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Grammar refers to the way words are used, classified, and structured together to form coherent written or spoken communication.
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description of the structure of a language, consisting of the sounds (see phonologyphonology,
study of the sound systems of languages. It is distinguished from phonetics, which is the study of the production, perception, and physical properties of speech sounds; phonology attempts to account for how they are combined, organized, and convey meaning in
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); the meaningful combinations of these sounds into words or parts of words, called morphemes; and the arrangement of the morphemes into phrases and sentences, called syntax. School grammars for the speakers of a standard language (e.g., English grammars for English-speaking students) are not descriptive but prescriptive, that is, they are rule books of what is considered correct. Such grammars have popularized many unsound notions because they often fail to take into account common usage and they do not differentiate language styles and levels, such as formal or colloquial; standard, nonstandard, or substandard; or dialect differences.


Morphemes may have lexical meaning, as the word bird, or syntactic meaning, as the plural –s (see inflectioninflection,
in grammar. In many languages, words or parts of words are arranged in formally similar sets consisting of a root, or base, and various affixes. Thus walking, walks, walker have in common the root walk and the affixes -ing, -s, and -er.
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; etymologyetymology
, branch of linguistics that investigates the history, development, and origin of words. It was this study that chiefly revealed the regular relations of sounds in the Indo-European languages (as described in Grimm's law) and led to the historical investigation of
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). Words are minimal free forms, but a word may contain more than one morpheme. For example, treatment contains two, treat and the derivational noun-forming suffix -ment. In traditional grammar, parts of speech are defined semantically, i.e., a noun is a person, place, or thing; but in linguistic morphology, parts of speech are defined according to their syntactic function: The difference between nouns and verbs is that they cannot appear in the same environment in a sentence. One method of language classification is based on structure; languages are classified according to the degree of synthesis, or the number of morphemes per word. Analytic languages, such as Chinese, have only one morpheme per word, while in synthetic languages one word represents more than one morpheme; in the case of some Native American languages, a single word may have so many morphemes that it is the equivalent of an English sentence. The list of morphemes and their meanings (see semanticssemantics
[Gr.,=significant] in general, the study of the relationship between words and meanings. The empirical study of word meanings and sentence meanings in existing languages is a branch of linguistics; the abstract study of meaning in relation to language or symbolic logic
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) in a language is usually not part of a grammar but is isolated in a dictionarydictionary,
published list, in alphabetical order, of the words of a language. In monolingual dictionaries the words are explained and defined in the same language; in bilingual dictionaries they are translated into another language.
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 or vocabulary.


In syntax, units larger than morphemes, such as phrases and sentences, are isolated in manner that reflects a hierarchical structure; thus the sentence "My sister Mary slowly took the cake from the shelf" would have as primary constitutents "My sister Mary" and "slowly took the cake from the shelf." Each primary constituent then may be broken down into a series of hierarchical secondary constituents. The analysis of syntax is also concerned with the ordering of the grammatical sequences within the phrase, with agreement between concomitant entities (i.e., agreement of number and gender between subject and verb, noun and pronoun), and with case, as mandated by the position and function of a word within a sentence. Other aspects of syntax include such sentence transformations as negativization, interrogation, coordination, subordination, passivization and relativization.


The first attempts to study grammar began in about the 4th cent. B.C., in India with Panini's grammar of Sanskrit and in Greece with Plato's dialogue Cratylus. The Greeks, and later the Romans, approached the study of grammar through philosophy. Concerned only with the study of their own language and not with foreign languages, early Greek and Latin grammars were devoted primarily to defining the parts of speech. The biblical commentator Rashi attempted to decipher the rules of ancient Hebrew grammar. It was not until the Middle Ages that grammarians became interested in languages other than their own. The scientific grammatical analysis of language began in the 19th cent. with the realization that languages have a history; this led to attempts at the genealogical classification of languages through comparative linguistics. Grammatical analysis was further developed in the 20th cent. and was greatly advanced by the theories of structural linguistics and transformational-generative grammar (see linguisticslinguistics,
scientific study of language, covering the structure (morphology and syntax; see grammar), sounds (phonology), and meaning (semantics), as well as the history of the relations of languages to each other and the cultural place of language in human behavior.
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See N. Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965) and Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin and Use (1986); R. W. Langacker, Language and Its Structure (2d ed. 1973); F. J. Newmeyer, Grammatical Theory (1983); V. C. Cook, Chomsky's Universal Grammar (1988).

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the systematic description of the structure of a language. Grammars seek to state the rules by which the elements making up a language are formed and combined. These elements, although they now seem obvious and natural, are theoretical terms within grammar, such as noun, verb and adjective. At its most familiar level syntax, grammar looks at the construction of sentences from combinations of elements, including those elements that make up words, and the phrases that words make up. The discipline of LINGUISTICS is grounded in grammar. The procedures now extend to other ‘levels’, e.g. those of meaning (SEMANTICS) and the context of action (PRAGMATICS). See also SAUSSURE, CHOMSKY, DEEP STRUCTURE AND SURFACE STRUCTURE.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the aspect of linguistics that deals with the regular patterns of the formation and usage of word forms; often understood more generally as a synonym for linguistics.

The extension of the meaning of the term “grammar” was known as far back as the ancient Greeks and has been preserved to the present day in the combinations “comparative grammar,” “historical grammar,” and “stratificational grammar.” In contemporary linguistic study the term “grammar” is often used in a narrower sense, although the range of phenomena pertaining to grammar is not defined in quite the same way by the various linguistic schools.

The most generally accepted sense divides the science of language into phonology, grammar, and lexicology. In accordance with the traditional approach, the first two divisions deal with general categories (such as vowels, consonants, the verb, and the predicate), and lexicology deals with individual lexical units. It is precisely through this grouping that phonology and grammar proper are sometimes combined under the general category of “grammar” and together are set apart from vocabulary. However, it is more common in contemporary linguistics to exclude phonology from the sphere of grammar. The term “grammar” is then sometimes used in a broad sense, defined as everything in language except phonology and correspondingly as “the science dealing with signs—as opposed to phonology, which deals with the constituent elements of signs.” In a more specific sense, only part of the phenomena on the sign level pertain to grammar. These phenomena are isolated according to various criteria, the application of which, however, sometimes leads to results which generally coincide. Thus, the widely accepted opposition of grammar to vocabulary (within the sign level) is in some linguistic conceptions based upon the feature of the length of the corresponding units; vocabulary deals with words as integral units of the lexicon, and grammar with units either larger or smaller than words. The traditional division of grammar into two sections is accordingly retained: morphology (etymologically, “the science of forms”) and syntax (etymologically, “arrangement together,” or “combination”), the first of which examines the internal structure of words and the second, the rules for combining words into sentences. This division of grammar is linked with recognition of the word as the basic grammatical unit. In traditional grammar it was considered an accepted fact that the “forms” studied by grammar are word forms, and that words then are the units that combine with one another.

Many representatives of contemporary linguistics consider the basic unit of grammar not the word, but rather the smallest meaningful element, usually called a morpheme (or moneme), and they are not inclined to consider as fundamental the difference between combinations of morphemes forming words and combinations forming more complex syntactic units (word groups, sentences). In this sense the necessity of dividing grammar into morphology and syntax is eliminated, and grammar is defined as “the meaningful arrangement of forms” (L. Bloomfield) or as “morphotactics” (that is, the rules of combinability of morphemes), as opposed to “phono-tactics” (that is, the rules of combinability of phonemes, studied by phonology—C. Hockett). The line between vocabulary and grammar in this instance is drawn by some linguists on the basis of whether the corresponding units are part of an unlimited stock or a limited stock.

The opposition of grammar to vocabulary is sometimes argued through the fact that the categories of grammar are general, so that statements about corresponding phenomena pertain to a whole class of grammatically homogeneous units, whereas lexicological statements are of a special nature, bearing upon each separate lexical unit individually. Thus, the nongrammaticality of combinations such as kruglogo stolu pod lezhish’ tolsiyi kniga ([the] round [adjective, genitive masculine] table [substantive, dative masculine] under [taking the instrumental] lie [verb, second person singular] [the] thick [adjective, nominative masculine] book [substantive, nominative feminine]), instead of pod kruglym stolom lezhit tolstaia kniga (under [taking the instrumental] [the] round [instrumental] table [instrumental] lies [third person singular] a thick [nominative feminine] book [nominative feminine]) is determined by their lack of correspondence to the general rules governing the combinability of the units of the Russian grammatical system. In contrast, a statement about the restricted combinability of the adjective peklevan-nyi (fine rye), which can be combined only with the substantive khleb (bread), is a statement of a lexicological order. The use of the terms “grammaticalization” for the further extension of rules with a previously narrower sphere of effect, and “lexicalization” for the opposite process, corresponds to the idea of the general nature of grammatical rules.

The criterion of differentiation between the lexical and grammatical spheres has to do with the characteristic of the meanings expressed by the corresponding units. Thus, a material, concrete character is ascribed to lexical meaning and a formal, abstract character to grammatical meaning. However, in many instances it is difficult to perceive the distinction between these two types of meaning in terms of “concreteness” and “abstractness.” Therefore, the greater abstractness of denotations of quantity as compared with denotations of quality or size is doubtful. However, the distinction between the meanings of the forms dom (house) and domá (houses) is considered to be grammatical, and the distinction between the meanings of the words khoroshii (good) and plokhoi (bad) or domik (little house) and domishche (large house) is considered to be lexical. Many linguists prefer therefore to speak of the distinction between lexical (or nominative) and syntactic (or relational) meanings and about the opposition, independent of this distinction, of grammatical to nongrammatical meaning. The distinction between nominative and syntactic meaning can be reduced to the fact that the first directly reflects (“names”) extralinguistic reality (objects, events, attributes, relationships), whereas the second reflects only a given word form’s capacity to enter into certain types of syntactic relations with certain classes of word forms in the construction of a phrase. From this standpoint the word forms stoly (tables), stol (table), and stolik (little table) possess different nominative meanings, while the word forms stolu (table [dative]) and stolom (table [instrumental]), or begushchii (running [present active participle] and bezhit ([he] runs) possess different syntactic meanings.

The opposition of grammatical to nongrammatical meaning is based upon the property of necessity, inherent in the former and absent in the latter; thus, the general-categorial meaning of “parts of speech” in those languages in which the speaker is obliged to represent the corresponding extralinguistic matter as an object, attribute, or action (that is, in which the speaker is forced to make some selection from a limited number of possibilities for representing grammatically the given signified, even when the distinction between one or another means of representation is not essential for the speaker himself). Thus, the same situation (“it’s freezing outside”) may be expressed in Russian by the phrases na ulitse moroz (nominal construction), na ulitse morozno (impersonal adverbial construction), and na ulitse morozit (verbal construction), but the designation of the phenomenon of freezing cold must necessarily be represented as an object, attribute, or action, in view of the impossibility of designating this phenomenon without corresponding specification. The selection of some grammatical representation implies in turn the presence of certain necessary (that is, grammatical) meanings. For example, the meaning of number in connection with substantives is grammatical in Russian (since any Russian substantive is either in singular or plural form) and nongrammatical in Chinese and Japanese, since in these languages a noun may be used to designate both one and several objects, as long as the corresponding specification does not enter into the speaker’s intention. In accordance with the opposition of nominative to syntactic meanings, division has been proposed for the study of the plane of content into syntax and the theory of nomination (vocabulary, onomatol-ogy). Since both nominative (for example, number, for Russian substantives) and syntactic (for example, gender, number, and case, for Russian adjectives) meanings can be grammatical, grammar must occupy an intermediate position between vocabulary and syntax: it studies both lexical and syntactic meanings, but only those whose expression is necessary in the given language. Given this division, it is expedient to leave the study of the means of expression of meanings to morphology.

A division that seems successful is a suggestion which is comparatively recent but which corresponds, in general, to linguistic tradition; specifically, it is suggested that those means of expressing any linguistic meanings that are realized within the word boundaries (affixation, alternation, reduplication, incorporation) be considered as morphological, and those realized outside the word (such as by means of syntactic words and word order) be considered as nonmorphologi-cal. Thus, the long-standing controversy over whether all morphology or only a part of it (excluding, for example, word-formation) should be included as grammar is being resolved according to whether a given morphological method serves a grammatical or nongrammatical function. The property of necessity of expression of grammatical meaning, however, seems a more universal criterion (that is, one independent of language type) for defining the sphere relevant to grammar in the proper sense. It may be noted that the fact that grammatical units belong to a limited stock and the fact that grammatical “rules” have a general and regular nature (permitting the reduction of all the diversity of linguistic utterances to limited complexes of systems and structures) are in essence a consequence of this property of necessity.

The methods of modern grammar have their origin in ancient Indian philological science, the most well known representative of which was Panini (fourth to third century B.C.). The system of notions and categories of modern “school” grammar, including even its terminology (for example, the names of the parts of speech and the cases), goes back to the grammatical theory of the ancient Greeks (Aristotle, the Stoics, the Alexandrian school). Of the Roman grammarians, Varro (116–27 B.C.) is the most notable. Greco-Roman grammatical theory was adopted by European philologists of the Renaissance and Enlightenment by way of the Late Latin grammars (M. V. Lomonosov produced the first Russian grammar in 1755; the first Church Slavonic grammars appeared in 1591 and 1596), so that both the concepts and the categories of Latin grammar were transferred to the grammars of new languages. In the 17th and 18th centuries interest in the logical and philosophical foundations of grammatical theory (for example, the problem of “universal” grammar) grew significantly. The development of typological research and the creation of the first morphological classifications of the languages of the world in the early 19th century stimulated the creation of differentiated notional systems for describing languages of different grammatical systems; however, the first systematic work in this direction was not begun until H. Steinthal and continued by the neogrammarians. The idea of “emancipating” the grammars of new languages from the Latin-Greek grammatical system in essence began to penetrate the descriptive grammars of real languages only by the early 20th century; in particular, the grammatical system elaborated by F. F. Fortunatov has been used in Russian grammar.

The basic lines of development of grammar in the 20th century have been concerned not so much with the methods of describing specific languages (although even this aspect has been given some consideration, for example, in descriptive linguistics) as with the problem of grammatical theory itself.


Smirnitskii. A. I. “Leksicheskoe i grammaticheskoe v slove.” In the collection Voprosy grammaticheskogo stroia. Moscow, 1955.
Kuznetsov, P. S. O printsipakh izucheniia grammatiki. Moscow, 1961.
Mel’chuk. I. A. “O nekotorykh tipakh iazykovykh znachenii.” In O tochnykh metodakh issledovaniia iazyka. Moscow, 1961.
Matezius, V. “O sistemnom grammaticheskom analize.” In the collection Prazhskii lingvisticheskii kruzhok. Moscow, 1967.
Zalizniak. A. A. “Iskhodnye polozheniia.” In his book Russkoe imennoe slovoizmenenie. Moscow, 1967.
Issledovaniia po obshchei teorii grammatiki. Moscow, 1968.
Jakobson, R. “Boas’ View of Grammatical Meaning.” American Anthropologist, 1959, vol. 61, no. 5. p. 2 (Memoir no. 89).


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A formal definition of the syntactic structure of a language (see syntax), normally given in terms of production rules which specify the order of constituents and their sub-constituents in a sentence (a well-formed string in the language). Each rule has a left-hand side symbol naming a syntactic category (e.g. "noun-phrase" for a natural language grammar) and a right-hand side which is a sequence of zero or more symbols. Each symbol may be either a terminal symbol or a non-terminal symbol. A terminal symbol corresponds to one "lexeme" - a part of the sentence with no internal syntactic structure (e.g. an identifier or an operator in a computer language). A non-terminal symbol is the left-hand side of some rule.

One rule is normally designated as the top-level rule which gives the structure for a whole sentence.

A grammar can be used either to parse a sentence (see parser) or to generate one. Parsing assigns a terminal syntactic category to each input token and a non-terminal category to each appropriate group of tokens, up to the level of the whole sentence. Parsing is usually preceded by lexical analysis. Generation starts from the top-level rule and chooses one alternative production wherever there is a choice.

See also BNF, yacc, attribute grammar, grammar analysis.
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