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GRAMMAR TIP: What is Grammar?

In Modern English Usage (1926-1964), Henry Watson (H.W.) Fowler defines grammar as “a general term for the science of language,” but in the 1965 revision, Sir Ernest Gowers points out that the science of language is now called linguistics and that grammar is a branch of it.

Linguistics is concerned with such terms as phonology, morphology, accidence, orthoepy, orthography, composition, semantics, syntax, and etymology. Fowler points out and Gowers reinforces that orthography, accidence, and syntax are what most English speakers focus on when they talk about grammar—good or bad.

Not sure what all this means? Here’s a breakdown:

Orthography: the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage. Misspelled words are errors of orthography. So are misplaced apostrophes.

Accidence: the part of grammar that deals with changes in words to change their meaning, for example, adding endings to verbs or changing their spelling to indicate different tenses (walk/walked, run/ran, go/went), adding letters to nouns or changing their spelling to indicate number (boy/boys, man/men), and spelling pronouns differently to indicate subject or object. “Has went” and “between you and I” are examples of errors of accidence.

Syntax: the arrangement of word forms to show their mutual relations in the sentence.

Here are Fowler and Gower’s simple definitions of the other terms:

Phonology: how sounds are made and depicted.

Morphology: how words are made.

Orthoepy: how words are said.

Composition: how words are fused into compounds.

Semantics: how words are to be understood.

Etymology: how words are derived and formed.

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