I became curious why in English grammar lacks an article in this Wikipedia page:

The subjunctive mood in English grammar includes particular verb forms that are used in certain clauses, chiefly dependent clauses, to express necessity, desire, purpose, suggestion and similar ideas, or a counterfactual condition.

I've found out that grammar in its "language structure" sense is described as a mass noun in the Oxford Dictionary, and this may be the reason.

But does it follow from this that we shouldn't use sentences like "these 2 languages have different grammars", since in its countable form the word means, according to the OD, "a book on grammar"? Is it necessary to keep grammar in the noncount form to carry this sense, say "these 2 languages differ in grammar" (or "their grammar structure")?

  • 1
    Yeah, I think you're right--you shouldn't say "these two languages have different grammars" unless you're referring to a pair of actual grammars. I think different people use different technical definitions of "grammar", so usage might vary slightly, but in your example I would expect "have different grammar" instead. – snailplane Dec 28 '13 at 18:11
  • So "different grammars" would indeed be closer to "different textbooks", not "different language structures"? That's interesting. – CowperKettle Dec 29 '13 at 3:04

Some non-count nouns can be pluralized to mean "more than one instance (or example) of a certain sort of entity." This plural form is then treated syntactically as a count noun.

In your example, the sentence "these two languages have different grammars" is referring to two different instances of a certain sort of entity (i.e. grammar), and therefore uses the word "grammars" correctly.

You'll see similar constructions with sentences like "the two bodies have different masses" and "apples and oranges are different fruits."

  • 1
    I'll add that, for my second example, "apples and oranges are different types of fruit" sounds more natural to me. – godel9 Dec 28 '13 at 14:46

"Grammar"/"syntax" can be both a countable and uncountable noun. The uncountable is the abstract concept, and the countable is a grammar/syntax.

I'd like to add that there is a third meaning of the word "grammar" -- namely, a formal specification for a programming (or natural) language.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.