History of English Grammar: Origin, Development, and Books

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History of English Grammar

According to the historians, the English grammar was first introduced in the 16th century. There have been several developments that were made in English Grammar since its inception. The word grammar is a Greek word which means the craft of letters. The history of both English and Britain is involved in the development of English grammar. Grammar is an important part of English learning as it has all the basic and advanced rules of it. In the modern era, we have started to learn English grammar in classrooms and lectures. Here, we will discuss the history of English grammar and its development over the years.

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History of English Grammar

The History of English Grammar starts in the late 16th century from a book ‘Pamphlet for Grammar’ by William Bullokar in 1586. In the book, William wrote about the development of English grammar that happened in Latin America in the book. In 16th century England Bullokar also adopted the old “Reformed Spelling System” in some of his writings.  The book included traditional grammar which was adopted from the “Latin Grammar” approach the book named “Rudimenta Grammatices” by William Lily was published in 1534. Rules and structure of the grammar were taken from Latin during the time. Some of the evidence of English grammar is mentioned below:

  • In 1542, King Henry VIII authorized Lily’s grammar usage in the teaching of the English language.
  • The first English grammar that was written in Latin was “Grammatica Linguae Angelicance” by Christopher Cooper in 1685.

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History of English Grammar Books- A Timeline

The 16th century saw the birth of English grammar books, with early works mimicking Latin grammar structures. Over time, these guides shed Latin influence and incorporated elements like sound systems. The 19th century marked a turning point, with grammar books embracing a more modern approach.

Important English Grammar Books- 16th to 18th Century

Here is a list of English grammar books published between 16th to 18th century

S.No.Books AuthorsYears
1Bref Grammar for EnglishWilliam Boulkar1586
2Grammatica AnglicanaPaul Greaves1594
3Orthographie and Congruitie of Britan TongueAlexander Hume1617
4Longonomia AnglicaAlexander Gill1619/1621
5English GrammarCharles Butler1634
6The English GrammarBen Jonson1640
7The English AccidenceJoshua Poole1646
8Grammatica Linguæ AccidenceJohn Wallis1653
9The English GrammarJeremiah Wharton1654
10A New English GrammarJames Howell1662
11School Pastime for Young Children: or the Rudiments of GrammarJohn Newton1669
12Accedence Commenc’t Grammar  John Milton1669
13The Child’s Delight Thomas Lye1671
14Grammatica Linguæ AnglicanæChristopher Cooper1685
15A Key to the Art of LettersA Lane1700
16A Short Introduction to English GrammarRobert Lowth1762
17An Essay on English GrammarWilliam Ward1765
18A Dictionary of the English LanguageSamuel Johnson1766
19The Rudiments of English GrammaJoseph Priestly1772
20English Grammar: Adapted to the Different Classes of LearnersLindley Murray1795

Important English Grammar Books- 19th to 20th Century

Here is a list of important English Grammar books published between the 19th to 20th centuries:

S.No.Books AuthorsYears
1A Grammatical Institute of the English Language.Noah Webster1804
2A Grammar of the English Language, In a Series of LettersWilliam Cobbett1818
3English GrammarWilliam Chauncey Fowler1850
4A New English Grammar, Logical and Historical  Henry Sweet1892-98
5A Grammar of Modern EnglishH Poutsma1904-1929
6A Handbook of Present-day EnglishEtsko Kruisinga1909-1932
7A Modern English Grammar on Historical PrinciplesOtto Jespersen1909-1940
8A Handbook of English GrammarRW Zandvoort1945
9The Structure of EnglishCharles C Fries1952
10An Introduction to Functional GrammarMAK Halliday1984
11Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written EnglishEdward Finegan, Geoffery Leech, Douglas Biber, Susan Conard, and Stig Johansson1999

Development of English Grammar

English is a linguistic melting pot. Its roots lie in Germanic dialects brought to Britain by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the 5th century AD. Viking raids added Old Norse influences, while the Norman Conquest drenched English in French, forever changing its vocabulary. The Renaissance fueled a fascination with classical languages, bringing forth a wave of Latin and Greek loanwords. To top it all off, the Great Vowel Shift around 1500 transformed pronunciation. By the 17th century, this rich mix of influences had solidified into the foundation of the English language we speak today.

17th Century

During the 17th century, the developments in English grammar were primarily based on tradition. The usage of English grammar played a crucial role in the development of Western societies. Various techniques for improving the grammatical skills of the people in European countries were also introduced during that time. It was in the early 17th century when the use of grammar writing was started. The two books related to English grammar’s role in Latin countries released are:

  1. “Essay Towards a Practical Grammar Usage” written by James Greenwood
  2. A Grammar of the English Tongue” written by John Brightland.

18th Century

In the 18th century, several books and articles were published for the development of the English Language. It started with a book named “The People’s Grammar: English Grammar Difficulties for the Million by Edward Shelley in 1848. The book attracted lots of readers, especially the young ones as it was the right choice for people who are searching to develop new grammatical skills. Another addition to the list of books was “A Grammar of the English Language: In the Series of Letters” that also published in the year 1848. It was a kind of book that was written to develop grammatical skills in speaking and writing for various people including students, soldiers, young people, and sailors.

19th Century

The developments that happened in grammar during the 19th century were a great addition to English Language. Lindley Murray was a popular writer who mentioned the role of “Grammatical Authorities” in his writing for developing the usage of the English language in several Western and European countries. In his study, Murray talked about the Latin use in elucidating the English grammar that was differentiated from the Ancient Greek way of English Language. 

The developments in English Grammar have a strong connection with the history of the English language. The influence of British history and changes can be seen in the English Language. From that time, the language came as a British language and became a global language.

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Evolution of English Language- Medieval Times to Present Day

The English language we know today is a mix of influences. Here’s a simplified look at its evolution to date:

Old English Period

A close relationship exists between the history of English grammar and the English language. Let’s take a look at the origin of the English language. The Old English period(or Anglo-Saxon period) existed between 449 to 1066 AD when the English language first emerged. The language that was spoken in England was influenced by Celtic but it has more Latin influence. 

Middle English

The fundamental change in the English language occurred during the Middle English era that existed between 1066 to 1500 AD. It started the new linguistic and social period in Britain and French influence also occurred in English during the time. It was between the 13th and 14th centuries when English emerged as a strong language as romances, documents, prayers, and other types of literary works came into existence.

Early Modern English 

The early Modern English period existed between 1500 to 1800 AD which was mostly affected by the printing revolution. Latin and Greek prefixes and affixes were used by writers to create new words in the English Language during the period. The scholars started dealing with different language areas such as style, writing system, grammar, and vocabulary which was a great addition in the history of English Grammar. In 1623, Henry Cockrum also published the first English dictionary. Additionally, the influence of William Shakespeare can be seen in the English language.

Source: @InterestingSTEM

Also Check out History of English Literature 

Source: The Generalist Paper


Q1. Who published the first English dictionary?

Ans: The first English dictionary was published by Henry Cockrum in 1623.

Q2. Who wrote the book Short Introduction to English Grammar in 1762?

Ans: Bishop Robert Lowth wrote the book Short Introduction to English Grammar in 1762.

Q3. What is the duration of the Early Modern English period?

Ans: The Early modern English period lasted between 1500 to 1800 AD.

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