UTELHistory of English | English Composition | Literary Authors | Literary Works | Literary Criticism ]
English Department Sites [ Main Office | Graduate Studies | Graduate English Association  ]

UTEL

Traditional Grammatical Terminology
by A. G. Rigg


Intro | Prev | Next | Index

1. General terms

1.1 Language: The historical account of a language is diachronic; the description of a language at any one moment is synchronic (and is often the province of a linguistics department). Diachronic study is often referred to as "historical philology". The two approaches are interdependent: descriptions of the language that take no account of their development are often cumbersome, and historical developments cannot be explained without a knowledge of the structure of a language at its moments of change.

1.2 Phonology: the study of sounds. A phoneme is an isolable sound unit that can be distinguished from another: e.g. /b/ and /d/ are contrastive phonemes (contrasting big and dig). An allophone is a positional variant of a phoneme: e.g. the variants on /t/ in top, Tuesday, mixture. A phonetic (as opposed to a phonemic) description of speech attempts to describe sounds as closely as possible, including intonation.

1.3 Morphology: the study of grammatical forms. E.g. the plural marker -s in houses, the vowel gradation in break-broke-broken (and the final -n), the forms of pronouns he-him-his, etc. A morpheme is an affix (usually a suffix, or ending) used to change the function/number/gender etc. of a word: e.g. the plural marker s, the possessive s ('s, s'), the feminine -ess. Originally "free" compounding elements sometimes become "bound-morphemes", e.g. -dom in freedom (originally the word doom). Some suffixes can still be "free": e.g. like in child-like = like a child. Inflexion = suffixed morpheme.

1.4 Etymology: the study of the origin of words (or the specific origin of a word). E.g. the etymology of barn is bere-ærn "barley-hall".

1.5 Semantics: the study of meaning. Semantic change occurs when a word's referent changes: e.g. nice in Middle English meant "foolish", in early Modern English "fastidious", and in Present Day English (PDE) "pleasant". The causes of semantic change require a study of the semantic "field", i.e. all the competing words and also the antonyms.

1.6 Syntax (literally "arrangement") sometimes refers to the rules by which a language operates (e.g. the use of do in I do not know); sometimes it refers to subordination of clauses, opposed to parataxis (He came, he saw, he conquered). See 6 below.

1.7 A synthetic language employs morphemes to indicate the relationship between units of a sentence (the boy's dog); an analytic language uses prepositions and word-order (the dog of the boy). No language is wholly one or the other. The tendency in English has been for analysis to replace synthesis, but in French the future tense derives from an auxiliary verb which has now become a morpheme, and it is arguable that in English 'll has become a (synthetic) morpheme denoting the future tense.

1.8 Concord: "agreement". In PDE this affects primarily verbs and a few demonstrative pronouns, where singular must matcb singular, and plural plural: (he goes - they go; that book - those books). In Old English, however, concord is more extensive: article/demonstrative and adjective must agree with the noun they modify in number (4), gender (1.9), and case (3). French and German both require more concord than PDE.

1.9 Gender: nouns are masculine, feminine or neuter in Old English; this has nothing to do with sex (natural gender), but concord applies: masculine nouns are referred to as "he", feminine nouns as "she", etc. French retains two genders, masculine (le), feminine (la); German has all three.

1.10 Tense: time, expressed from the point of view of the speaker or writer. In PDE tense may be expressed by a morpheme or morphological change (he kills - he killed; he grows - he grew) or by an auxiliary verb (he will kill, he did kill). See 2.6.3-4 and Chart 9.

1.11 Aspect (of verbs): this may be continuous (we were walking), habitual (birds sing), perfective (I have eaten my lunch). See Verbs 2.6.3-4, Chart 9.

1.12 Voice (of verbs): active or passive: see Verbs 2.6.5 on auxiliaries forming the passive. PDE has no passive morphemes such as Latin has, but some verbs have become passive in force: the goose is cooking, the material washes well. Verbs are transitive (taking a direct object: he cooked the goose) or intransitive with no direct object (run, talk). See Chart 9.

1.13 Declension: the forms of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, articles, etc., as they "decline" through their cases (3).

1.14 Conjugation: the forms of a verb; also used to denote different types of verb in Old English.

1.15 Subject, object: the grammatical subject of a sentence is that of which the remainder of the sentence is predicated: "he owns a large house"; "the horse was sold quickly". In these, "owns a large house" and "was sold quickly" form the predicates. The direct object of the verb is that on which the verb acts directly. In "he gave her the book", it is book which is the direct object of gave; in this sentence, her is the indirect object. The indirect object is often expressed in PDE by the preposition to ("he gave the book to her"). See 3.1; 3.3; 3.5 (Nominative, Accusative, Dative).

1.16 A clause is a sentence unit which includes a finite verb (see 2.6.1) but does not form a complete sentence. A phrase is a group of linked words lacking a finite verb. On Subordinate Clauses, see 6.


Intro | Prev | Next | Index