The basic meaning is "the structures, or rules, of a language by which words are brought together to make sense and to communicate." AWE has a Grammar course which readers who think that they 'don't know any grammar' can learn some elementary facts, and gain an introduction to the subject.
From this basic meaning, several different shades of meaning have evolved.
- In linguistics, grammar is the scientific description of a language. This is descriptive grammar. (There is even speculation that there may be a universal grammar underlying all human languages.)
- This is most often applied to the rules of construction of utterances - principally sentences - in a language. These are very deep in the brains of native speakers of the language. They are only written down - at the cost of great labour - by serious scholars of the language, who are called grammarians.
- Figuratively, there are grammars of subjects other than languages: a grammar of painting, for example, might be a handbook about how to understand visual art.
- "The old-fashioned definition of grammar as "the art of speaking and writing a language correctly" (OED) is still in everyday usage. It has given rise to the meaning: a standard by which we may judge an individual's quality of speech ("she speaks good grammar"; "his grammar is terrible".)
- Prescriptive grammar is teaching which is aimed to make the student speak "good grammar" in the sense above. It is frowned on in linguistics, as there is no scientific way of establishing what is 'good'. Many teachers will write the abbreviation Gr! in the margin to show a grammatical (in this sense) error.
- A grammar is sometimes a book to teach about language, either descriptively or prescriptively.
- A grammar may be used as a shortening of 'grammar school': "She went to the grammar when I went to the secondary modern".
AWE has a Grammar course to teach the elements to our users. Many grammatical terms are defined. All can be accessed separately.
You may also want to know about grammar schools.