What Is the Relationship between Grammar and Vocabulary?

Laura Metz

The relationship between grammar and vocabulary is one of partners working together to create meaningful communication. Words in a language are known as vocabulary, while grammar gives the methods and rules for combining those words into sentences. Ideas are communicated when both grammar and vocabulary work in tandem.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Vocabulary lists are often grouped by root words or language of origin, and they are always changing. Loanwords are words taken from one language and added to another, following the second language’s grammar and, sometimes, its pronunciation. In English, for example, “ballet” was assimilated from French and “kayak” from the Yupik people of Alaska.

Affixes are syllables that can be attached to a word. Grammar and vocabulary work together with affixes to transform a word into a different part of speech, add to its meaning, or change a verb’s tense. The affix –ion changes a verb into a noun. For example, participate changes to participation and imagine becomes imagination.

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All words in vocabulary can be divided into verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections, collectively known as the eight parts of speech. Grammar and vocabulary unite to combine words, the vocabulary, into the right arrangement, the grammar, according to these parts of speech. The placement of a word in a sentence can change its function. For example, “my dog caught the ball” has a different meaning from “the ball caught my dog.”

The syntax of all Romance languages, as well as English and Arabic, combine the parts of speech into a subject-verb-object (SVO) construction. “A girl ate peaches” is a proper SVO sentence. Other languages use a subject-object-verb construction, such as “a girl peaches ate,” and a few use the verb-subject-object order, such as “ate a girl peaches.” While each of those examples uses proper vocabulary, only one gives clear meaning in English through using correct grammar.

Subject/verb agreement is the term for making the subject and verb fit together. For instance, both “he runs” and “they run” are proper sentences, but “he run” and “they runs” are incorrect in standard English. Students of any language must learn how the vocabulary of a language adapts to fit different grammatical constructions.

Punctuations are written symbols, other than letters, that tell you what words belong together. Periods, exclamations points, and question marks separate one sentence from another, showing when a thought is complete. The comma has many roles, from separating items in a list to helping a conjunction combine two sentences into one. In speech, punctuation is indicated by tonal cues, such as raising pitch at the end of a sentence to show it is a question.

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Discussion Comments

Lostnfound

In a strictly sociological sense, it's also true that the richer a person's vocabulary is, the better their grammar is. This is probably because people who have a good vocabulary are usually better educated, whether in a school or self-educated, and they realize the importance of using good grammar.

Many people who don't know the definitions of simple words or commonly used words probably don't use very good grammar, either. It sounds elitist, but it is, unfortunately, true. This doesn't mean the person is stupid -- they may have rich stores of wisdom -- but in general, it denotes a lack of education. And most of the time, it also denotes a person who does not care whether they are educated or whether they have a good vocabulary or use good grammar. Not everyone is a writer, by any means, but most people are capable of using decent grammar.

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