I am confused about the term syntactic marker as used in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), by Huddleston and Pullum.

They say that to, for, that, but, and, nor, either, neither etc. are “markers”. But they also say that ‑s, ‑es, ‑ed, ‑ing are “markers”, as well.

But I don’t understand why those are called syntactic markers. How many different types of these “markers” does English possess?

Can you please give me a clear explanation on this topic?

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    Why are you reading that book? It's incredibly complex for inexpert native speakers to even understand. By the number of errors in your post, and in the comments, your English level is at best intermediate-plus. Choose something easier to improve your knowledge of grammar.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 6 at 20:12
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    Just quote the chapter and the page number from CGEL, there are users on EL&U who practically know it by heart and read it before going to bed.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 6 at 20:17
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    @Mari-LouA In CGEL, the chapter: 11, the page number: 956 & the topic: Whether Commented Jul 6 at 20:27
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    CGEL is, objectively speaking, a difficult book and if your English isn't at a native speaker level (C2) you shouldn't be tackling it. But if you must, then choose a high-quality software programme that will translate excerpts in your mother tongue. You will probably then have a better grasp of the information.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 6 at 21:39
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    @Salimuddin 'Marker' is a syntactic function. For example "that" is a pronoun that functions as a marker of subordination in declarative clauses. And "whether" is a subordinator whose function is that of marker of subordination in interrogative clauses. Markers are semantically empty.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 7 at 7:37

2 Answers 2


In the proverbial 25 words or less, a marker is a chunk of articulated sound that indicates a particular kind of grammatical function but is otherwise devoid of meaning.

For example:

-ed is the past tense marker for regular verbs

that is a marker indicating that what ensues is a subordinate clause

the ending s marks the third person present singular form of the verb

  • "I know what you have." Here is what both the Object of sub-clause and the marker function of the sentence? Commented Jul 6 at 19:32
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    @Salimuddin I don't think CGEL claims that "what" is a marker in a sentence like that.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jul 6 at 20:43
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    @lambie and Salim You should not take "I amble"'s comment seriously as none of the words you mentioned in your question is a preposition (although some are homophonous with them, for example 'to' and 'for').. Commented Jul 6 at 21:47
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    @Salimuddin According to H&P, what is not a conjunction.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jul 7 at 6:41
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    @Lambie CGEL is talking about the uses of to and for found in "They called for him to resign."
    – alphabet
    Commented Jul 8 at 4:15

Syntactic markers are serial graphemic elements that indicate syntactic features. These features create coherence within phrases and between words or word groups on the clause level. Syntactic features are, therefore, not word-related but link larger entities of a sentence. In many languages, syntactic features are identical with inflection affixes. An example of this is conjugation: In English, the 3rd person singular is marked syntactically, distinguishing (I/you/we…) sing and (s/he) sings. In French, conjugation more strongly differentiates between the markers of person. However, only the 1st and 2nd person plural are phonologically transparent. All other persons differ in spelling but not phonologically (cf. for the verb to sing the 1st and 2nd person plural compared to all other grammatical persons: [ʃɑ̃te], [ʃɑ̃tɔ̃], [ʃɑ̃t]).

Another example is the nominal plural in English: Pronounced [s], as in cats [kεts], the marker is phonologically transparent. Confusion might arise, however, between the ending of the (one-morpheme) word fox [fɔks] and the (two-morpheme) word socks [sɔks]. Moreover, plural can be articulated as [s] or [z], depending on the previously articulated phonemes.

Neither all syntactic features, nor all markers, indicate inflection. Some mark a particular word class. The spelling in whether, for instance, highlights the interrogative pronoun in the paradigm of what, when, etc., and is therefore a syntactic marker. The homophone weather, in contrast, does not include any syntactic features.
Distinguishing Syntactic Markers From Morphological Markers. A Cross-Linguistic Comparison
author: Constanze Weth

This is a community-wiki post, users are free to edit the post as they wish.

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    I've had to downvote this because the quoted bit doesn't match what is usually meant by 'syntactic marker' at all, and in particular in CGEL. Most specifically, syntactic markers are not 'graphemic'. Thy have nothing to do with writing at all. Most of the worlds languages have 'markers'. Many of the those languages have no graphemic system whatsoever!! Commented Jul 6 at 21:41
  • @Araucaria-Him I think the professor is saying that syntactic markers are identifiable in writing, not that they are graphemes per se. In any case, the answer was intended as a springboard, if I had access to the CGEL, I might have paraphrased the paragraphs that were confusing the OP. BTW, the OP says it's Chapter 11, p986. I know several users keep a copy on their bedside table, judging by the number of times they reference it :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 7 at 12:33

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