In most of the literature I have encountered thus far, the terms "constituency grammar" and "phrase structure grammar" seem to be used interchangeably.

Is either one of the two more acceptable or preferable than the other?

  • 1
    "Phrase structure grammar" probably means, more specifically, context free phrase structure grammar (type 2 in the Chomsky hierarchy). It could mean regular phrase structure grammar (type 3). I'd have to guess about "constituency grammar" -- probably means the same.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 3:39
  • I'm not sure I agree. Type-0, Type-1 and Type-2 grammars on the hierarchy can easily be classified as phrase structure grammars. (Not sure about regular grammars, but a case can probably be made for them). But CFGs aren't the only grammars that rely on phrases (or "constituents" to generate sentences). Context sensitive grammars also consist of phrases, and also recurse. The distinction I'm interested in is the concepts of constituency grammar versus dependency grammar. In this regard, CG and PSG seem to be interchangeable?
    – player.mdl
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 11:41
  • Chomsky originally named all 4 types "phrase structure grammars", however in an early paper, he remarked that type 1 grammars didn't deserve the name, because in a derivation, (my wording) they don't respect the integrity of phrases. Of course, that holds as well for type 0. And as we now know, transformational grammar is type 0. So, that was my reasoning.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 17:35
  • Any idea what the name of that paper was? I'd love to read up.
    – player.mdl
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 17:41
  • Uh, I think it had "Note" in the title and appeared in the journal "Information and Control", sometime around 1960. And I think he made the remark at the end of a demonstration that the "copy language" (a later term) is type 1. I'm pushing my powers of recollection, here. The copy language has sentences which are each the concatenation of some string and a copy of that string. (The copy language is like the respectively-type construction that supposedly shows that not all languages are context free.) As I indicated, I don't know how "constituency grammar" is used.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 17:50

1 Answer 1


For most dependency grammarians, the terms phrase structure grammar and constituency grammar are synonymous.

For those constituency grammarians who do not pay attention to dependency grammar, the two terms phrase structure grammar and constituency grammar are not synonymous, however. The term phrase structure grammar denotes a non-transformational approach to syntax along the lines of GPSG or HPSG. These frameworks do not acknowledge movement in the sense of traditional Chomskyan syntax. They intentionally use the term phrase structure grammar to mean 'non-transformational grammar'. For an example, see Borsley (1991: 8).

Borsley, Robert. 1991: Syntactic Theory: A Unified Approach. London: Edward Arnold.

The GPSG/HPSG crowd is likely to use the term constituency grammar as an umbrella term to denote all constituency-based approaches to syntax, be these approaches transformational or non-transformational. In this regard, constituency grammar and dependency grammar are opposites in the relevant sense, whereas the term phrase structure grammar denotes a subtype of constituency grammar, a non-transformational one.

  • GPSG is type 2 -- that is, context free phrase structure grammar. TG (the TG of LSLT) is type 0. GPSG does not provide for moving parts of a sentence around, but it does allow moving parts of a construction-type around to produce a new construction, as for example using a Passive rule (a metarule) to yield a passive sentence type from the active sentence type.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 19:23

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