The Importance of Syntax in the Study of a Language

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The Importance of Syntax in the Study of a Language

Syntax is important when studying a language.

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Introduction: Why is syntax important in language?

The learning of a language is known as linguistics. Linguistics involves many topics of learning a language, including the study of syntax. In Linguistics, the study of syntax involves learning how to structure sentences in a certain language (Smith, 2015). Semantics is the study of the meanings of words in a particular language; it is quite easy to learn them due to the presence of translator dictionaries. The purpose of various words in a sentence also falls under semantics, but the structure of a sentence that will communicate an idea to other people accurately is very important. The study of syntax in linguistics is quite challenging since the learner has to know how to put words in a sentence to make it sensible and avoid ambiguity (Smith, 2015). Many people know the meanings of many words, but it is difficult to put the words in a sentence that makes grammatical and logical sense. A sentence is supposed to communicate something to the listeners. Words arranged in a sentence can give a particular meaning; the same words rearranged can give a different message to the listeners. To become proficient in a language, syntax is one of the most important aspects to be considered.

The choice of the topic on syntax is influenced by the difficulty that is experienced while learning a foreign language (Smith, 2015). Most of the learners of a language have problems in the topic of syntax than all other topics in the study of any language. Syntax is the learner’s first attempt to understand creativity in language and its limits. An English learner may know the meaning of words football, take, watch and match, but the meaning of a message depends also on the structure of a sentence. The learner may say, “Take me a football match watch.” This sentence is not acceptable as when one would try to figure out its meaning, it might come out ambiguous. The learner has to know syntax to come up with a sentence like “Take me out to watch the football match.” Syntax soundness in a sentence makes the sentence easier to understand for the reader and the listener and the message is passed on to the reader without any confusion.  Thus, people learning languages should take into consideration the use of syntax (Yule, 2006).


Literature Review on Importance of Syntax in Linguistics

Syntax is a part of linguistics that is involved in the study of sentence structure. It is based on three elements of a sentence: word order, word agreement, and hierarchical structure of a sentence (Hana, 2011). Learners of a language must know how to arrange words that they know to make a sentence. If one wants some books and knows that they are called books, a sentence may be constructed as “Want these I books.” It is not grammatically correct, and the listener may not understand the message. The words should be arranged as, “I want these books.” A learner of a language should also ensure that there is word agreement in a sentence; subject and verb, determiner and noun, and other words have to agree with each other (Hana, 2011). The sentence “He want his ball” does not have a proper subject-verb agreement. The sentence “He wants his ball” is correct since the subject is singular. The use of proper pronouns in a sentence is also important; the learner should know which pronoun agrees with the subject of a sentence. A sentence like “I gave she a book” is not acceptable since the pronoun is wrong (Hana, 2011). The hierarchical structure of a sentence is also very important. A good example is the following sentences: “We need focused leaders” and “More leaders who are focused are needed”. The sentences have the same meaning but different word arrangement (Hana, 2011).

Semantics deals with the meaning of words in a sentence. In its turn, Syntax defines the meaning of the sentence.  Some sentences can be grammatically correct but make no sense; these sentences lack the correct use of syntax (Hana, 2011). A good example is a sentence like ‘Colorless red decisions sleep well.’ This sentence makes no sense, but it is grammatically correct, although the agreement of words is not right. Some sentences make sense but are not grammatically correct, as in a sentence like, “My big ball I will play today”. It shows that the person will play his or her big ball today, but it is not grammatically correct. The problem results from the lack of word order in the sentence (Hana, 2011).

Syntax is an aspect of linguistics that gives meaning to a sentence. Most sentences are ambiguous when they lack syntax properties (Yule, 2006). One may construct a sentence like, ‘John had a walking stick, and he bumped into an old man with it’, and another person may construct a sentence like ‘John bumped into an old man, and the old man happened to be carrying a walking stick’. These two sentences would have the same meaning as the one initially constructed as ‘John bumped into an old man with a walking stick’. It creates structural ambiguity; it is open to diverse interpretations by the reader or the listener. The message could be intended for various listeners and differential understanding of the sentence leads to confusion. This shows that sentences that are not well structured could lead to misunderstanding of the message. The main purpose of syntax in a sentence is to show the structural distinction between the parties represented in a sentence (Yule, 2006).

Syntax also enables learners to construct sentences that show recursion which is important in the construction of grammatically correct sentences (Yule, 2006). It enables the construction of one sentence from many phrases that relate to one subject or object. A good example is in the description of the location of an object. The sweet is on the floor, the sweet is near the door, and the sweet is in the kitchen. These phrases should be combined to construct a complex sentence that the reader or listener should understand. The prepositional phrase has to be repeated in the complex sentence, and the words must be well arranged to make sense. Recursion and proper arrangement of the words will change the sentence as, ‘The sweet is on the floor, near the door, and in the kitchen’. The insertion of a sentence within another sentence also requires proper arrangement of the words to make a grammatically correct and logical sentence (Yule, 2006). It would be less tedious and time-saving to read one sentence other than two sentences to get the same meaning. An example can be the following: ‘Ken saw Ian’ and ‘Joan knows that Ken saw Ian.’ The first sentence is represented in the second one. One can get the meaning of the first sentence from the second one, and this is use of syntactical skills.

There are many rules involved in the study of syntax, and the easiest way to understand it is learning through the tree diagrams formed using the syntax rules. Many people have used this method to learn a different language and they have proved that it is successful. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011). Learners have to understand syntax rules to draw the tree. Without knowledge of the rules, it can be difficult to understand them, but the rules help to make the construction of sentences an easy task.


Discussion on The Importance of Syntax in Linguistics

The study of a language is a challenging task. A sentence is the basic element of communication in a particular language. It should pass the message to listeners easily and efficiently, without creating ambiguity, misunderstanding or confusion. There are many aspects of learning a language such as semantics, syntax, and morphology among others. The former deals with the knowledge of the meanings of various words within a language (Landsberg, 1995). The use of the correct form of words in a sentence is also quite a simple task; this is morphology. The formation of sentences is syntax, and it is the most important aspect of learning a language. As seen before, some sentences can be grammatically correct but ambiguous; such sentences confuse the recipient of the message. A good language learner must have the skill of arranging words in a sentence to create one that is grammatically correct and non-ambiguous.

Syntactic properties of a language enable the combination of simple sentences to form complex sentences (Valin, 2001). It can be very tedious to read or speak out in small, simple sentences so the learners must know how to construct complex sentences. The arrangement of simple sentences to form complex sentences utilizes the skill of syntactical understanding. Syntactic properties of a language enable the learners to construct different sentences that have the same meaning. This concept is a parallel syntactic way of deeper structural units; it makes the language more flexible and reduces the rigidness that the learners have in their minds (Vadja, 2014). A good example in English is a sentence in the active form, ‘John kicked the ball.’ The sentence bears the same meaning as the passive sentence, ‘The ball was kicked by John’. The only difference is the arrangement of words that switches the subject from John to the ball. The knowledge of syntax allows learners of a language the liberty to construct different sentences with the same meaning, and this makes their work easier and enhances their understanding of the language (Vadja, 2014).

In the study of a language, syntax skills are very important since they help the learners to understand the structure of the language in a systematic and structural way. A learner who does not understand the syntax aspects of a language finds it difficult to understand the sentences written or spoken in a particular language. It is essential that students learn the syntactic properties of the language before moving to the next stages (Kim & Sells, 2007). With a proper understanding of the syntax aspects of a language, the students can move on to the linguistic analysis of complex language phenomena. The understanding of syntax elements of a language makes it is easy to understand the essential elements within a sentence and their relationships. A good example is when dealing with a sentence that has more than one noun; the most important one in such a sentence is the noun that gives its character to the phrase and it is the head noun. If the head noun is singular or plural, the phrase will follow the orientation of the head noun (Kim, Sells, 2007). The head noun must also be in good agreement with the verb associated to it for the sentence to make sense. A learner has to know syntax properties to construct correct sentences. Therefore, it is evident that syntax is the most important aspect of learning a language. This is because the syntax properties of a sentence enable the learners to understand the patterns of a language effectively and clearly.

Learners of a language who do not know the syntactic aspects of a language have a language deficiency that prevents them from communicating efficiently. Insufficient communication can be dangerous since it leads to a misunderstanding of the message and cause severe consequences. Learners who have a syntax skill deficiency demonstrate inconsistency in the order of words when speaking (Children’s Speech and Language Services, 2015). This could lead to sentences that are not logical or with grammatical errors and limited grammatical markers. Deficiency in syntax skills causes learners of a language difficulty in understanding and using verbs in various tenses (Children’s Speech and Language Services, 2015). These people also have difficulty in the use of the plural and singular forms of words. The deficiency of syntax skills makes learners of a language struggle with story retelling task and general communication in the language becomes very difficult (Children’s Speech and Language Services, 2015). These problems show that the study of syntax properties of a language is very important; deficiency of this knowledge causes great challenges in learning and speaking a language.


Conclusion: So, Why is Syntax Important in Linguistics?

Language enables communication; for people to communicate in a particular language, they must construct correct and logical sentences in the language. The most important task in learning a language is the arrangement of the words in agreement with each other and prepositions to create a grammatical sentence that makes sense. This skill is the syntax property.

Semantics, grammar, phonology, morphology, and syntax are all important properties of the study of a language, and a good learner must know them all. These aspects are not autonomous, and they must be studied together. The syntax is a rule that governs the combination of words in a sentence to construct a correct one. It also connects the combination of smaller units like phrases, clauses, and small sentences into compound sentences. A learner who does not have a good mastery of syntax properties of a language might end up constructing ambiguous sentences that can be confusing to the listener.

The syntactic properties of a language enable easy communication between different parties; the listener can understand the sentences constructed by the speaker. Lack of syntactic properties creates some difficulty in understanding and speaking what in turn causes insufficient communication. Therefore, it is important for learners of a language to understand the syntax properties before the study of higher aspects of the language; it will make their understanding much easier. It is evident that the syntactic properties of a language are the most important properties.



Children’s Speech and Language Services. (2015, October 26th). Morphology and Syntax.

Retrieved December 10th, 2015, from Children’s Speech and Language Services:

Hana, J. (2011). Intro to Linguistics – Syntax 1.Germany: Springer.

Jong-Bok, P. S. (2007). English Syntax: An introduction. London: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

Landsberg, M. E. (1995). Syntactic iconicity and linguistic freezes. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Valin, J. (2001). An introduction to Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, J. (2015). What students say about linguistics: Why study syntax? Retrieved December

10th, 2015, from

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2011, September 21st). Philosophy of Linguistics.

Retrieved December 10th, 2015, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Vajda, E. J. (2014). Syntax. Retrieved December 10th, 2015, from Pandora:

Yule, G. (2006). The study of language. London: Cambridge University Press.



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