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The Syntax Handout
This handout is to assist in the breaking down and writing about the tricky thing called SYNTAX. What is the purpose?
Why does the author/speaker use particular things? What makes theirs different?
What is Syntax?
The arrangement of words in a sentence. Includes sentence length and complexity; the variety and pattern of sentence form; inversion
of natural word order; unusual juxtaposition; repetition; parallelism; use of active or passive voice; level of discourse (see Usage);
order, including emphatic or subordinate position of elements, etc. Syntax can also be thought of as the rhythm of prose.
What does Syntax Do?
*Slow down or speed up action using punctuation, long or short sentences, simple or complex constructions.
*Lead the reader to an important idea while building up suspense with a periodic sentence.
*Emphasize key words, phrases through parallelism-emphasis
*Repetition can lull, soothe, bore, or emphasize
*Sentence length creates rhythm, builds suspense, adds drama, startles.
Note: sentence types reflect the mental state of a speaker. Simple sentences, fragments can show surprise,
anger, passion, emphasize a sudden thought, show that a speaker is unable to thin clearly.
Compound-complex sentences show higher level thinking, subordination of ideas, more complicated
thought patterns linked in subtle ways.
What elements do I write about/discuss?
*punctuation such as dashes, parentheses
*Loose (subject, verb near beginning) vs. Periodic
*Parallel structure
*Repetition
*Sentence length
*If you’re grammar savvy, include sentence types (simple, compound, complex, and compound – complex)
MR. WILLIAMS’ ADVANCED ENGLISH CLASSES 2010
MNWSH
1
The Syntax Handout
More Aspects of Syntax
1. Climax – the main idea or most important point in a sentence. The position of the climax may be varied for
effect.
2. Cadence – the rhythm or “music” of a sentence that comes through parallel elements and repetition.
3. Narrative pace – the pace or speed of a passage that comes through the following elements:
*length of words
*omission of words or punctuation
*length of sentences
*number of dependent/subordinate clauses
*repetition of sounds
The shorter the words (fewer syllables) and the shorter and simpler the sentences, the faster the pace. Conversely,
the longer the words (more syllables) and the longer, more complex the sentences, the slower the pace.
The 3 P’s of Syntax
Prominence: this refers to the importance given to an idea in a sentence. Prominence is achieved both by placement
and repetition. Sometimes an idea is isolated in a short sentence where it is given sole prominence. If a word is ever
set off alone as a fragment, it is being given prominence that best not be ignored. Instead, ask the question, “why is
this word isolated?”
Position: this means where the key idea is located. It will most often come at the beginning of the sentence (loose
sentence) or at the end of the sentence (periodic sentence). But sometimes, writers use nonstandard syntax, or
inverted word order (especially in poems), to draw attention to certain words or ideas.
Pace: is the speed of the text and generally complements the author’s purpose.
MR. WILLIAMS’ ADVANCED ENGLISH CLASSES 2010
MNWSH
2
The Syntax Handout
“Syntax” Words to use and become familiar with!
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Crux
Shifts (in tone, focus, POV, etc.)
Rhetorical devices
Rhetorical question
Sentence Types:
 Simple
 Compound
 Complex
 Compound-Complex
18. Italics
19. Parenthesis
20. Capitalization (or lack of it)
21. Parallel Structure
22. Repetition
6. Sentence Beginnings
7. Order of Ideas in Sentence
*Natural
*Split
*Inverted
23. Transitions
8.
9.
10.
11.
25. Independent Clause
26. Dependent Clause
_adjective
_adverb
_noun
Choppy Sentences
Loose Sentence
Periodic Sentence
Polysyllabic Words
24. Phrases:
*Participial
*Gerund
*Infinitive
*Prepositional
*Appositives
12. Basic Punctuation (or lack of it)
(or the overuse of it)
27. Stream of Consciousness
13. Connecting or emphatic punctuation: colons,
semicolons, dashes
28. Coordinating conjunction
29. Subordinating Conjunction
14. Question marks
15. Quotation Marks
30. Polysyndeton
31. Aynsdeton
16. Exclamation Mark
17. Ellipses (or dash)
MR. WILLIAMS’ ADVANCED ENGLISH CLASSES 2010
MNWSH
3
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