What is Syntax? Definition, Examples of English Syntax

Syntax definition: Syntax is the grammatical structure of words and phrases to create coherent sentences.

What is syntax?

What does syntax mean? Syntax is the grammatical structure of sentences. The format in which words and phrases are arranged to create sentences is called syntax.

Let’s look at an example of how a sentence can be rearranged to create varied syntax.


Examples of Syntax in a Sentence:

  • The boy jumped happily.
  • The boy happily jumped.
  • Happily, the boy jumped.

what is a syntax meaningBy rearranging just one word in the sentence, a varied syntax is formed. Each is grammatically correct and acceptable English language form.

A writer will vary sentence syntax to make writing more interesting or to emphasize a particular point.

Words and phrases must follow English rules for correct arrangement and coherent sentences.

Syntax vs. Diction: What’s the Difference?

Syntax and diction are different concepts in grammar and in literature.

What is syntax? Syntax is the arrangement of words that make a sentence.

What is diction? Diction is word choice.

define sytanx in literatureThe following examples have similar syntax but different diction.

  • The boy jumped happily.
  • The girl sang beautifully.
  • The dog barked loudly.

Each of these sentences has the same syntax. Each sentence follows the structure of subject-verb-adverb. However, each sentence uses different diction (word choice).

The following examples have similar diction but different syntax.

  • The boy jumped happily.
  • The boy happily
  • Happily, the boy jumped.

Each of these sentences has the same diction. Each sentence uses the same four words. However, each sentence has different word order to create different syntax.

In other words, diction and syntax focus on different things. Diction focuses on word choice, while syntax focuses on the order and structure of those words.

Proper Syntax in English Sentences

Examples of syntax literary definitionIn English, a strong, active voice sentence will always have the subject doing the action of the sentence. These sentences will follow a basic subject-verb-object format.

Below are a few examples of different types of syntax in English. Each of these examples has different syntax.

Simple sentences follow a subject-verb format.

Simple Syntax Examples:

  • The boy jumped.
  • The girl sang.

Compound sentences have more than one subject or verb.

Compound Syntax Examples:

  • The boy jumped and the girl sang.
  • I did not go to the concert but I went to the fair.

Complex sentences contain a subordinating clause.

Complex Syntax Examples:

  • The boy jumped even though he was nervous.
  • Because she was excited, the girl sang.

Compound-complex sentences contain two independent clauses and more dependent clauses.

Compound-complex Syntax Examples:

  • Even though he was nervous, the boy jumped and he landed across the stream.
  • The girl sang and the woman shrieked because they were excited.

Read more on English sentence structure.

Parallel Structure in Sentences

example of syntax defineWhen constructing sentences, it is important to always keep in mind that ideas should be parallel.

In English, parallel structure is most often an issue when creating a series list. Therefore, we will look at an example of appropriate parallel structure through lists.

Correct example:

  • I like running, jumping, and hiking.

In this example, three gerunds are used (running, jumping, hiking) to create the grammatically correct list.

Incorrect example:

  • I like to run, jumping, and hiking.

In this example, “to run” and “jumping” and “hiking” are not parallel. “To run” is an infinitive and “jumping” and “hiking” are gerunds. This sentence is grammatically incorrect and this sentence does not have proper syntax.

Summary: What is Syntax in Literature?

Define syntax: the definition of syntax is,

  • the arrangement of words and phrases to create sentences
  • a way for writers to express creativity and create interest
  • a balance of words that must be parallel to be grammatically correct