Reading Time: 4 minutes

A phrase structure grammar consists solely of phrase structure rules, whereas transformational grammar does not consist only of transformational rules. It includes a set of phrase structure rules as well.

The phrase structure rules rewrite one symbol as another or several others (or one set of symbols by another set) until the sentences of the languages are generated. This system deals with symbols. It starts with the symbol S (which stands for sentence), and then a sequence of rules rewrite this symbol until a sentence is produced. On both right and left sides, a symbol or a set of symbols are given, and there is an arrow in the middle which is interpreted to mean rewrite;

A -> BC means rewrite A as BC.

Look at the following example:
The girls sang a song.
A simple set of rules for this sentence can be as follows:

        1. S -> NP + VP
        2. VP -> V + NP
        3. NP -> Det + N
        4. V -> sang
        5. Det -> The, a
        6. N -> girls, song

If we apply the rules in sequence, we generate the following successively.

S     ->NP + VP
NP + (V + NP)
Det + N + (V + Det + N)
Det + N + (sang + Det + N)
the + N + (sang + a + N)
the + girls + sang + a + song
= The girls sang a song.

Such a set of rules is a derivation of a sentence. The word string is used for the sequence of symbols, and the final string, beyond which the rules do not take us, is the terminal string. The elements for the terminal string are called formatives which are roughly equivalent to the structuralists’ morphemes. We may write the rules of the sentence, The girls sang a song in terms of a phrase structure tree.

In the method of rewrite rules, we can indicate optional elements by using brackets. For example, An old man tore his shirt may be written as

S     ->NP + VP
NP + (V + NP)
Det + N + (V + Det + N)
Det + N + (sang + Det + N)
the + N + (sang + a + N)
the + girls + sang + a + song
The girls sang a song.
S      ->NP + VP
NP    ->Det + Adj + N
Det (Art) + Adj + N
An + old + man
VP   ->V (Past) + NP
tore + Det (Adj) + N
tore + his + shirt
An + old + man + tore + his + shirt

The sentence, I drove my car into the garage can be rewritten as

S    ->NP + VP
NP   ->N
VP   ->V + NP + Prep. phrase
V (past) + NP + Prep. phrase
drove + Det (poss. pronoun) + N + Prep. + Det + N
drove + my + car + into + the + garage
I + drove + my + car + into + the + garage
S     ->NP + VP
N + VP
N + V + NP + Prep. phrase
N + V + Det + N + Prep. + Det + N
N + (past) V + Det + N + Prep. + Det + N
I + (past) drive + my + car + into + the + garage
I + drove + my + car + into + the + garage

Representation of the phrase structure of a sentence in this way is known as its phrase marker or, P-marker. Phrase structure rules in transformational -generative grammar form the basic part of the grammar. These rules are technically described as the base component.

Previous articleReading
Next articleWh- Question Words
Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.