Syntax: The Golden Rule to Learning English Grammar



Syntax refers to a language’s word order. In English, the word order is very strict, meaning that it is almost always subject-verb-object*. (The object is optional)

  • He walks home.

              S        V        O     

Knowing the basic word order of an English sentence helps students, as it is common for beginners to omit a part of the sentence completely: 

  • *I happy.

S   O

Instead, the phrase should be am happy, or S V O

Verbs in English may need to be conjugated in terms of the time, number, and person of the subject**. Sentences like the following have two verbs: an auxiliary verb and a main verb.

  • I am walking.
  • He was walking.
  • You were walking.

The present participle “walking” (the main verb) remains the same in all of the sentences and what changes is the first verb which is the auxiliary ‘be’. Notice that only the first verb is conjugated. 

Knowing that only the first verb in a sentence is conjugated makes it a lot easier to decide between:

  • Did he study? (Correct)
  • *Did he studied? (Incorrect)

*There are exceptions to SVO, such as asking questions and passive voice. 

**Time refers to the grammatical time: present, past, future

Number refers to whether the subject is singular or plural

Person refers to the subject: I, you, he, she, it, we, they

  1. Syntax can be defined as the ordering of words based on the (subject verb object) and understanding the conjugation of auxiliary verbs according to time, person, and number.

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