Social Grammar Model

Current project leader: Magdalena Formanowicz

Description: Yes, we can! is the most famous political slogan of our times, a slogan that propelled many people into action in favour of then-prospective president Barack Obama. Interestingly, the politician and his advisors chose the slogan implying that change can happen (with the use of the verb can), rather than a phrase employing the adjective change is possible. Similarly, advertising slogans such as Just Do It often use verbs to persuade people into buying decisions or pro-health choices. In the framework of the Social Grammar Model (SGM), we attempt to explain such triggering roles of verbs. The basic assumption of SGM is that verbs (as opposed to adjectives and nouns) are a linguistic category that conveys social information above and beyond the specific semantic content and that these meta-semantic effects influence people’s cognitive processes and behaviours. In particular, verbs imply dynamic properties that other grammatical categories lack, making them the preferred syntactic device to convey activity – and by extension – also social agency, a basic dimension of human perception that is related to goal achievement. We found evidence for the relationship of verbs and agency in experiments using pseudo and real words, psycholinguistic studies, EEG-ERP recordings, and large-scale textual analyses.


  • Polish National Science Foundation Grant 2017/27/B/HS6/01049. Social Grammar Model – basic and applied mechanisms – awarded to Magdalena Formanowicz (2018-2021).
  • Seedcorn Grant of the European Association of Social Psychology. In search of the Social Side of Grammar. Principal Investigator (2016).

Representative Publications:

  • Formanowicz, M., Roessel, J., Suitner, C., & Maass, A. (2017). Verbs as linguistic markers of agency: The social side of grammar. European Journal of Social Psychology, 47(5), 566–579.
  • Formanowicz, M., Pietraszkiewicz, A., Roessel, J., Suitner, C., Witkowska, M., & Maass, A. (2021). “Make it happen!”: Verbs as markers of agency increase message effectiveness. Social Psychology, 52(2), 75–89.
  • Formanowicz, M., & Suitner, C. (in press). XXX