I've never understood the difference between these two terms. I understand the difference between semantics and syntax, or between semantics and grammar, but I'm not sure what's the difference between the meaning of the words syntax and grammar.

Crosspost @Linguistics.SE: What's the difference between grammar and syntax?

  • This might be more of a future linguistics.SE question, rather than an english.SE question. But I will see how others weigh in.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 12, 2011 at 14:45
  • @Kosmonaut: Good question. I took it to be asking about the distinction in English, but I guess it might more properly belong to the domain of linguistics.
    – Robusto
    Jun 12, 2011 at 14:52
  • @Robusto: This is how I see the distinction: are the relevant meanings of these words something that most English speakers would be familiar with, or does one generally need to be a specialist or study a particular field? If it is field-specific then it is likely to be off-topic. However, I can think of another possible secondary distinction: are the meanings of these words peculiar in English in some way? If so, then that might make it on-topic. That said, I don't think these linguistic terms are peculiar in English in any way.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 12, 2011 at 15:25
  • 1
    The question seems still on-topic on EL&U; it asks the meaning of two English terms. If the question was about the meaning of "object oriented," and the expected answer should describe in details what object oriented means in programming, then I would understand.
    – apaderno
    Jun 12, 2011 at 15:35
  • He's not simply asking about the meaning. He's asking what they are, also referring to other related fields. The answers show that too, with Linguistic content. Furthermore, even if it was a simple question "asking the meaning of two English terms", it still should be closed as General Reference, because there's plenty of info on the Internet for that, that's my opinion.
    – Alenanno
    Jun 12, 2011 at 15:59

2 Answers 2


As defined from the NOAD, grammar is, "the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology (including inflections) and sometimes also phonology and semantics."

It includes the syntax, but it's not limited to that.

The syntax of a language is, "the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language."
For example, the syntax is about which order subject, verb, and object have in a sentence to form a well-formed sentence. A sentence like "like it I" is not considered a well-formed sentence, basing on the English syntax, even if people would understand that the correct sentence is "I like it."


As I hear them used, grammar

  • is usually a subfield of English or any other specific language
  • can be both descriptive and prescriptive
  • seeks to define parameters for use of a specific language

whereas syntax

  • is a subfield of linguistics
  • is descriptive only
  • seeks to describe language use in terms of language-neutral universal parameters

Both grammar and syntax are usually focused at the level of words-in-sentences (a level above pronunciation, a level below prose-style) but can spill over into these and other subfields.

  • 2
    I think you are trying to subsume different things into your definition of "grammar". Both "grammar" and "syntax" are used in a abstract way, and also to refer to the structure of a single language, and in either case "syntax" is a subset of "grammar". In addition "grammar" is used in a different way, to mean the prescriptive grammar of a language".
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 12, 2011 at 20:51

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