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What Is the Connection between Diction and Syntax?

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  • Written By: Emily Daw
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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Diction and syntax are two major elements of style in communication. Diction refers to the specific choices of words that a speaker or writer uses, while syntax refers to how the words are arranged to form a sentence. A text with complex diction will usually also have complex syntax and vise versa, but the two are actually separate aspects of style. Together, diction and syntax play a large part in the tone, readability, and interest of a text.

A piece of work's diction is made up of the types and variety of words that an author uses. It can be made up of simple, common words, or of unique or technical jargon. For instance, the words "cow" and "bovine" mean the same thing. "Cow" is common diction, however, while "bovine" is more specialized.

Syntax, on the other hand, has to do with the way words are arranged, rather than what particular words are chosen. Like diction, syntax can be either simple or complicated. A sentence with complicated syntax may contain many dependent clauses or unique grammatical features.

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A good communicator is aware of the effect that his or her sentence structure and vocabulary choices have on the reader. He or she will use diction and syntax to convey a tone appropriate to the situation. If writing a children's book about cats, for instance, the writer will probably not refer to them as "felidae," and he or she will probably use very simple sentence structures. If writing for a peer-reviewed journal, however, more scientific word choices and complex sentences can be expected.

Readability is an important way in which diction and syntax effect a piece of writing. By adopting verbiage that is polysyllabic or sesquipedalian and by constructing sentences in a manner that may obfuscate the meaning of a text by the proliferation of clauses, an author may reduce his or her readability. In other words, simple sentences and words are easier to read. Sentences with long, uncommon words are harder to read than sentences that use basic vocabulary.

Appropriate and varied diction and syntax also make a text more interesting. Although shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary are easier to understand, re-using the same words over and over can make a piece of writing boring. Constantly using short sentences may make the reader feel like he is or she being "talked down to," and will not hold interest. An author who varies these two elements, within the bounds of what is appropriate for the situation and audience, typically makes the most effective and interesting communicator.

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umbra21
Post 3

@Ana1234 - See, I think they are best used together. That's when you've got a true mastery of words. That's why poetry is so time consuming for just a few words, because of the extreme dedication to both syntax and diction.

A word can mean different things if you put it in different places in a sentence. Simple words can have lots of meaning and complicated words can be used like a laser.

It's a real skill to be able to manipulate both.

Ana1234
Post 2

@pleonasm - I think both are equally important. People just need to realize that the biggest and most strange word is not always the best word. In fact, if you have to look it up in order to use it, it's probably not the right word to use.

When you look in the dictionary and they have synonyms for a particular word, they don't have the exact same meanings. Particularly in English, every word has slightly different meanings which change depending on who is using them and where they are used.

You can't use luminous to mean the same thing as lit-up for example and expect the same reaction from people. Even though luminous is the bigger, fancier word, lit-up is probably the better way to describe a Christmas tree, since luminous has sort of ethereal vibe you usually wouldn't give to flashing lights.

pleonasm
Post 1

I think that people too often think that an advanced level of diction will make up for bad syntax, or they just don't really realize that syntax matters at all.

To me, syntax is much more important than diction. Syntax is what makes a sentence musical and interesting. People aren't going to be impressed with big words and if anything they are just going to be confused. With an advanced syntax you're going to add so much more to what you mean.

All my favorite poets make use of syntax to convey multiple meanings to simple words and I think that's much more clever than just using a bunch of big words that you could find in a thesaurus.

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