What is grammar?

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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.

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Use of the term

For linguists, grammar refers to cognitive information underlying language use. Speakers of a language have a set of internalized rules for using that language. These rules constitute grammar, and 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.

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 particular region).

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."


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.


The Babylonians made some early attempts at language description, but the first systematic grammars, of Sanskrit, originated in Iron Age India, with Yaska (6th century BC), Pāṇini (4th 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. 100 BC). 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 Aemilius Asper.

A grammar of Irish originated in the 7th century with the Auraicept na n-Éces. 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 Diqduq (10th century) is one of the earliest grammatical commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. 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 Renaissance and Baroque periods. In 1486, 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 Adam Bohorič.

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 Grammar of 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 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.

In semantics, punctuation (from Greek: γραμματική) is the arrangement of auxiliary guidelines representing the creation of provisions, expressions, and words in any given common dialect. The term alludes likewise to the investigation of such standards, and this field incorporates phonology, morphology, and punctuation, regularly supplemented by phonetics, semantics, and pragmatics.

Utilization of the term

For etymologists, sentence structure alludes to psychological data basic dialect utilize. Speakers of a dialect have an arrangement of disguised rules for utilizing that dialect. These guidelines constitute sentence structure, and by far most of the data in the syntax is—at any rate on account of one's local dialect—procured not by cognizant examination or direction, but rather by watching different speakers. A lot of this work is finished amid early adolescence; taking in a dialect further down the road for the most part includes a more prominent level of unequivocal instruction.

The expression "punctuation" can likewise be utilized to portray the tenets that administer the phonetic conduct of a gathering of speakers. The expression "English language structure", in this way, may have a few implications. It might allude to the entire of English syntax, that is, to the punctuations of the considerable number of speakers of the dialect, in which case, the term incorporates a lot of variation.[3] Alternatively, it might allude just to what is normal to the language structures of all, or of most by far of English speakers, (for example, subject– verb– protest word arrange in straightforward definitive sentences). Or on the other hand it might allude to the principles of a specific, generally very much characterized assortment of English, (for example, standard English for a specific district).

A particular depiction, study or investigation of such principles may likewise be alluded to as a sentence structure. A reference book portraying the syntax of a dialect is known as a "source of perspective sentence structure" or just "a punctuation" (see History of English language structures). A completely express syntax that comprehensively depicts the linguistic developments of a dialect is known as a distinct language structure. This sort of etymological portrayal stands out from semantic solution, an endeavor to debilitate or stifle some linguistic developments, while advancing others. For instance, relational word stranding happens generally in Germanic dialects and has a long history in English. John Dryden, in any case, protested it (without explanation), driving other English speakers to stay away from the development and dishearten its use.

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Outside phonetics the term sentence structure is regularly utilized as a part of a fairly unique sense. In a few regards, it might be utilized all the more extensively, including standards of spelling and accentuation, which etymologists would not commonly consider to frame some portion of punctuation, but instead as a piece of orthography, the arrangement of traditions utilized for composing a dialect. In different regards, it might be utilized all the more barely, to allude to prescriptive syntax just and barring those parts of a dialect's sentence structure that are not subject to variety or level headed discussion. Jeremy Butterfield asserted that, for non-language specialists, "Punctuation is regularly a bland method for alluding to any part of English that individuals question to."