Chapter 6: Syntax

In Chapter 5 we looked at the internal structure of words (morphology). In this chapter we look at how words are organized into phrases and sentences, which in linguistics is called syntax.

In linguistics, syntax is the study of how words are organized into phrases and sentences. Just as the morphemes in a word are organized into structures, the words in a sentence are also best viewed not just as a string of words, but instead as having a hierarchical structure (Section X). And just as words contain a head morpheme, we’ll see that every phrase has an element that is its syntactic head (Section X).

After covering core concepts in syntax in the first half of this chapter, in the second half we’ll see how we can use tree diagrams to represent the structure of sentences and phrases, just as we did previously for the structure of morphemes inside words.

When you’ve completed this chapter, you’ll be able to:

  • Use the evidence of constituency tests to identify the phrases within a sentence
  • Categorize words into lexical and functional categories based on their distribution
  • Identify relationships between grammatically related sentences (active and passive, statements and questions)
  • Draw tree diagrams to represent the structural analysis of sentences in English

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Essentials of Linguistics, 2nd edition by Catherine Anderson; Bronwyn Bjorkman; Derek Denis; Julianne Doner; Margaret Grant; Nathan Sanders; and Ai Taniguchi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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