Syntactical

When you learn to drive, you learn the rules of the road to keep you and the other drivers safe. Similarly, there are rules in the English language that ensure writers, readers, and speakers can clearly communicate with one another. These rules are called cues and conventions and are organized into different types. Syntactical cues and conventions are the rules of word order and sentence structure.  

Syntactical Syntactical

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Table of contents

    Syntactical Definition

    What is the definition of syntactical? The word syntactical is an adjective. Syntactical describes something that relates to the rules of syntax. Generally speaking, syntax refers to word order within sentences. The way writers choose to arrange words in sentences shapes the meaning of the sentence, the tone of their writing, and contributes to their overall style.

    Syntactical, Steering Wheel, StudySmarter Fig. 1 - English cues and conventions are like rules of the road.

    Syntactical Cues and Conventions

    In English, writers often use cues and conventions to convey meaning and alert the reader to the direction of the text. There are many types of cues and conventions, including textual, morphological, and syntactical.

    Syntactical cues and conventions are the structural elements and rules that create sentences.

    Syntax should not be confused with semantics. When considering syntax, one looks at the order of words in a sentence. When considering semantics, one would examine how elements like the definition of words in a sentence and the tone of a sentence convey meaning.

    Syntactical cues include word order, grammar, and punctuation. All of these elements of a sentence impact how people read and hear sentences.

    Syntactical Rules

    Syntactical rules are the rules that govern word order and the arrangement of phrases in sentences. The main syntactical rules in English are as follows:

    1. Sentences must have a subject and a verb.

    2. The subject of a sentence must come before the verb.

    3. Objects come after the verb.

    4. Adverbs and adjectives go before the words they describe.

    I am happily buying the red jacket.

    Like adjectives, adverbs usually go before the word they describe. However, this is not always the case. For instance, consider the following sentences.

    We closed slowly the window.

    We closed the window slowly.

    In the first sentence, it does not make sense to put the adverb "slowly" after the word "closed." This is because "slowly" is an adverb of manner, describing how something is done. Adverbs of manner often go at the end of a sentence, as do adverbs of time and frequency.

    Sometimes putting these adverbs at the end of sentences ensures that the sentence is grammatically correct, but sometimes the placement of these adverbs is up to the writer. The location of these adverbs can impact the sentence's meaning and what the writer emphasizes. For example, consider the difference between the following sets of sentences.

    We take a train to Paris sometimes.

    We sometimes take a train to Paris.

    Putting "sometimes" at the end of the first sentence emphasizes the frequency of the speaker's trip to Paris. In the second sentence, the emphasis is on where the speaker goes.

    All writers in the English language have to follow the above syntactical rules. However, after following these rules, writers can play with word order and sentence structure. How writers vary sentences within these rules can convey a great deal of meaning about the text at hand or the author's style.

    Syntactical, Rules, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Syntactical rules help writers, readers, and speakers clearly understand each other.

    The 4 Main Types of Sentence Structures

    The following are the main types of sentences writers can choose from when making syntactical choices. To understand the differences between the two types of sentences, review the difference between an independent clause and a dependent clause below.

    An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence. For example, "I like turkey sandwiches."

    A dependent clause is a clause that cannot stand alone because it is not a complete thought. For example, "when the sandwiches arrive."

    Type of Sentence Definition Example

    Simple Sentences

    A simple sentence is a sentence that contains an independent clause.

    The food will arrive at 8 pm.

    Compound Sentences

    A compound sentence is a sentence that contains two independent clauses. The two independent clauses are joined with a conjunction (such as and or but).

    I am very hungry, but the food doesn't arrive until 8 pm.

    Complex Sentences

    A complex sentence is a sentence that contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

    I am eating the sandwich because I am very hungry.

    Compound-Complex Sentences

    A compound-complex sentence contains more than one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

    After I ate the sandwich, I felt full, but I decided to go to the movies.

    Can you construct one of each type of sentence?

    Punctuation

    Written punctuation refers to the use of signs to denote how writing is interpreted. This type of punctuation functions as a syntactical cue that helps readers understand how the words in a sentence are meant to come across. For example, if a reader reads an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence, they will read the sentence with more emphasis than if they see a period.

    Oral Punctuation

    Punctuation is not just about the written symbols at the end of a sentence. The term oral punctuation refers to the cues people send through the way they change their voice during and at the end of the sentence. People articulate oral punctuation through pauses, changes in rhythm, and modulation in voice.

    For example, read the following sentence aloud and make your voice go up at the end.

    I can't believe we're going to Florida

    Even though the listener cannot see the punctuation, making one's voice higher at the end implies that there is an exclamation point and the speaker is excited.

    Now reread the sentence, but make your voice go down at the end. This implies sarcasm or disappointment rather than excitement and suggests to the listener that there is a period at the end. This reveals information about the speaker's emotions.

    Syntactical Functions

    Syntactical elements like punctuation and word order help fulfill the four main functions of sentences.

    Imperative

    Imperative sentences are sentences that give commands, invitations, or advice. Sometimes imperative sentences do not explicitly state their subject because it is implied. This is the slightest exception to rule one.

    • Close the door!
    • Have a great weekend.

    Declarative

    People use declarative sentences to make a statement, express an opinion, explain a concept, or state a fact. Declarative sentences are the most common type of sentence used in writing.

    • Bees pollinate flowers.
    • I like oranges.
    • It's hot in this room.

    Interrogative

    Notice how the word "interrogative" looks like the word "interrogate." An interrogative sentence is a sentence that asks a question. The interrogative sentences thus end with a question mark.

    • Are you going to the store?
    • Do bees pollinate flowers?

    Syntactical, Question Marks, StudySmarter Fig. 3 - Interrogative sentences typically end in a question mark.

    Exclamatory

    An exclamatory sentence expresses intense emotions. For example, people use exclamatory sentences when they are mad, surprised, or excited. Exclamatory sentences usually end with an exclamation mark.

    • I want you to leave!
    • That's awesome!
    • I can't believe it!

    Syntactical Choices

    Writers make different syntactical choices to impact the meaning of their text. Take a look at the following examples to see the impact of syntactical choices. For example, notice how the meaning of these sentences changes as the word order changes.

    • I wear purple only on Thursdays.
    • I wear only purple on Thursdays.

    In the above example, the placement of the word "only" impacts the sentence's implications. In the first sentence, the writer suggests that Thursday is the only day of the week they wear purple. In the second sentence, the writer indicates that purple is the only color they wear on Thursdays, though they may also wear purple on other days.

    Syntactical choices can also impact what the writer draws the reader's attention to. For instance, consider the following examples:

    • Last year, I went to Paris and had a terrible experience.
    • I had a terrible experience in Paris last year.

    The first sentence draws the reader's attention to when the experience happened. In the second sentence, the reader's attention first goes to the terrible experience, which places extra emphasis on it.

    Read the above sentences aloud. How does the meaning change with the rhythm and modulation of your voice?

    Syntactical, Eiffel Tower, StudySmarter Fig. 4 - The example sentences about Paris demonstrate the impact of syntactical choices.

    Syntactical Choices in Literature

    The American author Ernest Hemingway made unique syntactical choices that came to define his distinctive writing style. For example, in his novel A Farewell to Arms (1929), Hemingway uses declarative sentences to make the reader face the harsh realities of loss. At the end of the novel, the love of the main character's life dies. He narrates the scene and says:

    It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while, I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain" (Chapter 41).

    Hemingway's word order here impacts how the reader understands the sentence and feels the message. For instance, consider what the second sentence would look like if it were arranged differently, like this:

    I went out after a while and left the hospital. Then, in the rain, I walked back to the hotel.

    The movement of phrases changes the rhythm and implications of the sentence. For instance, the way Hemingway ends with the phrase "in the rain" emphasizes the gloomy nature of the scene and the cold, harsh reality of the event. However, if this phrase was earlier in the sentence, like in the above example, it would not create such a definitive mood.

    Hemingway's use of declarative sentences in this excerpt also helps him get straight to the point. He does not sugarcoat the experience with excessive description or exclamation. Instead, he matter-of-factly states that the dead woman looked like a statue and that the narrator leaves. There is nothing else the man can do but leave. His life must go on. These short sentences create cold, terse prose, which allows Hemingway to explore the painful, brutal reality of love and loss.

    Syntactical - Key Takeaways

    • Syntactical cues and conventions are the rules of word order and sentence structure.
    • According to syntactical rules, all sentences must have a sentence and a verb.
    • In English, adjectives must come before the words they describe, and objects must come after verbs.
    • Sentences can be simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex.
    • Sentences are declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Syntactical

    What are syntactic cues?

    Syntactic cues are elements of word order, grammar, and punctuation. They tell readers the deeper meaning of words or what will come next in a sentence. 

    What are syntactic rules?

    Syntactic rules are the rules of word order, grammar, and punctuation that govern sentences.   

    What is syntactic and semantic?

    Syntactic refers to word order while semantic refers to meaning. 

    What are the 4 types of syntax?

    When making syntactical choices writers can make four types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. 

    What is a syntactic structure example?

    In English, subjects must come before verbs and objects must come after verbs. Adverbs and adjectives must go before the words they describe. For example, "I am happily buying the red jacket."

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is syntax?

    What type of sentence is this? Open the window! 

    What type of sentence is this?I want to go to the store and I want to see a movie. 

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