In linguistics, grammar (from Greek: γραμματική) is the set
of structural rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases, and
words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study
of such rules, and this field includes phonology, morphology, and
syntax, often complemented by phonetics, semantics, and pragmatics.
Speakers of a language have a set of internalized rules for using
that language and these rules constitute that language's grammar. The
vast majority of the information in the grammar is — at least in the
case of one's native language—acquired not by conscious study or
instruction, but by observing other speakers. Much of this work is
done during early childhood; learning a language later in life usually
involves a greater degree of explicit instruction. Thus, grammar is
the cognitive information underlying language use.
The term "grammar" can also be used to describe the rules that govern
the linguistic behaviour of a group of speakers. The term "English
grammar", therefore, may have several meanings. It may refer to the
whole of English grammar, that is, to the grammars of all the speakers
of the language, in which case, the term encompasses a great deal of
variation. Alternatively, it may refer only to what is common to
the grammars of all, or of the vast majority of English speakers (such
as subject–verb–object word order in simple declarative
sentences). Or it may refer to the rules of a particular, relatively
well-defined variety of English (such as standard English for a
A specific description, study or analysis of such rules may also be
referred to as a grammar. A reference book describing the grammar of a
language is called a "reference grammar" or simply "a grammar" (see
History of English grammars). A fully explicit grammar that
exhaustively describes the grammatical constructions of a language is
called a descriptive grammar. This kind of linguistic description
contrasts with linguistic prescription, an attempt to discourage or
suppress some grammatical constructions, while promoting others. For
example, preposition stranding occurs widely in
Germanic languages and
has a long history in English. John Dryden, however, objected to it
(without explanation), leading other English speakers to avoid the
construction and discourage its use.
Outside linguistics the term grammar is often used in a rather
different sense. In some respects, it may be used more broadly,
including rules of spelling and punctuation, which linguists would not
typically consider to form part of grammar, but rather as a part of
orthography, the set of conventions used for writing a language. In
other respects, it may be used more narrowly, to refer to prescriptive
grammar only and excluding those aspects of a language's grammar that
are not subject to variation or debate. Jeremy Butterfield claimed
that, for non-linguists, "
Grammar is often a generic way of referring
to any aspect of English that people object to."
3 Theoretical frameworks
4 Development of grammars
6 See also
9 External links
The word grammar is derived from Greek γραμματικὴ
τέχνη (grammatikē technē), which means "art of letters", from
γράμμα (gramma), "letter", itself from γράφειν
(graphein), "to draw, to write". The same Greek root also appears
in graphics, grapheme, and photograph.
Further information: History of linguistics
The Babylonians made some early attempts at language description,
but the first systematic grammars, of Sanskrit, originated in Iron Age
Yaska (6th century BC),
Pāṇini (6-5th century BC)
and his commentators
Pingala (c. 200 BC), Katyayana, and Patanjali
(2nd century BC). Tolkāppiyam, the earliest Tamil grammar, is mostly
dated to before the 5th century AD.
In the West, grammar emerged as a discipline in Hellenism from the 3rd
century BC forward with authors like
Rhyanus and Aristarchus of
Samothrace, the oldest extant work being the Art of Grammar
(Τέχνη Γραμματική), attributed to
Dionysius Thrax (c.
Latin grammar developed by following Greek models from the
1st century BC, due to the work of authors such as Orbilius Pupillus,
Remmius Palaemon, Marcus Valerius Probus, Verrius Flaccus, and
A grammar of Irish originated in the 7th century with the Auraicept na
Arabic grammar emerged with
Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali in the 7th
century. The first treatises on
Hebrew grammar appeared in the High
Middle Ages, in the context of
Mishnah (exegesis of the Hebrew Bible).
The Karaite tradition originated in
Abbasid Baghdad. The
century) is one of the earliest grammatical commentaries on the Hebrew
Ibn Barun in the 12th century compares the Hebrew language
with Arabic in the Islamic grammatical tradition.
Belonging to the trivium of the seven liberal arts, grammar was taught
as a core discipline throughout the Middle Ages, following the
influence of authors from Late Antiquity, such as Priscian. Treatment
of vernaculars began gradually during the High Middle Ages, with
isolated works such as the First Grammatical Treatise, but became
influential only in the
Baroque periods. In 1486,
Antonio de Nebrija
Antonio de Nebrija published Las introduciones Latinas contrapuesto el
romance al Latin, and the first Spanish grammar, Gramática de la
lengua castellana, in 1492. During the 16th-century Italian
Renaissance, the Questione della lingua was the discussion on the
status and ideal form of the Italian language, initiated by Dante's de
vulgari eloquentia (Pietro Bembo, Prose della volgar lingua Venice
1525). The first grammar of
Slovene language was written in 1583 by
Grammars of non-European languages began to be compiled for the
purposes of evangelization and
Bible translation from the 16th century
onward, such as Grammatica o Arte de la Lengua General de los Indios
de los Reynos del Perú (1560), and a Quechua grammar by Fray Domingo
de Santo Tomás.
In 1643 there appeared Ivan Uzhevych's Grammatica sclavonica and, in
1762, the Short Introduction to English
Robert Lowth was
also published. The Grammatisch-Kritisches Wörterbuch der
hochdeutschen Mundart, a
High German grammar in five volumes by Johann
Christoph Adelung, appeared as early as 1774.
From the latter part of the 18th century, grammar came to be
understood as a subfield of the emerging discipline of modern
linguistics. The Serbian grammar by
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić arrived
in 1814, while the Deutsche Grammatik of the
Brothers Grimm was first
published in 1818. The Comparative
Grammar of Franz Bopp, the starting
point of modern comparative linguistics, came out in 1833.
Syntax § Theories
Simple constituency grammar parse tree, whereby the sentence is
divided into a noun phrase and a verb phrase.
Frameworks of grammar, which attempt to give a precise scientific
theory of the syntax rules of grammar and their function, have been
developed in theoretical linguistics. Most mainstream frameworks are
based on the conception of an innate "universal grammar", an idea
developed by Noam Chomsky. The most prominent theories are:
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Generative grammar: algorithmic constituency aka "phrase structure"
Noam Chomsky 1950)
Transformational grammar (1960s)
Generalised phrase structure grammar (late 1970s)
Head-driven phrase structure grammar (1985)
Principles and parameters grammar (
Government and binding theory)
Lexical functional grammar
Categorial grammar (lambda calculus)
Minimalist program-based grammar (1993)
Dependency grammar: dependency relation (
Lucien Tesnière 1959)
Cognitive grammar / Cognitive linguistics
Fluid Construction Grammar
Stochastic grammar: probabilistic
Functional grammar: usage-oriented (behaviorist)
Systemic functional grammar
Role and reference grammar
Parse trees are commonly (but not always) used by such frameworks to
depict their rules. There are various additional notation schemes for
Affix grammar over a finite lattice
Development of grammars
Historical linguistics and History of English grammars
Grammars evolve through usage and also due to separations of the human
population. With the advent of written representations, formal rules
about language usage tend to appear also. Formal grammars are
codifications of usage that are developed by repeated documentation
over time, and by observation as well. As the rules become established
and developed, the prescriptive concept of grammatical correctness can
arise. This often creates a discrepancy between contemporary usage and
that which has been accepted, over time, as being correct. Linguists
tend to view prescriptive grammars as having little justification
beyond their authors' aesthetic tastes, although style guides may give
useful advice about standard language employment, based on
descriptions of usage in contemporary writings of the same language.
Linguistic prescriptions also form part of the explanation for
variation in speech, particularly variation in the speech of an
individual speaker (an explanation, for example, for why some people
say "I didn't do nothing", some say "I didn't do anything", and some
say one or the other depending on social context).
The formal study of grammar is an important part of education for
children from a young age through advanced learning, though the rules
taught in schools are not a "grammar" in the sense most linguists use
the term, particularly as they are often prescriptive rather than
Constructed languages (also called planned languages or conlangs) are
more common in the modern day than they used to be, although still
extremely uncommon compared to natural languages. Many have been
designed to aid human communication (for example, naturalistic
Interlingua, schematic Esperanto, and the highly logic-compatible
artificial language Lojban). Each of these languages has its own
Syntax refers to the linguistic structure above the word level (e.g.
how sentences are formed)—though without taking into account
intonation, which is the domain of phonology. Morphology, by contrast,
refers to structure at and below the word level (e.g. how compound
words are formed), but above the level of individual sounds, which,
like intonation, are in the domain of phonology. No clear line can
be drawn, however, between syntax and morphology. Analytic languages
use syntax to convey information that is encoded via inflection in
synthetic languages. In other words, word order is not significant and
morphology is highly significant in a purely synthetic language,
whereas morphology is not significant and syntax is highly significant
in an analytic language. Chinese and Afrikaans, for example, are
highly analytic, and meaning is therefore very context-dependent.
(Both do have some inflections, and have had more in the past; thus,
they are becoming even less synthetic and more "purely" analytic over
time.) Latin, which is highly synthetic, uses affixes and inflections
to convey the same information that Chinese does with syntax. Because
Latin words are quite (though not completely) self-contained, an
Latin sentence can be made from elements that are placed
in a largely arbitrary order.
Latin has a complex affixation and
simple syntax, while Chinese has the opposite.
Prescriptive grammar is taught in primary and secondary school. The
term "grammar school" historically refers to a school teaching Latin
grammar to future Roman citizens, orators, and, later, Catholic
priests. In its earliest form, "grammar school" referred to a school
that taught students to read, scan, interpret, and declaim Greek and
Latin poets (including Homer, Virgil, Euripides, Ennius, and others).
These should not be confused with the related, albeit distinct, modern
British grammar schools.
A standard language is a particular dialect of a language that is
promoted above other dialects in writing, education, and broadly
speaking in the public sphere; it contrasts with vernacular dialects,
which may be the objects of study in descriptive grammar but which are
rarely taught prescriptively. The standardized "first language" taught
in primary education may be subject to political controversy, because
it may sometimes establish a standard defining nationality or
Recently, efforts have begun to update grammar instruction in primary
and secondary education. The primary focus has been to prevent the use
of outdated prescriptive rules in favour of more accurate descriptive
ones and to change perceptions about relative "correctness" of
standard forms in comparison to non-standard dialects.
The pre-eminence of
Parisian French has reigned largely unchallenged
throughout the history of modern French literature. Standard Italian
is not based on the speech of the capital, Rome, but on the speech of
Florence because of the influence, Florentines had on early Italian
literature. Similarly, standard Spanish is not based on the speech of
Madrid, but on that of educated speakers from more northerly areas
Castile and León
Castile and León (e.g. see Gramática de la lengua castellana).
Uruguay the Spanish standard is based on the local
Buenos Aires and
Montevideo (Rioplatense Spanish).
Portuguese has, for now, two official standards, respectively
Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese.
Serbian language is divided in a similar way;
Serbia and the
Republika Srpska use their own separate standards. The existence of a
third standard is a matter of controversy, some consider Montenegrin
as a separate language, and some think it is merely another variety of
Norwegian has two standards,
Bokmål and Nynorsk, the choice between
which is subject to controversy: Each Norwegian municipality can
declare one of the two its official language, or it can remain
Nynorsk is endorsed by a minority of 27 percent of
the municipalities. The main language used in primary schools normally
follows the official language of its municipality and is decided by
referendum within the local school district.
Standard German emerged
from the standardized chancellery use of
High German in the 16th and
17th centuries. Until about 1800, it was almost entirely a written
language, but now it is so widely spoken that most of the former
German dialects are nearly extinct.
Standard Chinese has official status as the standard spoken form of
the Chinese language in the People's
Republic of China
Republic of China (PRC), the
Republic of China
Republic of China (ROC) and the Republic of Singapore. Pronunciation
Standard Chinese is based on the local accent of Mandarin Chinese
from Luanping, Chengde in Hebei Province near Beijing, while grammar
and syntax are based on modern vernacular written Chinese. Modern
Standard Arabic is directly based on Classical Arabic, the language of
the Qur'an. The
Hindustani language has two standards,
Hindi and Urdu.
In the United States, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar
designated 4 March as
National Grammar Day in 2008.
Category:Grammars of specific languages
Government and binding
Higher order grammar
List of linguists
^ Traditionally, the mental information used to produce and process
linguistic utterances is referred to as "rules". However, other
frameworks employ different terminology, with theoretical
implications. Optimality theory, for example, talks in terms of
"constraints", while construction grammar, cognitive grammar, and
other "usage-based" theories make reference to patterns,
constructions, and "schemata"
^ O'Grady, William; Dobrovolsky, Michael; Katamba, Francis (1996).
Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction. Harlow, Essex: Longman.
pp. 4–7; 464–539. ISBN 9780582246911.
^ Holmes, Janet (2001). An Introduction to
ed.). Harlow, Essex: Longman. pp. 73–94.
ISBN 978-0582328617. ; for more discussion of sets of
grammars as populations, see: Croft, William (2000). Explaining
Language Change: An Evolutionary Approach. Harlow, Essex: Longman.
pp. 13–20. ISBN 978-0582356771.
^ Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, 2002, The Cambridge
Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University
Press, p. 627f.
^ Lundin, Leigh (23 September 2007). "The Power of Prepositions". On
Writing. Cairo: Criminal Brief.
^ Jeremy Butterfield, (2008). Damp Squid: The English Language Laid
Bare, Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 978-0199574094. p.
^ Harper, Douglas. "Grammar". Online Etymological Dictionary.
Retrieved 8 April 2010
^ McGregor, William B. (2015). Linguistics: An Introduction.
Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0567583529.
^ The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2013). Ashtadhyayi, Work by
Panini. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 23 October 2017. ,
Sanskrit Aṣṭādhyāyī (“Eight
Sanskrit treatise on grammar written in the 6th to 5th
century BCE by the Indian grammarian Panini."
^ G. Khan, J. B. Noah, The Early Karaite Tradition of Hebrew
Grammatical Thought (2000)
^ Pinchas Wechter, Ibn Barūn's Arabic Works on Hebrew
^ Gussenhoven, Carlos; Jacobs, Haike (2005). Understanding Phonology
(second ed.). London: Hodder Arnold. ISBN 978-0340807354.
Grammar Day: Brought to you by
Grammar Girl and the
Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar".
American Academic Press, The (ed.). William Strunk, Jr., et al. The
Classics of Style: The Fundamentals of Language Style From Our
American Craftsmen. Cleveland: The American Academic Press, 2006.
Grammar in Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New
York: Oxford University Press, 1979. ISBN 0198246129.
Look up grammar in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Sayce, Archibald Henry (1911). "Grammar". Encyclopædia
Britannica (11th ed.).
Grammar from the Oxford English Dictionary
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