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What Is the Relationship Between Grammar and Syntax?

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  • Written By: Sandi Johnson
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  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2014
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Grammar and syntax are closely related concepts, both in written and spoken language. The terms are often used interchangeably, although each concept has its own meaning. Syntax is the arrangement of words and phrases in a sentence. Comparatively, grammar consists of the rules that govern the composition of language. As such, the relationship between grammar and syntax is similar to that of parent and child, with grammar providing the structural rules that syntax and other concepts must follow.

In terms of etymology, or the origins of a word, the term syntax is derived from the Greek and Latin words syntaxis, meaning putting together in an arranged order. Likewise, the word grammar is derived from the Greek term grammatike tekhne, defined as the art of words or letters. Understanding these origins, the relationship between grammar and syntax could be explained as the art of language, meaning grammar, and how it is arranged, meaning syntax. Although the term grammar was present in ancient Latin and Greek cultures, the understanding of grammar as a set of rules pertaining to syntax did not begin until the 16th century. Prior to the 16th century, the term grammar merely applied to learning in general, with syntax covering any type of order or arrangement.

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Today, syntax and grammar are understood to mean the rules governing proper sentence structure. For example, when an individual references a person and themselves, an English phrase such as me and him might be used. According to syntax, me and him is an acceptable order of words. It makes logical sense, whether ordered as me and him or him and me. Rules of English grammar, however, dictate that such a phrase should be worded as him and me, so that both pronouns are objective, with the personal pronoun me ordered last.

As an area of study, modern grammar encompasses the rules and structural requirements for numerous concept areas and parts of language, including syntax. Specifically, grammatical study involves areas such as morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and phonetics. Each concept area must follow specific rules regarding structure, punctuation, spelling, word use, the order of words, tense, and other linguistic constraints. Studying grammar and syntax involves learning the rules and understanding how the proper, grammatically correct order of words fits into the larger picture of natural language. Naturally, to study grammar is to study syntax and other concept areas in an effort to understand the proper application of grammar rules to each concept area.

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Mor
Post 3

@pastanaga - I think it's an ongoing process. I know there have been a few that have changed recently. People made it standard syntax to use certain nouns as verbs, for example, like access, which used to just be a noun, but became a verb because it was useful.

People just used it so much that eventually the dictionaries all declared it to be a verb as well as a noun.

They actually put out a list almost every year of what new words and usages of words have been put in and what ones have been left out. Languages are constantly evolving, both words and grammar rules, and English as we know it probably won't exist in a few hundred years.

pastanaga
Post 2

@clintflint - Well, it would be a lot easier if everyone just followed the same rules, but it would also be a lot poorer for it.

I just wonder who made up the rules for English in the first place. I mean, when you look at all the crazy ways they used to spell things even a couple of hundred years ago, you know someone must have just sat down one day and decided that from now on English was going to follow these rules and no one could deviate from them.

clintflint
Post 1

It's really important to remember that just because someone doesn't speak standard English doesn't mean that they aren't following their own grammatical rules.

I think, particularly in schools, people assume that if a person isn't speaking according to the grammar rules of standard English, that they aren't following any rules at all, which often isn't true. All variations of English have different rules and there's nothing that says that one version is better than another.

It is important for people who are learning English or learning in a school to understand standard English grammar as well as their own, but they shouldn't be made to think their own version isn't also completely valid.

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