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Structure in grammar – definition
The term ‘structure’ refers to the basic construction or the arrangement of parts in a communication — spoken or written.
In the study of language, the term is being used metaphoricaly.
The events of a novel or a play may be arranged in a linear, chronological order to reflect the passing of time. They might on the other hand be arranged so that the end reflects the beginning, presenting a cyclic structure.
The structure of the English language is its grammar system with discernable patterns such as that of word-order and rules for forming tenses.
The structure of a conversation might be fairly random or planned, depending on the level of formality and the purpose of the discourse.
An interview might follow the chronology of a candidate’s curriculum vitae, or it might be structured by a series of questions.
The structure of a business document might be determined by the route taken by information as it passes through an organisation. On the other hand, it might reflect the stages of a manufacturing process.
The structure of a poem can often be seen in its rhyme scheme and the arrangement of its verses.
People structure the content of their speech spontaneously, without any need for deliberate planning.
The same is not true for writing, where conscious effort is required.
An awareness of the concept of structure in language use is essential to the speaker or the writer, the listener or the reader.
Structure can be based on such elements as chronology, alphabetical order, recurring themes, logical sequence of content, and visual layout.
NB! Readers and speakers are affected by structure, even though they may not be conscious of it.
The structure of a text or of a spoken item is its foundation. Structure when applied to the English language as a system is its grammar.
It might be useful to distinguish structure from form in terms of linguistic analysis. The term ‘form’ refers to the finished article as a recognisable artifact such as a novel, report, letter, recipe, sermon, statement, or greeting.
A letter, for example, has a structure based on the patterning of both its content and its layout. The content is structured according to the convention of giving information in the following order:
- sender’s address
- date of writing
- vocative opening (‘Dear Sir’)
- content in order of importance
- conventional salutation (‘Best wishes’)
- signature of writer
The structure of the content is complemented by the layout in a conventional letter. The content is organised on the page in a well known pattern.
Even if a person were twelve feet away from the text it would be recognisable as a letter form — because of the structure of the layout.
In any text, the content must be organised according to some logical premise. Information which is not consciously structured is disjointed, haphazard, and therefore usually incomprehensible. Efficient communication in speech and writing depends to a great extent on the existence of structure.
© Roy Johnson 2004
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