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Grammatical Categories

Ranez.Ru > Помощь в учебе абитуриентам и студентам > Студенту > Английский язык > Теоретическая грамматика >

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3 fundamental notions of grammar: grammatical form, meaning and category.

Form and meaning: e.g. oats and wheat

The word 'Oats' is clearly plural and 'wheat' is singular. The oats areThe wheat is …. We cannot, however, say in all seriousness that oats are ‘more than one’ while wheat is ‘one’, though these are the traditional definitions of singular and plural. Some people might say that this is true of English, but this is only to say that oats is grammatically plural and wheat is grammatically singular. There is then no clear one-to-one relation between grammatical categories of singular and plural and counting in terms of ‘one’ and ‘more than one’.

Further examples:

  • foliage and leaves
  • hair and волосы

Teacher: Is ‘trousers’ singular or plural?
Johnny: Please, Sir, singular at the top and plural at the bottom.

The same is true with the category of gender. We can’t identify grammatical gender with biological sex. Certainly, we have words that refer to male or female creatures:

  • e.g. bull - cow, ram – ewe (баран - овца), boar – sow (кабан - свинья), etc.

There are also some words in English, which differ in form in terms of a sex relationship, especially in the ending:

  • e.g. author – authoress, tiger – tigress, duke – duchess

Some will still insist that English has gender; what about he/she/it, him/her/it, his/her/its? The answer is that these are used for sex reference, and precisely for this reason there is no need to talk about gender. Not only do we say

  • The man has left his food,
  • The woman has left her food,
  • But also The cat has left his food,

The cat has left her food, according to whether we are talking of a tom-cat or a she-cat.

We can say The girl lost her hat or The girl lost his hat. The choice depends on the meaning. With himself or herself, however, there are strict restrictions – The girl washed herself nothimself - and here alone we might seem to be within the province of grammar. Ships are, of course, referred to as she and so often are cars, at least by men. We should not build a grammatical theory around this rather special case. It is enough to say that the Englishman treats them as if they were female; we can then provide the joking explanation – that they are fickle, stubborn, etc.

So, grammatical meaning is a very abstract generalized meaning which is linguistically expressed (there is always some indicator):

  • e.g. pens –meaning of plurality; indicator – the morpheme
  • e.g. has been working – the grammatical form indicates continuity and perfection
  • e.g. the category of case. The grammatical meaning is here motivated. It shows relations of objects in extra-linguistic world:
  • Peter’s head (part of a whole)
  • Peter’s arrival (subjective Genitive relations)
  • Peter’s arrest (objective Genitive relations)

Any grammatical meaning must be expressed. When it is expressed openly, there is some marker, distincter. We have some grammatical form of a word: does, larger, me. It is expressed explicitly. But sometimes implicitly:

  • e.g. The book reads well.
  • Reads – is read, read – are read (the category of voice)

Here the subject is not active, it can’t be the doer of the action. While the form of the verb is active, the meaning is passive. The idea of passivity is expressed implicitly.

Grammatical category is a system of expressing a generalized grammatical meaning by means of paradigmatic correlation of grammatical forms.

The term ‘category’ derives from a Greek word which is otherwise translated as ’predication’ (in the logical, or philosophical, sense of ‘attributing properties’ to things). Traditional categories are: the category of gender, number, person, case, tense, mood, voice.

The set of grammatical forms constitutes a paradigm. The paradigmatic relations of grammatical forms in a category are exposed in the so-called grammatical opposition. In other words, grammatical category is some total of all the oppositions of words.

  • e.g. the category of number. The opposition of 2 forms: pen – pens (z), cats (s), boxes (iz), men, oxen

The correlated members of the opposition must possess 2 types of features: common features (the basis of the contrast) and differential features (immediately express the function in question): pen( -)- pens(+).

Oppositions can be classified into qualitative types:

  • - privative (study - studied),
  • - gradual (large – larger - largest),
  • - equipollent (am - is - are),

and by the number of opposemes into binary, ternary, quaternary, etc.

Oppositional reduction:

  • - neutralization (Next week we start for Moscow), i.e. the use of the weak member instead of the strong;
  • - transposition (She is always grumbling), i.e. the use of the strong member instead of the weak one.

Different modes of expressing grammatical meaning:

  1. inflexions (work-er-o – work-er-s). Homonymy of grammatical morphemes (-ing – Gerund and Participle I); 
  2. sound alternation ( man – men, have - has);
  3. analytical means (analytical forms). A discontinuous morpheme? Prof. Barkhudarov: analytical forms are always marked with the help of discontinuous morphemes (have+ -en; be + -ing; be + -en). Criteria to differentiate analytical forms:
    - The general grammatical meaning of an analytical form comprises all the components of the form. Each component taken separately doesn’t render any information about the general meaning of the form.
    - There are no syntactic relations between the components of an analytical form. Originally they developed from free syntactic combinations, mainly from some types of compound predicates.
    - Syntactic relations in the context are possible only for the whole form; the components can’t have syntactic relations separately: has never done.
  4. suppletivity (I – me, go – went, bad - worse).


Types of categories

  • - notional (of quantity, agent);
  • - semantic (of gender, modality);
  • - morphological (number and case of nouns; degrees of comparison of adjectives and adverbs; tense, voice, aspect, correlation, mood of verbs);
  • - syntactical (of predicativity, of agent).


Multi-layer scheme of man’s mentality and language


Lingual form(surface structure)


Semantic sphere



Notional sphere

Logic and Psychology

extralinguistic reality

I level – linguistic sphere proper;
II level – a mental basis of language, non-verbal forms of thinking;
III level – a physically percepted material substance;
IV level – a sphere of mental entities hidden from an immediate observation and admitting of an oblique approach.



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