Syntax is the way words and phrases are arranged to make a complete sentence. It is also the rules that govern how sentences are created.
Syntax in Declarative Sentences from Literature
- A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
- People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for. - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world, except for a nice MLT: mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe. - The Princess Bride
- Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more of less. - How It Feels to Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston
- It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he had a great secret in him. - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Syntax in Exclamatory Sentences
- "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!" - Oliver Hardy in Sons of the Desert
- “It's alive! It's alive!” - Frankenstein
- "I can't believe it! Reading and writing actually paid off!" - Homer Simpson in The Simpsons
- “What a grand thing, to be loved! What a grander thing still, to love!” - Victor Hugo
- “How sad is the soul, when it is sad through love!” - Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Syntax in Imperative Sentences
- “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” - The Divine Comedy by Dante
- “Forget them, Wendy. Forget them all. Come with me where you'll never, never have to worry about grown up things again.” - Peter Pan
- “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” - Dead Poets Society
- “Open your books to page 394.” - Severus Snape in Harry Potter
- Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd. - "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer
Syntax in Interrogative Sentences
- “But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?” - Animal Farm by George Orwell
- “Wouldn't it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true and we could live in them?” - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- “Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?” - Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- “And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense?” - The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
- “For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?” - 1984 by George Orwell
Syntax in Literature from the Past
- Shakespeare often reversed the order in sentences:
- by putting a verb at the end of the sentence as in Romeo and Juliet: “What light from yonder window breaks?”
- as in “and all the clouds that lowered upon our house buried in the deep bosom of the ocean.” from Richard III
- In the Miller’s Prologue from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘kan’ is used as a main verb:
I kan a noble tale for the nones,
With which I wol now quite the Knyghtes tale.
- Geoffrey Chaucer also changed the word endings in The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales:
And smale fowles maken melodye, That slepen al the night with open ye,
- Christopher Marlowe’s, in his poem “Who Ever Loved That Loved Not at First Sight?”, placed negatives after main verbs:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?
Slang Syntax in Literature
- “What's the use you learning to do right, when it's troublesome to do right and it ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?” - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- "If I must be sold, or all the people on the place, and everything go to rack, why, let me be sold. I s'pose I can b'ar it as well as any on 'em." - Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- ”We me an Star are waitin for Boxy his head. Waitin standin in the fone box in the station of Wolfer Humpton holdin the letter what we have tapped in the number from.” - Boxy an Star by Daren King
- "When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not, hmm?" - Yoda in Star Wars
- C'mon babe, Why don't we paint the town? And all that jazz - Cast of Chicago
Now that you have seen these examples in literature, check out some examples of syntax in writing.