2017 Steve Campsall

syntax and morphology

Two concepts are at the heart of your learning about grammar and they go by the wonderful names of morphology and syntax.

See how even small changes in morphology or syntax can create major changes to meaning.

Changes in morphology

Changes in syntax

The plane[s] crash[es/ed] into the car[s].

The plane crashed into the car.

The plane into the car crashed.

The car crashed into the plane.


Below is an imaginary dialogue.

Thanks to your knowledge of syntax, you can easily work out exactly which meaning of the word 'light' applies in each case. This is because you recognise that the meaning changes according to the grammatical position the word takes, as well as the work the word does in its sentence. There's more about the grammatical work words can do in different sentences shortly.

Let's develop the above point a little further. From the above examples using the word 'light', you should be able to see that you can only properly speak about the grammar of a word regarding its function in its sentence. This is because words - in themselves - can vary in the grammatical function they perform.

The word 'light' can occupy a variety of grammatical slots or positions within a sentence. Here are some of them:

As you can see, there are quite a few different grammatical positions or 'slots' available for words to occupy in any sentence, and, of course, not all words can occupy all of these. This is all made clearer later in the guide.

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