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What is a reference grammar?



A reference grammar is a prose-like description of the major grammatical constructions in a language, illustrated with examples.


Here is a table that contrasts reference grammars with pedagogical grammars:


A reference grammar is …

A pedagogical grammar is …

Designed to teach someone about the language and to give readers a reference tool for looking up specific details of the language.

Designed to teach someone how to use a language.

Organized according to universal structural categories.

Organized according to usefulness and ease of learning.

Contains chapters which tend to be longer than those in a pedagogical grammar.

Contains chapters which tend to be short and contain very brief grammatical explanations.

Contains chapters which consist mostly of explanation plus one or two examples of every point mentioned.

Contains chapters which consist mostly of exercises that help the reader practice and internalize the various structures as well as vocabulary and pronunciation.

Written for individuals who have some understanding of language as a universal phenomenon and who wish to learn how the particular language described fits into universal understandings of human language.

Written for anyone who is interested in learning a language.


Here are the parts of a reference grammar:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Index
  • Bibliography
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Here is a table that describes the two kinds of reference grammars based on their organization and intended users:

    Intended Users



    Mother-tongue speakers of the language who want to understand more about their language

    Organized in terms of the forms that the readers already know how to use, but are not aware of their significance to the grammar as a whole

    In a reference grammar of English for English speakers there may be sections on the and a.

    Linguists who want information on the language for comparative purposes

    Organized in terms of a universal outline designed to help the reader make meaningful comparisons between the language described and other languages

    In a reference grammar of English, the and a may be treated in a section on 'identifiability'. (Reference grammars of other languages may treat the order of nouns in a sentence or some bound morphological markers under this same heading.)

Context for this page:

Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

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