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Syntax refers to the ways in which we order specific words to create logical, meaningful sentences. While the parts of speech are all the different types of words that we can use, syntax is the set of rules, patterns, or processes by which we can put them together.
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see grammargrammar,
description of the structure of a language, consisting of the sounds (see phonology); the meaningful combinations of these sounds into words or parts of words, called morphemes; and the arrangement of the morphemes into phrases and sentences, called syntax.
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Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the branch of grammar that deals with the inner structure and general characteristics of sentences. The founder of syntax is generally considered to be the Greek grammarian A. Dyscolus (second century).

Over the course of the development of linguistic theory, the content and relative significance of syntax in the description of language have varied. In the early period of the study of linguistics, syntax was the study of the sentence and its parts, which were analyzed according to the general concepts of logic (the study of the parts of a sentence). The categories of syntax, unlike morphological forms, were considered to be universal. Thus, syntax dealt with the meaning of a sentence, or the semantic aspect of speech. In contrast, phonetics and morphology studied the expressive aspect. This approach later led to the view that syntax was a branch of grammar that examined linguistic phenomena in terms of their evolution from meaning (function) to form (J. O. Jespersen). Since the content of a sentence was regarded as the subject of syntax, syntax was sometimes equated with the method of synchronie analysis and contrasted to the diachronic approach to language (A. A. Potebnia).

In the second half of the 19th century, interest awakened in the national character of languages, and morphology became paramount in importance. In connection with these developments, syntax came to be regarded as the study of the functions of classes of words or parts of speech in the sentence. The syntax of parts of speech was a continuation of morphology. However, syntax did not include phenomena characterizing a sentence as an integral unit. Such phenomena were regarded as an unrelated supplement to the syntax of parts of speech.

In an effort to eliminate the inconsistency in the division of grammar, the German scholar J. Ries defined syntax as the study of word groups described from the perspective of form and content and also distinguished syntax from the study of the word. Ries’ approach was continued by V. Mathesius, who defined syntax as the study of ways of combining nominative units.

This approach to syntax was used by many other linguistic schools of the first half of the 20th century. Thus, the adherents of formal and structural grammar have viewed syntax as the study of the combinative, valent, and relational potentialities of words (syntagmatic syntax). Descriptivists have regarded syntax as the study of the arrangement of words or morphemes in utterances (distributive syntax). The representatives of the logical and psychological schools of grammar—in a broader sense, the adherents of a content-related approach to language—have treated syntax as the study of sentences or utterances. It was impossible to exclude either the combinative or the content-related aspect from the description of language or to reduce them to a common denominator. Hence, it became necessary to include in syntax two independent and internally separate branches: the study of the combinative potentialities of words and the study of sentences. Syntax came to be treated as “the study of the word in the sentence and of the sentence as a whole” (I. I. Meshchaninov). The difference between these divisions of syntax is seen in the opposition of the two types of units studied: word groups (nominative units functionally equivalent to a word) and sentences (predicative, communicative units).

Syntagmatic syntax describes the types of syntactic relations. In this connection, the links between words and parts of a complex sentence may be coordinating or subordinating. There are two basic types of subordination: attributive relations, often expressed by forms of agreement (bol’shoe okno, “a large window”), and completive relations, generally realized through forms of government (otkryt’ okno, “to open the window”). The markers of syntactic relations may be affixes, prepositions, postpositions, inflexions, prepositional-nominal forms, conjunctions, word order, or subordination. The presence of such elements in a sentence facilitates the transition from a linear sequence of words to the tree diagram (the system of semantic relationships), which is a syntactic model of a sentence.

There are two types of markers for syntactic bonds: formally syntactic and semantically syntactic. The first type has no semantic content and only indicates the element of the sentence with which a given word is to be linked by agreement, or subordination. The second type of marker has semantic content; it indicates the functions fulfilled in a situation by objects referred to by corresponding words (Mat’ liubit syna, “The mother loves her son”; Syn liubit mat’, “The son loves his mother”). This branch of syntax also investigates the principles of constructing utterances longer than sentences and, more broadly, of constructing connected texts.

The syntax of sentences deals with the types of predicative relations joining the main parts of the sentence—the subject and predicate. The syntax of sentences is also concerned with the general characteristics of the sentence: modality, syntactic tense, and the communicative goal of the sentence. This area of syntax also includes the study of the sentence’s parts. For languages in which the subject and predicate do not always coincide with the theme and rheme (the logical subject and predicate), the syntax of sentences has a subdivision that analyzes the means of expressing the actual division of a sentence, including the word order.

The relative importance of syntax in different types of grammar varies. Syntax sometimes supplements morphology (syntax of parts of speech) and sometimes occupies a central place in grammar, in which case morphology is defined as a technique for syntax (N. la. Marr). Syntax is particularly important in generative grammar, whose theory was developed beginning in the late 1950’s. According to this theory, which makes semantics the basis of grammatical study, the task of syntax is to establish rules for generating (deriving) sentences from their deep structures—those structures that approach the semantic representation of the sentence. Much attention is also devoted to the meaning of syntactic categories, to problems of synonymous transformations of sentences, to the semantic interpretations and logical characteristics of sentences, and to the study of spoken utterances in their relationship to the communication situation.


Shakhmatov, A. A. Sintaksis russkogo iazyka, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941.
Meshchaninov, I. I. Chleny predlozheniia i chasti rechi. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945.
Grammatika russkogo iazyka, vol. 2. Moscow, 1954.
Peshkovskii, A. M. Russkii sintaksis v nauchnom osveshchenii. Moscow, 1956.
Potebnia, A. A. Iz zapisok po russkoi grammatike, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1958.
Vinogradov, V. V. Iz istorii izucheniia russkogo sintaksisa. Moscow, 1958.
Vinogradov, V. V. Issledovaniia po russkoi grammatike. Moscow, 1975.
Jespersen, O. Filosofiia grammatiki. Moscow, 1958. (Translated from English.)
Chomsky, N. “Sintaksicheskie struktury.” In Novoe v lingvistike, fasc. 2. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from English.)
Grammatika sovremennogo russkogo literaturnogo iazyka. Moscow, 1970.
Panfilov, V. Z. Vzaimootnoshenie iazyka i myshleniia. Moscow, 1971.
Obshchee iazykoznanie: Vnutrenniaia struktura iazyka. Moscow, 1972.
Paducheva, E. V’. O semanlike simaksisa. Moscow, 1974.
Delbrük, B. Vergleichende Syntax der indogermanischen Sprachen, vols. 1–3. Strassburg, 1893–1900.
Ries, J. Was ist Syntax? Prague, 1927.
Tesnière, L. Eléments de syntaxe structurale. Paris, 1959.




in logic, the description and study of the purely formal part of a formalized language, that is, of an uninterpreted calculus, as opposed to logical semantics, which is concerned with the interpretations of calculi. Syntax in the narrow sense examines only the expressive means of the calculus—the alphabet and rules used in generating formulas. Logical syntax is concerned, in addition, with the deductive apparatus of the calculus, that is, with the axioms and rules for deducing theorems. The term “syntax” in any of these senses is often applied not to the description of the structure of the calculus but to the very structure being described. One also distinguishes between elementary syntax, which deals with a specific calculus, and theoretical syntax, the general theory of calculi (formal systems). This terminology was introduced by the German-American logician R. Carnap (1934). (See also, METALOGIC, and METALANGUAGE.)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(computer science)
The set of rules needed to construct valid expressions or sentences in a language.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Logic a systematic statement of the rules governing the properly formed formulas of a logical system
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


The structure of strings in some language. A language's syntax is described by a grammar. For example, the syntax of a binary number could be expressed as

binary_number = bit [ binary_number ]

bit = "0" | "1"

meaning that a binary number is a bit optionally followed by a binary number and a bit is a literal zero or one digit.

The meaning of the language is given by its semantics.

See also abstract syntax, concrete syntax.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (


The rules governing the structure of a programming language. It specifies how words and symbols are put together to form statements and expressions. See syntactic sugar, statement, expression and syntax error.
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