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Table of Contents

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noun  phrase


non-finite verb phrase

noun clause

cleft subject


finite verb phrase

aux verb       main verb 



prepositional phrase

noun phrase

noun clause

non-finite verb phrase

adverbial phrase


What's wrong with traditional grammar?

Most traditional grammar books analyze only the forms of the words, phrases, or clauses that students encounter, paying little attention to the functions that those words, phrases, or clauses serve in grammar. This is known as the "formal" study of grammar.  A formal study of grammar includes what is taught to students as "the eight parts of speech," specifically, the ability to "define" what constitutes nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, articles, and pronouns. In this process, students typically learn to recognize nouns as "names of persons, places, or things" and verbs as "action words." 

Confusion and difficulties arise when we encounter the more complex and amorphous realities of grammar. For example, verbs may become "nouns," and function as subjects or objects; clauses may function as subjects, objects, adverbs, or adjectives. Statements such as "John enjoys ice skating," or "Bicycling is a great sport," cannot be explained by identifying verbs as "action words," or nouns as "people, places, or things." Ice skating and bicycling are action words, yet they function as nouns in the above statements.  

Additionally, students are taught to define a sentence as "a complete thought" or "a group or words containing a subject and a predicate." Instead, we should recognize that the combination of subject  and predicate creates a clause but, not necessarily, a sentence.  In fact, a sentence may contain any number of subjects and predicates!  

This website provides additional requisite information that is not provided in traditional formal grammars. 

The functions of the various forms of grammar are as important for students to understand as the forms. The functional approach focuses on the appropriateness of the form for a communicative process and does not dwell on the distinction between "grammatical" and "ungrammatical" forms. 

Functional grammar allows linguists to analyze, compare, and parse the grammars of all human languages. The functional approach is most likely the way our brain understands and uses language.    

The functional approach is rarely covered in traditional grammar, but, in understanding language, it is of critical importance. From the premise that all languages need to express the same social communications, the functional approach allows the universality of language grammars to be understood by all students and linguists.