All languages have rules. These rules together form the grammarof that language. These rules are what enables a person to produce an infinite number of phrases/sentences from a finite number of possibilities, that is understood by both the speaker and the listener. It would be rather difficult to learn any language if each sentence had to be learnt separately!

Syntax is the areas of linguistics that attempts to describe what is grammatical in a particular language in term of rules. It is the study of sentence structure. Syntactic rules detail an underlying structure and a transformational process.

The underlying structure of English for example would have a subject-verb-object (SVO) sentence order


Usman hit the ball.

The transformational process would allow an alteration of the word order which could give you something like:

The ball was hit by Usman.

All languages have ways of referring to entities –  people, places, things, ideas, events. These expression used to refer to entities are known as referring expressions. All languages can also make predictions about what is signaled by the referring expressions (i.e. they have ways of making statements, asking questions, issuing directions …) These are generally called the predicate of the sentence.

In syntactic terms a referring expression is called a Noun Phrases – NP; and the predicate is called a Verb Phrases – VP. All languages have NPs and VPs

In syntax all other phrases (that occur within the NPs & VPs) are also termed with reference to the head component:


Adjective Phrase (AP)

Adverb Phrase (AdvP)

Preposition Phrase (PP)

There are three main kinds of sentences:

Simple sentences

Conjoined sentences (also known compound sentences)

Complex sentences

Simple sentences contain only one idea


Adnan fell.

Simple sentences comprise only one idea, clause and verb group. We say verb group (instead of verb) because a verb group itself can consist of one word (fell, assembled, cooked, won) or more than one word (will buy, had put, should have believed).


Conjoined sentences have two (or more) clauses joined together using coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or …)


Adnan fell and twisted his ankle.


Complex sentences have embedded clauses. i.e. one clause is incorporated into another one

E.g. The clause

Adnan fell

can be incorporated into another clause to produce the sentence –

Zahir said Adnan fell

Unlike in conjoined sentences, complex sentences contain clauses of unequal status. i.e. one clause is subordinated into another and functions as a grammatical part of it. The subordinate clause is called an embedded clause and the clause in which it is embedded is called a matrix clause.

Every subordinate clause is embedded in a matrix clause and serves a grammatical function in it.

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