Diction vs. Syntax


Today, dear readers, I’d like to talk about two language-related terms that I often hear people use incorrectly. It’s another one of those language/grammar things that is not taught in school—or not taught well, so students never actually end up with an understanding of the terminology.


Diction refers to the words we choose to use. For most people, this can vary depending on the context and the audience. For example:

  • To your friend: There’s a freaking zombie behind you!
  • To a small child: There is a scary monster behind you!
  • To a teenager: Dude, zombie!
  • To your boss: Sir, there appears to be a zombie behind you!
  • To a paranormal research scientist: There is an undead Homo sapiens moving at a moderate pace behind you!
  • To your grandmother: Nanna, granddad is behind you!

Diction can be concrete (The spider was five feet wide and black with yellow spots.) or abstract (The ginormous spider was horrific to behold.).

In addition, diction is generally divided into the following three levels:

High or formal: tends to be fancy, avoids the use of slang, and prefers complex words.

  • Mr. Edwards slew the undead monstrosity with the sabre of his forefather.

Middle: uses correct language, but avoids overly complex words.

  • Mr. Edwards killed the zombie with his grandfather’s sword.

Low or informal: the language used in everyday conversation, tends to be relaxed, and includes slang and colloquialisms.

  • Dave totally smoked that zombie with an old sword.


Syntax refers to the order in which we place words. This is an integral part of English grammar as syntax forms the basis for sentence structure.

We all learn language long before we learn about language. Syntax is the result of studying the way language develops, so it includes all the rules that govern the way we talk to each other. Without syntax, we would all be babbling idiots. And we would also be really confused all the time. Compare the following example:

  • Frankenstein’s monster crashed through the gates, knocking townspeople out of his way.
  • Monster through the townspeople, Frankenstein’s knocking gates out of his way crashed.

 So now you know. Spread the word. And please use your syntax wisely.


Image credit: Einar Bog / PhotoXpress.com

9 thoughts on “Diction vs. Syntax

  1. This was tight, yo.

    I enjoyed your intelligent lesson between the definitions of the words and their important literary applications.

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