What Is Lexicogrammar?

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Lexicogrammar, also called lexical grammar, is a term used in systemic functional linguistics (SFL) to emphasize the interdependence of vocabulary (lexis) and syntax (grammar). The term, introduced by renowned linguist M.A.K. Halliday, is an amalgamation of the words "lexicon" and "grammar." Adjective: lexicogrammatical.

"The advent of corpus linguistics," notes Michael Pearce, "has made the identification of lexicogrammatical patterns much easier than it once was," (Pearce 2007).

What Is Lexicogrammar?

Think of lexicogrammar not as simply a combination of two fields of study but as a spectrum that contains aspects of lexical studies and aspects of grammatical studies. "[A]ccording to systemic functional theory, lexicogrammar is diversified into a metafunctional spectrum, extended in delicacy from grammar to lexis, and ordered into a series of ranked units," (Halliday 2013).

What M.A.K. Halliday and John Sinclair, author of the following excerpt, want others to understand is that in lexicogrammar, grammar and lexical patterns do not carry the same weight. "[L]exico-grammar is now very fashionable, but it does not integrate the two types of patterns as its name might suggest—it is fundamentally grammar with a certain amount of attention to lexical patterns within the grammatical frameworks; it is not in any sense an attempt to build together a grammar and lexis on an equal basis ... Lexico-grammar is still firmly a kind of grammar, laced, or perhaps spiked with some lexis," (Sinclair 2004).

Lexicogrammar Is Still Just Grammar

M.A.K. goes on to further explain why, if lexicogrammar can really just be considered a branch of grammar and vocabulary isn't as significant as syntax, he gave it a new name. "The heart of language is the abstract level of coding that is the lexicogrammar. (I see no reason why we should not retain the term 'grammar' in this, its traditional sense; the purpose of introducing the more cumbersome term lexicogrammar is simply to make explicit the point that vocabulary is also a part of it, along with syntax and morphology)," (Halliday 2006).

How Words and Grammar Are Interdependent

The flexibility of verbs, Michael Pearce suggests, proves that grammar and vocabulary are mutually dependent. "Vocabulary and grammatical structures are interdependent; so much so that it is possible to say with some justification that words have their own grammar. This interdependency of lexis and grammar is evident everywhere in language. For example, lexical verbs have valency patterns: some verbs can be used with a direct object (I made some oven gloves), or with both a direct object and an indirect object (The government awarded them a pay rise), others need no object at all (The Colonel was laughing)," (Pearce 2007).

Lexicogrammar and Semantics

Lexicogrammar captures the big picture of language better than the study of grammar or lexicon alone. And in doing this, it also provides a stronger understanding of meaning-making in communication, otherwise known as semantics. "Just as lexis and grammar are considered to form a single stratum, Halliday considers that the lexicogrammar is not a separate system or 'module' apart from semantics, but is rather an underlying component of the meaning-making system of a language.

The stratum of semantics is thus not thought of as an abstract or logical structure, but rather as the medium through which humans use language to interact in their social and cultural context. A consequence of this is that the language, and in particular the lexicogrammar, is structured by the expressive and communicative functions it has evolved to convey," (Gledhill 2011).

Lexicogrammar and Corpus Linguistics

Researching the role of lexicogrammar in the formation of language is only so useful when you neglect to consider how language is actually used rather than just how it's used in theories and models. This is where corpus linguistics, the study of real-world language, comes in, and what author of The Lexicogrammar of Adjectives: A Systemic Functional Approach to Lexis Gordon Tucker advocates for.

"Generalizations on the structure of language tell us little about how people actually use the language, and consequently how a language really is. The patterns of structural and lexical behavior are not revealed by the linguist's introspection or from a few examples chosen to fit the pattern. This is the conclusion that increasingly is being drawn from a growing body of linguistic research on large computer corpora or databases. It is only when we come to investigate a language from samples of millions of words of running text that we can really begin to understand how words and structures behave and interact...

A theory of language or a model of a particular language ... has to account for use as attested by corpus linguistic research. If such a theory purports to give rise to language description, it must have the potential to incorporate the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of lexicogrammatical behaviour and the cryptotypical phenomena which are uncovered by the observation of language use on a significantly larger scale," (Tucker 1999).


  • Gledhill, Christopher. "A Lexicogrammar Approach to Checking Quality: Looking at One or Two Cases of Comparative Translation." Perspectives on Translation Quality. Walter de Gruyter, 2011.
  • Halliday, M.A.K. Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar. 4th ed., Routledge, 2013.
  • Halliday, M.A.K. "Systemic Background." On Language and Linguistics. New ed., Continuum, 2006.
  • Pearce, Michael. The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007.
  • Sinclair, John. Trust the Text: Language, Corpus and Discourse. Routledge, 2004.
  • Tucker, Gordon H. The Lexicogrammar of Adjectives: A Systemic Functional Approach to Lexis. 1st ed., Continuum, 1999.
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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Lexicogrammar?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-lexicogrammar-1691120. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). What Is Lexicogrammar? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-lexicogrammar-1691120 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Lexicogrammar?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-lexicogrammar-1691120 (accessed June 4, 2023).