Modern and traditional descriptive approaches

Rodney Huddleston, Geoffrey K. Pullum

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Theoretical linguists of the twentieth century made many discoveries about English grammar motivating abandonment of central assumptions of traditional grammars—assumptions often unquestioned for 300 years. This chapter surveys some of the central ways in which The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) (Huddleston and Pullum 2002) rejects the tradition. CGEL carefully distinguishes categories from functions; thus, for example, the category ‘adjective’ is not defined by reference to the function of noun modification. Pronouns are treated as syntactically special nouns, and auxiliaries as a special subclass of verbs. The category of prepositions is redefined to include many items traditionally misanalysed as adverbs or ‘subordinating conjunctions’. Subordinate clauses are classified by their internal structure. Both syntactic and pragmatic constraints on discourse-sensitive constructions are acknowledged. The chapter also briefly relates the implicit formal machinery of the CGEL description to that of certain other contemporary theoretical frameworks.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of English Grammar
EditorsBas Aarts, Jill Bowie, Gergana Popova
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780198755104
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • traditional grammar
  • syntactic theory
  • categories
  • functions
  • adjectives
  • pronouns
  • auxiliaries
  • discourse
  • pragmatics


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