The Arrangement of Words to Make Meaning

Syntax in English Has Specific Rules

Syntax focuses on the order of words to convey meaning. In English, there are specific rules that govern how words modify each other, and these rules differ from other languages. Here are some key points to bear in mind:

  • Adjectives Precede Nouns: An adjective that modifies a noun usually comes before the noun (e.g. my blue car or the sunny day)
  • Verbs Precede Adverbs: An adverb that modifies a verb usually comes after the verb (e.g. she ran fast or he eats quickly)
  • Declarative Sentences Follow Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) Order: Most sentences follow the form of "A noun does something" (e.g. Goldilocks ate the porridge.)
  • Interrogative Sentences (Questions) Follow Verb-Subject-Object Order: The so-called "helping" verbs are separated from the main verbs, as in "Did the noun do the thing to someone?" (e.g. Are you leaving now? or Did Goldilocks eat the porridge? or Will the bears give more porridge to Goldilocks?)
  • Indirect Objects Can Move Around: Consider the "someone" here as an indirect object: "A noun gives something to someone" or "a noun gives someone something" (e.g. The three bears gave Goldilocks more porridge or The three bears gave more porridge to Goldilocks.)
  • Passive Voice Follows SVO, but swaps actor and object. For example, (e.g. The porridge was eaten by Goldilock or This theory of black holes was proposed by Stephen Hawking.)
  • There are many exceptions! As an amalgam of German, Latin, and French that borrows words and phrases from dozens of other languages, English is one of the most complicated languages on Earth. Idiosyncratic structures such as "mother dearest" (noun precedes adjective) or "my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree" (indirect object with "incorrect) use of to)
  • Syntax Standards Change with Culture and Situation: The phrases "That ain't nobody's business" or "I'm lovin' it" are not "standard" for academic English, but they they are clearly understandable for their intended audiences.

Resources from UDL.12Writing

  • Verb Tense: Verbs carry specific markers of time and order of events.
  • Clauses: Looking at how sentences are structured with multiple layers of statements.
  • Additional Grammar Resources Coming Soon!

Video: Syntax in English

Key Terms Covered by Mometrix Academy:

  • "Syntax is the order of the words in a sentence"
  • "Diction is the specific word choice meant to express certain meanings."
  • "Semantics is the meaning conveyed by the particular words used."