What is Syntax?

Syntax describes “the rules of sentence formation” (Fromkin/Hyams/Rodman 2003, 596). As a part of the speaker’s mental grammar it constitutes “the knowledge of the structure of phrases and sentences” (596). Different sentence types are based on specific hierarchical structures and arranged according to different word orders. Each sentence type consists of various syntactic categories such as phrasal categories (implying noun phrase and verb phrase), lexical categories (noun and verb) and functional categories (determiner, auxiliary verb and complementizer) (cf. 164).

Source: Fromkin/Hyams/Rodman 2003, 119

Over the course of the Middle English Period, a number of major changes took place in the structure of English. The most important of these were the reduction of the system of inflectional endings, the reorganization of the patterns of word order and the trend toward the use of analytic constructions instead of synthetic ones. These developments were related, and their roots can be found in OE.

The effects of these changes on English syntax can be clearly seen in the first two centuries of the Modern Period, from about 1500 to about 1700. At that time, the structure of the language was gradually established so that eighteenth-century standard written English closely resembles the present-day language. The language of most sixteenth-century authors still reflects the heritage of ME, whilst it is possible to read long passages from eighteenth-century novels or essays and find only minor deviations from present-day constructions.