What is syntax? The part of the sentence that deals with grammar, word structure, and punctuation is called its syntax. Sentences are made up of several parts–the subject, verb, object, adverbial phrases or clauses, etc.–that make them what they are. When you use syntax in a sentence, you create different effects by arranging these parts. Here are some examples:
“She read the book in an hour.”
In this sentence, we know who did the reading (she) and how long it took (an hour). We also understand that she is the subject and that in an hour is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb. The use of this syntax creates a straightforward effect.
“In an hour, she read the book.”
Here we do not know who did the reading; only that it happened in an hour. That word is our subject, but because of its positioning in the sentence, it creates a surprising or suspenseful effect.
The syntax is slightly different from the first example but similar enough to create almost the same effect–just one that’s more subtle (and maybe less expected). We also have to assume that “she” is still our subject rather than changing subjects mid-sentence (“he,” for instance), so this might be better written as: “Only an hour passed before she finished reading the book.”
What is syntax?
The word syntax is also used in two common ways. First, it’s the study of sentence structure–grammar and punctuation mechanics. Second, it can refer to “style” or “tone.” For example, you might say that a particular poet has her own unique style or syntax when talking about how she varies sentence length (syntax) for emphasis (style).
Many novice writers focus on issues like commas and periods when they should be paying attention to syntax. The use of correct grammar but the boring syntax doesn’t make for interesting writing; you need both in order to captivate your audience.
Uses of Syntax
A Syntax can be used to create different effects, some of which are more subtle than others. Knowing how to vary your syntax allows you to create complex sentences that sound right (or at least more interesting) while helping you manipulate the meaning of a sentence for a specific effect.
How to Use Syntax in a Sentence: Step-by-Step Guide
1. Decide on a sentence’s subject and verb:
For example: “She read the book in an hour.”
2. Consider what you would like to say about the subject and whether this information should come before or after your verb:
For this sentence, we know who did the reading (she) and how long it took (an hour). We also understand that she is the subject and that in an hour is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb. The use of this syntax creates a straightforward effect.
3. Choose how to order your words, paying attention to punctuation as well as syntax:
“In an hour, she read the book.”
Here we do not know who did the reading; only that it happened in an hour. That word is our subject, but because of its positioning in the sentence, it creates a surprising or suspenseful effect. The syntax is slightly different from the first example but similar enough to create almost the same effect–just one that’s more subtle (and maybe less expected). We also have to assume that “she” is still our subject rather than changing subjects mid-sentence (“he,” for instance), so this might be better written as: “Only an hour passed before she finished reading the book.”
4. Read over the sentence again to make sure it sounds right:
“In an hour, she read the book.”
5. If you’re happy with the syntax, then you’re done! Otherwise, go back to step 2 and try a different approach.
And there you have it! A simple way of looking at syntax that can help us understand how sentence structure impacts meaning (and why some sentences sound more interesting than others).
Why do Authors Use Syntax?
In her book, “Stylistics,” author Sally Wehmeier says that authors use syntax to create a variety of effects including suspense, humor, and empathy. She also suggests that writers will play with sentence structure in order to surprise or shock the reader.
Anytime you vary your sentence structure from how it would commonly be written in English, you’re creating syntax effects.
Some examples of how authors use syntax to create different effects include:
– “And he watched her with her dark, curly hair swinging round the bend in the road.” (Suspense might be created by suggesting that something dramatic or unexpected is about to happen with this sentence structure.)
– “He walked into the room and saw her.” (Surprise might be created because it’s unexpected to see a subject in one place when they should be somewhere else.)
– “She threw her arms around him.” (Empathy can be created when syntax emphasizes how much she missed or wanted to hug someone.)
Why is Syntax Important?
While syntax may seem like a small issue, it can be the difference between an interesting sentence and one that is boring or difficult to understand. Using grammar correctly (as you should) is important, but so is varying your syntax to keep your writing fresh and engaging for readers.
What is Poor Syntax?
Using poor syntax is more than just a mistake in grammar. It can negatively impact your writing and may even change the meaning of a sentence.
For example: “She walks to the grocery store every day.” (She walks, not she is walking.)
“He smiled at me when I was eating my sandwich today.” (He smiled at the sandwich, not at me.)
“He had to go to the store on Saturday he was out of milk.” (He had to go to the store on Saturday because he was out of milk.)
“I laughed when I saw that she had written on the chalkboard again.” (The speaker laughs while looking at something. It’s not clear what “that” is.)
Each of these sentences contains errors in grammar/punctuation and potentially changes the meaning (and sometimes, it doesn’t change anything). Because poor syntax can cause confusion or create unintended effects, it’s important to pay attention to how you order words in your sentence.
How do you Identify Syntax Errors?
It can be difficult to identify and understand the difference between syntax and grammar, so here is a basic explanation:
If you’re wondering if an error is due to poor grammar or improper syntax, ask yourself this question: “Would it change the meaning of the sentence if I switched order?” For example:
– “I like milk chocolate better than dark chocolate.”
– “Better milk chocolate I like the dark.”
In this sentence, both are grammatically correct. But the meaning changes depending on where you put the words. By switching them around, it also switches which word is being modified by the adjective (“milk” or “dark”).
So, if you switch the order and the meaning is changed, then you’ve found your syntax error. This kind of error can also be called a “grammar/syntax” error.
If the order doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence, it’s probably a grammar error. For example:
– “I love brownies.” (This isn’t wrong because there’s nothing to correct. You love them “just because.”)
– “I just did the dishes.” (This isn’t wrong because there’s nothing to correct. It was a one-time action.)
– “I love chocolate cake.” (This is incorrect because it means you don’t like other kinds of chocolate treats or desserts. The word “chocolate” is being modified by “cake.”)
While identifying errors can be difficult, it’s important to know the right way to write a sentence and order words in a sentence. In most cases, there are rules to follow that will help you avoid syntax errors. While it’s common to see mistakes in grammar and punctuation, less common are errors in syntax.