What are the differences between syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic function? I do not fully understand these functions, and more so when it is in an advertisement.

  • I need it for "theory of communication", that I had today in the graphic design school.
    – Alejitao
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 23:08

2 Answers 2


Syntactic - According to prescribed arrangement. To be done as is dictated. i.e. 1, 2, 3 -- syntax dictates 1 is first, followed by 2, followed by 3.

Semantic - (I believe you have a typo, "sematic" isn't a word.) -- In a logical manner. 2 can't be completed until 3 is completed, so in this instance it makes logical sense to present items as 1,3,2 even though it's not the standard syntax.

Pragmatic - Using common, realistic order. Users will naturally discover 2,1,3 - therefore its realistic to present items in that natural order.

Note I used numbers to keep the answer brief. But in design the items are rarely actually numbers. In design, these often refer to the order in which the reader/viewer expects to see things. Example: It's expected on a web page the logo is in the top left corner (1), then a menu is shown (2), then page content (3), etc. You can break this syntax and have the menu first (2), then the logo (1), then the content (3) which would be a more pragmatic layout for some web sites.


Syntax =formal structure. Take an ad. Replace everything with placeholders. I mean texts with Lorem ipsum..., images with empty image boxes and color with greyshades which have numbers so that one can find which areas have the same color. Structure generally can be described with formal rules.

Semantics = what different things mean. An image may show the product for sale, another may be seller's logo, the third can claim that the user of the product is happy. One text can stand there only to catch attention, another may tell the name of the product and the third one may be the list of the properties or benefits and price. Describing semantics as rules is possible in the bounds of the language in which the rules are written.

Pragmatics = What bindings the meanings have to the surrounding culture, the current status of the world and what else is present at the same time as the ad. For example some people can see a rainbow suggesting something that he has used to consider as ugly. Other people may see that the advertiser protects their rights. Just recently certain combination of white, blue and red (those in Russian flag) may be seen as supporting lying, killing and totalitarism. Another may see that the advertiser supports certain holy fundamental values. A perfectly written text which cleverly brings up some benefits of smoking cigarettes may look not so fine to those who know someone having lung cancer.

Pragmatics can be considered as the finer level of semantics. Rules cannot describe it. Think for ex. how in the hell a joke could be interpreted mechanically by applying a set of rules. That still belongs exclusively to the abilities of humans.

Terms syntax, semantics and pragmatics are actually taken into use in scientific research of the concept of human language - not any specific language, but the whole concept.

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