Back to Home Page
Back to Contents

NASA SP-7084


Grammar, Punctuation, and Capitalization

A Handbook for Technical Writers and Editors


Mary K. McCaskill
Langley Research Center
Hampton, Virginia



The terms defined in this glossary are those used in the text. These definitions closely match any definitions given in the text and generally conform to the definitions found in Skillin et al. (1974).

active voice-sentence or verb whose subject is performing the action

adjective-word that modifies a noun, pronoun, or other substantive

adverb-word that can modify verbs, adjectives, and even other adverbs

antecedent-noun or substantive to which a pronoun refers

apostrophe-punctuation mark (') used to indicate possession, to form the plurals of abbreviations, characters, and signs, and to indicate omitted characters in contractions

appositive-the second of two nouns together which repeats the meaning of, or identifies, the first

argumentation-discourse that convinces by reasoning

article-the words a, an, or the

auxiliary verb-verb used with another verb to indicate voice, mood, and tense (are, can, do, have, may, must, shall, will)

broad reference-using pronouns to refer to the idea of the previous sentence or clause rather than to a particular antecedent (Ebbitt and Ebbitt 1982)

brackets-punctuation marks ([ ]) used to enclose editorial insertions, corrections, and comments in quoted material and in reference citations (nonmathematical)

caps & lc-capitalization of the principal words of an expression, Like This

case-form or position of a noun or substantive indicating its relation to other words in a sentence; (see nominative, objective, possessive)

clause-group of words containing a subject and a predicate

close style of punctuation-using all punctuation that the grammatical structure will allow

collective noun-name of a group of people or things

colon-punctuation mark (:) used to separate and introduce lists, clauses, and quotations

comma-punctuation mark (,) used to separate and to enclose elements of a sentence in order to prevent misreading

common noun-name of a class or kind

comparative degree of modifier-modifier that indicates a quality existing to a greater or lesser degree in one thing than in another

compound predicates-two or more predicates in a sentence with the same subject


97Top of Page


conjunction-connective that joins sentences, clauses, phrases, or words

conjunctive adverb-adverb used as coordinating conjunction to join independent clauses (therefore, however, thus, hence, otherwise)

coordinate adjectives-adjectives that independently modify a noun

coordinate conjunction-conjunction that joins words, phrases, and clauses of equal rank (and, but, or, nor)

coordinating conjunction-conjunction that joins grammatically equal sentence elements, that is, a word to a word, a phrase to a phrase, or a clause to a clause, see coordinate conjunction, correlative conjunction, conjunctive adverb

correlative conjunction-pair of words that connect parallel sentence elements (either . . . or, both . . . and, not only . . . but also)

dash-punctuation mark (-) used to enclose and to separate sentence elements when the elements contain internal commas or when emphasis or suspense of the sense is desired

demonstrative pronoun-pronoun that refers to something present or near (this, these) or to something more remote (that, those)

dependent clause-clause that is subordinate to, or dependent on, the independent clause

description-discourse that gives a mental image

direct quotation-repetition without change of another's language; compare indirect quotation

em dash-see dash

en dash-punctuation mark (-) used to indicate inclusive numbers and to connect a unit modifier with a two-word element

exposition-discourse that explains how and why things happen

full caps-capitalization of every letter in an expression, LIKE THIS

gerund-verb ending in ing used as a noun

grammar-study of the classes of words, their inflections (changes in form to distinguish case, gender, tense, etc.), and functions in a sentence (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)

headline style capitalization-capitalization of all principal words (also called caps & lc)

hyphen-punctuation mark (-) used to connect words broken at the ends of lines, prefixes and suffixes to words, and compound words

imperative mood-verb form indicating a command

independent clause-clause on which the rest of the sentence depends

indicative mood-verb form indicating fact


98Top of Page


indirect quotation or question-quotation or question expressed as a subordinate clause

infinitive-verb preceded by to used as an adverb, adjective, or noun

modifier-word, phrase, or clause that affects the meaning of another word or group of words; see restrictive, nonrestrictive

mood-form of verb indicating manner of doing or being; see indicative, imperative, subjunctive

narration-discourse that tells what happened

nominative absolute-noun or substantive not grammatically connected to the sentence and modified by a participle

nominative case-noun that is subject to a verb, a predicate nominative, in apposition to a nominative, or a nominative absolute

nonrestrictive modifier-modifier that does not limit or confine the meaning of the basic sentence

noun-word that names a person, place, or thing; see common, proper

objective case-noun that is object of a verb, preposition, or verbal

open style of punctuation-using only the punctuation necessary to prevent misreading

parallelism-writing logically equal ideas in the same grammatical structure

parentheses-punctuation marks (( )) used to enclose nonrestrictive or interrupting elements

participle-verb used as an adjective; may be present, ending in ing, or past, ending in ed

passive voice-verb or sentence whose subject is receiving the action

period-punctuation mark (.) used to mark the end of declarative and imperative sentences and other complete thoughts and to indicate abbreviations

personal pronoun-pronoun that refers to a person; may be first person (I, we), second person (you), third person (he, she, they)

points of ellipsis-three evenly spaced periods (. . . ) used to indicate an omission, particularly from quoted matter

positive degree of modifier-modifier that indicates existence of a quality

possessive case-noun that denotes possession

predicate-verb in a sentence along with its modifiers and object

predicate nominative-substantive that completes a verb expressing state of being such as to be, to appear, to become


99Top of Page



preposition-word governing a substantive-the object of the preposition-and connecting a phrase to a sentence

pronoun-word used in place of a noun

proper noun-the name of a particular person, place, or thing

question mark-punctuation mark (?) used to terminate a direct question

quotation marks-punctuation marks (' ' or " ") used to enclose words quoted from another source, direct discourse, or words requiring differentiation

relative pronoun-pronoun that replaces a noun in a dependent clause and connects the clause to the rest of the sentence

restrictive modifier-modifier that defines and thus cannot be omitted without changing the meaning of the basic sentence

semicolon-punctuation mark (;) used whenever a comma would not be sufficient to separate coordinate clauses, long internally punctuated elements of series, explanatory phrases and clauses, and elliptical clauses

sentence style capitalization-capitalization of the first letter of an element, for example, a figure caption or a item in a list

slash-punctuation mark (/) correctly used in and/or, in fractions (x/y), to indicate per (m/sec), and when quoting poetry; also used, with little grammatical basis, to indicate temporary compounds, particularly to indicate alternatives

subject-substantive along with its modifiers that tells what the sentence is about

subjunctive mood-verb form indicating a wish, a condition contrary to fact, or a demand

subordinating conjunctions-conjunction that joins a dependent clause to an independent clause

substantive-word, phrase, or clause used as a noun

superlative degree of modifier-modifier that indicates a quality existing to the greatest or least degree in a group of things

tense-time of the action or state of being expressed by a verb

unit modifier-combination of words that modify another word

verb-word that can express action or state of being

verbal-word derived from a verb used as another part of speech; see gerund, participle, infinitive

voice-form of verb indicating whether the subject is performing the action (active) or receiving the action (passive)



Back to Home Page Top of Page Next Section Previous Section