What Is Syntax? Definition and Examples

Syntax, in linguistic, pertains to the set of rules, principles and processes that govern how words are combined to form clauses, phrases, and sentences. The goal of most syntacticians around the world is to discover the syntactic rules common to all languages.

The word “syntax” is derived from the Greek, meaning “arrange together.” The term is also employed to describe the study of the syntactic properties of a language. In the computer context, the term is used to describe the proper ordering of codes and symbols so that the computer can discern what instructions you are telling it to do.

  • Syntax refers to the proper arrangement of words in a phrase or sentence.
  • It is a tool utilized in writing proper grammatical sentences.
  • People who grow up speaking a particular language learn syntax without realizing it.
  • The complexity of a speaker’s or writer’s sentences create an informal or formal level of diction that is presented to its audience.

Syntax example

Hearing and Speaking Syntax

Syntax is one of the main components of grammar. It is the concept that helps people understand how to start a question with a question word (“what is that?), or that adjectives commonly come before the nouns they describe (“red chair), subjects usually come before verbs in non-questioned sentences (“He jogged”), prepositional phrases begin with prepositions (“to the pharmacy”), helping verbs come before the major verbs (“will do” or “can go), and many others.

As I have explained earlier, native speakers use syntax correctly in their sentences because it comes naturally, as word order is understood as soon as an infant starts absorbing the language (Learn about stages of language acquisition). They can tell something isn’t said quite right because it will “sound weird” even though they can not explain or point out the exact grammar rule that makes something sound “off” to the ear. (Find a professional service to make your writing error free)

Syntactic Rules

English parts of speech usually follow ordering patterns in clauses and sentences, such as, compound sentences are joined by conjunctions (or, and, but) or that multiple adjectives modifying the same noun follow one particular order according to their class (such as number-size-color). The rules of how to order words aids in making language parts make sense. Sentences usually begin with a subject, then a predicate follows and finally an object or complement or sometimes, both which shows what’s being acted upon. For example,

“Amanda slowly ran the race in feral, multicolored flip-flops”

Using the sentence above, it follows a subject-verb-object pattern (Amanda ran the race). Adverbs and adjective take their position in front of what they are modifying (“slowly ran”; “feral, multicolored flip-flops”). The object (“the race”) comes after the verb “ran”, and the prepositional phrase (“in feral, multicolored flip-flops”) begins with the preposition “in.”

Types of Sentence Structures

There are different types of sentences and their syntax modes include compound-sentences, complex sentence, compound sentence and simple sentences. Compound sentences refer to when a single sentence is made up two simple sentences joined by a conjunction. Complex sentences, on the other hand, have dependent clauses, and compound-complexes have the two types included.

Simple Sentence

This sentence involves a subject-verb structure

“The boy ran.”

Compound Sentences

This sentence involves Subject-verb-object-conjunction-subject-verb structure. E.g.

“The man ran the marathon, and his cousin did, too.”

Complex Sentence

This involves a dependent clause-subject-verb-object structure. E.g.

“Although they were exhausted after the marathon, the cousins decided to go to a party at the park.

Compound-Complex Sentence

This type of sentence involves dependent and independent structures.

“Although they weren’t fond of lots of people in one place, this was different; they decided to go because the same goal had brought everyone together.”

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