In elementary school I was told of the eight "parts of speech" (and in English they should really have said ten rather than eight, including articles and particles). I understood six of them. The two I did not understand were the ones for which knowledge of syntax was needed: prepositions and conjunctions.

Then in seventh grade we were taught syntax: subjects, predicates, noun phrases, verb phrases, direct objects of verbs, indirect objects of verbs, objects of prepositions, the nature of different kinds of conjunctions, the difference between phrases and clauses, simple and compound verb tenses, gerunds, participles, subjective and objective cases of personal pronouns, how to diagram sentences, etc.

This knowledge has served me well when learning foreign languages.

But professional linguists use theories of syntax going far beyond all that. What textbooks or other published writings should be studied to take this understanding to the next level?


1 Answer 1


That depends on what you think the next level is: what exactly do you want to know? I'm going to start with the most basic recommendation, Introduction to the Principles of Transformational Syntax by Heny & Akmadjian. It teaches a theory of syntax that isn't used anymore, but it is fairly clearly written and was the standard intro textbook in syntax around the bicentennial. You will learn basic ideas of syntactic theory without a lot of strange theoretical assumptions as you might find in other works. Another option is Radford's Transformational Grammar: A First Course which is later and a bit more sectarian in technical aspects. A third option is Introducing Syntax by Koeneman & Zeijlstra, which is much more recent. They all have in common that they adhere to whatever brand of syntax Chomsky was practicing at the time, though are not preciously "up-to-date" in that respect. There is also a recent textbook "Syntactic Analysis: An HPSG-based Approach" by Levine, which follows a completely different theoretical paradigm – I have not seen that book, but I expect it to be more on the technical side.

I personally think that a more historical approach is best for understanding a subject matter, because later works presuppose lot of things from earlier works. OTOH, earlier modes of argumentation tend to be a bit arbitrary, until people have spent a few decades ironing out the logic of the argument. I have also focused on syntactic theory, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English, which is about English syntax but from the perspective of a syntactician – it's not about theory, it's about "the facts of English".

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    I might add that the first few chapters of McCawley contains probably the simplest, shortest, best-exemplified and best-written introduction to syntax you can find. The rest of the book is, as stated, what English syntax consists of, using the very consistent terminology he introduces. It's a good read.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 14:16

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