What students say about linguistics: why study syntax?

Author: Jekaterina Smith


This paper was written by a student about their experiences of studying linguistics at university.

This article was added to our website on 23/10/08 at which time all links were checked. However, we cannot guarantee that the links are still valid.

Table of contents

Why study syntax

The study of syntax is about how the sentences of a particular language are structured. I think that it is fascinating being able to see how language works and what theories have been proposed to make it work.  I must admit that it is a challenging subject, but if you like a little bit of a challenge than I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I did. 

Syntax is a very fascinating module to study, providing of course that one is interested in the study of language and linguistics. It is interesting how we, as human beings, have such extensive knowledge of words and their meanings, and how we are able to put them together into grammatical and well-formed sentences rather than into something that is ill-formed, consider:

  1. The woman went down the road.
  2. *The bag went down the road.

Personally, I find this very interesting, as actually both of these sentences are grammatical; nevertheless, there is something odd about the second one. This is where syntax comes in and explains the puzzle.  Let us look at two other examples:

  1. * Lisa put the book the table.
  2. * The table put the spoon with the chair.

These are quite funny sentences, but it is nice to know where the problem lies. In my opinion, it is great being able to know how simple sentences, such as the above, are constructed and also being able to do that yourself. 

It is nice just to be able to look at any sentence, apply the necessary rules and then be able to produce a nice structured tree diagram.


At the beginning of the module I did not know what to expect from it, and it seemed to be rather hard at first. The difficult part was remembering all the rules and being able to apply them. But once you have learned the rules, start to understand how the theory actually works, and try to apply it - everything will just fall into place, and I am sure that you will start enjoying it and having fun with it.  It would be beneficial to know some grammar, I think, prior on taking this module. Nevertheless, the grammar that you need to know is not difficult, and most of us are familiar with it anyway.

As you have probably gathered by now, there are a lot of rules involved in syntax. My favourite part was drawing the tree diagrams which are generated by the rules. At times it was difficult, because you really do need to know the rules in order to be able to draw them. Once you know them, it becomes very enjoyable. In a way, syntax is quite mathematical because you need to apply the rules to almost everything you do. However, the funny thing is that I never enjoyed maths but I absolutely loved syntax.  It is nice just to be able to look at any sentence, apply the necessary rules and then be able to produce a nice structured tree diagram. 


Do not be discouraged from doing syntax; there are lecturers to help you. However, it is extremely advantageous to be prepared for your weekly lectures and seminars, as each stage is based on the stage you have learned in the previous weeks. Therefore, my advice would be to keep on top of syntax and providing you do that, you will enjoy studying it and derive so much pleasure from knowing that you can do it. 

In my view, syntax could be very useful in further areas of studies and for certain jobs. It could be valuable for modules such as phonology, morphology etc. and is a very good foundation in linguistics, if that is what you want to pursue. It gives you a sense of how language works and knowing how it does, is in itself very satisfying. Syntax has been the most enjoyable and fun module that I have done during my time at university and I hope that whoever chooses it, will enjoy it as much as I have.

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