• Syntax = syn (together) + tax (arrangement), or the arrangement of words in a sentence


    Syntax (noun), Syntactical (adjective)


    In writing, our thoughts are expressed through words. First, we choose what words to use. This word choice, or selection, is called diction. Syntax refers to how we arrange the chosen words to express thoughts. Note that a writer can choose innumerable ways to express the same thought via diction, detail, and arrangement:


    I went to the store in the morning.

    In the morning, I went to the store.

    I drove to the store this morning.

    After sunrise, I went to the store.

    To the store I went in the morning.

    In the morning to the store I went.

    In the morning to the store went I.

    This morning I awoke and dressed and hustled to the store.


    And so on.


    As writers, we tend to use certain patterns to arrange our words into sentences. Being unique, we have our own “favorite” sentence patterns; such distinctive choices contribute to our style.


    From an AP standpoint, we want to pay careful attention to a writer’s syntax. A writer’s choice of word arrangement may contribute to the meaning. Consider three of the above examples:


    I went to the store in the morning.

    To the store I went in the morning.

    In the morning to the store went I.


    Observe the three positions of the subject “I.” The emphasis in each sentence shifts. The first emphasizes “I,” the second “store,” and the third “morning.” In other words, the focus shifts from person to place to time. A writer can choose what element to emphasize by its placement in the sentence. The information is the same, but the emphasis differs—thereby potentially affecting the meaning in the context of the larger passage.


    On the AP test, you cannot analyze every sentence. Instead, look for patterns that appear throughout the selection. Ask yourself: Might this pattern in some way contribute to the point the author makes? Also, look for “standout sentences”—that is, a sentence whose pattern or arrangement stands in marked contrast to the surrounding ones.


    Syntactical analysis is difficult and takes much practice. Remember, you are looking for choices made by the author that contribute to the meaning/understanding of the text.


    The following terms and concepts pertaining to sentence structure are essential in preparing for the Advanced Placement English exams:


    Balanced Sentence


    Inversion (or inverted sentence)


    Loose/Cumulative Sentence

    Natural Order Sentence


    Periodic Sentence

    Repetition (using repetitive sentence structures or elements for effect)

    Rhetorical Question

    Rhetorical Fragment


    Definitions and examples for most of the above terms follow below:


    Stylistic Analysis I: Syntax


    Ellipsis: Omission of a word or short phrase easily understood in context.

    "The average person thinks he isn't." –Father Larry Lorenzoni
    The term "average" is omitted but understood after "isn't."

    John forgives Mary and Mary, John.
    Note that the comma signals what has been elided, "forgives"





    Parallelism: Similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses.


    parallelism of words:
    She tried to make her pastry fluffy, sweet, and delicate.

    parallelism of phrases:
    Singing a song or writing a poem is joyous.

    parallelism of clauses:
    Perch are inexpensive; cod are cheap; trout are abundant; but salmon are best.




    Please follow the links below and the subpages listed to your left to explore the various possibilities of conveying meaning and intent through sentence structure.