I've never studied English grammar, although I have studied a little German and Latin. If you asked me to differentiate the past perfect from the pluperfect, I wouldn't know where to begin. I read questioners using terms like "verb base + ing" and I ask myself whether he means a gerund or a present participle and I wonder why anyone would use such a phrase. What is the accepted nomenclature for English grammar and can someone suggest a printed-on-paper source? Thank you.

  • 1
    I'm not clear as to what you are asking. Obviously, the set of terminology used to describe English grammar would be found in an English grammar textbook; there are too many terms to list here.
    – choster
    Nov 16, 2013 at 2:05
  • 3
    This is really more of a meta question, but the most comprehensive grammar of English I know of is the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.
    – nohat
    Nov 16, 2013 at 2:16

1 Answer 1


Unhappily, there is no one "accepted nomenclature" right now. The language for talking about English grammar has been evolving very rapidly for two generations as scholars find it necessary to invent new terms to denote new perceptions which cannot be adequately expressed in the old manner, by twisting Greek and Latin categories to fit an alien tongue. Half the terms I was taught in the 1950s have been abandoned, and the other half mean something different. Not always the same different, neither: different grammarians will use the same term in different ways. The great advance we have made is that today's grammarians will tell you, at great length and with quasi-mathematical precision, exactly what they mean and how it differs from what everybody else means—a much sounder practice than that of the old scholars, who blithely assumed that everybody who mattered knew what they meant because they'd attended the same schools and learned the same (Latin) grammar.

I'm afraid I can't help you with printed sources (I'm a writer, I can't afford academic monographs!), but I find the Glossary of Linguistic Terms at SIL and the Grammatical Features site helpful.

As to the specific terms you name:

  • The pluperfect and the past perfect are the same thing as long as you're using both of them to talk about the English construction with HAVEpast + VERBpast participle. Neither, however, is perfective, and neither can be equated with the Latin plus quam perfectum.

  • Verb base + -ing is a way of identifying a specific verb inflection while denying the Latin-derived notion that an (English) present (or active) participle and an (English) gerund are distinct entities as opposed to distinct uses of a single form.

  • What happens when users such as yourself abbreviate these terms? My guesses are usually good but sometimes I'm at a complete loss. Perhaps there should be a glossary for abbreviated forms on ELU?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 17, 2013 at 16:28
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Alas, there are no standard abbreviations, either! I try to signpost my abbreviations, as here, but I'll often let some which seem to have wide if not universal currency go unglossed, like NP and VP, or an uppercase-and-italicized baseform. I will try to be more careful. Nov 17, 2013 at 17:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.