Syntax in Writing: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Syntax
  • 0:57 Why Is Syntax Important?
  • 1:43 Examples of Syntax
  • 2:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Carlisle

Amanda teaches high school and college English. She has a bachelor's degree in literature and a master's in English.

Syntax is how a writer puts his words together to create effect and artistry. Learn more about syntax and how authors use it to convey intent and cause impact for their readers.

Definition of Syntax

A writer uses words to communicate with his audience. After selecting the right words to convey his meaning, a writer must arrange these words to best express his intent, or what he means to say. This arrangement of words is syntax: the ordering of words to say what needs to be said.

An artist first chooses his paints, then he decides when, where and how to use them. A stylist initially creates a wardrobe, then she decides what to wear and with what, considering her purpose, audience and the look she wants to create. Similarly, a writer first chooses his words, and then must decide when, where and how he wants to use them in order to create an impact on his reader. This decision-making process, as well as its actual implementation, is syntax.

Often, syntax is connected to a language's grammatical conventions. Sometimes, grammar rules must be strictly followed, and other times - like in a text message, for example - they do not. Other syntactical considerations include sentence structure, punctuation usage and creative elements like similes and metaphors.

Why Is Syntax Important?

When you write, you need to be aware of your purpose, or what you're trying to achieve. Every time you put your pen to the paper, there is a reason for your writing.

Your purpose - or why you write - is going to determine how structured and formal your syntax must be. If you are writing a cover letter for a job, it is important that your writing is professional and clear in style and attitude. Thus, your syntax - or arrangement of words - must strictly follow grammatical conventions and be straightforward in structure. It would be inappropriate to use sentence fragments, bullet points, or over-the-top, flowery language in your cover letter. However, if you are writing a poem, your syntax can be more open-ended. A free use of punctuation, rich figurative language and unexpected sentence structure might be features of your poem's syntax.

Examples of Syntax

Let's take a look at a few examples. Here is an excerpt from a sample cover letter:

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