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

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 Play around with the examples underneath the input box to get an idea of the syntax. David Nield, Popular Science, "Tools for finding new music you’ll love on Spotify," 30 June 2020 My syntax has switched back and forth, without warning. George Mccalman,, "Commentary: Bay Area’s black community is drowning in the tears of white people," 10 June 2020 Its previous handiwork, much of which was riddled with poor syntax and grammatical errors, hardly required a discerning eye to identify. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, "The 2016 Election Was Just a Dry Run," 11 May 2020 More than the arms and moles of ex-wives, syntax and grammar excite him. Merve Emre, The New York Review of Books, "Private Parts of Speech," 10 Mar. 2020 This was actually a bit of a head-scratcher—the MySQL syntax for granting privileges on a database changed with MySQL 8.0, which is now the default in Ubuntu Focal. Jim Salter, Ars Technica, "Caddy offers TLS, HTTPS, and more in one dependency-free Go Web server," 6 May 2020 Limbaugh said, commingling the stilted syntax and conspiracy theorizing familiar to his army of Dittoheads. Jeff Ostrowski, USA TODAY, "A ‘trendsetter’ in political media, Rush Limbaugh rode polarizing views to immense success," 11 Feb. 2020 Belotti, a graduate of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford who identifies as transgender, helped craft the bill in January, offering advice on substance and syntax. Hannah Natanson, Washington Post, "Virginia’s transgender students win safeguards against harassment under new law," 6 Mar. 2020 One develops an ear for the edge cases in grammar and syntax that Grammarly tends to flag but which make sentences snap. Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker, "The New Yorker," 25 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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Time Traveler for syntax

Time Traveler

The first known use of syntax was in 1548

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Statistics for syntax

Last Updated

9 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Syntax.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for syntax


How to pronounce syntax (audio)

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 How to pronounce syntax (audio) \

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

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