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The Syntax Page

Page history last edited by Jayson Yeagley 13 years, 8 months ago

if prose sample X features unusually long or short sentences, inverted word order, subordination, coordination, repetition of elements, periodic or loose structures, or anything else concerning the arrangement of its words and construction of its sentences, then we have the potential for syntax analysis.


SYNTAX CHART:  adapted from Thomas Kane, Oxford Essential Guide to Writing.   

                                                                                                        Thanks to Gretchen Polnac, Austin Texas



Textual examples



Writing Uses




Grammatically simple, expresses a simple idea.

Consists of relatively short, uncomplicated sentences.

He writes at most 750 words a day, He writes and rewrites, He polishes and re-polishes. He works in solitude.  He works with agony. And that is the only way to work at all.

Useful in descriptive and narrative writing.

Analyzes complicated perception or action into its parts and arranges these in significant order.

Simple yet effective, emphatic and adds variety,

Less useful in exposition where you must combine ides in subtle gradations of logic and importance.

Can become too simplistic and lose its character.


Narratives, descriptive passages

Emphasis for longer sentence





Couples short, independent clauses to make longer sequential statements:

Multiple coordination—uses “and” to link coordinating clauses


Parataxis—independent clauses linked by semi-colons


Triadic Sentence—3 clauses using MC or parataxis



And the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.


MC-It was a hot day and the sky was bright and the road was white and dusty.


Parataxis-- The habits of the natives are disgusting; the woman hawk on the floor; the forks are dirty; the trees are poor; the Pont Neuf is not a patch on London Bridge; the cows are too skinny.

Can link a series of events, impressions, feelings, or perceptions as immediately as possible, without judging their relative value or imposing a logical structure upon them

Does not handle idea subtly, and implies that all linked thoughts are equally significant.

Cannot show precise logical relationships (cause and effect)

Can continue without stopping places.

Children’s writing or childlike visions

Experience of mind descriptions

“Stream of consciousness”




Initial independent clause followed by many subordinate constructions which accumulate details about the person, place, event, or idea.

A creek ran through the meadow, winding and turning, clear water running between steep banks of black earth, with shallow places where you can build a dam.


She was then twenty-one, a year out of Smith College, a dark, shy, quiet girl with a fine mind and a small but pure gift for putting her thoughts on paper.


Can handle a series of events


Can act as a frame, enclosing the details


Details may precede or follow the main clause—using these, those, this, that, and such as preceding nouns

Can be open-ended like freight train

Description, character sketches


Less often used in narration









Textual example



Writing Uses




Two or more words or constructions stand in an identical grammatical relationship to the same thing. All subjects must be in the same form.

In its energy, its lyrics, its advocacy of frustrated joys, rock is one long symphony of protest.

Impressive and pleasing to hear

Economical, using one elements to serve three or four others

Enriches meaning by emphasizing subtle connections between words

Suits only ides that are logically parallel—three or four conditions of the same effect

Is formal for modern tastes


Can be too wordy just by being  parallel structure



Can be used in all forms of writing for emphasis or description—emotional or intellectual




Two parts, roughly equivalent in length.  It may also be split on either side.

In a few moments everything grew back and the rain poured down like a cataract.


Visit either you like; they’re both mad.


Children played about her, and she played as she worked.

The constructions may be balanced and parallel.


Pleasing to eyes and ears and give shape to the sentence


Uses objectivity, control, and precision


Unsuitable for conveying the immediacy  of raw experience r the intensity of strong emotions


Formality is likely to seem too elaborate for modern readers

Irony and comedy or just about anything else

The Subordinating


Expresses the main clause and arranges the points of lesser importance around it, in the form of phrases and clauses


Loose construction—main clause comes first


Periodic structure—main clause follows subordinating parts


Convoluted construction—main clause is split in two; subordinating parts intruding


Centered structure—main clause occupies the middle of the sentence

Loose sentence- We must always be weary of conclusions drawn from the ways of the social insects, since their evolutionary track lies so far from ours.


Periodic sentence—If there is not future for the black ghetto, the future of all Negroes is diminished.


Convoluted sentence—White men, at the bottom of their hearts, know this.


Centered sentence-Having wanted to walk on the sea like St. Peter, he had taken an involuntary bath, losing his mitre and the better part of his reputation.

Loose sentence- puts things first, like we talk




Periodic sentence—Emphatic, delays the principle thought, increasing climax


Convoluted sentence—Simply offers variety in style and emphasis for the words before and after commas


Centered sentence-Good in long sentences, can order events or ideas

Loose sentence- Lack emphasis and easily becomes formless, no clear ending points

Periodic sentenceToo long of a delay can be confusing.

Less advantageous in informal writing

Convoluted sentence

Formal and taxing, interrupting elements grow longer and more complicated


Centered sentence-Not as emphatic as periodic or as informal as loose


Loose sentence- Colloquial, informal,  and relaxed


Periodic sentenceFormal and literal


Convoluted sentence

Formal writing, used sparingly


Centered sentence-Formal, for long and complicated subjects to include event as well as grammatical order



Single word, phase, or dependent clause standing alone as a sentence

I saw her. Going down the street.


Sweeping criticism of his style throws less light on the subject than on the critic himself.  A light not always impressive.


Unsupported fragments become grammatical errors --fixed by rejoining the modifier with the sentence

Formal and informal writing for emphasis




Parallelism. "Similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses" (Corbett 428). In other words, equivalent items (those joined by coordinate conjunctions) must be placed in comparable grammatical structures. Parallel items are joined by coordinate conjunctions (especially andornor) and correlative conjunctions (either / orneither / nornot only / but also ).

  • She went to the grocery store, post office, and gas station.
  • Either you will turn in the essay on time, or you will suffer a significant penalty.
  • "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION for the United States of America." --Constitution of the United States

Faulty parallelism. If parallelism is ignored, the grammar and coherence of the clause is ruined.

  • She believed in democracy, she worked hard for the candidate of her choice, and was ecstatic when he was elected.
  • Not only could Henry tune a normal piano but also repair player pianos.
  • The cat and the large, complex amoeba went for a walk through the forest.

Isocolon. An isocolon exists when parallel structures have the same number of words and sometimes even of syllables.

  • "His purpose was to impress the ignorant, to perplex the dubious, and to confound the scrupulous" (Corbett 429).
  • ". . . but what else can one do when he is alone in a jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?" --Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
  • A good student questions his teachers, studies his books, and learns his lessons.

Climax. A climax in structure exists when the arrangement of parallel words, phrases, or clauses is in an order of increasing importance.

  • "Renounce my love, my life, myself--and you. --Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard"
  • ". . . we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." --Declaration of Independence
  • The industrialist made money, friends, and peace with himself.

Antithesis. "The juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, often in parallel structure" (Corbett 429). Conjunctions that express antithesis include butyet, and while.

  • I offered to help, but he refused my assistance.
  • The prodigal robs his heir; the miser robs himself.
  • ". . . ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." --John F. Kennedy, "Inaugural Address"
  • " That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." --Neil Armstrong

Antithesis can occur when the wording contrasts, when the sense of the statement contrasts, or when both contrast.

  • Contrasting wording: Let the rich give to the poor.
  • Contrasting sense: I helped him gain a balance in this world, but he pushed me down in return.
  • Contrasting wording and sense: "Those who have been left out, we will try to bring in. Those left behind, we will help to catch up." --Richard M. Nixon, "Inaugural Address"



Anaphora. "Repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginnings of successive clauses" (Corbett 437).

  • "In every cry of every man, / In every Infant's cry of fear, / In every voice, in every ban, / The mind-forged manacles I hear." --William Blake, "London"
  • "So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
    Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
    Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
    Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
    Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California."
    --Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream"

Antimetabole. "Repetition of words, in successive clauses, in reverse grammatical order" (Corbett 442).

  • "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man." --Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

Chiasmus. "Reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses " (but without the repetition of words) (Corbett 443).

  • "By day the frolic, and the dance by night." --Samuel Johnson, "The Vanity of Human Wishes"

Polyptoton. "Repetition of words from the same root" of or the same word used as a different part of speech (Corbett 443).

  • "Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove" --William Shakespeare, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds"
  • "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." --Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "First Inaugural Address"

Polysyndeton. Repetition of conjunctions.

  • "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day." --Genesis 1:1-5



Anastrophe or inversion. The inversion of natural word order.

  • "Once upon a midnight dreary . . ." --Edgar Allen Poe, "The Raven"
  • "United, there is little we cannot do in a host of co-operative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do . . ." --John F. Kennedy, "Inaugural Address"

Apposition. Placing side by side two nouns, the second of which serves as an explanation of the first.

  • The bear, a massive black object, frightened the small children.
  • I ran from the woman, a wrinkled stranger.

Asyndeton. Omission of conjunctions between a series of related clauses.

  • "I came, I saw, I conquered." --Julius Caesar
  • The elephants charged, the horses scattered, the Big Top tent fell down.

Ellipsis. Deliberate omission of a word or words implied by context

  • The man lost three teeth, the woman two.
  • I read Shakespeare, you Agatha Christie.

Parenthesis. Insertion of some verbal unit in a position that interrupts the normal flow of the sentence.

  • One day in class we got off the subject (as often happens with over-worked, sleep-deprived seniors) and began to discuss the literature of Dr. Seuss.
  • Grades (which should be abolished) are detrimental to the health and sanity of students.



Grammatical types. Sentences are divided into four grammatical types:

Simple sentence--one independent clause.

  • The dog barks.

Complex sentence--one independent and one or more dependent clauses.

  • After the dog barks, it goes to sleep.

Compound sentence--two or more independent clauses

  • The dog barks, and then it goes to sleep.

Compound-complex sentence--two or more independent and one or more dependent clauses.

  • After the dog barks, it goes to sleep, and then it wakes up.

Loose and periodic sentences. In The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E. B. White counsel that we should avoid "a succession of loose sentences." "This rule refers especially to loose sentences of a particular type: those consisting of two clauses, the second introduced by a conjunction or relative" (25). Here is part of the example the authors employ to illustrate the point:

  • "The third concert of the subscription series was given last evening, and a large audience was in attendance. Mr. Edward Appleton was the soloist, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra furnished the instrumental music" (25).

A periodic sentence, on the other hand, is one in which the most important matter arrives at the end. Strunk and White note, "The effectiveness of the periodic sentence arises from the prominence it gives to the main statement" (33). Here is one sentence they offer to exemplify the point:

  • "With these hopes and in this belief I would urge you, laying aside all hindrance, thrusting away all private aims, to devote yourself unswervingly and unflinchingly to the vigorous and successful prosecution of this war" (33).

Rhetorical question. A question that conveys a point rather than expects an answer.

  • "How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?" --Bob Dylan
  • "If we live in the nineteenth century, why should we not enjoy the advantages which the nineteenth century offers? Why should our life be in any respect provincial? If we will read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Boston and take the best newspaper in the world at once?" --Henry David Thoreau, Walden (154-55)

Sentence openers. One way to provide variety in our writing is to experiment with the following openers (Corbett 422).


  • John fought the battle.

Expletive (both exclamatory and grammatical)

  • Wow, that was amazing!
  • It is true that I enjoy learning this material.

Coordinate conjunction

  • But John didn't die.

Adverb (single word or clause)

  • First, John killed Luke.
  • When the ship arrived safely, the passengers lept ashore.

Conjunctive phrase

  • On the other hand, John may have known all along.

Prepositional phrase

  • By the way, John didn't cry.
  • After the game we went home.

Verbal phrase

  • To be certain, he pondered a moment before making his decision.
  • Tired but happy, the old man crossed the sea.

Absolute phrase

  • The ship having arrived safely, the passengers lept ashore.


  • Gone was the wind that had brought us here.
  • Tired is he who faithfully does all his work.



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