syn·​tax ˈsin-ˌtaks How to pronounce syntax (audio)
: the way in which linguistic elements (such as words) are put together to form constituents (such as phrases or clauses)
: the part of grammar dealing with this
: a connected or orderly system : harmonious arrangement of parts or elements
the syntax of classical architecture
: syntactics especially as dealing with the formal properties of languages or calculi

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Syntax is basically about what word comes before and after another word; in other words, it's part of the larger subject of grammar. Syntax is often an issue in poetry, and it's usually discussed in connection with diction—that is, the poet's choice of words. So, for example, your English professor might point out the syntactic difference between "Whose woods these are I think I know" and "I think I know whose woods these are;" whereas if the discussion was about diction instead, the question might be about the choice of "woods" rather than "land", or "think" rather than "bet".

Examples of syntax in a Sentence

Everyone has good days and bad days. Her syntax is sometimes a world unto itself. But George H.W. Bush occasionally sounded as though English were more foe than friend, and he was an astute president who managed complexity with skill and balance. Jon Meacham, Newsweek, 13 Oct. 2008
Coming from a great distance and wholly unrelated to the Teutonic, Latin and Slav languages that fence it in, Hungarian has remained miraculously intact. Everything about the language is different, not only the words themselves, but the way they are formed, the syntax and grammar and above all the cast of mind that brought them into being. Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water, 1986
“I saw that she a cookie ate” is an example of incorrect syntax.
Recent Examples on the Web If this weren’t bad enough, there are also some ambiguities in the syntax. Scott Gilbertson, WIRED, 24 June 2024 Their vocalization includes syntax thought by some to reflect an underlying grammar. T. Nelson Thompson, Baltimore Sun, 14 June 2024 Word choice, meaning, syntax, metaphors, grammar, gender, figures of speech, causality and context all influence our perception of the world. Keith Tidman, Baltimore Sun, 29 Feb. 2024 Although researchers who study plant communication talk about syntax in plant communication and, in a way, sentence structure. Elizabeth A. Harris, New York Times, 13 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for syntax 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'syntax.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle French or Late Latin; Middle French sintaxe, from Late Latin syntaxis, from Greek, from syntassein to arrange together, from syn- + tassein to arrange

First Known Use

1548, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of syntax was in 1548

Dictionary Entries Near syntax

Cite this Entry

“Syntax.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


syn·​tax ˈsin-ˌtaks How to pronounce syntax (audio)
: the way in which words are put together to form phrases, clauses, or sentences

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