A Sample Grammatical Sketch of English

by Thomas E. Payne

With thanks to David Weber and Geoff Pullum

The links at the bottom of this page will take you to various sections of a very brief, typologically-oriented grammatical sketch of English. It is not a serious reference work on English, so please do not attempt to use it in that way. Its intended audience is students and linguistic fieldworkers who are writing term papers on one of the many little-studied languages of the world in a one-semester to one-year course on descriptive morphosyntax. It purports to be a sample grammar of the approximate depth and scope expected to be achievable within one year of fieldwork. The sketch assumes that fieldworkers have had basic linguistic training and are non-native speakers of the described language -- though it has proven useful to linguists who are describing their native languages as well.

There are three features of this sketch that may need some explanation.

First, this sample sketch treats English as though it were a little-studied language. It is meant to give the reader an idea of the depth, scope and one mode of presentation that can be useful to linguists interested in grammatical sketches of little-studied languages. It is not meant to imply that every language should be compared to English, or that researchers should limit their own sketches to the particular features, outline or level of comprehensiveness represented in the sample. It is simply meant as a guide to be employed as the reader feels a need for guidance.

Second, the glosses and translations for examples are given in Spanish. This practice is simply to make the difference between the language data and the translations clear. In a real grammar sketch the text, glosses and translations would probably all be in one language, while the language data would be in another, namely the language being described. This sample sketch has the awkward feature of employing the described language in the description itself.

Finally, this is very much a "work in progress." Please have patience, and just use this sketch as a general reference. It is not in any sense of the word "definitive."

Most grammatical descriptions will be more detailed than this sample sketch. Also, any grammatical description will include topics not dealt with in this sample, and may exclude some of the topics represented here. With this proviso in mind, it is also true that if the information that appears in this sample were available with respect to every language on earth, the field of descriptive linguistics would have accomplished a substantial portion of its task.