Syntax is the arrangement of words in sentences, clauses, and phrases, and the study of the formation of sentences and the relationship of their component parts. It defines the rules and regulations that help write any statement in a programming language, while semantics refers to the meaning of the associated line of code in the programming language.

Sentences are constructed from phrases or groups of words that have a closer relationship to each other than to the words outside the phrase. In the sentence “My dog is playing in the yard” there is a closer relationship between the words “is playing,”. Which together form the verb, than between the words “playing in the,” that form only part of the verb and part of the phrase indicating the location of the playing.

In a language such as English, the main device for showing the relationship among words is word order; in “The girl loves the boy,” the subject is in initial position, and the object follows the verb. Transposing them changes the meaning. In many other languages, case markers indicate the grammatical relationships. In Latin, for example, “The girl loves the boy” may be puella puerum amat with “the girl” in initial position, or puerum puella amat with “the boy” in initial position, or amat puella puerum, amat puerum puella, or puella amat puerum. The meaning remains constant because the -um ending on the form for “boy” indicates the object of the verb, regardless of its position in the sentence.

What’s the Difference Between Syntax and Grammar?

Syntax is a subdivision of grammar. Grammar comprises the entire system of rules for a language, including syntax. Syntax deals with the way that words are put together to form phrases, clauses, and sentences.

syntax instruction


A complete sentence has a subject and predicate, and can often be composed of more than one clause. As long as it has a subject and a predicate, a group of words can form a sentence, no matter how short.

Sentence Structure

  1. A new sentence begins with a capital letter.
    • He earned his promotion.
  2. A sentence ends with punctuation (a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point).
    • He earned his promotion.
  3. A sentence contains a subject or noun that is only given once.
    • Daniel He earned his promotion.
  4. A sentence contains a verb or a verb phrase.
    • He earned his promotion.
  5. A sentence follows Subject + Verb + Object word order.
    • He (subject) earned (verb) his promotion (object).
  6. A sentence must have a complete idea that stands alone. This is also called an independent clause.
    • He obtained his degree.
What is the difference between phrase and clause and sentence example?

A clause is a group of words with a subject-verb unit; the 2nd group of words contains the subject-verb unit the bus goes, so it is a clause. A phrase is a group of words without a subject-verb unit.

The study of syntax also includes the investigation of the relations among sentences that are similar, such as “John saw Mary” and “Mary was seen by John.” Syntax received much attention after 1957, when the American linguist Noam Chomsky proposed a radically new theory of language, transformational grammar (q.v.).

syntax noam chomsky
Noam Chomsky at an event in Karlsruhe, Germany, on May 30, 2014. (Uli Deck / AP)

Transformational syntax

In linguistics, transformational syntax is a seminal approach to syntax that developed from the extended standard theory of generative grammar originally proposed by Noam Chomsky in his books Syntactic Structures and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.

“The era of Transformational-Generative Grammar, as it is called, signifies a sharp break with the linguistic tradition of the first half of the [twentieth] century both in Europe and America because, having as its principal objective the formulation of a finite set of basic and transformational rules that explain how the native speaker of a language can generate and comprehend all its possible grammatical sentences, it focuses mostly on syntax and not on phonology or morphology, as structuralism does” (Encyclopedia of Linguistics, 2005).

Transformational grammar is a system of language analysis that recognizes the relationship among the various elements of a sentence and among the possible sentences of a language and uses processes or rules (some of which are called transformations) to express these relationships. For example, transformational grammar relates the active sentence “John read the book” with its corresponding passive, “The book was read by John.” The statement “George saw Mary” is related to the corresponding questions, “Whom [or who] did George see?” and “Who saw Mary?” Although sets such as these active and passive sentences appear to be …(100 of 268 words)

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