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Do you know these 50 terms about the English language?

  • Do you know these 50 terms about the English language?

    Around 450 A.D., three invading Germanic tribes with similar languages made their way into what is now Britain, and those tribal languages morphed into Old English. Spoken until about 1100 A.D., Old English would be unrecognizable to modern English speakers, but the era built the foundation of the language today. Nearly half of the words spoken in modern English have their roots in Old English, including "water," "strong," and "be."

    In 1066, the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, conquered England. The Normans brought an early version of French, which would be spoken in Britain by the upper classes—the lower and servant classes stuck with English. This linguistic class division existed until the 14th century when English again became the primary language for everyone in Britain—only this time, it was infused with French. That language is known as Middle English.

    Toward the end of that era, starting around 1500, a phenomenon known as the Great Vowel Shift began. It was a distinct change in pronunciation that made the articulation of vowels shorter and shorter. This was the dawn of the Renaissance, a time of extraordinary advances in science, technology, art, exploration, and philosophy, all of which combined with the Great Vowel Shift to nudge Middle English toward the era of Early Modern English. One advancement, however, had the greatest impact of them all—the invention of the printing press.

    Industrial printing not only gave rise to the mass production of the written word, but it standardized the English language. The first English dictionary was printed in 1604. The Era of Late Modern English began around 1800 when many new words began entering the language. The reason for this is twofold. First, the Industrial Revolution created a need for new words to describe new machines, processes, and concepts. Second, the British Empire covered nearly one-quarter of the world, which naturally led to foreign words being absorbed into the language.

    The result is the English we know today. Stacker has compiled a list of terms about the English language from a variety of authoritative sources, including 2020 data from the Oxford Learner's Dictionary and Merriam Webster. The following is a primer on the nuts and bolts of a language that stands on the shoulders of nearly 1,600 years of history and linguistic evolution.

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  • Oxymoron

    An oxymoron is a self-contradicting figure of speech. Examples include "civil war," "small fortune," "open secret," "small crowd," "jumbo shrimp," and—for several snarky comedians—"happily married."

  • Hyperbole

    Hyperbole is an exaggeration made to emphasize a point that isn't meant to be taken seriously. People who say they put on a ton of weight during the holidays are being hyperbolic.

  • Metaphor

    Metaphors make either a direct or implied connection between two inherently unrelated things. "The Lord is my shepherd" is a famous metaphor from the Bible. The title of the 1980s Poison song "Every Rose Has its Thorn" is a metaphor for pain experienced in love.

  • Simile

    Like metaphors, similes draw comparisons between unrelated things, but they use "like" or "as" to serve that purpose. Someone who pretends to be foolish but is actually shrewd might be considered to be sly like a fox. In "Mary Had a Little Lamb," her cheeks were white as snow.

  • Tautology

    Tautology is the inclusion of redundant words or phrases that repeat the meaning of other words or phrases in the same sentence. "Déjà vu all over again" is a tautology, as is "repeat that again."

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  • Metonymy

    Metonymy is a device that substitutes a word for a closely associated word to drive home a point. "The pen is mightier than the sword" is a metonymy that means written words are more powerful than physical force.

  • Clause

    There are four types of clauses, all of which involve word combinations in sentences that include both predicates and subjects: dependent clauses, independent clauses, noun clauses, and relative clauses. "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" is a famous clause in George Orwell's "Animal Farm." The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is a clause, albeit one with arbitrary capitalization: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

  • Adverbial

    Adverbials are like adverbs. But unlike adverbs, which are words that modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs, adverbials are parts of sentences that modify or give added details to verbs included in that sentence. In the sentence "I eat steak when I have the money," "when I have the money," is the adverbial phrase.

  • Auxiliary verb

    Also called, "helping verbs," auxiliary verbs come before a sentence's main verb to make the main verb clearer. In the sentence "I have done my chores," "have" is the auxiliary verb that puts the sentence into the perfect tense and shows that the action happened already.

  • Base form

    The base form of a verb is also called the root. It's the same thing as the infinitive, but without the "to." "To drink," for example, is the infinitive, while "drink" is the base form.

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