syn·​tax | \ ˈsin-ˌtaks How to pronounce syntax (audio) \

Essential Meaning of syntax

linguistics : the way in which words are put together to form phrases, clauses, or sentences "I saw that she a cookie ate" is an example of incorrect syntax.

Full Definition of syntax

1a : the way in which linguistic elements (such as words) are put together to form constituents (such as phrases or clauses)
b : the part of grammar dealing with this
2 : a connected or orderly system : harmonious arrangement of parts or elements the syntax of classical architecture
3 : syntactics especially as dealing with the formal properties of languages or calculi

Did you know?

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web The immigrant accents are all ours, too, from the transplanted brogue of the wry police detective (Barry Fitzgerald) to the Yiddish syntax of the soda-fountain proprietor (Molly Picon). Alison Willmore, Vulture, 6 Dec. 2021 His syntax has always been ragged; that hasn’t changed. Los Angeles Times, 21 Nov. 2021 Through this process, the sentence is converted into a logical format called a syntax tree. Paul Smith-goodson, Forbes, 13 Oct. 2021 The basic syntax of a robots.txt instruction is very simple: 1. Yec, Forbes, 23 Sep. 2021 The exquisite patterning, the archaic involutions of syntax, the lyricism: Does Sebald’s style reinscribe a sense of human possibility while keeping vigil with the dead? Ben Lerner, The New York Review of Books, 25 Feb. 2021 In the clip below, he mimics Trump’s vocal tics as well as his meandering trains of thought and awkward syntax. Andy Meek, BGR, 4 Nov. 2020 The weekly lessons are demanding, as American signing has unique grammar and syntax. Terry Baddoo, USA TODAY, 22 Sep. 2021 So much of Williams’s genius is distilled here: the control of syntax, as her rhythms rush by and accumulate at the same time; the liberty that comes from unknowing; the echoes of negative theology; the opening up of the dingy into the mystical. Anthony Domestico, The Atlantic, 12 Sep. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'syntax.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of syntax

1548, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for syntax

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

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Last Updated

13 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Syntax.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for syntax


syn·​tax | \ ˈsin-ˌtaks How to pronounce syntax (audio) \

Kids Definition of syntax

: the way in which words are put together to form phrases, clauses, or sentences

More from Merriam-Webster on syntax

Nglish: Translation of syntax for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of syntax for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about syntax


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