It is often said that syntax rules are the foundation of effective writing. Syntax is the set of rules that govern how words are put together to form phrases and sentences. When these rules are followed, your writing will be more concise and clear.
In this article, we will discuss some of the most important syntax rules, and we will provide tips for following them.
What is Syntax?
You are probably familiar with the term “grammar.” Grammar is a set of rules that govern how words are used to form phrases and sentences. For example, in English, adjectives typically precede the nouns they modify. That’s an important grammar rule. There are also syntax rules—rules about how words are put together to form phrases and sentences. Syntax is the branch of linguistics that studies syntax.
Why Follow Syntax Rules?
There are several reasons to follow the rules of syntax. First, following these rules will make your writing more concise and clear. When you follow the correct syntactic order, your readers will be able to understand your message more easily.
Second, following the rules of syntax will help you avoid common grammatical errors. By practicing proper syntax, you can avoid making mistakes that could confuse your readers or make your writing sound awkward.
Finally, following the rules of syntax can help you to create more complex and interesting sentences. By using different word orders and structures, you can add variety to your writing and make your readers want to keep reading.
What are the Most Important Syntax Rules?
There are a number of important syntax rules in English. However, some syntactic structures are more common than others. In this section, we will discuss seven of the most important syntax rules:
1) Subject-Verb Agreement
The verb must agree with the subject of the sentence in number (singular or plural). For example, “The play was written by Shakespeare” is correct because “play” is singular, while “plays were written by Shakespeare” is incorrect because “plays” is plural. Other examples of the subject-verb agreement are as follows:
- He plays tennis on Sundays
- The girl finished her homework
- My mother lives in Japan
2) Subject-Complement Agreement
The subject and the complement (or object) of a sentence must agree in number. For example, “The cat is white” is correct because “cat” is singular, while “The cats are white” is incorrect because “cats” is plural. Other examples of the subject-complement agreement are as follows:
- She is my friend
- He was very tired
- The soup tastes salty
3) Forming Questions
In order to form a question, you must invert the word order of the sentence. For example, “You are from Canada” becomes “Are you from Canada?” Other examples of questions follow:
- Is he your brother?
- Do you speak Spanish?
- Would you like to go out tonight?
4) Using Modifiers Correctly
When multiple modifiers are used to modify a single noun or noun phrase, the modifiers should be in the same order that they would have appeared in if the sentence had been written without any of them. For example, “The old antique silver teapot” is correct because all three modifying words precede the noun while “The silver antique old teapot” is incorrect because two of the three modifying words have been inverted. Other examples of using modifiers correctly follow:
- She became angry with her boss
- A few days after graduation
- I saw a red book on his desk
- He ate an ice cream cone on a hot day
5) Parallel Structure
When two or more clauses are joined together using coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor, so), the clauses should be in parallel structure. This means that the verb tense, subject, and pronoun should all be the same in each clause. For example, “I want to study French, and I want to study math” is correct because both clauses have the same verb tense (present tense) and the same subject (I). However, “I want to study French, but I don’t want to study math” is incorrect because the subject of the second clause (“math”) is different than the subject of the first clause (“French”). Other examples of parallel structure are as follows:
- He plays guitar, and he sings
- The dog barks, and the cat meows
- I am going to the store, and I am going to the bank
6) Coordination and Subordination
English has two types of clauses: coordinate clauses and subordinate clauses. Coordinate clauses are joined together by coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor, so), while subordinate clauses are introduced by subordinating conjunctions (after, although, as, because, before, if). For example, “I want to go to the movies tonight” is a coordinate clause because it is joined together by the conjunction “and.” However, “After I finish my homework” is a subordinate clause because it is introduced by the subordinating conjunction “after.” Other examples of coordination and subordination are as follows:
- I am going to the movies tonight, and I am going to the bank
- After I finish my homework, I am going to go to bed
- Although he was tired, he went for a run
- Because it was getting late, she decided to go home
7) Active and Passive Voice
The active voice is when the subject of the sentence is doing the action (e.g., “John kicked the ball”), while the passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is having something done to them (e.g., “The ball was kicked by John”). For example, “John kicked the ball” is in active voice, while “The ball was kicked by John” is in passive voice. Other examples of active and passive voice are as follows:
- She opened/was opened the door
- This design will be approved/will be approved by the executive committee
- Can you please close the window?
- I hope that this article is not too long/is not too long for you to read
8) Comparative and Superlative Forms
In order to make a comparison between two items, we use comparative forms (e.g., better, faster), while to make a comparison with one item as opposed to many others, we use superlative forms (e.g., best, fastest). For example, “This action movie was better than the romantic comedy” is correct because it uses the comparative form (better) instead of superlative form (best), while “This action movie was the best out of all three movies” is incorrect because it uses the superlative form instead of comparative form. Other examples of comparative and superlative forms are as follows:
- He is faster than me
- She is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met
- I am more excited about tomorrow’s meeting than this morning’s one
- Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace, which is considered to be his best work
9) Gerunds and Infinitives
To make a verb into a noun, we use gerunds (e.g., “Running is my favorite activity”), while to make a verb into an infinitive (beginning of the verb), we use to + the base form of the verb (e.g., “I like to run”). Other examples of gerunds and infinitives are as follows:
- Skiing down that mountain was terrifying
- Can you please stop singing in the shower?
- She has been wanting to go backpacking for years
- Look at all these people jogging around the park!
- He likes to eat cake in the morning
- I wish I could fly like Superman
10) Collective Nouns
A collective noun is a single noun that refers to a group of things, animals, or people. For example, “team” is a collective noun that refers to a group of people, while “flock” is a collective noun that refers to a group of birds. Other examples of collective nouns are as follows:
- The herd of elephants was very impressive
- The jury was still deliberating on the verdict
- The class was divided into two groups for the project
- The audience was not very enthusiastic about the performance
- The pack of dogs was roaming around the neighborhood again
- Please get the squadron of mosquitoes out of here!
11) Indefinite Articles
An indefinite article is a/an, and indicates that we are talking about one thing in general (e.g., “I like cats” instead of “I like the cat”). Other examples of indefinite articles are as follows:
- Did you see a bear outside your house?
- I need to go to the bank. Do you know where it is?
- She told me about an exciting trip she had last summer
- There are so many toys for children these days! They have everything imaginable
- The alarm went off at 5 am this morning
- Can I get something to eat before I leave? I’m starving!
How to Use Structure to Write More Effectively
1. Know your audience and purpose.
2. Determine the desired tone of your writing.
3. Organize information into logical units that progress from general to specific, introduce new ideas/topics, or provide supporting evidence for previous claims.
4. State an objective, topic sentence which sums up the primary idea of the first paragraph (first main point) in opening paragraphs of essays (e.g., compare-contrast; definition; classification; cause-effect).
5. Expand on or explain details about the main point stated in your objective sentence/topic sentence using several sentences (for more complex assignments, aim for 3-5 sentences).
6. State a secondary objective, a topic sentence which sums up the second main point in your essay (e.g., compare-contrast; definition; classification; cause-effect).
7. Expand on or explain details about the secondary point using several sentences within your essay (for more complex assignments, aim for 3-5 sentences).
8. If appropriate, include an additional paragraph for each additional objective or level of detail to explain in your writing piece. Ensure that all paragraphs are directly relevant to supporting evidence of ideas previously discussed in your essay.
Read also, What are Dialogue Tags and How to Use Them?
When writing, it is important to always keep your audience and purpose in mind. Structure your information in a way that is clear, concise, and easy to follow, while also maintaining the desired tone of your essay. Be sure to state your main points in the opening paragraphs, then expand on them using relevant supporting details. Finally, remember to revise and proofread your work for errors prior to submission. Best of luck!