Monday Grammar & Teacher Journal

In Grammar on October 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm

stack of books GRAMMAR: SYNTAX

Syntax is English-teacher lingo for sentence structure — how you put your sentences together. Each language has its own rules for syntax. In English, for example, we put the adjective before the noun. I might talk about a green bicycle. In Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun: bicicleta verde (bicycle green). Sometimes, differences that you’ll notice in syntax from your native language to English are relatively small (like the adjective-noun order above). Other times, using your native structure with English could prevent your listener from understanding what you’re trying to say. Sentence structure is important. You could argue that it structures the way we think, so sentences that follow an unfamiliar structure can be difficult to decode. If your native language has a syntax that’s very different from English, you’ll want to look carefully at the ways that English sentences are constructed.

As with any grammar challenge, I want to encourage you not to focus on memorizing the rules of English sentence structure — but to build these rules as habits. When it comes to sentence structure, this means reading and listening to English as much as possible. Our goal is not to get you to be able to recite the definition of a subordinate clause or participial phrase — but to use them naturally, without having to think too much about it. The way to do this is through lots of reading and listening.

If you’d like to understand the basic structure of English language first — or if you’re a particularly visual learner, you might take a look at how people diagram sentences. Basically, sentence diagramming is something English teachers used to teach in every American classroom thirty years ago (American kids don’t learn it in school anymore). When you want to see how a sentence is put together in English, looking at a diagram can help. You can find some very basic sentence diagrams here — and if you’re interested, you can see how people have diagrammed President Obama’s (much more complicated) sentences here.


Our fall quarter began this week, and the halls at my school were full of new students. I love the start of a new quarter. For teachers, this new beginning means preparing a syllabus and learning the names of new students.

I don’t blog much about it here, but over a year ago, I was inspired to make my life more environmentally friendly, and I sold my car in favor of a bicycle. I had a bicycle that was about as old as I am, and I dusted it off and began using it to commute around school. Over the past month, I’ve had a series of problems with it. I bent the frame. I got a flat tire. Despite the amazing bicycle repair place in my neighborhood, Bikerowave, I just couldn’t get the bike working well again. This week, I finally got a new bicycle, and I’ve been cycling to work in style with it.


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