Example Of Grammatical Sentence – When And How It Is Correct Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Sentence, Law, Linguistics, Grammar, Language, Speaker, Acceptability, Acceptance

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/12/05

While discussing the theoretical constructs of grammaticality, well formedness and its relation with everyday usage of the language, Fetzer (2004) says, “A grammatical sentence is different from a well-formed sentence and from an acceptable sentence.” In saying so, the author distinguishes everyday notion of grammar from that of grammaticality, asserting that while in everyday spoken language grammar serves the native speaker who might not be fully competent in grammar, in the domain of grammaticality a native speaker with full competence in grammar is a required supposition. This is because in linguistic theory, grammaticality can be defined as the extent to which a collection of valid words from the vocabulary of that language can be juxtaposed to conform to a set of rules. In contrast, acceptability of a sentence is judged not by a set of well-defined rules, but by the intuition of the native speaker. The author states in the text that a well-formed sentence has to be not only grammatically sounds but also be easy to put to test on a psycholinguistic criterion.
Thus sentences can be grammatically sound, following all the rules of grammaticality of that particular language, and still be unacceptable to native speakers. To demonstrate this, we can observe that ‘really old yaks grow bread in Venice’ is a grammatically sound sentence, but is judged immediately to be not an accepted one. Similarly, ‘really wise men grow rice in Dhaka’ is a sentence which is not just grammatically correct but also well-formed and acceptable.
Accordingly, the theoretical construct of grammaticality provides a foundation for both natural languages and for artificial languages alike. In this theoretical foundation, a sentence is not in its own regard grammatically valid or invalid, it is the rules of grammar as understood by a native speaker of that language which make judgment about the legality of each and every sentence. In this theoretical construct, no matter how rigorous the rules of grammar, it is impossible to make an exhaustive list of all the sentences which are or are not grammatically sound.
Such a theoretical framework of grammaticality is understood by linguistics to be a representative of generative grammar. In generative grammar, the sentences produced using the constructs of grammar are all valid and only by violating one or more of those rules is it that a reader can produce grammatically challenged sentence.
However sentences can be grammatically challenged and still be understood by native speakers to be acceptable. Such sentences fall under creative and derivative usage of languages, e.g. as a pun, a couplet or an exclamation. Examples of such well-formed and acceptable but grammatically incorrect sentences include, ‘But if this ever changing world in which we live in/Makes you give in and cry/Say live and let die’ (McCartney, 1973), and ‘What a beautiful house!’. While these sentences are easily understood to be well-formed and acceptable, these sentences fail on multiple rules of English grammar.
However, there are some modern linguistics who disagree with this litmus distinction between grammaticality and acceptability. Sprouse (2007) says that grammaticality is the categorical knowledge and acceptability is a gradient scale. According to Sprouse, acceptability can be of varying degree, ranging from good to acceptable to marginally acceptable to terrible.
Another important aspect to consider is that frequency of usage has a large effect on the acceptability, and as per Chomsky, acceptability does not necessarily follow from grammaticality. The examples given above shed some light on this, and a sentence made famous by Chomsky (1957) demonstrates this perfectly. “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” Although the syntactical structure of the sentence is sound and observes grammatical constraints, the native speakers immediately recognize this sentence to be absurd because sleeping is not associated with ideas and also because the native speakers cannot semantically connect the idea of sleep with that of furiously.
The criterion of examination of sentences can thus be divided in three categories, namely grammaticality, well-formedness and acceptability. For artificial languages the rules are criterions are well defined beforehand and are readily available to a speaker or an interpreter. This is because artificial languages do not carry with them the burden of semantics and that of extra-grammatical speech, e.g. song lyrics, oration and puns. Thus a speaker of an artificial language need only know the grammatical rules and criterion governing the language and the alphabet and they are equipped with enough tools to analyze any sentence in that language. However the rules of natural languages are not intrinsically obvious and readily available to its speakers. It is only by analyzing the existing sentences which are agreed upon to be grammatically valid by the native speakers that a speaker can infer those rules. And as for the acceptability of sente3nces in natural languages, the speaker must obtain semantic understanding of the language before they are able to identify even the most obviously absurd sentences.


Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic structures. The Hague ;Paris: Mouton.
Fetzer, A. (2004). Recontextualizing context. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
Lyons, J. (1968). Introduction to theoretical linguistics. London: Cambridge U.P.
McCartney, P. (2015). Live And Let Die by Paul McCartney & Wings Songfacts. Songfacts.com. Retrieved 3 March 2015, from http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=381

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