What is Grammar? Part III - Prepositions to Constructions

What is grammar

What is Grammar?

Let's move on to prepositions. Prepositions are words that mark the relationships between things, like to, from, on, and under.

Although prepositions themselves are usually classed as invariable, there are a few things we need to look out for in terms of how a language uses prepositions. The first is case. Do prepositions take a certain case or cases? In Indo-European languages like Latin, German, and Russian, different prepositions will be followed by different cases. In Arabic, on the other hand, all prepositions are followed by the genitive case.

Next, we need to consider phrasal verbs and how prepositions combine with verbs to form variations in meaning. In English, we have phrasal verbs - like to hang out vs. to hang up - and in German, we find separable prefix verbs with prepositions added as prefixes to main verbs to change their meaning.

Finally, we need to consider if a language uses postpositions instead of or in addition to prepositions. Postpostions - as the name would imply - come after rather than before the noun. Although the classification as a postposition is debated, in English we have the word “ago” which functions like a postposition: twenty years ago.

After prepositions, we need to consider conjunctions: words that connect different elements. There are two main types of conjunctions: coordinating and subordinating.

Coordinating conjunctions are used to connect elements on an equal footing, often two independent clauses. In English, the coordinating conjunctions are remembered by the acronym FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So. Coordinating conjunctions can combine things positively - like and - or in a contrasting manner - like but.

Subordinating conjunctions, on the other hand, make one element subordinate to another. These are usually used to introduce subordinate clauses, which often add detail to or explain something within the main clause. I ate the sandwich because I was hungry. Here, “because” is a subordinating conjunction.

Next we have particles. Particles are invariable function words. Some elements, like prepositions, can also be classed as particles, so how you look at this category will depend on the language in question. For some languages you will need to consider grammatical particles, invariable words that mark certain functions or relationships. For example, particles are used in Japanese to mark case and in Mandarin to mark tense.

Regardless of the language, you will need to learn fillers and interjections. Fillers are words and sounds used to fill gaps in speech, like um, yeah, you know, and ok. Interjections are exclamations, and can include curses and swearwords.

Now we move on to Numerals, words used to count things. There are actually a number of functions we need to consider in the numeral system of a language.

First, we need to know the cardinals. These are the numbers as you count them, like one, two, three, and so on.

Then, we need to know the ordinals, or the ordering numbers, like first, second, third, and so on. For inflected languages, we have to consider whether there is agreement in the numerals for number, gender, and case.

Next we need to look at time and how numbers are used to express the hours of the day, minutes of the hour, and so on.

We also need to consider dates and the use of numbers for days, weeks, months, years, decades, and centuries.

We need to examine how age is represented for people, animals, and things.

Are there special rules for regnal use? In other words, how are numbers used in the titles of rulers? This may seem insignificant, but it can vary widely between languages and is a common component.

Telephone numbers. How are phone numbers spoken and written?

Fractions - how are fractions, decimals, and percentages written out and actually read out aloud in the language?

Measurements - what systems of measurement are used in the language, and how are numbers used with those measurements?

And finally, we need to look at mathematics, and how mathematical functions, like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, are represented in a language. We also need to know the names of mathematical symbols.

So far, we've examined the ten individual pieces of grammar, from nouns to numerals.

Now we need to look at how these individual pieces combine together into various syntax patterns and constructions.

Let's start with syntax. Syntax is the order of elements in a language. The subject of syntax is a large discipline within linguistics. From the perspective of the language learner, there are a few key patterns we need examine.

The first is how things are ordered within simple sentences. Simple sentences consist of a single independent clause, like “The boy throws the ball.”

Compound sentences consist of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, such as “The boy throws the ball, and his sister catches it.”

A complex sentence is a sentence with a dependent clause, such as “The boy, who is only three years old, throws the ball.”

A compound complex sentence combines all of these elements and consists of two or more independent clauses with at least one dependent clause: “The boy, who is only three years old, throws the ball and his sister catches it.”

Different languages will handle independent and dependent clauses differently, so you need to understand the patterns within each language as well as the appropriate equivalent structures to those you use in your own native language.

Finally, we also need to consider Inversions and variations, such as you'll find often in questions and informal speech.

These main sentence patterns form the primary information on syntax most useful to the language learner. In addition to these, we need to look at how a language handles and creates various types of constructions.

A construction is a set pattern for a specific function. There are far too many individual constructions to go through all of them in detail here, but they include such functions as expressing need or obligation, desire, anticipation, and physical or emotion feelings. For example, we can express need in English in several ways: I need to, I have to, I've got to, I must, and so on. These are set patterns and there will be a finite number of functions represented in each language.

That concludes our overview of the twelve components within the structure or grammar of a language.

Learn more in our Core Course HERE.

Back to blog