Linguists distinguish grammatical meaning from lexical meaning (or denotation)--the dictionary meaning of an individual word.
Examples and Observations:
- Words grouped together randomly have little meaning on their own, unless it occurs accidentally. For example, each of the following words has lexical meaning at the word level, as is shown in a dictionary, but they convey no grammatical meaning as a group:
a. [without grammatical meaning]However when a special order is given to these words, grammatical meaning is created because of the relationships they have to one another.
Lights the leap him before the down hill purple.
a. [with grammatical meaning](Bernard O'Dwyer, Modern English Structures: Form, Function and Position. Broadview Press, 2006)
"The purple lights leap down the hill before him."
- "Different forms of the same lexeme will generally, though not necessarily, differ in meaning: they will share the same lexical meaning (or meanings) but differ in respect of their grammatical meaning, in that one is the singular form (of a noun of a particular subclass) and the other is the plural form (of a noun of a particular subclass); and the difference between singular and plural forms, or--to take another example--the difference between the past, present and future forms of verbs, is semantically relevant: it affects sentence-meaning. The meaning of a sentence . . . is determined partly by the meaning of the words (i.e., lexemes) of which it is composed and partly by its grammatical meaning."
(John Lyons, Linguistic Semantics: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 1996)