syn·​tax | \ˈsin-ˌtaks \

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

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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

Mencken set out to describe and account for the differences, obvious and subtle, between English and American vocabulary, pronunciation, syntax, intonation, idiom, grammar, slang, euphemism and much more. Joseph Epstein, WSJ, "We All Speak American," 10 Aug. 2018 At the heart of SPE is the claim that the sounds of individual words were derived step by step, through a sequence of rules that come from deep underlying forms, a claim that is parallel to the one that Chomsky was making about syntax. Bryan Marquard,, "Morris Halle, who helped found MIT’s linguistics program, dies at 94," 7 Apr. 2018 Dirty Couple Game Awkward name syntax aside, this is a perfect early-relationship game—like an icebreaker for new couples. Rebecca Reid, Marie Claire, "I Tried 11 Sex Apps to Spice Up My Marriage," 11 July 2018 That gorillas lack syntax should not blind humans to their magnificence. The Economist, "What Koko the gorilla could and couldn’t do," 5 July 2018 Mr Chomsky has changed his mind repeatedly on what constitutes the core of human language, but one obvious candidate is syntax—rules, not just words, which allow the construction of a huge variety of meaningful utterances. The Economist, "What Koko the gorilla could and couldn’t do," 5 July 2018 And without confirming anything, his hypothetical syntax further hints a move is on the cards., "Cristiano Ronaldo's Agent Chimes in on Speculation Star Will Leave Real Madrid," 5 July 2018 Most agree that the icons are not quite a language—the emoji vocabulary is made up almost entirely of nouns, and there’s no real grammar or syntax to govern their use—but their influence on internet communication is massive. Arielle Pardes, WIRED, "Academics Gathered to Share Emoji Research, and It Was 🔥," 27 June 2018 Both saxophonists evoke the concise, often clipped, syntax of Mr. Threadgill’s playing without resorting to mimicry: Mr. Filiú (who also plays alto flute) with an urgent intensity, and Mr. Macdonald through more of a narrative arc. Larry Blumenfeld, WSJ, "‘Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus’ and ‘Dirt… and More Dirt’ Reviews," 22 May 2018

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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Statistics for syntax

Last Updated

13 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for syntax

The first known use of syntax was in 1548

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More Definitions for syntax



English Language Learners Definition of syntax

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


syn·​tax | \ˈsin-ˌtaks \

Kids Definition of syntax

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on syntax

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with syntax

Spanish Central: Translation of syntax

Nglish: Translation of syntax for Spanish Speakers

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

Comments on syntax

What made you want to look up syntax? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a knickknack or trinket

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