What is Grammar?

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Mention grammar and most people think “rules.” And that makes sense since we were taught the rules in school. But is that all there is to grammar?

Although grammar does have rules, these rules help us communicate effectively. Grammar is the structure of a language, and the rules are the visible and obvious elements of that structure.

How Does the Dictionary Define Grammar?

Since the thesaurus wasn’t much help, I turned to the dictionary. I picked up my 2,100-page Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, a book I have had for at least 30 years.  The pages are yellowing, but I can’t afford the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary or the 2-volume Oxford with accompanying magnifying glass, so I treasure it.

In it, I found 6 definitions for grammar.  This is definition 2 (it’s clearer and shorter than definition 1):

“The system of word structures and word arrangements of a given language at a given time.”

Then combine it with number 3:

“A system of rules for speaking and writing a given language.”

So grammar is the structure of a language. Many people think it is simply about rules, but knowing why the rules exist and what you can do with them is just as important.

A few other words caught my interest:

  • Grammarian: “one who teacher or writes upon grammar”
  • Grammarianism: “the strict observance of grammatical rules; pedantry
  • Grammarless: “devoid of grammar? “(which seems almost impossible)
  • Grammaticaster: “a pedantic or petty grammarian
  • Grammatication: “a discussion of points of grammar?” (like this post!)
  • Grammatist: “a grammarian: generally used disparagingly”.

Based on the number of negative entries, I get the sense people do not much like those who go on about grammar.

I also learned the word grammalogue is used in shorthand when a word is expressed by a singular letter.  So text-speak like C U later is grammaloguing. 

Graminology, I learned, is the science of grasses.

Then I closed the dictionary and lugged it back to the shelf; otherwise, who knows what rabbit hole I would go down.

What are its Synonyms?

Synonyms can be helpful in understanding what a word means, so I grabbed my 1992 Oxford Thesaurus.   I often prefer using a reference book when possible.  That way I get to avoid ads, be tempted to follow links that will lead me down rabbit holes, and receive fewer emails related to something that I googled. I thumbed through this nearly 1,000-page thesaurus until I landed on the gr- page:

  • grace, graceful, gracious, grade, gradual, gradually, graduate, graft, graft, grain, grand.

Wait a minute!  I looked again.  Grammar should be between grain and grand.  Does this mean it has no synonym?

I checked the index.  There I found that grammar was a synonym for a schoolbook from the 19th century.  Some grammars focused on rhetoric while others were more like reading textbooks.  These books were often called Readers or Primers.

Before I finished my search for synonyms, I turned to Google, but it was not particularly helpful. The synonyms I found–such as syntax, punctuation, semantics–are branches of grammar.  That would be like saying that molecular biology is a synonym for biology. Syntax is not a definition of grammar but one element.

What Words Rhyme with Grammar?

I could not resist the temptation to look through my Rhyming Dictionary.  It took some searching, but finally I found the section I needed (UR).  The selection for two-syllable words that rhyme was not long.  Potential two-syllable rhymes include

  • Concur/confer/defer/deter/incur/inter/infer/occur/prefer/yessir.

Three syllable words might do as well

  • as it were/cocklebur/disinter/emperor/him and her/Edinburgh.

I will leave you with this short verse:

Scotland, Here I Come

I concur

That grammar

Instruction must occur.

But I prefer

That it occur

While I’m in Edinburgh.

I’d love to see what you can do. Please send me your poems.

Take our grammar nerd quiz to see if you qualify as one.

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