The different types of grammar courses are related to various forms of grammar theory. Traditional grammar, prescriptive grammar, descriptive grammar and contemporary linguistics are considered to be the four main areas that grammar courses cover. Other grammar categories include pedagogical, theoretical and reference grammar.
Grammar courses related to traditional grammar typically cover sentence structure, the rules concerning certain structural elements, and how to improve mechanical writing. These are types of courses that most middle school English classes cover. They deal with subject matter such as where to put commas in sentences, pronouns, adjectives and adverbs. Traditional grammar courses are considered to be basic and provide knowledge about how to construct written communication properly.
Prescriptive grammar theory was developed in the early 20th century and deals with how to use language in a proper or socially acceptable manner. Courses build upon the concepts learned in traditional grammar theory, but cover more advanced mechanical forms of writing. Some of the courses tend to give students additional practice with mechanical and structure concepts in order to reinforce the ideas behind them.
Descriptive grammar examines how grammar is structured and does not take into account what is judged to be socially acceptable or not. It looks for patterns and how language is used to fulfill certain functions. For example, exclamation points are often used to indicate excitement, emphasis, importance or verbal shouting.
Contemporary linguistics is a field of study that examines how traditional sentence structures need to be modified to reflect evolutions in language development. One main area of contemporary linguistics is called morphology. This study deals with how individual words are structured, including roots. Another area of contemporary linguistics is the study of syntax, which examines how words are ordered in a sentence.
Semantics, which is the study of how words and sentences convey meaning, is yet another area covered by contemporary linguistics. As language has evolved, there are certain words and phrases which can be interpreted in a variety of ways. These interpretations are often unrelated and may confuse individuals who are not familiar with the language. Other words and phrases are discarded in favor of less formal or confusing words that maintain the same intended meaning.
Pedagogical grammar relates to the basics of different foreign languages. It is often used in introductory language courses to compare the sentence structure and meaning of one language to another. For example, sentence structure in the German language often places verbs in a different part of the sentence than is common in English. Reference grammar covers the various grammar rules, while theoretical grammar compares the similarities between the sentence structures in various languages.