Introduction to syntax



This module familiarises students with two basic skills: 

  • Core syntactic concepts
  • Methodologies employed in developing such concepts

Modern syntactic theories, as a branch of science, aim to account for as many facts as possible using the smallest number of hypotheses.  Students will learn how this is done. 

Knowledge outcomes

You will understand:

  • The goals of syntactic theory: observational, descriptive and explanatory adequacy
  • Scientific (and syntactic) argumentation
  • Cross-linguistic variations and their explanation
  • The notions of productivity and recursion
  • The basic nature of Universal Grammar
  • The competence/performance distinction in linguistics
  • The difference between lexical and functional categories
  • Basic grammatical and thematic relations
  • The distinction between arguments and modifiers

Behavioural outcomes

You will be able to:

  • Identify the lexical category of English words
  • Apply syntactic tests for constituency
  • Gloss and label examples
  • Identify clause boundaries in complex sentences
  • Identify different types of verbal category
  • Identify grammatical functions, such as subjects and objects
  • Draw trees and labeled brackets for basic English sentences
  • Identify major clause types: passive, relatives, interrogatives etc.



There are no prerequisites for this module.



Contact hours

  • Lectures: 1 hour per week in term 1 and 2
  • Backup groups: 1 hour weekly in term 1 and 2
  • Revision sessions: Term 3

Teaching programme

The topics listed under Knowledge Outcomes will be covered during the year.

Teaching materials

The textbook that will be used in this module is:  

  • Sportiche, D., Koopman, H. and Stabler, E. (2014) An Introduction to Syntactic Analysis and Theory. Wiley Blackwell.

Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback

Formative assessment

Submission of formative assessment will be required for progression to further modules in syntax. This will include work of different types:

  • Exercises in category labeling
  • Exercises in tree drawing
  • Exercises in applying tests for syntactic constituency
  • A mini essay/cum project in which students will have to demonstrate ability in many of the behavioural outcomes including glossing examples and developing and testing a hypothesis

An obligatory class test will take place in Week 1 of Term 2.

Summative assessment

  • A portfolio of exercises  submitted throughout the module
    • Weight: 40%
  • A 90 minute closed exam
    • Date: Term 3, Weeks 5-7
    • Weight: 60%

About this module

  • Module name
    Introduction to syntax
  • Course code
    L11C (LAN00011C)
  • Teacher
    Nino Grillo
  • Term(s) taught
    All terms
  • Credits