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Elementos esenciales de morfosintaxis de la lengua inglesa. Estructuras comunicativas elementales. Uso progresivo de las categorías gramaticales en las producciones orales y escritas para mejorar la comunicación.



Autora: Raquel Martín Tena



1.- Introduction

2.- Main elements of morphosyntax.

2.1 The morpheme.

2.2 The word.

2.3 The sentence.

3.- Main communicativestructures.

3.1 Sentences and their grammatical form.

3.2 Sentences and their functions in communication.

3.3 Sentences and pragmatics.

4.- Progressive use of grammar categories in the oral and written communicativeproduction.

4.1. Communicative competence.

4.2. The role of grammar in language teaching.

4.3. Grammar and methodology.

4.3.1 Deductive and inductive approaches.

4.3.2Declarative / Procedural knowledge.

4.4.Grammar activities.

5.- Conclusion.

6.- Bibliography.



1.- introduction.

It is difficult to capture the central role played by grammar in the structure of language. Two steps can usually be distinguished in the study of grammar. The first step is to identify units in the stream of speech (or writing)-units such as ‘word’ and ‘sentence’. The second step is to analyse the patterns into which these units fall, and the relationships of meaning that these patterns convey.

Chomsky 81928), writes that grammar is a ‘device of some sort for producing the sentences of the language under analysis’. Chomsky, subsumes all aspects of sentence patterning, including phonology and semantic, and introduces the term “syntax”.

In this unit, first we are going to see the basic units that constitute the language and their relation in the acquisition of communicative structures. Finally we will discuss how to teach and learn grammar and its importance in the acquisition of the communicative competence.



2.- main elements of morphosyntax.

The range of constructions that is studied by grammar is very large, and grammarians have often divided it into sub-fields. The oldest and most widely-used division is that between morphology and syntax.

  • Morphology: studies the structure of words (morphemes)
  • Syntax: is the way in which words are arranged to show relationships of meaning within or between sentences. The most basic units of syntax are the word and the sentence.


2.1 The morpheme.

Is the minimal unit of grammatical description in the sense that it cannot be segmented any further at the grammatical level of analysis. E.g. “unfriendly” is composed of three morphemes: ’un-friend-ly’.

We can distinguish two kind of morphemes:

    1. free morpheme’: the one that can be used independently (e.g.”- friend”).
    2. bound morpheme’: it has to go attached to a free morpheme (e.g.” un– and-ly’). Bound morphemes are called “affixes


2.2 The word.

Words are usually the easiest units to identify, in the written language that sit uneasily at the boundary between morphology and syntax. The concept of ‘word’ ranges from a single sound as English ‘a’ to a complex form, equivalent to whole sentences (‘playamunurringkutjamunurtu’ (‘he/she did not become bad’) in the Western Desert of Australia). In speech it is difficult to ‘hear’ the spaces between words.

We classify words into word classes that share a number of properties. We distinguish between:

Open classes: they allow the addition of new members. There are four major word classes: nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs.

    1. Nouns
    1. Adjectives
    1. Adverbs
    1. Verbs


2.3 The phrase

The parts into which a sentence can be segmented are the constituents of the sentence. Although constituents can be regarded as elements that play a role in larger structures we can also look upon them as linguistic units in their own right. If we look at these elements as independent linguistic objects that have their own characteristics (such as their own internal structure), we call them phrases. Phrases do not resemble sentences (John, took or a walk are not sentences), although it is their natural function to serve as constituents of sentences. Phrases may consist of single words (John, took) or of more words (young John)


2.4 The sentence.

The sentence is regarded as the largest unit of grammatical description since it does not function in the structure of a unit higher than itself. To treat the sentence as the highest unit implies that we do not take into account larger stretches of language such as paragraphs and texts.



3.- Main communicative structures.

We cannot communicate if we do not know how to form and understand sentences. We also need to know the meaning of a sentence in a particular context. We will study sentences and their grammatical form, sentences and their function in communication and sentences and pragmatics.


3.1 Sentences and their grammatical form.

This classification comprises four types: declaratives sentences, interrogative sentences, imperative sentences and exclamatory sentences.

  • Declarative sentences: always have a subject, which precedes the verb.
  • Interrogative sentences: contain a subject and open with an auxiliary verb or a WH-word.
  • Imperative sentences: contain a verb in the imperative mood. If a subject is present it is usually “you”, but as a rule the subject is lacking.
  • Exclamatory sentences: the subject precedes the verb. They are introduced byhow or what.


3.2 Sentences and their function in communication.

Declarative sentences are chiefly used to make statements, interrogative sentences to ask questions, imperative sentences to give commands and exclamatory sentences to make exclamations.


3.3 Sentences and pragmatics.

Language is for communication. In a dialogue we can distinguish various types of communicative acts, or illocutionary acts, by which people communicate with each other (making statements, asking questions, giving directives with the aim of getting the hearer to carry out some action, making an offer or promise, thanking or expressing exclamation).



4.- Progressive use of grammar categories in the oral and written communicative production.

It is difficult to give any complete definition of grammar as people have different views of where the parameters lie. Here are some definitions:

  • In ‘An English Grammar for the Use of Schools’ (1856) grammar is described as: ‘that science which teaches the proper use of letters, syllables, words, and sentences; or which treats the principles and rules of spoken and written language’.
  • Grammar is the structural foundation of our ability to express ourselves. The more we are aware of how it works, the more we can monitor the meaning and effectiveness of the way we and others use language. It can help foster precision, detect ambiguity, and exploit the richness of expression available in English. (David Crystal, «In Word and Deed,» TES Teacher, April 30, 2004)


4.1 Communicative competence.

Communicative competence is a linguistic term which refers to a learner’s L2 ability. It not only refers to a learner’s ability to apply and use grammatical rules, but also to form correct utterances, and know how to use these utterances appropriately. The term unlies the view of language learning implicit in the communicative approach to language teaching.

  • Chomsky (1965)
  • Michaele Canale and Merrill Swain (1980) and later Van Ek (1986)


4.2 The role of grammar in language teaching.

During the height of the whole language movement, when teaching grammar in isolation became taboo, many teachers were left frustrated and baffled by the lack of grammar instruction in the classroom. These teachers embraced the notion of prescriptive(also called traditional or school) grammar. Grammar was taught as a discrete set of rigid rules to be memorized, practiced, and followed.

English teachers of later generations, on the other hand, joined the profession embracing ideas of descriptive(also called transformational) grammar. These teachers believed that grammar instruction should be matched to the purpose of the user. Teachers found descriptive grammar theories to be more flexible, reflecting actual usage and self-expression over «correct» structures.


4.3. Grammar and methodology.

4.3.1 Deductive and inductive approaches.

4.3.2 Declarative / Procedural knowledge.


4.4 Grammar activities.

In any language classroom, there must be a balance between the focus on specific areas of grammar and the development of communicative competence.

Teachers can use the Larsen-Freeman pie chart as a guide for developing grammar activities. For curricula that follow a sequence of topics, instructors need to develop activities that relate the topical discourse (use) to meaning and form.




In this unit we have seen the basic elements of morpho-syntax and the main communicative structures. We have also got a general knowledge of the basic elements that constitute a sentence, and how these sentences combine to convey meaning.

We have seen that in order to reach the “communicative competence” apart from the language itself, we have to contemplate other elements  such as the attitude of the speaker and listener and the context. 

Taking Canale and Swain’s (1980) model of communicative competence, which views grammatical competence as one component of communicative competence, we can say that grammar instruction is part of language teaching. In this new role, grammar interacts with meaning, social function, or discourse-or a combination of these-rather than standing alone as an autonomous system to be learned for its own sake. 

When deciding on grammar tasks, it is necessary to think of activities that involve the learners, activities that promote communication and at the same time direct them to a greater awareness of how language is used.

Appropriate language use requires a  knowledge of both the form and the functions of a language. Children should therefore be provided with opportunities from an early stage to use grammatical structures for real communicative purposes. This will make language learning much more meaningful and motivating.

Fotos, S (2005) says: «[I]t is time to take the position that a combination of grammar instruction and the use of communicative activities provide an optimum situation for effective L2 learning» That simple statement addresses what is actually happening in our field: large numbers of practitioners and academics can currently be seen to be in accord that a focus on grammar plays a positive role in second language instruction and that grammar teaching and communicative teaching  are mutually supportive, not mutually exclusive. So we can do both!




  • Crystal, D. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, CUP. Cambridge, 1987.
  • Glencoe/McGraw-Hill,  1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, 10020.Copyright © 2000-2005 .
  • (Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English: A Comprehensive Guide. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006)
  • Fotos, S. (2005). Traditional and grammar translation methods for second language teaching. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 653-670). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 
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