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Word Order Rules in English

English is one of the many languages following a simple sentence structure. Usually, a subject is placed before a verb, while an object follows a verb. Such a structure is required if a sentence contains all of the mentioned elements. Even though this principle seems clear, there are many exceptions concerning word arrangement. Besides, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences can include more key components making a structure more complicated.

If the word order is changed, it can be hard to understand the meaning of a sentence. A proper structure creates a logical chain explaining the idea of a phrase. That’s why an understanding of fundamental word order rules is crucial to express thoughts clearly.

Basic Word Order

Sentences consist of clauses, including a subject and a predicate. A subject presents the central component of a phrase, while a predicate describes the action. A noun and a verb are the main elements of these two parts of a clause. Naturally, a subject includes not only a noun but also an adjective or any other word connected with it. For example:

  • ✔️ A big cat…
  • ✔️ A clever boy…

A predicate consists of a verb and all the referring words:

  • ✔️ …caught a mouse.
  • ✔️ …tells a story.

After uniting the examples above, we’ll get two simple sentences following a common sentence structure:

Subject + Verb + Object

  • ✔️ A big cat caught a mouse
  • ✔️ A clever boy tells a story
  • ✔️ He reads a book
  • ✔️ Jill listens to music

However, there are many exceptions in English. For example, word order is changed in questions, while a simple sentence can contain only a subject and a verb. These rules should be taken into account.

Inverting Word Order in Questions

The way words are arranged are changed in questions. An auxiliary verb starts a phrase, while a subject is placed after it. A verb and an object will follow a subject just like in a simple sentence:

He took a book ➡️ Did he take a book?
Ann can buy tickets ➡️ Can Ann buy tickets?
Jack goes to a gym ➡️ Does Jack go to a gym?

Linking verbs are like bridges connecting a subject with the information explaining its quality. They don’t reflect any action – these verbs just connect nouns with the rest of a phrase. Traditionally, linking verbs are the words am, are, is, was, were, been, and being. Information that goes after a linking verb is called a predicate adjective or subject complement. Here are few examples of such sentences:

Subject + linking verb + predicate adjective

  • ✔️ He is handsome
  • ✔️ The dog was hungry
  • ✔️ Her fingers are thin

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

A transitive verb identifies the action taken by a subject towards an object. In this case, an object is called “direct.” Transitive verbs make sentences based on a “subject+verb+object” formula complete and meaningful. The direct object can’t be missing because a phrase won’t make any sense:

Mona took.

It remains unknown what exactly Mona took.

✔️ Mona took a purse.

Intransitive verbs are independent verbs that don’t require adding an object after them. They are connected only with a subject. Intransitive verbs help create simple sentences containing only two words:

Subject + Intransitive verb

  • ✔️ Lisa agrees
  • ✔️ Jack lies

Indirect Object

A sentence provides more information if a transitive verb is followed by both an indirect and direct object. Whenever it’s necessary to specify the recipient of the action taken by a subject, a direct object is placed after an indirect object. Here are the examples showing the key elements of such sentences in detail:

Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object

  • ✔️ The young man sent his girlfriend a long letter
  • ✔️ Billy bought Annie a beautiful bouquet

The word order in those sentences can be also changed. But it’s necessary to place a preposition “to” or “for” before an indirect object. Basically, it is the way how the prepositional phrase is created. An indirect object will follow a direct object:

Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Indirect Object

  • ✔️ The young man sent a long letter to his girlfriend
  • ✔️ Billy bought a beautiful bouquet for Annie
  • ✔️ He gave wise advice to his best friend

Adverbials and Adjectives

A sentence including adverbials or adjectives requires special attention because these words can be placed almost anywhere. There are specific rules for using these components in a phrase. Usually, adverbials are placed before verbs, closer to subjects:

✔️ She seldom comes to their house.

However, an adverb can follow a verb in order to modify it:

✔️ Lisa answered immediately his question.

Adverbials of time can take a position both at the beginning and at the end of a sentence. If an adverb ends a phrase, it just specifies the fact, while the information about time isn’t the most important element. An adverb at the beginning of a sentence emphasizes when exactly something happened. Here are a few examples:

  • ✔️ Today, Milly will perform at the conference.
  • ✔️ Milly will perform at the conference today.

An adjective is another word that can be placed in different parts of a phrase. In simple sentences, they appear after the forms of the verb “to be” or before a noun:

  • ✔️ He is tall.
  • ✔️ They are tired.
  • ✔️ He has a big house.
  • ✔️ The black dog is sleeping.

Importance of Word Order Rules

Word order rules help make communication and writing clear. If one of the key components is missing or the word arrangement is changed incorrectly, a sentence won’t make any sense. Learning fundamental rules are crucial as they are the background for structuring larger sentences providing more information about a subject.

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