Syntax: The Sentence Patterns of Language
Syntax: The word "syntax" refers to the relationships of words within a
sentence. In English, speakers and writers generally indicate these relationships
through word order. For example, the actor--or "subject"--in a sentence generally
comes before the verb. Recipients of actions--or "objects"--generally appear after
verbs. English syntax actually is much more complex than these examples
suggest, but they illustrate a general principle: syntax is the system that
speakers and writers use when they combine words into phrases and clauses,
ultimately creating meaning.
Syntax and Sentence Structure
Syntax refers to the harmonious way in which words are put together to
form phrases, clauses, or sentences. These words can be structured in a
variety of patterns. The subject-verb structure emphasizes action and the
subject's determination. A telescoping effect in a sentence can detail movement
from general to specific or far to near. A periodic sentence suspends the main
idea or subject until the end of the sentence. This creates suspense within the
sentence and prolongs reader interest.
Syntax: the rules of sentence formation. Also, syntax represents the component
of the mental grammar that represents speakers’ knowledge of the structure of
phrases and sentences.
Grammatical or *Ungrammatical?
Grammatical (well-formed): Describes a well-formed sequence of words,
one conforming to the rules of syntax.
*Ungrammatical (ill formed): Ill-formed structures (sequence of words) that do not
conform to the rules of grammar/syntax.
A native/fluent speaker will judge intuitively that a sentence to be
grammatical and the other one to be ungrammatical *.
Intuitive knowledge belongs to the linguistic competence of the
In generative/transformational grammar there are three important aspects of
1 1) the linear order of words from left to right
2) the categorization of words into parts of speech
3) the groupings of words
Grammaticality is not based on:
1) Grammaticality does not depend on having heard the sentence
Example: Enormous crickets in pink socks danced at the prom.
2) Grammaticality does not depend on whether the sentence is
meaningful or not.
Example: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
Although the sentence does not make sense, it is syntactically well formed.
However, it sounds “funny”.
Compare: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. (sounds funny)
*Furiously sleep ideas green colorless. (ungrammatical)
3) Grammaticality does not depend on the truth of the sentence.
Example: Pregnant men are happy.
Unicorns live in the forest.
What else do you know about syntax?
Hierarchical Structure: the groupings and subgroupings of the parts of a sentence into syntactic
Example: the bird sang [[the][bird][sang]]
We already saw these groupings and subgroupings with morphemes:
Example: unlockable [[un][lock][able]]
Ambiguity: will happen when a sentence has multiple meanings (as we saw with the word
For sale: an antique desk suitable for ladies with thick legs and larger drawers桌桌桌桌桌桌桌桌桌桌桌
We will oil your sewing machine and adjust tension in your home for $10.00
This will make you smart. (桌桌桌桌桌)
These structures are ambiguous because of the grouping, therefore causing structural ambiguity桌桌
2 • Syntactic Rules describe the form of the sentences in the language. For example, in English,
the sentence "They can fish" is syntactically correct, while the sentence "Can fish they" is
incorrect. To take another example, the language of binary numerals uses only the symbols 0
and 1, arranged in strings formed by concatenation, so that the sentence 101 is syntactically
correct for this language, while the sentence 1,110,211 is syntactically incorrect.
The syntactic rules in a grammar must at least account for:
1. the grammaticality of sentence
2. word order
3. structural ambiguity/Lexical ambiguity (semantic)
Flying planes can be dangerous (structural ambiguity)
The man pointing at the person with a gun (structural ambiguity)
The professor answered to the students with a smile (structural ambiguity)
This will make you smart (Lexical Ambiguity)
She found him a pig (Lexical Ambiguity)
4. grammatical relations (for example, which NP is the subject, and which NP is the direct object)
Bill hire Mom
I rented the room to you
5. whether the different structures have different meanings of the same meaning
Bill hired Mary
Mary was hired by Bill
6. the creative aspect of language
- unlimited number of sentences
- novel sentences
- unlimited in length of sentences (recursiveness)
What is SYNTAX?
• the rules of sentence formation
• the component of the mental grammar that represents speakers+BOA-knowledge of the
structure of phrases and sentences.
• The grammars of all languages include rules of syntax that reflect
speakers+BOA-knowledge of these facts.
• Sentences are not random strings of words. To be a sentence, words
must conform to specific patterns determined by the syntactic rules of the
★ SENTENCE STRUCTURE
• subgroups of words
• Syntactic rules determine the order of words in a sentence, and how the words are grouped.
PHRASE STRUCTURE TREES 桌桌桌桌桌桌Constituent structure tree桌
3 One approach to analyzing a sentence is to divide the words of a sentence into phrases (defined as
words closely associated with one another syntactically). This technique is known as parsing 桌桌桌桌.
The most fundamental division is between subject and predicate (verb).
Sometimes a sentence or phrase allows for two different syntactic interpretations. Parsing using
parentheses桌桌桌 to show syntactic relations can disambiguate 桌桌桌桌桌桌 such a phrase as:
old men and women
Tree diagrams can be used to show such "long distance" grammatical relations.
Consider also the sentence:
The fish is too old to eat.
Tree Diagrams: Hierarchical structures are generally depicted in a tree diagram. Tree diagrams
make it easier to see the parts and subparts of a sentence.
Consider the following sentence:
The child found the puppy.
Possible Groupings: 1. (the child), (found the puppy)
2. (the child) (found) (the puppy)
subject verb direct object
3. (the) (child) (found) (the) (puppy)
determiner noun verb determiner noun
The parts and subparts of the sentence can be illustrated using a tree diagram:
• The groupings and subgroupings reflect the hierarchical structure of the tree.
The child found the puppy
the child found the puppy
the child found the puppy
4 the puppy
Notice: (found the puppy) --> found) (the puppy) but not *(found the) (puppy)
If someone asks, "What did you find?"
The answer should be something like the puppy, but not found the
• Therefore, every sentence has one or more corresponding constituent structures composed of
hierarchically arranged parts called constituents.
Constituents桌桌: refer to the natural groupings of a sentence. It is a syntactic unit in a phrase
Example: The child found the puppy.
The child = noun phrase (NP)
found the puppy = verb phrase (VP)
Here is a summary of the different types of CONSTITUENTS:
(1) Noun Phrase (NP): may function as the subject or as an object in a sentence. They often
contain some form of a noun or proper noun, but may consist of a pronoun alone, or even
contain a clause or a sentence. See page 126 #1: identify the NPs.
(2) Verb Phrase (VP): it always contains a verb and may contain other categories (NPs, PPs) etc.
see p. 127 #2: identify the VPs
(3) Sentence (S): contains an NP, AUX, and an VP
OR Inflectional Phrase (IP): contains NP, INFL, VP
(This is for Spanish and French)
(4) Adjective Phrase (AdjP):
(5) Preposition Phrase (PP):
(6) Complementizer Phrase (CP): An embedded clause or subordinate clause
These larger syntactic categories桌桌桌桌 (NP, VP, PP, etc) are called NODES桌桌.
Nodes, contain the following information
(parts of speech桌桌,桌):
(7) Determiner桌桌桌 (Det): is found in a NP
5 (8) Adjective (Adj): is found in an AdjP
(9) Noun (N): is found in a NP
(10) Preposition (P): is found in a PP
(11) Adverb (Adv)
(12) Auxiliary Verb (Aux) will, has, is, may, might, would, could, can, etc.
OR Inflection 桌桌桌桌(Infl) this holds the inflectional information (tense, mood, gender,
number) of RICH inflectional languages (Spanish, Italian, French-somewhat)
PHRASE STRUCTURE TREES p. 128
nodes, immediately dominate, dominate
★ Phrase structure trees represent:
1) the linear order of the words in the sentence
2) the groupings of words詞組 into syntactic categories
3) the hierarchical structure of the syntactic categories
Some Phrase Structure Rules
Sets of rules like these make up phrase structure grammar.
S → NP Aux VP Aux = will hold helping verbs
And inflection information
S → S conj S conj = conjunction (and, or)
NP → (Det) (Adj) (AdjP) N (PP)
Pro Pro = Pronoun (We, it, los, se, )
NP conj NP