Online Writing Lab

Definitions of Common English Jargon

Active voice: The verb form when the grammatical subject performs or names the performer of the verb’s action.  In general, the active voice should be used whenever possible in writing.

Body paragraph: Any paragraph in an essay that comes between the introduction and the conclusion

Comma Splice: When a comma is used incorrectly to combine two independent clauses.  Instead of a comma, a semicolon or period should be used, or a coordinating conjunction should be added after the comma. 

Complex sentence: A sentence that contains at least one independent clause and one dependent clause.

Complex – compound sentence:  A sentence that has two or more independent clauses and also contains one or more dependent clauses.

Compound sentence: A sentence that consists of two or more main independent clauses.

Coordinating conjunction: A word (conjunction) that is used to join similar words, phrases, or clauses within a sentence (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).  Coordinating conjunctions are often referred to with the acronym FANBOYS, which is often used to help remember each one.

Correlative conjunction: A combination of a coordinating conjunction and another word.

Dependent clause: A group of words that begins with a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun.  A dependent clause has a subject and a verb, but unlike an independent clause, is not a complete thought and cannot stand alone as a sentence.

Fragment:  An incomplete sentence that is written as a complete sentence.  A fragment is either missing a subject, a predicate, or is not a complete thought.

Independent clause:  A group of words that contains a subject, a predicate, and is a complete thought.  An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence (also referred to as a main clause).

Modifier: a word or word group that limits or qualifies another word.

Passive voice: The verb form when the grammatical subject receives the verb’s action.   In general, the passive voice should be avoided in writing (not to be confused with past-tense).

Predicate: The part of a word group containing a verb that asserts something about the subject.

Prepositional phrase:  A phrase consisting of a preposition, its object, and any of the object’s modifiers.

Run-on sentence (also called a fused sentence):  When two or more independent clauses are used and there is no separation between the two clauses.  A run-on can be fixed by using a period, a semicolon, or a comma and a coordinating conjunction between the independent clauses.

Simple sentence:  A sentence containing only one independent clause.

Subject: The part of a word group that names who or what performs the action in a sentence; the subject is always a noun.

Subordinate clause: A type of dependent clause that begins with a subordinating conjunction.

Subordinating conjunction: Comes at the beginning of subordinate clauses and is used to connect the subordinate clause to the rest of the sentence.

Thesis sentence (thesis statement): The thesis is the one sentence that essentially states what the entire essay is about.  The thesis generally appears towards the end of the introduction. 

Topic sentence:  A topic sentence appears at the beginning of each body paragraph and informs the reader what the paragraph will be about.