INTRODUCTORY.388. Syntax is from a Greek word meaning order or arrangement.
Syntax deals with the relation of words to each other as component parts of a sentence, and with their proper arrangement to express clearly the intended meaning.
Ground covered by syntax.
380. Following the Latin method, writers on English grammar usually divide syntax into the two general heads,- agreement and government.
Agreement is concerned with the following relations of words: words in apposition, verb and subject, pronoun and antecedent, adjective and noun.
Government has to do with verbs and prepositions, both of which are said to govern words by having them in the objective case.
390. Considering the scarcity of inflections in English, it is clear that if we merely follow the Latin treatment, the department of syntax will be a small affair. But there is a good deal else to watch in addition to the few forms; for there is an important and marked difference between Latin and English syntax. It is this:-
Latin syntax depends upon fixed rules governing the use of inflected forms: hence the position of words in a sentence is of little grammatical importance.
English syntax follows the Latin to a limited extent; but its leading characteristic is, that English syntax is founded upon the meaning and the logical connection of words rather than upon their form: consequently it is quite as necessary to place words properly, and to think clearly of the meaning of words, as to study inflected forms.
For example, the sentence, "The savage here the settler slew," is ambiguous. Savage may be the subject, following the regular order of subject; or settler may be the subject, the order being inverted. In Latin, distinct forms would be used, and it would not matter which one stood first.
391. There is, then, a double reason for not omitting syntax as a department of grammar,-
First, To study the rules regarding the use of inflected forms, some of which conform to classical grammar, while some are idiomatic (peculiar to our own language).
Second, To find out the logical methods which control us in the arrangement of words; and particularly when the grammatical and the logical conception of a sentence do not agree, or when they exist side by side in good usage.
As an illustration of the last remark, take the sentence, "Besides these famous books of Scott's and Johnson's, there is a copious 'Life' by Sheridan." In this there is a possessive form, and added to it the preposition of, also expressing a possessive relation. This is not logical; it is not consistent with the general rules of grammar: but none the less it is good English.
Also in the sentence, "None remained but he," grammatical rules would require him instead of he after the preposition; yet the expression is sustained by good authority.
392. In some cases, authorities-that is, standard writers-differ as to which of two constructions should be used, or the same writer will use both indifferently. Instances will be found in treating of the pronoun or noun with a gerund, pronoun and antecedent, sometimes verb and subject, etc.
When usage varies as to a given construction, both forms will be given in the following pages.
The basis of syntax.
393. Our treatment of syntax will be an endeavor to record the best usage of the present time on important points; and nothing but important points will be considered, for it is easy to confuse a student with too many obtrusive don'ts.
The constructions presented as general will be justified by quotations from modern writers of English who are regarded as "standard;" that is, writers whose style is generally acknowledged as superior, and whose judgment, therefore, will be accepted by those in quest of authoritative opinion.
Reference will also be made to spoken English when its constructions differ from those of the literary language, and to vulgar English when it preserves forms which were once, but are not now, good English.
It may be suggested to the student that the only way to acquire correctness is to watch good usage everywhere, and imitate it.
An English Grammar 1896 by W. M. Baskervill & J. W. Sewell