Syntax in Linguistics

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Syntax is the part of linguistics that studies sentence structure. We had discussed about components of linguistics in here. Here we will discuss broadly about syntax in linguistics.

This article is Part 3 in a 3-Part Series.

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Syntax is the part of linguistics that studies sentence structure. We had discussed about components of linguistics in here. Here we will discuss broadly about syntax in linguistics.

Syntax is the rules and principles that govern the sentence structure of any language. Syntax dictates how words from different parts of speech are put together to convey a complete thought. The study of syntax is incredibly broad. This write-up is only an introduction to the general topics involved in discussion of syntax. Knowledge of Syntax is useful in various field of Natural Language Processing (NLP)  like Information Extraction, Natural Language Generation (NLG) , Translation, Question Answering etc.

Syntactic Categories

The diagram below illustrates the syntactic categories in English language .

Lexical Categories

Here we will discuss the Nouns and Verbs word Categories. We start with open versus closed class.

Open versus closed class

Class Description Members
Open new and new items are added to the class over the time nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs
Close Contains small number of words, new items are added very rarely determiners, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions

Nouns Category

The noun category include nouns and the other parts of speech which modify them.


Nouns are simply the names we give to everything around us, whether it be a person, an event, a place or an object, etc. Every particular name used to define something is a noun.

Noun Type Description Examples
Proper Nouns These nouns are the names of specific people and places. These nouns also refer to the names of the days of weeks and months, and also the various names for religions, organizations, institutions, etc. Proper nouns basically refer to the names that are specific to that particular noun. These nouns are always capitalized as they need to be distinct from other nouns. William Shakespeare , New York
Common Nouns These are the nouns that are used to denote a general category of people, places or things. They are capitalized only when they are at the beginning of a sentence. Common Nouns don’t refer to something specific rather they are a general term used for every noun of a particular kind or type. boys, girls, cricket, coffee
Abstract Nouns These nouns are the names of things that we cannot perceive through our five senses of touching, smelling, seeing, hearing and tasting. These nouns can also refer to medical conditions related to the mind and are also used to express thoughts. independent, bravery, delight
Countable Nouns The nouns that fall under this category are the ones that have both singular and plural forms. They can be counted either relatively or completely, and form plurals to associate with plural verbs in a sentence. They can also be expressed in numerical terms suitcase, dog
Uncountable Nouns These nouns are the exact opposite of Countable Nouns. These nouns are the names of things that cannot be counted and have only a singular form. These nouns use singular verbs in a sentence. furniture, sugar, honesty



Adjectives are words that are used to describe (what kind of?) nouns and pronouns and to quantify (how much of?) and identify (which one?) them. In essence, Adjectives are what define nouns and give them characteristics to differentiate them from other nouns.

Below are the major types of adjectives:

Type Example adjectives
Appearance adorable; beautiful; clean; drab; elegant; fancy; glamorous; handsome; long; magnificent; old-fashioned; plain; quaint; sparkling; ugliest; unsightly; wide-eyed
Color pink, red, orange, yellowish, dark-green, blue, purple, black, white, gray, brown, tanned, pastel, metallic, silver, colorless, transparent, translucent, ...
Condition alive; better; careful; clever; dead; easy; famous; gifted; helpful; important; inexpensive; mushy; odd; powerful; rich; shy; tender; uninterested; vast; wrong
Feelings - Bad angry; bewildered; clumsy; defeated; embarrassed; fierce; grumpy; helpless; itchy; jealous; lazy; mysterious; nervous; obnoxious; panicky; repulsive; scary; thoughtless; uptight; worried
Feelings - Good agreeable; brave; calm; delightful; eager; faithful; gentle; happy; jolly; kind; lively; nice; obedient; proud; relieved; silly; thankful; victorious; witty; zealous
Shape broad; chubby; crooked; curved; deep; flat; high; hollow; low; narrow; round; shallow; skinny; square; steep; straight; wide
Size big; colossal; fat; gigantic; great; huge; immense; large; little; mammoth; massive; miniature; petite; puny; scrawny; short; small; tall; teeny; teeny-tiny; tiny
Sound cooing; deafening; faint; hissing; loud; melodic; noisy; purring; quiet; raspy; screeching; thundering; voiceless; whispering
Time ancient; brief; early; fast; late; long; modern; old; old-fashioned; quick; rapid; short; slow; swift; young
Taste bitter; delicious; fresh; greasy; juicy; hot; icy; loose; melted; nutritious; prickly; rainy; rotten; salty; sticky; strong; sweet; tart; tasteless; uneven; weak; wet; wooden; yummy
Touch boiling; breeze; broken; bumpy; chilly; cold; cool; creepy; crooked; cuddly; curly; damaged; damp; dirty; dry; dusty; filthy; flaky; fluffy; freezing; hot; warm; wet
Quantity abundant; empty; few; full; heavy; light; many; numerous; sparse; substantial
Opinion good, better, best, bad, worse, worst, wonderful, splendid, mediocre, awful, fantastic, pretty, ugly, clean, dirty, wasteful, difficult, comfortable, uncomfortable, valuable, worthy, worthless, useful, useless, important, evil, angelic, rare, scarce, poor, rich, lovely, disgusting, amazing, surprising, loathesome, unusual, usual, pointless, pertinent, ...
Smell perfumed, acrid, putrid, burnt, smelly, reeking, noxious, pungent, aromatic, fragrant, scented, musty, sweet-smelling,...
Speed quick, fast, slow, speeding, rushing, bustling, rapid, snappy, whirlwind, swift, hasty, prompt, brief, ...
Temperature hot, cold, freezing, icy, frigid, sweltering, wintry, frosty, frozen, nippy, chilly, sizzling, scalding, burning, feverish, fiery, steaming, ...
Age young, old, baby, babyish, teenage, ancient, antique, old-fashioned, youthful, elderly, mature, adolescent, infantile, bygone, recent, modern, ...
Distance short, long, far, distant, nearby, close, faraway, outlying, remote, far-flung, neighboring, handy, ...
Miscellaneous qualities full, empty, wet, dry, open, closed , ornate, ...
Brightness light, dark, bright, shadowy, drab, radiant, shining, pale, dull, glowing, shimmering, luminous, gleaming, ...
Origin lunar, northern, oceanic, polar, equatorial, Floridian, American, Spanish, Canadian, Mexican, French, Irish, English, Australian, ...
Material glass, wooden, cloth, concrete, fabric, cotton, plastic, leather, ceramic, china, metal, steel, silicon, ...
Purpose folding, swinging, work, racing, cooking, sleeping, dance, rolling, walking, ...


Pronouns are words that we use in place of Nouns (or other Pronouns) in a sentence to make it less repetitive and less awkward. Some of the most common Pronouns are – he, she, you, they, it, etc.

Below are the types of pronouns:

Pronoun Type Definition List of words
Personal Pronouns These pronouns are used for a specific object or person and they change their forms to indicate the different genders, numbers, case and persons speaking he, she, him , them, It, our, us, me, their, they, its
Demonstrative Pronouns Demonstrative Pronouns are used to show or identify one or a number of nouns that may be far or near in distance or time. They are only four in number - This, That, These and Those. This, That, These and Those.
Interrogative Pronouns Who, Whom, Which and What are Interrogative Pronouns as they are used to ask questions about a person or object that we do not know about. Compounds of these words are made by attaching ‘-ever’ to the words to strengthen the emphasis on the word. Who, Whom, Which and What
Relative Pronouns Relative Pronouns are used to join or relate two different clauses together by referring to the noun in the previous clause using the pronouns - Who, Whom, Whose, Which and That. Who, Whom, Whose, Which and That.
Indefinite Pronouns These pronouns are used to show unspecified objects or people, whether in plural or in singular. anyone, someone, none, everything, many, few, etc.
Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns Reflexive Pronouns are those which are used to indicate a noun which has been used in an earlier part of the same sentence. These same words are also called Intensive Pronouns, which are used to lay emphasis on the pronoun that comes before them in the sentence. Myself, Themselves, Yourself, Ourselves, Herself, Himself and Itself.
Reciprocal Pronoun They are used when two or more nouns are doing or being the same to one another. Both of these pronouns are plural in nature as they can only be used in situations where there is more than one noun. Each other , One another


Determiners are a kind of noun modifier; they precede and are necessarily followed by nouns. The function of determiners is to ‘express reference’; i.e. they clarify what a noun is referring to. For example when one says ‘that car’, the listener knows which car is being referred to.

There are many types of determiners:


There are three articles: a, an, and the.

Article Type Description
Definite ‘The’ is known as the definite article in English.
Indefinite A and an are indefinite articles that serve the same purpose, but they cannot be used interchangeably, because ‘a’ is only used before words that begin with consonants, and ‘an’ is used only before words that begin with vowels.

Possessive pronouns and adjectives indicate who an object belongs to.

Possessive type words
Pronouns mine, yours, his , hers, its
Adjectives my, your, his , her ,it

This, that, these and those are known are demonstratives; they describe the position of an object, seen from the speaker’s viewpoint.

Question Words

There  are used primarily to make questions; these words are ‘question words’, sometimes known as ‘WH question words’, owing to the fact that all of them start with the letter ‘w’, except one which starts with ‘h’.

Question words
What, When, Where, Who, Whose, Which, Why, How

The words all, both, half, each, every, either and neither are known as distributive.

Number Type Description Examples
cardinal Cardinal numbers are adjectives that indicate quantity . one, two , three etc
ordinal Ordinal numbers indicate rank or order . first, second, third etc.

They are adjectives or phrases that serve to answer two possible questions:

  • How many
  • How much

Examples : a few, a little, much, many, most, some, any, enough, etc., are quantifiers.

Quantifier Type Words
Quantity- How many (Countable nouns) a few, a number of, several etc
Quantity- How much (Uncountable nouns) a little, a bit of etc
Attitude few, little , a few , a little
Comparative much, many, more, most, few, fewer, fewest, little, less, and least.

Verb Category

Verbs are the most important component of any sentence. These words talk about the action or the state of any noun or subject. This means that verbs show what the subject is doing or what is the state or situation of the subject.


Finite Verbs

A finite verb (sometimes called main verbs) is a verb that has a subject, this means that it can be the main verb in a sentence. It shows tense (past / present etc) or number (singular / plural).

Examples :

  • She walks home.
    • Here we see that the finite verb is walks and the pronoun is ‘she’.
  • She walked home.
    • Here we can see how the verb changed/modified to change the tense of the sentence.

Non Finite Verbs

  • These verbs cannot be the main verb of a clause or sentence as they do not talk about the action that is being performed by the subject or noun.
  • They do not indicate any tense, mood or gender.
  • They are used as nouns, adverbs and adjectives.
  • They are also used to form non-finite clauses which are simply dependent clauses that use non-finite verbs.

Examples :

  • He loves camping in the woods.
    • Here the non-finite verb is camping and it is used as a noun. These kind of non-finite verbs are called Gerunds.
  • I need to go to sleep.
    • Here the non- finite verb phrase is to sleep, it is acting as a noun. Non-finite verbs that use ‘to’ before them are called Infinitives.

Linking Verbs

These verbs connect the subject to a noun or adjective that helps in describing or providing additional information about the subject. Those nouns or adjectives are called the subject complements.


  • He went red after tripping on the rug.
  • Your plans for the wedding sound nice.
  • You look exhausted after studying all night.

Auxiliary Verbs

These verbs are also called Helping Verbs, as they ‘help’ the main verb to denote the actions of the subject. They help in making compound tenses of the main verb and also help in making negative statements, questions and passive voice statements.

There are only four auxiliary verbs – Be, Have, Will and Do.


Types Description Examples
be The verb ‘be’ can be used as an auxiliary and a full verb, we can distinguish between the two uses as the auxiliary ‘be’ will always have another main verb coming after it in a sentence. ‘Be’ is an irregular verb with many different forms according to the different tenses. The cake has been made. She had been baking a cake last night.
have The verb ‘have’ can also be used as full verb or a helping verb. The way to differentiate between them is that if ‘have’ is used as an auxiliary verb, then it has to be followed by a main verb as well. The verb ‘have’ is used to make compound tenses in active and passive voices, and also used in the making of negative sentences and questions. It is an irregular verb that changes form according to tense. She has baked a cake. She has been baking a cake.
will The verb ‘will’ is the only auxiliary verb that can never be a main verb. It is always used as an auxiliary to make future tenses and negative sentences. Also, it remains the same throughout every tense and person. She will not bake a cake. She will have baked a cake.
do The helping verb ‘do’ can also act as a full verb only in positive sentences. When do is used in a negative sentence, it is an auxiliary verb. The helping verb ‘do’ is also used to make questions for most verbs except other auxiliary verbs and the modal verbs. Do is an irregular verb that changes its form according to the tense. She does not bake cakes. Did she bake a cake?



Adverbs are words that are used in sentences to describe or change the meaning of a Verb or Adjective or even another Adverb. They add description to the sentence to make it more detailed and interesting.

Adverbs are used in sentences to answer many questions about the Verbs/Adjectives/Adverbs themselves. The different types of Adverbs are as following:

Type of Adverb Description Examples
Manner These Adverbs tell about the manner of the action being done, whether it is done happily or haltingly etc. Honestly, Joyfully, Cunningly , quietly etc.
Time Adverbs of time answer then When question. before, after, tomorrow, yesterday etc.
Place These specify the place for the verb Anywhere, Somewhere, Near, Far etc.
Purpose These adverbs express the reason for or a purpose of an action. hence, thus, therefore,
Degree An adverb of degree is used to discuss the degree or intensity of an adjective, an action, or another adverb Almost, Absolutely, Barely, Completely, Deeply, Enough, Enormously, Extremely, Fairly, Fully
Frequency Adverbs that change or qualify the meaning of a sentence by telling us how often or how frequently something happens are defined as adverbs of frequency. hourly, annually, usually, often , late , seldom
Conjunction These Adverbs are used to connect ideas or clauses, they are used to show consequence or effect or the relation between the two clauses. To use these Adverbs to conjugate two clauses you need to use a semicolon (;) to connect them. however, consequently, moreover, conversely
Comment These Adverbs are used to make a comment on the entire sentence. They give a look at the speaker’s viewpoint or opinion about the sentence. These Adverbs don’t just change or describe the Verb; they influence the whole sentence. unfortunately, luckily, happily, obviously



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