Updated: Feb 16
This article provides an overview of syntax, which is one of the main components of grammar. Syntax refers to the set of rules that govern how words are arranged in a sentence to convey a clear and meaningful message. The article explains the importance of syntax in language and communication, and provides examples to illustrate the concept. The article then discusses the implications of teaching syntax in the classroom, and the benefits it has for students' writing and communication skills. The article concludes by providing a list of communicative language teaching activities for practicing English syntax, along with their rationales. These activities aim to provide students with opportunities to use English in meaningful and authentic contexts, to develop their communicative competence, and to practice the syntax of the language in a fun and engaging way. This article is relevant to English teachers and students, as well as anyone interested in learning about syntax and its role in language.
Grammar is a term used to describe the fundamental building blocks of a language. It encompasses all the rules and structures that govern how words, phrases, and sentences are formed and used.
In linguistic terms, grammar refers to the system and structure of a language, which is usually comprised of four main components: syntax, morphology, phonology, and semantics.
Syntax refers to the set of rules that govern how words are arranged to form grammatically correct sentences. In other words, it determines the order and arrangement of words in a sentence to convey a clear and meaningful message. Proper syntax is essential for effective communication, as a sentence that lacks proper syntax can be confusing, unclear, or difficult to understand.
Let's take a look at some examples to further illustrate the concept of syntax.
In English, the basic syntax for a sentence typically follows the subject-verb-object (SVO) structure, meaning that the subject of the sentence comes first, followed by the verb, and finally the object. For example:
The cat chased the mouse.
The subject is "The cat," the verb is "chased," and the object is "the mouse."
This SVO structure is just one of the many rules that dictate the syntax of the English language. Another important aspect of syntax is word order within a sentence. For example:
I always eat breakfast at 7 o'clock.
At 7 o'clock, I always eat breakfast.
These two sentences convey the same message, but their syntax is different. The first sentence has a subject-verb-object structure, while the second sentence has a time-subject-verb structure. In both cases, the sentences are grammatically correct, but their meaning can change based on the syntax used.
In addition to word order, syntax also includes rules for the use of punctuation, such as commas, periods, and semicolons, which play an important role in conveying the intended meaning of a sentence. For example:
I like pizza, ice cream, and spaghetti.
I like pizza ice cream and spaghetti.
In the first sentence, the use of commas helps to clarify the items in the list and their relationship to each other. In the second sentence, the lack of commas makes the sentence more difficult to understand and implies that the items are part of a single entity, rather than separate items.
Syntax also includes rules for forming questions, negations, and other types of sentences. For example:
She is singing. (declarative sentence)
Is she singing? (interrogative sentence)
She is not singing. (negation)
Each of these sentences has a different syntax, with the first being a declarative sentence, the second an interrogative sentence, and the third a negation. The syntax used determines the intended meaning of the sentence and the relationship between the words in the sentence.
In conclusion, syntax is an essential aspect of language that determines the arrangement and order of words in a sentence. Proper syntax allows for clear and meaningful communication, and is an important aspect of grammar. By understanding syntax, we can effectively convey our thoughts and ideas in a language, and effectively understand the messages being conveyed by others.
Implications for the classroom and teaching English
Teaching syntax in the English language classroom is an important aspect of language instruction that can have a significant impact on students' overall language proficiency and communication skills. Proper understanding and application of sentence structure, word order, and punctuation rules are crucial for effective writing, which is why teaching syntax is essential for helping students express themselves more clearly and coherently.
For example, through sentence diagramming exercises, students can learn to visualize the relationships between different words and parts of a sentence. This helps them to understand the structure of sentences and how different words and phrases contribute to the meaning of the sentence. Sentence combining exercises, on the other hand, can help students to understand how to join simple sentences into more complex ones, which can improve their writing skills and the coherence of their writing.
Peer editing activities are another great way to teach syntax in the English language classroom. In these activities, students exchange their writing with a peer, who then provides feedback on their writing. This not only helps students to improve their syntax, but also their overall writing skills, as they receive constructive feedback on their work and can identify areas where they need to improve.
Moreover, providing students with regular feedback on their writing can help them to improve their syntax and overall writing skills. This can be done through individualized or group feedback sessions, where students receive feedback on specific aspects of their writing, such as sentence structure, word choice, or punctuation.
In conclusion, teaching syntax is a crucial aspect of language instruction that can help students to develop their communication and writing skills. By incorporating activities that focus on sentence structure, word order, and punctuation, and providing students with regular feedback on their writing, teachers can help students to improve their syntax and language proficiency, which can have a lasting impact on their academic and professional pursuits.
Communicative language teaching activities
Here are some communicative language teaching activities to practice English syntax, along with their rationales:
Sentence Building Game: This activity involves creating sentences from a set of given words. Students can work in pairs or groups and take turns to pick a word and add it to the sentence being formed. This activity helps students to understand sentence structure, word order, and the importance of context in constructing a meaningful sentence.
Question and Answer Activity: In this activity, students ask and answer questions in pairs or small groups. The teacher can provide a set of questions or students can create their own. This activity helps students to understand the syntax of questions, the use of auxiliaries and inversion, and the importance of intonation in asking and answering questions.
Sentence Transformation Activity: This activity involves transforming simple sentences into complex or compound sentences. For example, students can be given a simple sentence and asked to add a clause or connect it with another sentence using conjunctions. This activity helps students to understand how to use sentence structures to express different meanings.
Story Completion Activity: In this activity, students are given a story starter or an incomplete story and are asked to complete it by writing a few sentences. This activity helps students to understand the syntax of narrative writing, the use of past tense, and the importance of sequencing events in a story.
Role Play Activity: This activity involves creating a scenario or a situation in which students have to interact with each other using a specific type of syntax. For example, students can play the roles of a doctor and a patient and use medical jargon and question forms to carry out a medical consultation. This activity helps students to understand the syntax of different types of discourse and the use of specific vocabulary and language functions.
The rationale for these activities is that they provide students with opportunities to use English in meaningful and authentic contexts, to develop their communicative competence, and to practice the syntax of the language in a fun and engaging way. These activities help students to move beyond the memorization of grammar rules and to develop their language proficiency in a more natural and communicative way.