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".

Example Sentences

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 Textual analysis came naturally to the industry’s sleuths, some of whom claimed to detect a Germanic cadence in the thief’s writing or an idiomatic French syntax. Vulture, 6 Jan. 2022 Some Republican criticism plays off Biden's age and his occasional mangled syntax. USA Today, 15 May 2021 Humans, by contrast, can usually understand even rather mangled syntax, because of the ability to guess the contents of other minds. The Economist, 27 Feb. 2021 The last difference is hierarchical syntax. Bridget Alex, Discover Magazine, 7 Dec. 2018 This latest edition of Francisco gives a new generation of readers the opportunity to think about how little has changed in the culture industry’s relationship of convenience with Black artists while riding the waves of Newman’s musical and minimalist syntax. J. Howard Rosier, Vulture, 10 Mar. 2023 LLMs can catch typos or violations of basic syntax in coding. Quartz, 14 Feb. 2023 The syntax will be tremendous. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 18 Dec. 2022 Throughout, the syntax is punchy and slangy, while the diction often grows brazenly recondite. Michael Dirda, Washington Post, 10 Nov. 2022 See More

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 2 Jun. 2023.

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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