Grammar is the study of how words combine to form sentences. The following is a well-formed, ‘grammatical’ sentence:
John has been ill.
Speakers of English can produce and understand a sentence like this without ever thinking about its grammar. Conversely, no speaker of English would ever produce a sentence like this:
*1 ill John been has.
This is an ill-formed, ‘ungrammatical’ sentence. But can you say why?
The study of grammar provides us with the terminology we need to talk about language in an informed way. It enables us to analyse and to describe our own use of language, as well as that of other people. In writing, a knowledge of grammar enables us to evaluate the choices that are available to us during composition.
Many people think of English grammar in terms of traditional rules, such as Never split an infinitive; Never end a sentence with a preposition. Specifically, these are prescriptive rules. They tell us nothing about how English is really used in everyday life. In fact, native speakers of English regularly split infinitives (toactuallyconsider) and sentences often end with a preposition (Dr Brown is the man I’ll votefor.).
1 An asterisk is used throughout this book to indicate ungrammatical or incorrect examples, which are used to illustrate a point.