TEFL Glossary

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main stress

It is also referred to as primary stress. If a word has more than one syllable (is 'multisyllabic'), one syllable will be more strongly stressed than the others. That syllable is the main stress. There are three levels of word stress in English: primary, secondary and tertiary. Most multisyllabic words have only primary and tertiary stress. If you find it difficult to identify the primary stress, it may be because there is a secondary stress (e.g, interesting, narrow). In transcription the primary stress is indicated by a straight apostrophe-like symbol before the primary stressed syllable, while the secondary stress (if shown) is indicated by a straight comma-like symbol before the secondary stressed syllable.

e.g. interesting  / ˈɪnˌtrəstɪŋ/

main verb

The main verb (also called lexical verb) in a clause is the verb which tells us about what the subject does. If there are any other verbs in the same verb phrase, they are auxiliary verbs. For example, in 'He will have been working here for 20 years.' the main verb is work. The others (will have been) are all auxiliaries in this sentence.


This stands for Meaning, Form and Pronunciation - a useful checklist for teachers when teaching a piece of new language.

minimal pairs

Minimal pairs are two words which have only one sound difference between them. Most obvious are rhymes where the first sound is different, e.g, pit and bit.

But the difference may occur in another part of the word, e.g., bit and beat - here the vowels are different, or bit and bid, where the final sound is different. Minimal pairs are very useful in pronunciation teaching, focusing on the sounds your students tend to confuse.


See error. Mistakes are sometimes also referred to as slips.

modal verbs

They are often referred to just as 'modals.' Modal verbs (or 'modal auxiliary verbs') modify main verbs to tell us something about the way the speaker or writer sees an event. They express ideas, such as ability, possibility, necessity and obligation. There are nine full modal verbs in English: can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might and must.

Grammatically they operate in the same way as the primary auxiliary verbs in that they can be used to form questions and negatives. They are always followed by a bare infinitive form.

Ought to, need to and have to are sometimes called semi-modals because they convey some of the same concepts but behave slightly differently grammatically.

model sentence

A model sentence is one that is used as a clear example of the target language in a grammar or functional language lesson. The model sentence is used to help students understand the MFP of the new language.

(Sometimes also called marker sentence.)


When a teacher monitors the students, s/he goes round the class to see how well people are working and offer additional support if needed. This is a good time to note the errors that need to be covered in a correction spot.


A monophthong is a single-vowel sound. In the IPAmonophthongs are represented by a single symbol,e.g., /e/ as in bed /i:/ as in creep. See diphthong.

multi-word verbs

See phrasal verbs.

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