Words on Writing: I

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iamb (iambus)

A type of metrical foot. An iamb is an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable: da-DUM. Prefer is an iamb. Come on! is an iamb. A series of iambs creates a pattern known as iambic.


A word or combination of words whose commonly understood meaning differs from the literal meaning. In Keith did a bang-up job chipping the ice off the living-room windows, you can rest assured that no banging was involved.

See also phrasal verb.


Concrete language, language that appeals to the senses—all of them. (Of all words, how did imagery—image with a tail—come to mean not just what we see but also what we smell, hear, touch, and taste?) Psychologists claim that we process concrete language more quickly than abstract language—and, further, that the faster we process the words, and the more our senses tingle along the way, the more likely we are to believe what we read.[1] No word from psychologists on the increased likelihood of enjoying it.

For more on imagery, see the chapter “Decisions, Decisions” in Word Up!

imperative (bossy verb)

A verb’s command form. In Help me knock these icicles off the gutters, the verb help is an imperative. Technically, imperative is one of several verb moods.

 independent clause

A clause that stands alone—or could—as a complete sentence. In People skittered off to the sides of the road because a neophyte driver was barreling down the icy street, the first half of the sentence—People skittered off to the sides of the road—is an independent clause.

Compare dependent clause.

infinitive (to-verb)

The to form of a verb: to chop, to scrape, to fling, and not to yield. (Apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson.)

ing noun

A word ending in –ing that functions as a noun: either a gerund or a deverbal noun.


See qualifier.

interjection (exclamation)

A word or phrase, often placed at the beginning of a sentence, used to express emotion or to indicate voice: ah! hi, oh, well, um, hey, wow! that’s great! Traditionally, the interjection has been considered a part of speech, but it qualifies as neither a form-class word nor a structure-class word. It’s a grammatical outlier, like the expletive. Use interjections rarely, but don’t rule them out. Sometimes you need a good yikes! 


A structure-class word used to begin a question: who, whom, whose, which, what, where, when, how, why, etc. (The words identified here as interrogatives may also play other roles, in which case they are classified differently.)

For more, see the chapter “A Modern Take (Is Take a Noun?) on Parts of Speech” in Word Up!

intransitive verb

See transitive and intransitive verbs.

A-Z page

This is not a list of all words about writing—you’d be scrolling all day. These definitions evolved while I was writing Word Up! I enjoyed what I learned and wanted to share it.

Get the full glossary and more in the book: Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)

[1] Jochim Hansen and Michaela Wänke, “Truth from Language and Truth from Fit: the Impact of Linguistic Concreteness and Level of Construal on Subjective Truth,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 36 no. 11 (Society of Personality and Social Psychology, November 2010), 1576–1588. Discussed in Jeremy Dean, “Why Concrete Language Communicates Truth,” PsyBlog blog, June 29, 2011.

Last modified: December 14, 2012

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