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Primary Grammar Terminology in 2016

There have been significant changes to the expectations for grammar, punctuation and spelling in the new National Curriculum. English adviser, Shareen Mayers, unpicks some of the changes to terminology and focuses on subordinate and relative clauses.


Guide to the terminology in the new curriculum


Key Stage 1


Terminology to use with pupils


Joining words. This is the language used in the new grammar test at KS1.


Groups of words.

Time connectives (e.g. first, next)

Adverbs of time or time adverbs

Note: Adverb is a statutory term from Year 2 onwards so ‘time words’ might be more appropriate for Year 1.



 Key Stage 2

Some of these words may be other word classes depending on the context.

Terms used in the curriculum

Terms not used in the curriculum

Main clause

Independent clause

Subordinate clause

Relative clause when it contains a relative pronoun, e.g. who, which, when, that etc

 ‘Dropped-in’ clause, embedded clause or dependent clause


Co-ordinating conjunctions (e.g. or, and, but, so)

Subordinating conjunctions (e.g. when, if, because)

Connectives (e.g. and, but, because)

Co-ordinating connectives (e.g. and, but)

Subordinating connectives (e.g. because, when, if)

Adverbs – words ( e.g. therefore)

Adverbials – words or groups of words

(e.g.  on the other hand, therefore, in contrast, as a consequence)

Connectives ( e.g. on the other hand, therefore, in contrast, as a consequence)

Adverbs (of time or number)

Time connectives (e.g. next, first, secondly)

Prepositions of time (e.g. Entry is free after 6pm in the evening.)

Subordinating conjunctions (e.g. I went to the cinema after I had eaten my dinner.)

A subordinating conjunction is used to introduce a subordinate clause. Every clause normally has a verb. The verb(s) in this example is ‘had eaten.’

Connectives (e.g. until, after, before)



Subordinate clauses and relative clauses

A subordinate clause tells us ‘extra information’ within a sentence. It is not until year 5 in the English programmes of study that pupils are expected to learn about relative clauses and relative pronouns. According to the National Curriculum glossary, a relative clause is a special type of subordinate clause that contains a relative pronoun (e.g. who, which, that, etc). Therefore, the subordinate clause is an umbrella term.



The summer fair was cancelled because it was raining(Subordinate clause with the verb ‘was’)


My brother, who lives in America, is a medical doctor.


Subordinate clause is the umbrella term but this is a relative clause using the relative pronoun ‘who’ and the verb ‘lives’. The commas denote that this is additional information (parenthesis) or a non-defining relative clause.


My brother who lives in America is a medical doctor.


Subordinate clause is the umbrella term but this is a relative clause using the relative pronoun ‘who’. This is about a specific brother and is known as a defining relative clause.


Note: Pupils do not need to know the terms defining and non-defining relative clauses.


KS2 sample 2016 grammar test example:



Both of these sentences contain relative clauses.

Example answer from the 2016 sample mark scheme:

The commas in the first sentence mean that all mangoes taste delicious / all mangoes are grown in hot countries (non-defining relative clause). There are no commas in the second sentence, so it means that only mangoes grown in hot countries taste delicious (defining relative clause).

N.B: The relative clause can be omitted in sentences. For example:

This is the dress that I told you about.

This is the dress I told you about.



Collins Grammar and Punctuation Dictionary

Glossary for the programme of study for English (non-statutory)


English Appendix 2: Vocabulary grammar and punctuation



Shareen Mayers

Adviser for Keen Kite books