Where can I find formal grammars? By 'formal grammar' I mean 'a mathematically precise set of rules that generate all (or at least a significant portion of) the grammatical sentences of a language.' It would really help me in my language learning to locate some of these formal grammars in a form that I can read (i.e. not in computer code). I'm looking for Latin and Greek specifically.

  • There are many formal grammars, and in many formalisms. I am not aware of any efforts to develop formal grammars for Greek or Latin, but the major European languages have been covered. See lingo.stanford.edu
    – prash
    Feb 6, 2015 at 12:07

2 Answers 2


A true complete and formal grammar would only hinder your desire to learn a language, so your motivation for asking for such a thing is ill-placed. You also make a false assumption about the nature of "grammar" in linguistics, that a "grammar" is only about enumerating allowed word orders. A complete grammar must include all aspects of the computation, ranging over semantics, syntax, phonology, morphology and phonetics. Also note that no grammar can be self-defining, that is, you must have some knowledge of a theory-external metatheory of the formalization, which means you need a pairing of a grammar and a meta-grammar.

You can find specific formal accounts of fragments of Greek and Latin, such as Sommerstein's book on Greek phonology, Lightfoot's work on Greek semantics and morphology, Robin Lakoff's dissertation on Latin Complementation, Redenbarger's work on Latin phonology and morphology. These works do not all use the same metatheory. If you were interested in Sanskrit, I would point you to the one extant albeit nigh impossible to use complete formal grammar of a language, the Aṣṭādhyāyī.


The attempt to construct formal grammars for human languages has not yet been successful. Don't expect much. The most comprehensive efforts have probably been for English. For Latin and Greek, I doubt you'll find much at all (but I haven't looked).

  • The first sentence has been invalid for more than 2 millennia. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C4%81%E1%B9%87ini
    – prash
    Feb 6, 2015 at 12:02
  • 1
    No, @prash, admirable though Panini's grammar is, it doesn't approach closely the formalist goal of generating all and only the expressions of a human language.
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 6, 2015 at 17:57
  • @GregLee: In what way? Can you give examples? May 3, 2015 at 19:25
  • @ShreevatsaR, I don't understand your question. What do you want examples of? Unsuccessful attempts? If you want examples of ungrammatical sentences generated by Panini's grammar, I think it would be easy to find them for some who knows Sanskrit. But I don't.
    – Greg Lee
    May 3, 2015 at 20:04
  • @GregLee: I meant examples of expressions generated by Panini's grammar which are not proper Sanskrit, or vice-versa. As I understand it, ever since Panini, grammatical Sanskrit has been defined as whatever is consistent with Panini's grammar. May 3, 2015 at 20:08

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