key words in the correct orderfrom very short texts and they have to fill in the ‘grammar’ words. They find it quite intriguing how many meaningful combinations you can get from a few key words. Sometimes they get really involved in defending the meaning of their sentences.

Further reading

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2003). Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Thornbury, S. (1995). Uncovering Grammar. Oxford: MacMillan.

Thornbury, S. (1998). The Lexical Approach: a journey without maps? Modern English Teacher 7/4.

Batstone, R. (1994). Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Entry link: Grammatisation

Grammar dictation

The terms grammar dictation and dictogloss are used interchangeably to refer to a technique for developing students’ grammatical competence.  The technique involves dictating a text to students at normal speed while students copy down what they can of what they hear, leaving gaps for the parts they have not been able to write down for whatever reason. Then the students in pairs or groups compare what they have written and  try and complete their version of the text. The teacher may choose to then repeat this process. At the end students are given a copy of the original text to compare with their text and discuss the differences. The thinking behind grammar dictation is that it encourages students to think about both meaning and grammar, and make grammatical choices based on working out intended meanings.


In my experience students are always discouraged when you do grammar dictation for the first time. They find it hard. But over time, they come to like it and appreciate how much they learn from it.

Further reading

Wainryb, R. (1990). Grammar Dictation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.





Entry link: Grammar dictation


The study of the origins of words and how their meaning, use and form have evolved over time.


I studied the etymology of Italian when I was learning Italian at university – it was all about the patterns of change that words and sounds had followed across the centuries. At the time I found it incredibly dry and boring, but now it helps me to work out the meaning or pronunciation of some words I don’t know.

Further reading

Crystal, D. (2007). Words Words Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hogg, R. and Denison, D. (2006). A History of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






Entry link: Etymology


This stands for English as a Lingua Franca, and refers to the use of English in international communication. Certain scholars have suggested that as English has become a lingua franca between people from a range of L1s, features of its use such as particular pronunciations and grammatical constructions which would previously have been considered non-standard and ‘wrong’ should be accepted rather than corrected, providing they do not cause a breakdown in communication, as they are a mark of the L1 learner’s identity There is much debate in ELT about the research base for ELF’s findings and their implications for the classroom.


If you listened to two non-native speakers of English talking together you might hear them regularly  pronouncing the article ‘the’ as /də/ or /zə/ yet obviously having no problem communicating with one another. ELF proposes that if that’s the case there is no need to insist on ‘correct’ pronunciation with the corresponding loss of learner identity that correction can lead to.

Further reading

Seidlhofer, B. (2005). Key concepts in ELT: English as a lingua franca. ELT Journal 59/4.

Jenkins, J. (2012). English as a Lingua Franca from the classroom to the classroom. ELT Journal 66/4. http://www.scribd.com/doc/125335514/Jennifer-Jenkins-English-as-a-Lingua-Franca-from-the-classroom-to-the-classroom

Jenkins, J. (2000).The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walker, R. (2011).Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Widdowson, H.G. (2003).Defining Issues in English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Chit Cheung Matthew Sung (2013). English as a Lingua Franca and its Implications for Language Teaching http://jalt-publications.org/jj/articles/3436-perspectives-english-lingua-franca-and-its-implications-english-language-teaching JALT Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, November 2013


Entry link: ELF

Emergent language

This is language which is a fruit of the learning process rather than taught language. It occurs as learners, in an effort to express themselves, experiment with language they haven't as yet fully mastered. Many experts suggest that teachers would do better to support learners’ emergent language rather than presenting them with language they have not yet shown a need for.


Dogme is an approach to teaching that recommends teachers work with learners’ emerging language by providing opportunities for use and giving feedback, rather than working with a pre-set syllabus.

Further reading

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2003). Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring. Boston:Heinle & Heinle.

Meddings, L. and Thornbury, S. (2009). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Guildford: Delta Publishing.

Thornbury, S. (2005) Uncovering Grammar. Oxford: MacMillan.





Entry link: Emergent language

Delexical verb

These are verbs that when used with their common collocations have little meaning of their own, the meaning coming from the collocation as a whole e.g. to have a shower, to take a bath, to make a mistake.


Delexical verbs in collocations are a good example of the importance of learning chunks of language rather than trying to work out the meaning of each single word.

Further reading

Lewis, M. (1993). The Lexical Approach. Brighton: Language Teaching Publications.

Hill, J. (1999) Collocational Competence. ETP/11.

Willis, J. and Willis, D. (1996). Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. Oxford:

Macmillan Heinemann English Language Teaching.



Entry link: Delexical verb


This is the theory that knowledge is actively constructed by individuals rather than being the fruit of passive absorption of facts. According to constructivist theory each individual interprets and organises the knowledge they receive according to their own prior knowledge and experience of the world. This theory supports a learner-centred classroom in which learners are given the opportunity to explore, personalise and apply knowledge.


CLIL often adopts a constructivist approach to learning through its adoption of group work, problem-solving and interactive learning.

Further reading

Dale, L. and Tanner, R. (2012). CLIL Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mercer, S., Ryan, S., Williams, M. (2012). Psychology for Language Learning: Insights from Research, Theory and Practice.  

Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Williams, M. And Burden, L.A. (1997). Psychology for Language Teachers: a Social Constructivist Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.




Entry link: Constructivism


A conjunct is another term for a linker. A conjunct is a word or phrase which links a previous sentence or utterance to the next one by showing the sense relationship between them. Conjuncts may be conjunctions, adverbs or discourse markers.

A disjunct is an adverb used in a sentence as an attitude marker to indicate the speaker’s or writer’s point of view. A disjunct often modifies the meaning of the whole sentence. Confusingly, it is sometimes also referred to as a discourse marker.


Then, however, in other words, as I was saying, but, although are all examples of kinds of conjuncts. They show different kinds of relationship between two sentences e.g. concession, contrast, result, summation. Here is an example of a conjunct showing a relationship of time: She filled up her car with petrol then went to the bank.

In the following sentence ‘Actually’ is an example of a disjunct: Actually, I’ve no idea what he meant.  It shows the speaker’s attitude to the rest of the sentence. Some other examples of disjuncts are frankly, to be honest, honestly, personally, fortunately.

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (1997). About Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.



Entry link: Conjunct/Disjunct

Attested language

Attested languages are languages which can be proved to exist or to have existed because of documents showing them in use or because they are still spoken. They contrast with unattested languages. Unattested languages are supposed to have existed and experts have sometimes hypothesised what some of their forms and lexis must have been, but there is no proof of their existence.


Sanskrit from which many Indo-European languages derive is an attested language with many manuscripts attesting to its existence as far back as 1700 BCE. Many Germanic languages are thought to come from Proto-German, an unattested language as in fact no documents have ever been found in which Proto-German is used.

Further reading

Fisiak, J. (1997). Linguistic Reconstruction and Typology. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter:

Fox, A.  (1995) Linguistic Reconstruction: An Introduction to Theory and Method. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Entry link: Attested language


Aspect is a grammatical term referring to how a verb expresses the speaker’s or writer’s view of certain features of time in an event i.e. whether it is completed or still in progress, whether it is one-off or repeating and its relevance to the present. In English, there are two aspects: progressive (or continuous) and perfect. Aspect is shown in auxiliary verbs + past participles, and the two aspects sometimes combine.


Examples of the progressive aspect are: He is cooking, they were cooking.

Examples of the perfect aspect are: they have cooked, they had cooked.

Examples of the perfect progressive aspect are: they have been cooking, they had been cooking.

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.



Entry link: Aspect


This is a grammatical term that refers to a type of determiner. Articles, in English, are used before a noun or noun group to indicate whether the noun is specific/ definite or general/ indefinite in its reference. In English, the definite article is the, the indefinite article is a/an, and we sometimes see mention of a ‘zero article’. This refers to plural nouns or uncountable nouns that are indefinite in reference and have no article before them.


Can you pass me an apple? (Indefinite article referring to an unspecified apple).

The apple you gave me yesterday was quite delicious. (Definite article referring to a specific apple).

Apples are meant to be good for your health. (Zero article referring to apples in general).

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.





Entry link: Article


This is a phonological term which refers to a sound which can replace another sound in a word without changing its meaning, for example, in the word ‘bath’ the ‘a’ sound can be pronounced either as /æ/ or as /ɑː/ without the meaning being changed. So, in this word, these two sounds are allophones. The phoneme /ɜː/ in /bɜːθ/ is not an allophone in this instance as it changes the meaning of the word.


When people learn foreign languages they sometimes get confused because phonemes which would not be allophones in their language are allophones in the target language or vice versa, for example, /b/ and /v/ are two distinct phonemes in English but they are sometimes allophones in Spanish.

Further reading

Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roach, P. (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Underhill, A. (2005). Sound Foundations. Oxford: MacMillan.


Entry link: Allophone

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