Revised 12/31/04
The KISS Grammar Workbooks
A Glossary / Index of Grammatical Terms

      A primary objective of KISS Grammar is to keep the number of grammatical terms as limited in number and as precise in meaning as possible. Obviously, however, questions arise about how KISS terminology relates to other terms used by grammarians. This glossary attempts to answer some of those questions. I have studied enough grammar textbooks to know that the textbooks are often confusing and offer substantially different definitions of the same terms. Their reasons for including many of the terms are often unclear. My Dean has suggested that their objective is to keep the subject mysterious so that the public will be dependent on the grammarians. The publishers, of course, have another objective -- the more definitions there are, the bigger and more expensive the books; and the more confusing the definitions are, the more books the public will buy (in a hopeless search for clarity). 

Appositives [See also May of Grade Eight]

Clauses [See the instructional material.] [For the confusion in the way that most textbooks define clauses, click here.]


     In KISS grammar, "complement" refers to whatever answers the questions "What?" or "Whom?" after a verb. It is, in effect, a quick way of referring to Predicate Nouns, Predicate Adjectives, and Indirect and Direct Objects. 
     Grammarians disagree about the definition of "complement." Some consider anything that completes a verb to be a complement. Thus, in He was there, "there" would be considered a complement. But because "there" answers the question "where?" rather than "what?" in KISS grammar, "there" is NOT considered a complement. The distinction is important for getting students to note the difference between "What?" questions and all others that may be asked in relation to a verb. Instructors in various technical fields have complained that whatever question they pose to students, many students will answer it as if it were a "What?" question. Thus, if they ask how something is done, why it is done, etc., students respond by telling "what" is done.  Although many grammarians do not like to view instruction in grammar as providing a service to instruction in other fields, KISS grammar unabashedly does attempt to do so.


     Traditional grammars define ellipsis as the omission of understood words. In Understanding Grammar, for example, Paul Roberts includes the following explanation of ellipsis in the "Glossary":

The omission of a word or words from a sentence. Ellipsis takes place when the omitted construction can easily be supplied from the context, as when we say, "He could hit harder than I could," instead of ". . . than I could hit." (487)
Noam Chomsky and other modern linguists have shown that, if we want to understand how sentences work, how the mind codes and decodes sentences, then ellipsis is much more important than the way it is presented in traditional grammars.
     Ellipsis is very close to what the linguists call "reduction," the deletion of part of one sentence such that the remainder can be embbed into another. Consider, for example, the following sentences and the KISS explanation of the post-positioned adjective.
The man walked along slowly until his feet could no longer carry him. He was old and weak.

The man walked along slowly, old and weak, until his feet could no longer carry him.

In effect, the post-positioned adjectives "old" and "weak," derive from the ellipsis (reduction) of the "He was" and the embedding of the adjectives into the first sentence.
     For a very interesting, traditional example of ellipsis, see the exercise on Charles Kingsley's "Young and Old" [Grade Four, April 16th].
    For more on ellipsis, see the discussion of it  in "The Basic Structure of Sentences (Nexus & Modification)" and "Ellipsed Infinitives."

Expletives -- "It" and "There"
     This explanation has been moved to the discussion of KISS Differences.


      "Formulas" are an important concept in the study of natural language development. It is generally agreed (and a matter of common sense) that much of language is learned not as individual words, but rather as strings of words. This is obvious, for example, in idioms such as "It's raining cats and dogs." It is also apparent in many verbal phrases ("Wake up." We get along.")  Formulas are thus an aspect of vocabulary, but they are also an aspect of syntax. 
      Syntactically, for example, some tenses are probably learned as formulas. Children repeatedly hear, for example, such things as "You are going to the store." "They are talking on the phone." "We are playing a game." What they learn from this is a syntactic string -- "___ are ___ ing" into which various pronouns (and, of course, nouns)  and verbs can be inserted. Roy O'Donnell has suggested that various syntactic constructions are also learned as formulas. (Syntax, p. 92) Unfortunately, he did not develop the concept, but we can see it, for example, in young children's use of some "subordinate" clauses. These children hear "when ___ get(s) ___" dozens of times, and probably pick this up as a string, i.e., a formula.  If I understand O'Donnell correctly, he is suggesting that such formulaic expressions do not represent cognitive mastery of the underlying syntactic construction. In other words, students do not create these constructions by generating syntactic combinations of words, phrases, clauses, etc., but rather learn, and learn to modify, strings of words as entire units. [See also Note #8 in the Level Three Analysis Keys for  "The Contest." (Grade 5, Nov 1, Sample # 2).]
     The concept is very important and deserves much more research because it complicates research on natural syntactic development. Formulaic expressions in students' writing and speech often also deceive teachers into thinking that their students understand advanced constructions when, in fact, they do not.  Many teachers, for example, claim to have seen participles, appositives, etc. in the writing of their young students, and thus claim that their students can understand and will be helped by grammatical explanations of these constructions. But when they are asked if what they saw might be formulas, these teachers have usually never even heard of the concept. 


     Idioms are usually common phrases that do not make literal sense. In effect, the entire phrase can be viewed as a vocabulary word. Consider, for example, "It's raining cats and dogs." or "She drove me nuts." Interestingly, many, perhaps most idioms follow the general rules of syntax. Thus both "cats and dogs" and "nuts" cam be explained as nouns used as adverbs.
     One of the major problems in grammar instruction, however, is that most grammarians do not consider the fact that some syntactic structures can also be viewed as idiomatic. Researchers, for example, have seen "I have a cat named Sox." in young children's writing, and then have claimed that these young children are masters of gerundives. They then claim that we should teach gerundives to primary school children. Young child, however, almost certainly learn the phrase "___ named ___" in the same way that they learn idioms -- as a set phrase, or what Roy O'Donnell has called a "formula."

Objective (or "Object") Complements
     This explanation has been moved to the discussion of KISS Differences.
Palimpsest Pattern [See the Teachers' Notes for KISS Level Two.]

Parallel Constructions 
    (See "The KISS Approach to Teaching Sentence Style")

Passive (and Active) Voice

Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Constructions

Semicolons [See: "Clauses and Logic: Combining Main Clauses"  and "Notes for Teachers and Parents."]

Subjective (or "Subject") Complement 
     This explanation has been moved to the discussion of KISS Differences.
Subjunctive Mood

Transitive, Intransitive, and Linking Verbs
     This explanation has been moved to the discussion of KISS Differences.

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The Swineherd, by Hans Christian Anderson. Wiesbaden: Pestalozzi Verl. 1923.
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