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In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of sentences, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics, and pragmatics. Linguists do not normally use the term to refer to orthographical rules, although usage books and style guides that call themselves grammars may also refer to spelling and punctuation.


Use of the term

Every speaker of a language has, in his or her head, a set of rules[1] for using that language. This is a grammar, and—at least in the case of one's native language—the vast majority of the information in it is not acquired by conscious study or instruction, but by observing other speakers; much of this work is done during infancy. Language learning later in life, of course, may involve a greater degree of explicit instruction.[2]

The term "grammar" can also be used to describe the rules that govern the linguistic behaviour of a group of speakers. The term "English grammar," therefore, may have several meanings. It may refer to the whole of English grammar—that is, to the grammars of all the speakers of the language, which means including a great deal of variation.[3] Alternatively, it may refer only to what is common to the grammars of all, or of the vast majority of, English speakers (such as subject-verb-object word order in simple declarative sentences). Or it may refer to the rules of a particular, relatively well defined variety of English (such as Standard English).

"An English grammar" is a specific description, study or analysis of such rules. A reference book describing the grammar of a language is called a "reference grammar" or simply "a grammar". A fully explicit grammar exhaustively describing the grammatical constructions of a language is called a descriptive grammar. Linguistic description contrasts with linguistic prescription, which tries to enforce rules of how a language is to be used.

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