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Syntax: Definition and Examples of Syntax in the English Language


The syntax is a vital component of written language. Syntax defines the rules, principles, and the processes that need to be followed when structuring words, phrases, and sentences. The way you structure phrases and sentences determines the kind of content you will end up with. It is fundamental to structure your words and sentences in a manner that your readers will find it easy to read and understand. That is where syntax comes in.


Syntax Definition

Syntax can be defined as a set of rules, principles, and processes that preside over the structuring of sentences in any given language. Syntax defines the rules that need to be followed when forming a sentence from words, clauses, punctuation, and phrases.

Correct syntax involves the right choice of words, correct tense, matching number, proper arrangement of words and phrases. Proper syntax, unlike diction, is comparatively strict. Abiding by the rules of syntax is very important in all kinds of formal writing, and it is an indication that the writer is knowledgeable.

Syntax Examples

Examples of Sentence Structure

The syntax is more of a structure. The rules of syntax are aimed at bringing clarity and consistency in sentences. There are all sorts of common syntactical mistakes, and they are all easy to correct once the writer finds out what they are not doing right. For example:

  • While traveling, people who take meals are very disturbing. The syntax of these sentences is incorrect.
  • People who take meals while traveling are very disturbing. Here the syntax is correct.
  • Happy to welcome the forgotten son, she left earlier school (Incorrect syntax)
  • Happy to welcome her forgotten son, Ann left the school earlier (Correct syntax)

Here the issue is the modifier being out of place. A modifier can be a phrase or a word that is designed to transform another portion of a sentence, in most cases, the subject. Misplaced modifiers make a sentence lack clarity since they could be transforming multiple subjects.

In the other incorrect example, the sentence states that “she left earlier school” (subject) was “happy to welcome her forgotten son,” which is not meaningful at all. Instead, it is “Ann” who is happy to welcome her forgotten son, as illustrated in the correct sentence.

Consider yet another example:

  • When evaluating the test, more than one area needed to be corrected. (Incorrect)
  • When evaluating the test, the examiner noted the areas to be corrected. (Correct)

The incorrect sentence does not have a subject. A sentence can only be meaningful if something or someone is performing the action it describes. It’s all about dependent and independent clauses.

Punctuation Examples

Punctuation is the other area where writers commonly make mistakes. An example:

  • Come home tonight I have something special for you. (Incorrect syntax)
  • Come home tonight! I have something special for you. (Correct syntax)

Improper punctuation is the primary concern here as it makes the sentence imprecise. The use of exclamation marks to split the words into two sentences makes it more readable and enhances the impact of the first sentence; in this case, “Come home tonight!”

  • Before we embark on our mission. (Incorrect)
  • We need a break before we embark on our mission. (Correct)

The problem with this sentence is different from others, as it is a sentence fragment. Sentence fragment occurs when a sentence doesn’t express a complete thought. For instance, “Before we embark on our mission” is not a complete sentence. With the addition of “We need a break,” the reader can now understand the intent of the writer.

The following is another example of a sentence with a similar problem but needs to be addressed differently.

  • We can’t embark on our mission. Or get rewarded with no results. (Incorrect)
  • We can’t embark on our mission or get rewarded with no results. (Correct)

The first sentence is improperly structured. “We can’t embark on our mission” can be a complete sentence on its own; the only problem is that it is followed by a phrase that depends on it to express a complete thought.

The solution to an incomplete sentence is to link up the pieces instead of adding more information.

Inappropriate use of punctuation is the other issue that messes the syntax of a sentence. For example:

  • The room is disorganized unclean, and filthy. (Incorrect)
  • The room is cluttered, messy, and dirty. (Correct)

The first sentence, which is incorrect, does not make use of a comma to separate the words describing the room. At least one comma is needed to separate a group of three items. The room is disorganized, unclean, and filthy.

Choice of Words

The rules of syntax are very flexible when it comes to the choice of words. This is the area where writers and learners easily make mistakes. For example:

  • To the city, we are heading (Incorrect)
  • We are heading to the city (Correct)

As per the rules of the syntax, “To the city we are heading” is technical right, the only problem is that the phrasing is outdated.

Modern English only tolerates sentences in the order of object to subject to the verb and not vice-versa. This is an example of how the rules of syntax can change over time, and the objective of the writer should be to make communication as precise as possible.

Let’s consider the following examples:

  • Did you ever show him the results? Yes, I was showing him the results two days ago. (Incorrect)
  • Did you ever show him the results? Yes, I showed him two days ago. (Correct)

The first sentence, which is incorrect, makes use of the wrong verb tense. It tries to show that something that was concluded in the past is still going on. “Was showing” may also mean that you may still be showing. The term “showed” is a simple past tense indicating that the event took place and is no more.

Syntactical issues can also arise as a result of mild little prepositions such as “to.” An example

  • Her brother-in-law requested her make a call and congratulate her younger sister. (Incorrect)
  • Her brother-in-law requested him call and congratulate his younger sister. (Correct)

The syntax is fundamental in any form of writing. Every piece of writing, including a thank you note, demands syntactical selections. The most crucial aspect of persuasive writing is to understand how to use syntax correctly.

Syntax Infographic

Syntax: Definition and Examples of Syntax in the English Language

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