Imagine that you’re building a house. Construction has many rules, including building guidelines, safety requirements, and adherence to blueprints. One of those rules dictates how workers must build the frame of the house in order for it to stay upright. While the structure is a fundamentally important part of the house, it is not the only part of the construction process.
Like the construction of a home, building a sentence has many rules. This whole collection of rules is known as grammar. Creating the structural frame of the sentence, like building the frame of the house, is known as syntax. It’s important, but ultimately, the syntax is just one part of a sentence’s grammar.
Grammar is the set of rules a language uses to convey meaning. It is one of the fundamental building blocks of language, along with lexicon, or vocabulary. When you use proper grammar, you are following the generally accepted rules of your language.
Elements of grammar include:
- Morphology: The ways morphemes connect to make words
- Phonology: The sounds of words
- Semantics: The meanings of words and relationships between words
- Syntax: The structure of words in a sentence
Grammar dictates the ways you use words, especially parts of speech. For example, nouns and verbs must agree with each other in your sentence. But, the order of words in that sentence relies on its syntax.
The Greek word syntax means “arrange together.” Syntax has more to do with linguistics than language. Because syntax is a part of grammar, all syntactical rules are also grammar rules. Here are some elements of syntax:
- Parts of a sentence: Subject, predicate, object, direct object
- Phrases: A group of words without a subject or predicate
- Clauses: A group of words with a subject and verb
- Sentence structure: The construction of simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex sentences
Grammar rules and patterns dictate the ways you use the syntactical parts of a sentence. For example, every sentence must include a subject and a predicate. While there are basic syntactic rules to follow, syntax makes it possible for writers to establish tone by varying the types of sentences in their writing.
Is punctuation grammar or syntax? The answer is: neither. Spelling rules, punctuation, and capitalization are writing conventions, and are not a part of grammar or syntax. Combining writing conventions with proper grammar makes your writing clear and easy to understand.
Every sentence you read or say follows the rules of grammar and syntax. Even when you use informal or colloquial speech, you are following a syntactical pattern that best conveys your meaning to your peers. Here are some examples of grammar and syntax rules in action.
Tom went to the store.
- Grammar elements: The third-person singular noun (Tom) agrees with the past-tense verb (went). The preposition (to) connects the action to a definite article (the) and another noun (store).
- Syntax elements: The simple sentence consists of one independent subject. It includes one subject (Tom) and one predicate (went to the store), which includes one direct object (the store).
After winning the game, Charlotte and her friends celebrated in the locker room.
- Grammar elements: The subordinating conjunction (after) modifies the progressive verb (winning), which comes before an article (the) and a noun (game). The conjunction (and) connects the third person singular noun (Charlotte) with a possessive pronoun (her) and a plural noun (friends). The past-tense verb (celebrated) connects with the preposition (in), the article (the), the adjective (locker) and the noun (room).
- Syntax elements: A complex sentence is formed by a dependent clause (after winning the game) combined with an independent clause (Charlotte and her friends celebrated in the locker room). The subject (Charlotte and her friends) is part of both clauses.
Note that in the second example, you can change the order of the clauses to:
Charlotte and her friends celebrated in the locker room after winning the game.
The sentence still follows grammar and syntax rules. It makes sense and conveys the same meaning as the original example. But, syntax allows you to be more creative with your sentence style with a range of structures.
If you’d like to learn more about how grammar and syntax affect grammar, check out more English language arts resources. You can find examples of syntax patterns in literature to see how authors take advantage of sentence structure. Or, take a look at the 11 rules of grammar to make sure your writing is completely error-free.