Syntax in writing is the way to structure a sentence correctly. Syntax depends on the language. Every language has different syntax and changing word order changes the whole meaning of the sentence.
A collection of words working as a single unit is called a constituency. Writing proper grammatical sentences requires a deep understanding of the rules of that particular language, diligent practice, and trial and error.
The English language has a set of grammar rules. We have all come across terms like "splitting the infinitive", "phrases and clauses", "subject-verb agreement", "dependent clauses", "transitive verb" and so on, in our high school grammar classes. And since then we have used written language but have lost touch with complex syntax modes - well, nobody follows an exact grammar rule. Guilty!
Oxford Reference defines syntax as: "The arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. Recorded from the late 16th century, the word comes via French or late Latin from Greek suntaxis, from sun- ‘together’ + tassein ‘arrange’."
English sentence structures boil down to four groups: simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and mixed sentences, that is, a mixture of complex sentences and compound sentences.
Let us elaborately discuss these.
Four Sentence Structure Syntax
To understand sentences we need to what an independent clause is. A clause contains a subject and a verb. An independent clause can be a complete sentence and makes total sense. It does not have to depend on another clause to make meaning.
Take this sentence for example:
I own a hut.
This sentence is a complete thought in itself.
But when we say,
I own a hut in the woods.
This sentence has a dependent clause "in the woods" which does not make any sense without the former independent clause. But do dependent clauses also have a subject verb structure? Why, yes. It is a clause after all.
Simple sentences contain a single independent clause. That is, one subject, verb, and direct object. Examples of syntax simple sentences are,
- I went home.This is a simple sentence with one subject I, one verb went, and one direct object home.
- The girl is eating chips.
- The sky is blue.
Complex sentences contain an independent clauses joined with a subordinate or dependent clause. In simpler terms, complex sentences have an independent clause that supports the other dependent clause.
Complex sentence syntax examples are:
- Although the food is great, it is quite costly.
- Even though it was not very late, I went home.
- Because I want tired, we decided to leave the party.
When two or more independent clauses are joinIed together by a corresponding conjunction we term it as a compound sentence. Conjunctions like and, but, so, until, that. Compound sentences are sentences with multiple clauses. Examples of compound sentences are:
- She screamed very hard and the dog was frightened.
- The child used syntax in writing and the sentences followed the grammar rules.
- I mostly wear spectacles but I prefer contacts.
Mixed sentence structure means it has both a complex sentence and a compound sentence in it. That is, two independent clauses (or more) with at least one dependent clause.
Examples of compound complex sentences are:
- I mostly wear spectacles, to avoid blue screen rays, but I prefer contacts.
- She screamed very hard, after seeing the spider, and the dog was frightened.
- Even though it was not very late, I went home, because the vibe was not very good.
These are known commonly as a compound complex sentence.
What are the basic rules of syntax?
There are more than four types of syntax in writing. In fact, these are not types of syntax, but syntactic patterns. A syntactic pattern is an acceptable word order in a language. English sentences can have many parts: noun phrases, prepositional phrases, adverb phrases, that is, very language-specific syntactic properties. A proper syntax refers to maintaining this order. This not only makes a sentence structure grammatically correct but also the olfactory satisfaction that comes with proper arrangement of words.
Let us now understand complements. We all know what a complement is. Well you think you do not, but we have always used complements in our day-to-day conversations and creative writing. A complement is a word that defines another subject, object, or verb. But do not confuse this with modifiers. Unlike modifiers, complements are essential to the sentence structure and cannot be removed. A sentence can have misplaced modifiers but not complements. For example in the sentence, 'The sound was too loud', the word loud defines the intensity of the sound, which is the verb, but it is not a word that we can lose from the sentence. Without it the sentence would be incomplete.
There are around seven types of syntactic patterns:
- Subject to Verb
- Subject to Verb to Direct Object
- Subject to Verb to Adverbial Complement
- Subject to Verb to Subject Complement
- Subject to Verb to Direct Object to Indirect Object
- Subject to Verb to Direct Object to Object Complement
- Subject to Verb to Direct Object to Adverbial Complement
Subject Verb Object Pattern
A sentence which has the subject, verb, object structure can be considered a complete sentence. These are also the features of an independent clause. Hence an independent clause is a complete sentence that has a meaning.
In English syntax, subject verb object structure are form a complete sentence structure
Different Thought, Different Sentence
One should try to put separate ideas not in one single sentence. This causes the syntax to perform poorly, especially with improper use of conjunctions.
The Curious Case of Dependent Clause
A dependent clause as we have discussed, cannot express a complete thought, and requires another clause for support. A dependent clause does not make proper sentences.
What is the difference between syntax and grammar?
To put it simply, grammar is the rule of language parts. Syntax in writing is about the placement of each word in a sentence. Syntax is a vital component of grammar. It overviews proper ordering of words.
Grammar is a deeper concept than syntax. Grammar rules involve deep structure of words, word choice, diction, sentence length, and of course, syntax.
Why is syntax important in writing?
The English language has given birth to great literature both in native and international lands. Literature has given several syntax definition and examples to learn from. Syntax in literature helps to create the needed atmosphere and mood for the content, rhetorics, and general diction. Diction refers to the word choice in a content. If the writing is for official and legal purposes the diction should be formal. A friendly letter or a book of humour can have an informal diction.
For example, Thomas Hardy is known to write nihilistic fiction Paulo Coelho write philosophical fiction, George Orwell write dystopian fiction, and each and every kind of literature has its own internal syntax that gives the writer control over their text. If you are a blog writer, read other blogs with similar content such as yours and you will get a fair idea of your own syntax in writing.
To sum up, to use syntax correctly keep an eye on sentence structures, direct and indirect object, subject verb structure, complements, independent and dependent clauses, with the intent to convey meaning that you want to.