Grammatical Terms Beginning with the Letter M

Main clause

The label main clause refers to a clause which is capable of making a meaningful sentence by itself. A sentence will always have at least one main clause. For example, in the sentence ‘John finished his work’, the whole sentence is the main clause.

While a simple sentence consists only of a single main clause, a compound sentence has two main clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction.


The label malapropism refers to the use of a wrong word, especially when another of similar sound is intended.

Manner adverb

An adverb which answers the question ‘how’. Examples are: slowly, carefully, beautifully, kindly, rashly etc. Most manner adverbs end in -ly. There are, however, several exceptions as well.

Mass noun

A noun which denotes something which cannot be counted. Examples are: rice, wheat, sand, wine etc.

Matrix clause

A clause which contains a subordinate clause within it. In the complex sentence, ‘The children who stood first in the examination were given prizes’, the matrix clause is ‘The children … were given prizes’, while the remainder is the subordinate clause (who stood first in the examination) contained within it.

A matrix clause need not necessarily be a main clause. It can also be a subordinate clause.


A language used to talk about a language. The terms noun, pronoun,voice, tense etc., are part of the metalanguage we use to talk about English grammar.


The label metaphor refers to the use of words which are not literally accurate, but which call up a resemblance. For example, ‘a lame duck’ is a metaphor for ‘a failing business’.


The English modals are the words may, might, will, would, shall, should, can, could, must and ought (to). The verbs dare and need sometimes behave like modals, and are then called semi-modals. The modals have only finite forms with no participles, infinitives or gerunds. They also do not take -s in the third person singular.


The label morph refers to any piece of a word we may want to talk about. For example, the cran- of cranberry is an example of a morph.