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 Norm Crosby, a comedian who mangled words with great extinction, drawing standing ovulations for more than four decades with his fractured English, scrambled syntax and marvelous malapropisms, died Nov. 7 at a hospital in Los Angeles. Washington Post, "Norm Crosby, comedian who mangled words with great extinction, dies at 93," 9 Nov. 2020 By this simple twist of syntax, talk — rumors, claims — is framed as the heart of these plays and the means by which Wilson defines the endurance and significance of Blackness in America. New York Times, "August Wilson, American Bard," 3 Dec. 2020 Lüscher’s style, a hybrid of intellectual posturing and absurd slapstick, is sharply translated by Tess Lewis, who captures Kraft’s pomposity and the indefatigable march of German syntax. Washington Post, "In ‘Kraft,’ German author Jonas Lüscher pokes fun at Silicon Valley’s shiny elitism and rabid faith in technology," 18 Nov. 2020 Some critics have seen the fractured syntax of Celan’s later poems as emblematic of his progressively more fragile mental state. Ruth Franklin, The New Yorker, "How Paul Celan Reconceived Language for a Post-Holocaust World," 16 Nov. 2020 But there is always some little hint, usually involving awkward language or syntax, that the message is fake. Tom Margenau, Dallas News, "Something personal: Identity theft and Social Security," 25 Oct. 2020 In these works, thought tends to veer and swerve erratically, syntax is warped and logic suspended, and vocabularies and tones are mixed and recombined with wild abandon. Troy Jollimore, Washington Post, "‘The Selected Letters of John Berryman’ is an intimate portrait of the celebrated, tortured poet," 22 Oct. 2020 Reverse engineering also allowed the researcher to figure out the syntax required to activate the remote snapshot function. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, "Undocumented backdoor that covertly takes snapshots found in kids’ smartwatch," 12 Oct. 2020 This kind of frank talk would instantly put the issue of his slow, deliberate and at times confusing syntax to rest. Willie Brown,, "Willie Brown: Trump’s positive virus test a big negative for campaign," 3 Oct. 2020

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

24 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Syntax.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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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

Nglish: Translation of syntax for Spanish Speakers

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

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