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

Satoshi is widely believed to have been a native English speaker from a British commonwealth country—given his usage and spellings of words like colour—but also occasionally (and inexplicably) employed American syntax. Evan Ratliff, WIRED, "Was Bitcoin Created by This International Drug Dealer? Maybe!," 16 July 2019 Most of the changes seems to be small edits for clarity, preserving much of Shakespeare’s complex syntax and most of the famous lines intact. Sam Hurwitt, The Mercury News, "Review: ‘Macbeth’ in SF gets stunning update, with mixed results," 19 July 2019 Negotiating the complex syntax seems to distract his attention from any number of errors. Tim Parks, Harper's magazine, "Behind the High Walls," 10 Feb. 2019 Rachel Cusk has long been one of the finest and most invigorating stylists writing in English, graced with scientific precision, meticulous syntax, and a viperous wit. Valeria Luiselli, The New York Review of Books, "Claire Messud," 21 Mar. 2019 But their brains are not equipped to follow our syntax. Brian Resnick, Vox, "What humpback whales can teach us about alien languages," 6 Dec. 2018 And thus, this was an evening of transcending syntax in the effort to make the inaccessible accessible. Mark Swed,, "The voices of Angela Davis and Lech Walesa, via piano," 28 Mar. 2018 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

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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7 Aug 2019

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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 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

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 usually brief trip or an expedition

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