A SIMPLIFIED STRUCTURAL SYNTAX

This Website was created by William E. Rogers of the English Department at Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.  Diana Ervin, an English major at Furman, assisted with the creation of the exercises. The Website is intended to supplement  three courses currently taught at Furman: English 11 (Composition), English 38 (History of the English Language) and English 39 (English Grammar).  The creation of the materials in this Website was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Furman University and Wofford College (Furman/Wofford Mellon Program).

Copyright © 2000 William E. Rogers. This site was last updated on August 22, 2000.

e-mail: bill.rogers@furman.edu


In talking about writing, or in analyzing written texts, it is useful to have a vocabulary  to describe syntax, or the grammatical structure of utterances.  Different philosophies of language and different approaches to the description of natural languages produce different grammars.  The approach taken here might be described as structural grammar--as opposed, for example, to "traditional" grammar or "transformational" grammar.

Phonemes

Structural grammar, as its name suggests, assumes that linguistic entities are "constructions"--that is, larger entities made up by combining smaller entities in certain ways.  The smallest unit of a natural language, according to the structural grammarian, is the phoneme.  A phoneme is a class of sounds--not  the actual vocal sounds speakers make, which might vary widely, but the class of sounds that will be interpreted as elements of   meaningful utterances.

Morphemes

Phonemes are combined to make morphemes.  Morphemes are the minimal meaningful units of a language.  A single word might be a morpheme: dog.  The morpheme {dog} is made up of three phonemes: the classes of  vocal sounds represented in English spelling by the letters d, o, and g, respectively.  The word doggy, on the other hand, is made up of two morphemes: {dog}, plus the suffix { -y}--the extra g is a spelling convention--which means, roughly, "turn the noun into an adjective."   In the word dogs, also, there are two morphemes: {dog}, plus the "plural morpheme" {-s}.

Constructions

Morphemes are combined to make words, and words are combined to make constructions.  Rules govern the ways constructions may be formed in any particular natural language.  Not just any string of words counts as a construction: for example, an have with greenly would not count as a "well-formed" construction in English.  Speakers of a language "know" the rules that govern the combining of words into constructions, in the sense that they "intuitively" use these rules.  A grammarian is someone who "knows" the rules in the sense of being able actually to articulate them.

Sentences

The sentence is a construction of a particular kind--normally, we think of a sentence as a well-formed construction containing one or more "predications"--that is a construction that has at least one "subject" and one "predicate."  Although it might be possible to articulate rules governing the combination of sentences into narratives, or orations, or whatever, the study of grammar, strictly speaking,  normally stops at the level of the sentence. 

A structural syntax, then, attempts to describe the ways words can be put together in well-formed constructions up to the level of the sentence.  No system of grammar is exhaustively rigorous, in the sense of providing a completely satisfactory account of all sentences that educated speakers would consider well-formed.  The simplified account given here neglects a number of difficult problems and important issues.  The point here is to establish a reasonably clear vocabulary  that will enable discussion of certain problems in writing and in interpretation.


This Website provides a brief explanation of how structural grammar analyzes syntax, and a series of exercises to practice structural analysis of English sentences.

Click here to go to the explanation of structural analysis of syntax.

Click here to go to a discussion of some problems that arise in structural diagramming.

Click here to go straight to the exercises.