Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The association between agrammatism and Broca's area (highlighted in purple in this image of the brain) has been well established. (Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images)


Broadly defined, agrammatism is the pathological inability to use words in grammatical sequence. Agrammatism is associated with Broca's aphasia, and there are numerous theories regarding its cause. Adjective: agrammatic.

According to Anna Basso and Robert Cubelli, "The most evident characteristic of agrammatism is the omission of function words and affixes, at least in those languages that allow it; simplification of the grammatical structures and disproportionate difficulty in retrieval of verbs are also common" (Handbook of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 1999).

At this time, says Mary-Louise Kean, there are "no closed issues or resolved problems in the linguistic and psycholinguistic analysis of agrammatism . . .. The field of study, instead, is fraught with controversy" (Agrammatism, 2013).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Agrammatism is a disorder that leads to difficulties with sentences. These difficulties can relate both to the correct comprehension and the correct production of sentences. That these difficulties occur at the sentence level is evident from the fact that word comprehension and production can be relatively spared."
    (The MIT Encyclopedia of Communication Disorders, ed. by Raymond D. Kent. The MIT Press, 2004)
  • "[Agrammatism is a] symptom of aphasia in which the patient has trouble producing well-formed words and grammatical sentences, and trouble understanding sentences whose meanings depend on their syntax, such as The dog was tickled by the cat."
    (Steven Pinker, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. HarperCollins, 1999)
  • The Most Salient Feature of Agrammatism
    "The most salient feature of agrammatism is the relative omission of grammatical morphemes in spontaneous production. Descriptions of the disorder have emphasized these omissions, pointing out that in its most severe form speech can consist of single words (primarily nouns) separated by pauses (e.g., Goodglass, 1976). If it were the case that all agrammatic speech consisted only of nouns bounded by pauses, it would not be difficult to provide a definition of the elements that are omitted. However, most agrammatic patients produce speech that consists of short sequences of words, characterized by the omission of some grammatical markers, giving the impression of syntactically impoverished utterances. The critical question is how the omission of these elements should best be characterized."
    (Alfonso Caramazza and Rita Sloan Berndt, "A Multicomponent Deficit View of Agrammatic Broca's Aphasia." Agrammatism, ed. by Mary-Louise Kean. Academic Press, 2013)
  • Telegraphic Speech
    "The English language has a relatively constrained canonical sentence order: subject, then verb, then object (SVO). Varying that order carries grammatical meaning (e.g., passive). Grammatically speaking, Standard American English (SAE) contains a sizable number of free-standing functor words (i.e., 'grammatical words') and limited inflections. Inflections generally mark tense and plurality in SAE, and, except for irregular forms, are added to the root word without altering the original word structure. Thus, in a sentence like, 'She is speaking,' 'is' is a free functor, whereas '-ing' is an inflection that marks present continuity.
    "Agrammatism in English manifests itself primarily as the omission of, or substitution for, functors. Agrammatic speakers of English preserve word order, but omit free functors, like 'is,' and inflections, like '-ing,' while retaining a telegraphic skeleton ('She speak'). The agrammatic speaker is thus able to produce a degree of connected speech but is missing some required grammatical information."
    (O'Connor, B., Anema, I., Datta, H., Singnorelli, and T., Obler, L. K., "Agrammatism: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective," The ASHA Leader, 2005)

Pronunciation: ah-GRAM-ah-tiz-em

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Nordquist, Richard. "agrammatism." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, July 31). agrammatism. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "agrammatism." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).