Huddleston and Pullum's The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CamGEL or CGEL) is widely considered a 'successor' to a previous 'great English grammar': Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik's A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (ComGEL or, sometimes, also CGEL); see e.g. here.

ComGEL was published in 1985; CamGEL, 17 years later, in 2002. Well, next year it will have been 17 years since the publication of CamGEL (#trynottofeelold). Does anyone know if anything similar in scope is in the works, sort of a successor to CamGEL?

As explained in CamGEL's preface, its production took more than ten years. There was a Board of Consultants composed of many eminent linguists, including Barry Blake, Bernard Comrie, Greville Corbett, Edward Finegan, John Lyons, Peter Matthews, Keith Mitchell, Frank Palmer, John Payne, Neil Smith, Roland Sussex, and James D. McCawley. During the first six years, 'workshops were held regularly in Brisbane and Sydney to develop ideas for the framework and content of the grammar'.

In short, CamGEL was a massive undertaking involving many, many people. Any 'successor' to it would have to be similarly massive—and therefore it is unlikely to be any sort of a secret.

Has anyone heard or noticed anything that would point to the existence of a currently ongoing project whose scope and purpose are similar to those of CamGEL? I did some googling, but so far have found nothing. However, I am not a linguist; I don't go to linguistics talks and conferences, and I don't read linguistics journals. Presumably many other people here do, and perhaps they may have heard or seen something relevant.

If the answer is 'no', then why do you think that is? Surely lots has happened in the study of English grammar in the past (nearly) two decades?


Some of the commenters are saying that perhaps not enough has happened in the field of descriptive English grammar to warrant a new effort on the scale of CamGEL. For all I know, this is possible.

But what about at least a second edition (probably revised and expanded) of CamGEL itself? There are a bunch of things that are all but guaranteed to need to be revisited. Some examples:

1. Effects of looking at expanded corpora

As the authors themselves say at the CamGEL Errata page,

[T]his is as good a place as any to state a general warning that a few lists of lexical items that are claimed not to have some property are longer than they should have been — they get shorter each time we look at a larger corpus. One example is the list of strictly transitive verbs, those take a truly obligatory object (see section (b), Selective obligatoriness, on page 246). We include the verb use as strictly transitive; but in connection with illegal drugs an objectless use has developed (Amy is using again). It looks as if verbs that have truly obligatory objects are extremely rare, especially if one considers secondary forms (occurrences in non-finite clauses like infinitivals or participials).

Another example is the list of monosyllabic adjectives that do not inflect for comparison (see page 1583, [9]). Inflected forms of the adjectives we list there (cross, fake, ill, like, loath, prime, real, right, and worth) are certainly very rare; but crosser definitely occurs (and was more frequent in British writing about a century ago); faker and iller and realer can occasionally be found; and so on. *Worther and *worthest do not appear to exist at all; but in general, monosyllabic adjectives that absolutely never take comparative or superlative inflectional forms are very scarce indeed; we only list ten, and even that is a few too many. We should probably have listed just worth, loath, and perhaps prime.

2. Twenty years is long enough for there to be detectable changes in the language itself

This is even implied in the quotation above, on the example of use. The most authoritative grammar of the English language should keep up with these changes.

3. The authors had a lot of time to rethink things

It is very nearly impossible that the authors haven't, in the almost 20 years since the original publication, thought of some things they could have or should have done differently—and would do differently if they had to start over. A second edition would give them a chance to do it. And one reason why they probably have been thinking about these things is...

4. The authors must have received lots of feedback and suggestions

Even a grammar hobbyist like myself has

(a) spotted places where CamGEL potentially doesn't make sense or at the very least should be rewritten so that it is easier to understand (e.g. see my discussion with user deadrat following his answer to a question of mine);
(b) come across constructions that were covered in ComGEL but that don't seem to be covered at all in CamGEL (unfortunately this was at the now-defunct Grammarly Q&A site, so I can't link to it);
(c) come across issues about which some further input from professional grammarians is sorely needed, see e.g. this question and the answers to it.

Again, I'm just a hobbyist; I can only imagine what Huddleston's and Pullum's professional colleagues might have uncovered over the last 17 years. In short, it is simply not believable that, in a work of CamGEL's scope and size, there aren't quite a few places and aspects in which it could and should be improved.

  • Perhaps it is now for the computer scientists to supply some testable working models of grammars. – amI Sep 16 '18 at 1:09
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    "Surely lots has happened in the study of English grammar in the past (nearly) two decades?" Not a given, especially because these are not theory-driven grammars. – Nick Nicholas Sep 16 '18 at 2:11
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    Why? Is there such a pressing need for another one? – Alex B. Sep 16 '18 at 2:15
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    It seems unlikely that anyone would fund such a successor. CGEL is already too big to hold in one hand; who needs more? Besides, a successor would have to decide if and when, or to what extent, to adopt H&P's innovative (but not widely adopted) terminology. If you want a different viewpoint, try McCawley 1998, a work by one author, in second edition. It's only half the size of CGEL, but still pretty hefty, and explains all the steps to get to see what the author sees. – jlawler Sep 16 '18 at 17:36
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    I don't think a great deal has happened. CGEL is still the finest attempt to date to do straightforward traditional descriptive grammar. Its breadth and depth and clarity of writing are simply stunning. I can't imagine anything matching it in the foreseeable future. – BillJ Sep 16 '18 at 18:01

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