Word order is very important in English. For this reason, it is essential to recognize and use the various sentence parts that make up the pattern of English sentences. These sentence parts occur in several basic formats; these basic formats can be used to develop more complex sentences. With practice, these formats are manipulated to provide the complexity of English.
The five patterns illustrated below provide the basis for all other sentence structures: that is, other kinds of sentences are transformations of these basic patterns.
|Pattern 1:||Subject + Verb|
|(S + V)|
Though the above sentences are simple and rarely used in mature writing, such sentences are the basis of all sentences; that is, the essential elements of a sentence are the subject and verb, which together express a complete thought.
|Pattern 2:||Subject + Verb + Direct Object|
|(S + V + DO)|
|The child||ate||her vegetables.|
The verbs used in sentence pattern 2 are transitive verbs, verbs which require an object. These verbs pass their action on to a following word, the direct object. The direct object is always a noun, pronoun, or group of words functioning as a noun. The direct object answers the question what or whom after the verb.
|Pattern 3:||Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Object Complement|
|(S + V + DO + OC)|
|Subject||Verb||Direct Object||Object Complement|
In sentence pattern 3, the direct object following the verb can be followed by another noun or a modifying word or phrase. This noun or modifier renames or describes the direct object; it complements the direct object, hence the term object complement.
Note: There are a restricted number of verbs that can be used in sentence pattern 3.
|Pattern 4:||Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object|
|(S + V + IO + DO)|
|Subject||Verb||Indirect Object||Direct Object|
|The army||awarded||her||a medal.|
|Peter||gave||the dog||a bone.|
After certain verbs, the direct object is often preceded by an indirect object, which is always a noun or pronoun. The indirect object is the receiver of the direct object.
Examples of verbs that can be used in pattern 4 are as follows:
With these verbs, if the direct object precedes the indirect object, to or for is positioned before the indirect object:
|Subject||Verb||Direct Object||Indirect Object|
|He||gave||the book||to her.|
|She||has written||a letter||to the company.|
|They||bought||a car||for their son.|
These sentences could also have been written with the indirect object preceding the direct object.
|Subject||Verb||Indirect Object||Direct Object|
|She||has written||the company||a letter.|
|They||bought||their son||a car.|
|Pattern 5:||Subject + Linking Verb + Subject Complement|
|(S + LV + SC)|
|Subject||Linking Verb||Predicate Noun||or||Predicate Adjective|
|Celine Dion||is||French Canadian.|
Sentence pattern 5 is used with a special type of verb called a linking or stative verb. These verbs are followed by a subject complement, which, as seen in the examples, may be a predicate noun or a predicate adjective. The predicate noun or adjective identifies or describes the subject.
Note: Use either a predicate noun or a predicate adjective as the complement. They cannot both be used to complement the same verb.
A sentence has two basic elements:
With intervening elements
Nouns or pronouns that serve as the subject of a sentence should not be confused with nouns or pronouns that are a part of an intervening phrase or clause.
Many of the buildings that the city had had demolished were of great historic interest. (Many is the subject.)
During winter, Lindsey, my oldest and dearest friend, and who’s the same age as I am, suffers from severe depression. (Lindsey is the subject.)
Several of his students had difficulty with question eight on the exam. (Several is the subject.)
The girl, along with her friends, is going to the club tonight. (Girl is the subject.)
Sometimes an expletive (there, it) is used to introduce a sentence. An expletive is never the subject of a sentence. Where an expletive is used, the subject comes after the verb.
There was a car parked on the other side of the road.
= A car was parked on the other side of the road.
(Clearly, car is the subject of the sentence.)
It is futile to aspire to perfection.
= To aspire to perfection is futile.
(The whole phrase to aspire to perfection is the subject.)
With noun clauses and verbal phrases
Noun clauses and verbal phrases may serve as subjects of sentences.
What he said about the proposal angered many of the participants. (The noun clause what he said about the proposal is the subject.)
Whatever you decide to do is fine with me. (The noun clause whatever you decide to do is the subject.)
Reading French is just as hard as speaking it. (The gerund phrase Reading French is the subject.) Gerunds
To argue the issue is pointless. (The infinitive phrase to argue the issue is the subject.) Infinitives
An imperative sentence expresses a command or a request. The subject you is often understood: that is, it is rarely stated.
(You) Sit down, please.
(You) Close the door!
(You) Stay here.
You stay here. (In this example, the subject you is expressed.)
The predicate is the part of a sentence that says something about the subject. The predicate says what the subject is doing or experiencing, describes a state of being, or describes what is being done to the subject. The essential element of the predicate is a verb.
Sally cried. (Cried, is the predicate; it says what the subject is doing.)
Sally is tall and long-limbed. (Is is the predicate verb; it describes a state of being and along with tall and long-limbed describes the subject.)
Sally has a cold. (Has, is the predicate verb; it says what the subject is experiencing.)
Sally was given a medal. (Was given is the predicate verb; it describes what is being done to the subject.) Passive
Note: These sentences provide examples of parallel structure.
Verbals, particularly gerunds (those ending in ing) and infinitives, cannot be the predicate verb. If a verb ends in ing it cannot be a main verb unless the auxiliary verb(s) are also present. A predicate always has a verb, but a verb form is not always part of a predicate.
Jumping on a trampoline is fun. (Jumping, a gerund, is the subject here. Without the auxillary verb/s, it cannot function as the predicate. The main verb of this sentence is is; the predicate is fun.)
John was jumping on the trampoline. (Was jumping is the simple predicate here—it is a verb in the past progressive tense. Note the auxiliary verb was. The complete predicate is was jumping on the trampoline.)
With the verb to be
The various forms of the verb to be (is, am, are, was, were, etc.) are often not recognized as the predicate. Remember that verbs indicate an action or state of being.
I am tired today. (Am is the predicate verb.)
Wes and Bill are home today. (Are is the predicate verb.)
John and Neil were at the hardware store yesterday. (Were is the predicate verb.)
Note: If you have problems with sentence fragments or run-on sentences, first identify the predicate verb, then identify the subject that belongs to the verb. For example, in the first sentence above, who or what is jumping? There is no one doing the action, so jumping is not the predicate verb. On the other hand, who or what is fun? The answer is jumping, so the predicate verb is is.
Words such as nouns, pronouns, and adjectives that are used to complete the verb (they are placed after the verb) are called complements.
A phrase is a group of related words that is not a complete thought. Therefore, unlike a clause or a sentence, it does not have a verb.
Unlike a phrase, a clause does have a verb. If it is an independent clause, it can function as a complete sentence; it is a dependent clause, then it must be part of a complex sentence.
An independent (main) clause
A dependent (subordinate) clause
That he should have declined your offer puzzles me. (The noun clause serves as the subject of the sentence.)
He described how he had escaped. (The noun clause serves as the object of the verb.)
She talked about whether or not she should change her will. (The noun clause is object of the preposition about.)
The decision that the company should down-size was made months before a formal announcement was made. (The noun phrase is in apposition within the noun decision.)
The girl who sits next to me in class is from Goa. (The clause modifies the preceding noun, girl.)
Rand’s books, which I enjoyed enormously when young, explore the virtue of selfishness. (The clause modifies the preceding noun, books.)
The woman whose car was stolen happens to be the Chief of Police. (The clause modifies the preceding noun, woman.)
Note: In essential clauses, the pronoun can be omitted when referring to the object:
The man I spoke to had a soft voice.
The man who/whom I spoke to had a soft voice.
Adjective clauses are divided into two types:
|Conjunctions:||after, before, once, since, while, when, until, as, whenever, as soon as|
In Brazil, prices were rising 40% a month before economics minister, Fernando Cardoso, introduced his anti-inflation plan.
When the plan took effect, it reduced the monthly rate to 2½%.
Since he took office, the premier has cut public spending by 47%.
|Conjunctions:||where, wherever, whence, (whither--poetic)|
Can you tell me where he has gone?
Wherever there’s smoke, there’s fire.
From whence she came, no one knows.
|Conjunctions:||because, as, since, for|
He decided against buying the car because he realized he couldn’t afford the insurance.
Since it didn’t seem to matter whether she stayed or left, she left.
As he had an hour to kill, he decided to clean out his fridge.
|Conjunctions:||so that, in order that, that|
Marcie left a note on the table so that George would know where she’d gone.
|Conjunctions:||so . . . that, such . . . that|
It was so cold that one’s breath crystallized.
She was such a pleasant work-mate that everyone was sorry when she left.
|Conjunctions:||if, even if, unless, suppose, supposing, providing, providing that, as long as|
If I had known then what I know now, how differently things would have turned out.
Supposing you had been caught, what then?
Provided that one’s papers were in order, the police didn’t interfere.
|Conjunctions:||though, although, even though|
Although they disagreed about most things, they were the best of friends.
He bought the boat even though he couldn’t sail it.
|Conjunctions:||as, as if, as though|
The child does as she likes, and no one ever says a word about it.
He felt as if he’d been kicked in the stomach.
She spoke as though she had prunes in her mouth.
|Conjunctions:||as . . . as, than|
Midge’s twelve-year-old daughter is as tall as Midge is.
Her sixteen-year-old son, however, is shorter than Midge. (The verb is, after Midge, is omitted, but understood.)
Updated April 10 2017 by Student & Academic Services