Grammar = Morphology + Syntax
Grammar refers to either of these two things:
- How to fit together elements of meaning smaller than a single word.
- How to fit together elements of meaning larger than a single word.
The sub-lexical constituent components referred to by the first category are the language’s morphemes, and so this part of a language’s grammar we call its morphology. It’s how to fit little pieces of words together to create individual words.
- Think thou, thee, thy, thine, thyself and be, am, art, is, are, was, wert, were and see, sees, saw, seeing, seen, foresee, unsee, unforeseen, unforeseeable, unforeseeably and unreflected, infelicitate, disadvantaged, irredeemability, antiretroviral.
The super-lexical constituent components referred to by the second category are the language’s syntactic constituents, often multiword phrases that together act like a single thing within a larger hierarchical structure, and so this part of a language’s grammar we call its syntax.
- Think about the difference between
The dog bit the man
The man bit the dog
The man bit the dog that bit the cat that bit the mouse that scared the man the dog bit.
Grammar isn’t about accent, or spacing, or choice of font, or spelling, or the color of text, or capitalization, or indentation, or anything else that a blind illiterate cannot say and hear.
Grammar is about how the real language — the spoken one — fits together, not about whether your boarding school’s penmanship teacher approves of how you write that cursive 𝓋 in your full name’s signature.
Famous examples of puzzling yet perfectly grammatical sentences include everything from:
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
And many more besides.