Crash Course Linguistics 4 (Syntax)

How do sentences work?

Week 4’s Crash Course Linguistics video builds on last week’s introduction to grammar, with more detail about phrase and sentence structure.

Topics include diagramming structures using trees, descriptive grammatical rules, and recursion. Closed captions are available in English.

If trees have become more difficult for you and your students to tackle in this online world, check out this written guide about using a phone or tablet as a whiteboard in Zoom, and this syntax tree generator that creates tree diagrams from bracketed sequences. And if your course covers structural ambiguity, take a look at this 5-minute video for an engaging, detailed illustration thereof, with closed captions available in English.

For an extended conversational take on sentence structure, listen to The verb is the coat rack that the rest of the sentence hangs on, a 38-minute episode of Lingthusiasm. This episode is available wherever you prefer to find podcasts, and a transcript is available here.

For practice with bracketing phrases in English, see the exercise One, Two, Tree from the 2012 North American Computational Linguistics Open Competition (NACLO) exam (answers here). For practice with tree diagrams and structural ambiguity, see Ambiguous Sentences in English, an undated NACLO practice exercise (answers here).

Finally, the Resource Guide we shared in the spring and again last week includes some videos and activities specifically focused on syntactic trees.

Coming next week: resources about semantics!

Liz, Gretchen, and Lauren

About Mutual Intelligibility

Mutual Intelligibility is a project to connect linguistics instructors with online resources, especially as so much teaching is shifting quickly online due to current events. It's produced by Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch, with the support of our patrons on Lingthusiasm. Our editor is Liz McCullough.

Mutual Intelligibility posts will always remain free, but if you have a stable income and find that they’re reducing your stress and saving you time, we're able to fund these because of the Lingthusiasm Patreon and your contributions there

For the 16 weeks of Crash Course Linguistics, Mutual Intelligibility will be sharing the video weekly, along with supporting resources. We will resume our regular link request and recommendations after the Crash Course Linguistics series. For more on how we usually operate, check out our about page.

If you have other comments, suggestions, or ideas of ways to help, please email