Home / Grammar /

Understanding Syntax (Meaning, Rules, and Examples)

The word syntax comes from Ancient Greek root words such as σύνταξις or “coordination”, which consists of σύν syn, “together”, and τάξις táxis, “ordering”. In English grammar, syntax refers to the rules that tell which word goes where in sentences. In other words, it refers to the arrangement of words in a specific order.

Here is a detailed explanation of the syntax, types of syntax, and its rules with examples…

What Is Syntax?

Syntax is the placement of words in a specific order. In English grammar, a typical sentence follows the syntax of subject-verb-object sequence. For example, “Tom broke the bat.” Here, “Tom” is the subject, “broke” is the verb, and “bat” is the object. This sentence follows the syntax – subject-verb-object. 

This sequence is not true for all sentences. Writers take the liberty to manipulate syntax rules and create sentences that move away from the conventional order.


For example:

Bat was broken by Tom. Here, the sentence has the “subject (Tom)”, “verb (broken)”, and “object (bat)” but the order is different. In this sentence, the syntax is “object-verb-subject”. Such a sentence is also syntactically correct in English grammar.

Another example:

Tom’s keys are missing. Here, “Tom” is the subject, “keys” is the object, and “missing” is the verb. The syntax of this sentence is “subject-object-verb”.

In addition to syntax, diction is another important element in English grammar. Many confuse syntax and diction as the same because both of them deal with words but they are quite different. Let’s understand the difference between them.

Syntax \ ˈsin-ˌtaks \the way in which linguistic elements (such as words) are put together to form constituents (such as phrases or clauses)

Syntax vs. Diction

Both of these deal with words. Syntax refers to organizing words in a specific order to form a sentence. On the other hand, diction is the selection of words to form a sentence.

To understand the differences, let’s look at some examples.


  • The girl ate mangoes cheerfully.
  • Cheerfully, the girl ate mangoes.

In the above sentences, the use of words is the same. Both sentences use the same five words. However, the word order of both sentences is different. The first sentence follows the syntax – subject-verb-object-adverb.

The second sentence follows the syntax – adverb-subject-verb-object. Here, the syntax focuses on the structure of words.

Here are a few examples whose diction is different but the word order is the same.

  • The monkey ate the banana.
  • The boy threw the ball.

In the above two sentences, the use of words is different. However, the word order is the same. Both sentences follow the syntax – “subject-verb-object”. Here, the diction focuses on the choice of words.

The above examples show that both are different. The syntax’s primary focus is on the structure or order of the words. On the other hand, the diction’s primary focus is on the choice of words.

Syntax rule (7 types)Example
Subject → verbThe dog barked. 
Subject → verb → direct objectThe dog carried the ball. 
Subject → verb → subject complementThe dog is playful. 
Subject → verb → adverbial complementThe dog ate hungrily. 
Subject → verb → indirect object → direct objectThe dog gave me the ball. 
Subject → verb → direct object → object complementThe dog made the ball dirty. 
Subject → verb → direct object → adverbial complementThe dog perked its ears up.

Proper Syntax In English

In English grammar, the proper syntax is the “subject-verb-object” sequence. Apart from this, there are many different types of syntax. These different types of syntax are used in four sentence structures which are:

Let’s understand each one of them in detail with examples.

Simple Sentences

These sentences consist of a single independent clause expressing a single idea.


  • Amelie enjoys swimming in the pool.
  • Shawn loves cooking outdoors.

Compound Sentences

These sentences are constructed by joining two or more simple sentences. To join them, a comma, a complete stop (.), or conjunctions are used.


  • I hate tomatoes, and my children hate potatoes. Here, the conjunction “and” joins two independent clauses. Such a sentence is known as a compound sentence.
  • I arrived on time, but Jane arrived a bit late. Here the “,” is joining two independent clauses.

Complex Sentences

In complex sentences, the sentences should have more than one clause. Here they should have an independent clause and a dependent clause. Here are a few examples:


  • When the food is ready, serve the food on plates. Here, the dependent clause is “when the food is ready,” and the independent clause is “serve the food on plates.”
  • It is cold outside, therefore, I put on the jacket. Here, the independent clause is “it is cold outside”, and the dependent clause is “therefore, I put on the jacket”.

Compound-Complex Sentences

A combination of complex and compound sentences is complex-compound or compound-complex sentences. The sentences must have at least two independent clauses and a single dependent clause.

Here are a few examples.


  • Though he has no formal training, he dances well and sings in tune. Here, the dependent clause is “Though he has no formal training.” The two independent clauses are “he dances well” and “sings in tune”.
  • Jack was in college, and his sister was at work when the party was going on. Here, the two independent clauses are “Jack was in college” and “his sister was at work.” The dependent clause is “when the party was going on.”
RuleRelated to
All sentences required a subject and a verb. However, imperative sentences do not need to include their subject.Syntax
A single sentence should include one main idea.Syntax
The subject comes first, and the verb comes second. If the sentence has objects, they come third, after the verb.Syntax
Subordinate clauses also require a subject and verb.Syntax
Adjectives and adverbs go in front of other words they describe. Also known as multiple adjectives describing the same noun. Use the proper adjective order known as the “royal order.”Syntax

Basic Syntax Grammar Rules

There are so many syntax rules in English grammar, so listing all the rules here is impossible. That said, there are a few basic syntax rules in English to keep in mind. These are:

  • Sequencing of subject, verb, and object.
  • Other grammatical syntax rules like subject and verb must be a part of a sentence.
  • Constituency.

Let’s look at each of them in detail.

Sequencing of Subject, Verb, And Object

The “subject-verb-object” format is used in constructing affirmative sentences. In such sentences, the subject is first in the sentence, then the verb, and finally the object. Let’s look at some examples.


  • John hates vegetables. Here the sentence structure is in “subject-verb-object” order. “John” is the subject, then follows “hates” which is the verb, and finally “vegetables” which is the object.
  • The siblings are going by flight to New Zealand. This sentence also follows the structure “subject-verb-object”. “Siblings” is the subject, followed by “going” which is the verb, and “flight” is the object.

Other Grammatical Relations

  • A sentence must have a verb and a subject and should express a thought. That said, imperative sentences don’t require a subject because, in such sentences, the subject is assumed. Sometimes using an object in sentences is also optional. For example, “Dog bites.” Here, “dog” is the subject and “bites” is the verb. The sentence doesn’t include an object. 
  • When there are multiple ideas to express, the best way to express them is by describing them in separate sentences.
  • Subordinate clauses should have a verb and subject in them.
  • Every sentence should start with a capital letter and end with a complete stop, exclamation mark, or question mark. For example, “The dog ate biscuits.” or “Why is the dog barking?”.
  • A singular subject in sentences demands a singular verb and a plural subject demands a plural verb. For example, “John works at the gym.” Here, “John” is the singular subject, and “works” is the singular verb. Another example, “Amelie and Sam eat together.” Here, “Amelie” and “Sam” are plural subjects, and “eat” is a plural verb.
  • In English grammar, adjectives usually come before nouns. For example, “He has a big broomstick at his home.” Here, the “big” adjective comes before the noun “broomstick.” Another example, “She has a small dining table”. Here, the “small” adjective comes before the noun “dining table.”


Another grammar syntax rule is that the constituents in sentences are arranged in a hierarchical structure. Now, what is a constituent? Constituents are structural components in sentences. In simple words, every sentence consists of parts, and all these pieces together form a meaningful sentence. These parts are constituents.


[My cat] [scratched the sofa]. Here, “My cat” is the subject phrase which is one unit, and “scratched the sofa” is the verb phrase which is another unit. Here the constituents should be in the hierarchy. If “scratched the sofa” comes first in the sentence and then “My cat”, the sentence becomes meaningless. It should be ensured that the constituents in a sentence are in a hierarchical structure.

Understanding Parallel Structure In Sentences

A parallel structure in a sentence is where the ideas in the sentence should be aligned. When forming a sentence with lists, maintaining a parallel structure is important. Here are a few examples to explain what it is.


Tom loves jogging, swimming, and skipping. Here, jogging, swimming, and skipping are gerunds that are aligned; hence the sentence has a parallel structure.

Look at this example.

Tom loves to jog, swimming, and skipping. Here, “to jog” is an infinitive verb. Swimming and skipping are gerunds. So, there is no alignment; hence this sentence doesn’t have a parallel structure.

Syntax rules chart
Syntax rules chart


  1. What is Syntax? Definition, Examples of English Syntax
  2. Syntax in the English Language
  3. Syntax Rules & Types
  4. Types of Syntax | Sentence Structure

Fact checked:
Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. Learn more.

About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.