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Syntax Untangler

Teach your students how to figure out tricky texts in any language.

Syntax Untangler is an online activity that asks the learner to visually mark up a short primary text in any language, in order to improve small-scale reading skills. Any instructor can easily create and publish their own Syntax Untangler content (go to the Instructor Tools link below).

Syntax Untangler is particularly designed for training language learners to recognize and parse linguistic features. Here are some things you could ask your students to do:

  • Identify the parts of a separable-prefix verb within a German sentence.
  • Draw where a syntax structure begins and ends in a short Chinese text.
  • Mark and differentiate all the instances of alliteration, consonance, and assonance in a bit of poetry.
  • In a computer program, point out all the statements in a loop that might increment the loop counter.

Play a demo of these examples and more.

Browse more examples

Players get instant feedback about whether they found the right answer(s).

More Examples

If you have written a Syntax Untangler unit you're willing to share, just let me know: Alan Ng,

Known Issues in Syntax Untangler

  • To play, you must use a modern browser, such as a relatively recent version of Firefox, Chrome, or Safari. Internet Explorer version 9 also works fine. See the minor Caution to players using Internet Explorer versions 7 or 8. Internet Explorer versions 6 or older absolutely do not work.
  • A mouse is recommended. Using a trackpad requires some skill, and touch-screen devices may not work at all.
  • Right-to-left languages such as Hebrew and Arabic may not work (they have not even been tested).
  • A long, but prioritized, list of features and bugfixes that are planned for future versions is available here:

Syntax Untangler version 1 (a Flash prototype)

  • We gave our first public presentation about Syntax Untangler on April 15, 2011 at the UW President's Summit, and here's the slideshow we used.
  • Training Level (Warning - this final prototype version 1.15 had a number of known bugs! But it is usable once you get used to them)
  • Authoring Tool (only useful for instructors who participated in evaluating this prototype in early 2011)


Syntax Untangler was made possible by support from:


Syntax Untangler is an expression of the Wisconsin Idea and is available at no cost for worldwide public use. It is also an open-source project. You can get the source code and help build Syntax Untangler at our SourceForge site.