[ad. OF. gramaire (F. grammaire), an irregular semipopular adoption (for the form of which cf. OF. mire repr. L. medicum, artimaire repr. L. artem magicam or mathematicam) of L. grammatica, ad. Gr. (scil. art), fem. of adj., of or pertaining to letters or literature, f. letters, literature, pl. of letter, written mark, f. root of to write. Cf. Pr. gramaira (prob. from Fr.). Old Fr. had also a learned adoption of the L. word, gramatique, parallel with Sp. gramática, Pg., It. grammatica, G. grammatik, Welsh gramadeg.
In classical Gr. and L. the word denoted the methodical study of literature (= ‘philology’ in the widest modern sense, including textual and æsthetic criticism, investigation of literary history and antiquities, explanation of allusions, etc., besides the study of the Greek and Latin languages. Post-classically, grammatica came to be restricted to the linguistic portion of this discipline, and eventually to ‘grammar’ in the mod. sense. In the Middle Ages, grammatica and its Rom. forms chiefly meant the knowledge or study of Latin, and were hence often used as synonymous with learning in general, the knowledge peculiar to the learned class. As this was popularly supposed to include magic and astrology, the OF. gramaire was sometimes used as a name for these occult sciences. In these applications it still survives in certain corrupt forms, F. grimoire, Eng. GLAMOUR, GRAMARYE.]
1. a. That department of the study of a language which deals with its inflexional forms or other means of indicating the relations of words in the sentence, and with the rules for employing these in accordance with established usage; usually including also the department which deals with the phonetic system of the language and the principles of its representation in writing. Often preceded by an adj. designating the language referred to, as in Latin, English, French grammar.
In early Eng. use grammar meant only Latin grammar, as Latin was the only language that was taught grammatically. In the 16th c. there are some traces of a perception that the word might have an extended application to other languages (cf. quot. 1530 under GRAMMATICAL 1); but it was not before the 17th c. that it became so completely a generic term that there was any need to speak explicitly of ‘Latin grammar’. Ben Jonson's book, written c1600, was app. the first to treat of ‘English grammar’ under that name.
As above defined, grammar is a body of statements of facta ‘science’; but a large portion of it may be viewed as consisting of rules for practice, and so as forming an ‘art’. The old-fashioned definition of grammar as ‘the art of speaking and writing a language correctly’ is from the modern point of view in one respect too narrow, because it applies only to a portion of this branch of study; in another respect, it is too wide, and was so even from the older point of view, because many questions of ‘correctness’ in language were recognized as outside the province of grammar: e.g. the use of a word in a wrong sense, or a bad pronunciation or spelling, would not have been called a grammatical mistake. At the same time, it was and is customary, on grounds of convenience, for books professedly treating of grammar to include more or less information on points not strictly belonging to the subject.
Until a not very distant date, Grammar was divided by Eng. writers (following the precedent of Latin grammarians) into Orthography, Etymology, Syntax, and Prosody, to which Orthoëpy was added by some authors. All these terms (except Syntax) were used more or less inaccurately (see the several words). The division now usual is that into Phonology, treating of the sounds used in the language, Accidence, of the inflexional forms or equivalent combinations, and Syntax, of the structure of sentences; the branch of grammar dealing with the functions of the alphabetic letters is usually treated along with the phonology.