‘Language Study: ENGLISH LANGUAGE. First Things to Know about Grammar.’



“In this way the learner will be prevented from regarding grammar as a piece of dead mechanism or a Chinese puzzle, of which the parts must be fitted together in accordance with certain artificial rules, and will realize that it is a living organism which has a history and a reason of its own. The method of nature and science alike is analytic ; and if we would learn a foreign language properly we must learn it as we did our mother-tongue, by first mastering the expression of a complete thought, and then breaking up this expression into its several elements.” – Professor Sayce


English Language section of


           FOR ALL

        A Comprehensive Self-Educator in Five Volumes



Arranged in Progressive Lessons for Home Study

Edited by

Gordon Stowell




This lesson is introductory to the whole series of language Courses. It contains, in summarised form, information concerning parts of speech, case, comparison, and so on, which should be mastered before the student turns to any of the Courses dealing with specific languages – Greek, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, as well as English.

Language is the expression of thought by means of words. A word is a combination of elementary sounds, to which a certain meaning is attached. The meaning of the word is what is thought of when the word is used, though this may be governed by other words used with it.

  Words are generally used in groups called sentences. A sentence is an expression of a complete thought, as when one says “We know” or “To be or not to be; that is the question.”

  The rules for changing the form of words to express differences in meaning, and for grouping words in sentences, are called Grammar. English grammar and all other grammars are those portions of the general science of language which treat of the spoken or written language of the English, French, German, and other peoples.

  The grammar of any language falls naturally into two part. The first is that which deals with separate words; the second is that which with words combined to form sentences. The first  part treats of the variation of form which words undergo to mark changes in their relation to other words, and of the manner in which they are formed out of simpler elements. The name given to this is accidence, because it shows what changes may befall words – Latin accidere, to befall.

  The second main division of grammar, dealing with words combined in sentences, is called syntax, from the Greek syntaxis, arrangement. The rules of syntax are statements of the ways in which words of a sentence are related to each other. Syntax deals both with the order of words in a sentence and with the particular inflexions that are required in any given sentence to express the desired meaning.

  The classes in which words may be arranged are called parts of speech. These are the same in most of the European languages. The English names for the eight parts of speech- all derived form their Latin equivalents – are as follows:

  1. A Noun (nomen= name) is a word used as the name of something – e.g. bird, avis (Latin), oiseau(French) ; James, Jacques.
  2. An Adjective (adjectivus= that is added to) is a word used with a noun to describe, to measure, to count, or to indicate that for which the noun stands – e.g. hotdays,four boys, this
  3. A Pronoun (pro= instead of) is a word used instead of, or to avoid repeating, a noun – e.g. “When Elizabeth died, she was seventy years old.”
  4. A Verb (verbum= word) is a word by means of which something is stated – e.g. “Birds sing.”
  5. An Adverb (ad verbum= to a word) is a word which shows how an action, state, or quality is modified or limited – e.g. “He speaks eloquently.”
  6. A Preposition (prae-positus= placed before) is a word which shows how things, or their actions and attributes, are related to other things – e.g. “The Mill on the Floss”; “Come unto” It is usually placed before the noun which it governs.
  7. A Conjunction (con-junctio= joining together) is a word which joins together words or sentences – e.g. “Man prposes, but God disposes”; “Come, buy wine and
  8. An interjection (inter-jectus= thrown between) is a word thrown in to express some feeling or emotion. It has not grammatical relation to the sentence in which it stands – e.g. “Alas!”; “Hurrah!”


Inflexion (Latin, inflectere, to bend) is a change made in the form of a word to denote a modification of meaning, or to show the relationship of the word to some other word in the sentence.

  Nouns, pronouns, and adjectives are inflected to mark number, gender, and case. This is called declension. In Latin there were five methods of declension, in Greek three, in German the strong and the weak declensions, etc. The old grammarians used to speak of the subject (or nominative case) as the “upright” case and of all other cases as “oblique.”


The word “case” means “a falling,” and the oblique cases were conceived of as falling away or “declining” from the nominative. Hence the declension of a noun is a statement of its cases – i.e. of the forms which it assumes in various relations. The full number of cases is seven, but the actual number in use varies in different languages.

  Nominative (including the Nominative of Address, sometimes called the Vocative) – e.g. “He is going out.“  “The man is well known.”   “John, come here!”

  Accusative (the case of the direct object) – e.g. “The man saw the dog; he saw me.”

  Dative (the case of the indirect object) – e.g. “I give him a book.”

  Genitive (the case denoting origin or possession) – e.g.  the horse’s head.

  Ablative (the case denoting separation from).

  Locative (the case denoting place at which).

  Instrumental (case denoting association with).

  The last two became merged into ablative in Latin. In English the last three case-relations and that of the dative (except for pronouns) are expressed by phrases with prepositions – e.g. “It comes from London.”  “He killed him with a dagger,” etc.


  The distinction between male and female in nature is called sex. The distinction between masculine and feminine in words is called Gender. The English language adopts the natural distinctions of gender: names of animals of the male sex are masculine, names of animals of the female sex are feminine, names applied to animals of either sex are common, and names of things of neither sex are neuter. Other languages, such as Latin, French, and German, often distinguish gender by noun endings, irrespective of meaning; thus, in German, Mädchen = a little maid, is neuter: and in French, la table = the table, is feminine.


  Number is the difference in the words to express one or more that one—singular or plural. Some languages have special forms to denote two persons or things ; this is called the dual.


  Adjectives and adverbs are inflected to mark degree. This inflexion is called Comparison.There are three degrees of Comparison—Positive, Comparative Superlative. A positive adjective compares a thing with all other things, and ascribes to it a certain quality—e.g. long, beau (French), altus (Latin). A Comparative adjective compares the thing named with one other, and shows that the former has more of a certain quality than the second—e.g. longer, plus beau, altior. A superlative adjective compares the thing named with several others—at least two—and shows that it possesses a certain quality in a higher degree than any of the others—e.g. longest, le plus beau, altissimus. The same applies to adverbs.


  Verbs are inflected to mark voice, mood, tense, number, and person. This inflexion is called Conjugation. Voice is the form of the verb by which it is shown whether the subject of the sentence stands for the doer or for the sufferer of the action spoken of by the verb. Most languages have two voices—Active (where the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action, e.g. I strike) and Passive (where the subject of the sentence “suffers,” or is the object of the action, e.g. I am struck). Greek has a middle or reflective voice in addition.

  Mood is that variation of the verb used to express the mode or manner of an action or of a state of being, e.g. simple statement (Indicative mood), command (Imperative), possibility (Subjunctive). When a verb has no subject expressed or implied, it is said to be in the Infinitive mood ; the other moods are finite.

  Tense indicates the time to which an action or event is referred ; in all languages the natural division is into the past, present, and future, with different varieties and shades of meanings of each.

  Person is a modification of the form of a verb by which it is shown whether the speaker speaks of himself (first person), or of the person or persons addressed (second person), or of some other person or thing (third person).

  To conjugate a verb is to give all its tenses and moods, and the full conjugation of a verb is the formation of all the inflexions and combinations used to indicate voice, mood, tense, number, and person. The four conjugations in Latin and French are the four modes of forming the tenses in those languages. In English there are two “conjugations,” strong and weak ; the former modifies the vowel-sound of the root to form the past tense (write, wrote) ; the latter adds ed or  t to the stem (love, lov-ed). Prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections are not inflected.

Analytic and Synthetic Languages

  A language which is rich in inflexions, like Latin or Greek, is called Synthetic (Greek, synthetikos=able to put together), because it puts many meanings and relations into one word. A language which has simplified its inflexions, like English or French, and uses separate words instead, is called Analytic (Greek, analytikos=able to split up or take to pieces : cf. the noun analysis)

  The tendency of languages is to pass from synthetic to analytic, and the languages which

are to-day analytic were originally more synthetic, if not entirely so. This tendency is notable in the passage from Latin to French, and in that from Old English to Modern English. Old English, for example, was an inflexional or synthetic language ; its nouns had four cases, and there were different declensions : adjectives we declined, and had three genders ; pronouns had more forms than they have to-day, and some had a duel number, as well as a singular and plural ; the verbs had more variety in the terminations. Gradually, in the three centuries following the Norman Conquest, most of these inflexions were dropped, and separate words (such as prepositions and auxiliary verbs) were used in their stead. For example, the old English word hām (=home) was declined thus :

      Case             Singular        Plural

Nominative     hām           hāmas

       Accusative       “                     “

       Genitive         hāmes        hāma

       Dative            hāme          hāmum

There is no short cut to the acquisition of a language, that is, to the thorough understanding of it. Of course, a language can be very easily picked up by a short residence among people who speak it. But merely to repeat certain sounds is not to know a language, even if the sounds are pronounced quite correctly. To know a language one must understand the why and the wherefore of all the inflexions of its words and their relationship one with another in any sentence of that language.


Begin with the Sentence

  Therefore the best way to study a language and to learn its grammar is to begin with sentences, not with single words. The unit of speech is the sentence, and the exact meaning of a word cannot be determined until it is seen in a sentence. It is thus a mistake to start learning the grammar of a language by committing to memory pages of rules and paradigms, or by confining oneself to acquiring a large vocabulary of its words.

   It is with the sentence that the pupil should begin his study. Once a sufficient number of sentences has been assimilated it will be easy to analyse them into their component parts, and to show the relations that these bear to one another. As Professor Sayce says :

“In this way the learner will be prevented from regarding grammar as a piece of dead mechanism or a Chinese puzzle, of which the parts must be fitted together in accordance with certain artificial rules, and will realize that it is a living organism which has a history and a reason of its own. The method of nature and science alike is analytic ; and if we would learn a foreign language properly we must learn it as we did our mother-tongue, by first mastering the expression of a complete thought, and then breaking up this expression into its several elements.”




Outline History of the Language.



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