By Kamil Wiśniewski July 12th, 2007

There are many ways in which grammar has been approached and described throughout ages. Nowadays, the word ‘grammar’ is most frequently used to mean both syntax and morphology, or to put it in a different way, it is a set of rules that enables the users of a given language to put words together to convey the desired meaning.
For many users of language this term is troublesome, therefore it needed distinguishing between knowing grammar and the knowledge about grammar. Everybody capable of reading and understanding these words has some knowledge of the English grammar as a system that enables to create and interpret intelligible sentences. To know grammar means to be able to use a given language. Knowledge about grammar is what people usually gain during the process of learning a foreign language – the ability to discuss some peculiarities of the system of language and ability to describe the rules involved in building sentences. It is a fact that many native speakers feel incompetent to discuss their mother tongue when it comes to issues such as why one phrase is correct and the other is not, as when we acquire a mother tongue we gain the knowledge of patterns of language implicitly.
The contemporary studies of grammar stem from the ancient Greece and Rome and the accounts of Greek and the in case of the English language especially Latin. The whole traditionally used terminology in sentence description derives from the descriptions of these two languages:

  • Adjective: a word used before a noun or a pronoun to describe it, as in ‘young girl’, young is an adjective
  • Adverb: a word describing a verb, an adjective or another adverb, as in: ‘She sung beautifully’: beautifully is an adverb.
  • Article: a word used before nouns to indicate if the noun refers to a particular example of something, or to identify the noun as already known. The English language has three articles: 2 indefinite: ‘a’ and ‘an’; and one definite article ‘the’.
  • Conjunction: a word (and, because) which joins sentences.
  • Noun: a word referring to objects (table), places (home, gaming house), people (sister), qualities, or ideas (anger). Nouns can be used as subjects or objects of a verb. For example (all nouns in bold), There is no end to the variety of online games. From action to strategy, you can spend hours online, playing without spending a single penny. Of course, if you prefer, there are many sites where you can try your luck and play for real money.
  • Preposition: a word (in, at, over, behind) used before a noun, a pronoun, or gerund to indicate location, time, or direction.
  • Pronoun: a word used instead of a noun or a noun phrase, for example ‘she’ instead of ‘Mary’.
  • Verb: a word describing an action or a state, such as: go, come, see.

The terms listed above determine the parts of speech that a language consists of, but there are many more phenomena needed to account for their relations in a sentence. ‘Number’, ‘person’, ‘gender’, ‘voice’, ‘tense’ are categories used to discuss the grammaticality of a sentence. Number tells us if a noun is singular, or plural; voice if a verb is active, or passive; and tense tells us when the action happened. Gender refers to the sex of an object in question, yet grammatical gender does not always have to reflect natural gender, like in German for example.
One more thing that contemporary English grammar analysis owes to its Latin roots is the approach to describing grammar. In eighteenth century the dominating approach to grammar was prescriptive, which was characterized by attempts of linguists to set out rules, imitating the Latin grammar rules, for the appropriate usage. This ‘appropriate’ English meant using sophisticated style, implementing certain grammar rules (for instance: not splitting infinitives, or not ending sentences with prepositions). However, ordinary language users were unaccustomed to such practices and had difficulties applying it. The second approach to grammar is descriptive. It does not suggest how words should be put together to make sentences, but rather describes the way sentences are made by language users, not stating whether it is good or bad usage.
Nowadays, scholars distinguish even more types of grammar, like school grammar for example. With the increasing popularity of English around the world and growth of the number of language users school grammar was adopted to teach basic rules of using the language. In such a case the principles of language use are frequently simplified in order to make the teaching and learning processes relatively simple.

Yule G. 1996. The study of language. Cambridge:CUP.
Brown K. (Editor) 2005. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics – 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier.
Crystal D. 2005, The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language – 2nd edition. Cambridge: CUP.
Wilson R. A. (Editor) 1999. The MIT encyklopedia of cognitive sciences. London: The MIT Press.

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