I'm confused about the example given in Wikipedia article about Context-sensitive grammar:


Disclamer: I've already changed discussed section in wikipedia article, so current state of article will differ from what I'm discussing in this question. Original version is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Context-sensitive_grammar&oldid=747616366

The following grammar, with start symbol S, generates the canonical non-context-free language { anbncn : n ≥ 1 } :

  1. S → a b c
  2. S → a S B c
  3. c B → W B
  4. W B → W X
  5. W X → B X
  6. B X → B c
  7. b B → b b

They do not claim directly that this grammar is context-sensitive, but next sentence implies that that they consider it as context-sensitive:

rules 3 to 6 allow for successively exchanging each cB to Bc (four rules are needed for that since a rule cB → Bc wouldn't fit into the scheme αAβ → αγβ)

So they appeal to the canonical form of context-sensitive grammar rules: αAβ → αγβ, implying that whole grammar is context-sensitive.

What I'm confused about is rule #3, which seems to be not fitting scheme αAβ → αγβ. I consider terminal $c$ here as part of $\alpha$, variable $B$ as $A$ in scheme, $\beta$ is empty. This implies that $cB$ can not produce $WB$, as $c$ should be saved on same place ($cB\rightarrow c\dots$).

Did I missed something or this grammar was really placed here mistakenly (as it is not real context-sensitive)?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you are right. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilJeřábek Looks like we made change in that section of wiki article at same time: I've introduced there proper version of grammar $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, your grammar is wrong. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilJeřábek I'm sorry, what's wrong with my grammar (9 rules grammar) which I've placed in new article version? Could you point what rule is wrong? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilJeřábek Ah, do you mean that this grammar can produce "aaa bb cccc" as well? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 11:36

2 Answers 2


If I am not mistaken, a simpler CS grammar is possible. Here it is:

  1. $S \rightarrow ABSc$
  2. $S \rightarrow Abc$
  3. $BA \rightarrow XA$
  4. $XA \rightarrow XY$
  5. $XY \rightarrow AY$
  6. $AY \rightarrow AB$
  7. $A \rightarrow a$
  8. $Bb \rightarrow bb$.

A derivation for the string $aaabbbccc$ is

$\Rightarrow_1 ABSc\\\Rightarrow_1 AB\textbf{ABSc}c\\\Rightarrow_2 ABAB\textbf{Abc}cc\\\Rightarrow_3 A\textbf{XA}BAbccc\\\Rightarrow_4 A\textbf{XY}BAbccc\\\Rightarrow_5 A\textbf{AY}BAbccc\\\Rightarrow_6 A\textbf{AB}BAbccc\\\dots\\\Rightarrow_{3-6}AAB\textbf{AB}bccc\\\Rightarrow_{3-6}AA\textbf{AB}Bbccc\\\Rightarrow_{7...}\textbf{aaa}BBbccc\\\Rightarrow_8 aaaB\textbf{bb}ccc\\\Rightarrow_8 aaa\textbf{bb}bccc$


Actually as several viewers agreed original grammar was incorrect. As @EmilJeřábek noticed, there was already discussion of this problem here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Context-sensitive_grammar#Wrong_grammar_for_language

So it appears that neither 7-rule grammar (which I was inquiring above in my question), neither 9-rule grammar which was here before and present in other-languages articles, both are incorrect. This 9-rule grammar:

  1. S → a B C
  2. S → a S B C
  3. C B → W B
  4. W B → W C
  5. W C → B C
  6. a B → a b
  7. b B → b b
  8. b C → b c
  9. c C → c c

is incorrect example as it can produces words of the form "aaa bb cccc" `which doesn't fit formula $a^nb^nc^n$.

So I suggest following enhancement of this grammar by replacing rules 3-5 to four rules:

  1. S → a B C
  2. S → a S B C
  3. C B → C Z
  4. C Z → W Z
  5. W Z → W C
  6. W C → B C
  7. a B → a b
  8. b B → b b
  9. b C → b c
  10. c C → c c

Rules 3-6 will help avoid problem with replacing CB to WB and then WC to BC.

EDIT: As @EmilJeřábek suggested again, rules #7 and #8 can be simplified to one rule $B\rightarrow b$.


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