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More About Syntax

Syntax refers to the way the sentences are constructed

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are the sentences simple, compound, declarative, varied, etc.?
  2. How do these structures affect your mood as a reader?
  3. What do these structures seem to indicate about the author’s tone?

Describe the sentence structure by considering the following:

  1. Examine the sentence length.  Are the sentences telegraphic (shorter than 5 words in length), short (approximately 5 words in length), medium (approximately 18 words in length), or long and involved (30 or more words in length)?  Does the sentence length fit the subject matter?  What variety of lengths is present? Why is the sentence length effective?
  2. Examine sentence beginnings.  Is there a good variety or does a patterning emerge?
  3. Examine the arrangement of ideas in a sentence.  Are they set out in a special way for a purpose?
  4. Examine the arrangement of ideas in a paragraph.  Is there evidence of any pattern or structure?
  5. Examine the sentence patterns.  Some elements to consider are listed below:
  • A declarative (assertive) sentence makes a statement:  e.g., The king is sick.
  • An imperative sentence gives a command:  e.g., Stand up.
  • An interrogative sentence asks a question: e.g., Is the king sick?
  • An exclamatory sentence makes an exclamation:  e.g., The king is dead!
  • A simple sentence contains one subject and one verb:  e.g., The singer bowed to her adoring audience.
  • A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinate conjunction (and,but, or) or by a semicolon:  e.g., The singer bowed to the audience, but she sang no encores.
  • A complex sentence contains an independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses: e.g., You said that you would tell the truth.
  • A compound-complex sentence contains two or more principal clauses and one or more subordinate clauses:  e.g., The singer bowed while the audience applauded, but she sang no encores.
  • A loose sentence makes complete sense if brought to a close before the actual ending:  e.g., We reached Edmonton/that morning/after a turbulent flight/and some exciting experiences.
  • A periodic sentence makes sense only when the end of the sentence is reached:  e.g., That morning, after a turbulent flight and some exciting experiences, we reached Edmonton.
  • In a balanced sentence, the phrases or clauses balance each other by virtue or their likeness of structure, meaning, or length:  e.g., He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.
  • Natural order of a sentence involves constructing a sentence so the subject comes before the predicate:  e.g., Oranges grow in California.
  • Inverted order of a sentence (sentence inversion) involves constructing a sentence so that the predicate comes before the subject:  e.g., In California grow oranges.  This is a device in which normal sentence patterns are reverse to create an emphatic or rhythmic effect.
  • Split order of a sentence divides the predicate into two parts with the subject coming in the middle:  e.g., In California oranges grow.
  • Juxtaposition is a poetic and rhetorical device in which normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another creating an effect of surprise and wit:  e.g., “The apparition of these faces in the crowd:/ Petals on a wet, black bough” (“In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound)
  • Parallel structure (parallelism) refers to a grammatical or structural similarity between sentences or parts of a sentence.  It involves an arrangement of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs so that elements of equal importance are equally developed and similarly phrased: e.g., He was walking, running, and jumping for joy.
  • Repetition is a device in which words, sounds, and ideas are used more than once to enhance rhythm and create emphasis:  e.g., “…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” (“Address at Gettysburg” by Abraham Lincoln)
  • A rhetorical question is a question that expects no answer.  It is used to draw attention to a point that is generally stronger than a direct statement:  e.g., If Mr. Ferchoff is always fair, as you have said, why did he refuse to listen to Mrs. Baldwin’s arguments?

Finally, consider the punctuation in the piece:

Ellipses (…): a trailing off; equally etc.; going off into a dreamlike state

Dash (–): interruption of a thought; an interjection of a thought into another

Semicolon (;): parallel ideas; equal ideas; a piling up of detail

Colon(:): a list; a definition or explanation; a result

Italics (italics):  for emphasis

Capitalization:  for emphasis

Exclamation Point: for emphasis; for emotion

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