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Recognition of Sentence Parts

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.

Basic Sentence Patterns

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)
Subject Verb
Birds fly.
The sun set.
Mildred laughed.

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)
Subject Verb Direct Object
The child ate her vegetables.
I prefer tea.
The police arrested him.
Jack mended the fence.

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
She found him stupid.
The sun made me sleepy.
The club elected Gena president.

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
Susan sent Linda a card.
He told them the truth.
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:

ask offer promise show write
buy order sell teach  
give painted send tell  

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
He gave her the book.
She has written the company a letter.
They bought their son a car.
Pattern 5: Subject + Linking Verb + Subject Complement
  (S + LV + SC)
    Subject Complement
Subject Linking Verb Predicate Noun or Predicate Adjective
Celine Dion is French Canadian.    
Einstein was a scientist.    
Julie will remain chairperson.    
Anne seems     tired.
The water felt     warm.
Rumours were     rife.

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.

Subject Recognition

A sentence has two basic elements:

The subject

  • is the thing that acts, is described, or is being acted upon (that is, the thing that is being talked about)
  • is a noun, a pronoun, or other word or group of words used as a noun

The predicate

  • says something about the subject
  • must have a verb: the verb is the essential element in the predicate

Types of Subjects

Simple subject

  • is a single thing or person that acts, is described, or is acted upon

    Sally cried. (Sally, simple subject, acts.)
    Sally is tall and long-limbed. (Sally, simple subject, is described.)
    Sally was welcomed by the hostess. (Sally, simple subject, is acted upon because the verb is passive.)
    The kettle whistled. (Kettle, simple subject, acts.)
    The kettle is green. (Kettle, simple subject, is described.)
    The kettle was repaired. (Kettle, simple subject, is acted upon because the verb is passive.) Passive Verbs

Compound subject

  • is two or more things or people that act, are described, or are acted upon

    Sally and Joe laughed heartily. (Sally and Joe, compound subject, act.)
    Sally and Joe are blue-eyed and fair-haired. (Sally and Joe, compound subject, are described.)
    Sally and Joe were rewarded for their bravery. (Sally and Joe, compound subject, are acted upon because the verb is passive.)

Complete subject

  • contains the subject and all its modifiers

    The red socks clashed with her orange tights.
    The book that you took out of the library is now due.
    The small red love-seat and the two end tables were given to me.

Problems with Subject Recognition

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.)

With expletives

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

With imperatives

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.)

Predicate Recognition

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

Types of Predicate

Simple predicate

  • contains only the verb

    The trees blossomed.
    Dogs bark.
    The sun set.

Compound predicate

  • contains two or more verbs

    Maureen stalked into the room, threw her books on to her desk, spun round, and glared defiantly at me.
    The canary chirped and twittered its songs throughout the afternoon.
    James has been coddled and protected enough: now he has to be responsible for his actions.

Note: These sentences provide examples of parallel structure.

Complete predicate

  • contains the verb(s) and any modifiers or objects

    The canary twittered merrily.
    When a military junta was set up, thousands fled from the urban centres into the countryside to take up arms.
    Space is perfect for solar power because there is no night or weather to interrupt the sun.
    Medical Researchers have yet to find a cure for the common cold.
    Maureen stalked into the room, threw her books on to her desk, spun round, and glared defiantly at me.

Problems with Predicate Verb Recognition

With verbals

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.

Complement Recognition

Words such as nouns, pronouns, and adjectives that are used to complete the verb (they are placed after the verb) are called complements.

Direct object

  • receives the action of the transitive verb
  • answers the question whom or what after the verb

    Peter drove the car. (Car is the direct object of drove; it answers the question, “What did Peter drive?”)
    Most children like chocolate. (Chocolate is the direct object of like; it answers the question, “What do most children like?”)

Indirect object

  • is the thing or person affected by the transitive verb
  • answers the question to whom or for whom after the verb

    Greg gave Mary a box of chocolates. (Mary is the indirect object; it answers the question, “To whom did Greg give a box of chocolates?”)
    The department manager sent a copy of the memo to each member of his staff. (Each member is the indirect object; it answers the question, “To whom did the department manager send a copy of the memo?”)

Predicate noun

  • renames or identifies the subject
  • is used with linking (stative) verbs such as be, seem, appear and become

    Lois isn’t a student; she is a teacher. (The predicate nouns student and teacher rename or identify the subject, Lois.)
    The only people he hates are politicians and lawyers. (Politicians and lawyers rename or identify the subject, people.)

Predicate adjective

  • describes the subject
  • is used with linking (stative) verbs such as be, seem, appear, and become

    He is always so sad. (sad describes he.)
    Laura has become rather depressed. (depressed describes Laura; it completes the linking verb become.)

Object complement

  • renames or describes the direct object
  • is a noun or an adjective that immediately follows a direct object

    Most people find Reggie a complete bore. (A complete bore describes Reggie, the direct object.)
    We thought the announcement ill-timed. (Ill-timed describes the announcement, the direct object.)

Retained object

  • is a noun or noun form that is retained as the object when a verb having both a direct and indirect object is put into the passive voice

    Active
    The company gave my father a gold watch. (The verb gave has the direct object a gold watch and the indirect object my father.)

    Passive
    My father was given a gold watch. (A gold watch is retained as the object.)

    Passive
    A gold watch was given to my father. (My father is the retained object. This second transformation is possible, but the first one is more usual.)

Phrase Recognition

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.

Types of Phrases

Gerund phrase

  • functions as a noun
  • consists of a gerund and any modifiers or complement it may have

    Doing a job right pays off in the end. (The gerund phrase serves as the subject here.)
    He regrets having lost his temper. (The gerund phrase serves as the object here.)
    Dave is keen on expanding the program. (The gerund phrase is the object of the preposition on.)
    America’s favourite past-time, watching television, is much to blame for the nation’s mental and physical sloth. (The gerund phrase serves as an appositive here.)

Participial phrase

  • functions as an adjective
  • consists of a participle and any modifiers or complement it may have

    Saddened by Mary’s refusal to discuss the matter, Jason sought solace in a pint of beer. (The participial phrase modifies the subject Jason.)
    Having finally found the hotel coffee shop, Val sat down to enjoy her first coffee of the day. (The participial phrase modifies the subject, Val.)
    The man sitting in that armchair in the far corner is none other than Ian Tyson. (The participial phrase modifies the subject, man.)

Infinitive phrase

  • functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb
  • consists of an infinitive and any modifier or complement it may have

    She took along a book to read. (The infinitive is an adjective modifying book.)
    The family, on the whole, likes to rise early. (The infinitive phrase functions as a noun and is the object of the verb likes.)
    To be successful in this country requires hard work and luck. (The infinitive phrase functions as a noun and is the subject of the sentence.)
    Lewis went to get a newspaper. (The infinitive phrase functions as an adverb modifying went.)
    I was glad to hear that you’d recovered from your accident. (The infinitive phrase modifies the adjective glad.)

Prepositional phrase

  • functions as an adjective or an adverb, and sometimes as a noun
  • consists of a preposition and any modifier or complement it may have

    Antoine is a man of his word. (The prepositional phrase functions as an adjective modifying man.)
    He sat at the head of the table. (The prepositional phrase functions as an adverb modifying sat; it answers the question, “Where did he sit?”)
    The mail arrived late in the day. (The prepositional phrase functions as an adverb modifying late; it answers the question, “When did the mail arrive?”)

Absolute phrase

  • is used to modify the whole sentence
  • consists of a noun or pronoun and a participle
  • can never be used as a subject

    It being so late, we decided to book into the first hotel we chanced upon.
    She sat with her eyes downcast, her hands clenched in a tight fist on her lap.
    The library not being quite within walking distance, she decided to take the bus.

Appositive phrase

  • is used to rename or describe more explicitly the preceding word or phrase
  • can be a noun phrase, a gerund phrase, or infinitive phrase

    The latest fashion, short frilly skirts, is very unflattering on anyone over the age of twelve. (The noun phrase functions as an appositive here.)
    Their approach to restructuring, making cuts in support staff, is short-sighted. (The gerund phrase functions as an appositive here.)
    His dream--to win an Olympic gold medal--was soon to be realized. (The infinitive phrase functions as an appositive here.)

Clause Recognition

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.

Independent Clauses

An independent (main) clause

  • must contain a subject and a verb
  • must be a complete thought or idea
  • is, or could be, a sentence

    Dogs barked. (There is a subject, dogs, and a verb, barked, and a complete idea.)
    Mildred met me at the station. (There is a subject, Mildred, and a verb, met, and a complete thought.)

Dependent Clauses

A dependent (subordinate) clause

  • must contain a subject and a verb
  • is not a complete thought or idea, so must be attached to a main clause
  • is introduced by one of many types of subordinating conjunction (see Subordinating conjunctions)

    If anyone can pull this company back together, Andy Becket can. (a conditional clause)
    As soon as the news was over, he turned off the television. (an adverb clause)
    Although it was raining, he went out without an overcoat. (an adverb clause)

Types of Dependent Clauses

Noun clause

  • is used as a noun
  • can serve as subject, complement, object of a preposition, or appositive
  • is usually introduced by the following words:
  • how what which why
    that whether who  

    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.)

Adjective clause

  • modifies a noun or pronoun
  • is usually introduced by the following relative pronouns
  • People Things Other
    who that when
    whom which where
    whose whose why

    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:

  1. essential (restrictive or defining): define the preceding noun or pronoun in such a way as to distinguish it from other nouns and pronouns of the same class. The clause answers the question which. This type of clause cannot be omitted because it adds information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and so is never enclosed in commas.

    The brother who lives in Vancouver is an architect. (Which brother is an architect? The one who lives in Vancouver. The clause distinguishes which brother is being referred to.)
    D'Abaji’s is the name of the place where I buy my fresh vegetables. (Which place is D'Abaji’s? The place where I buy my fresh vegetables. The clause identifies the noun place.)
    The letter that was shoved under the door reeked of perfume. (Which letter reeked of perfume? The one that was shoved under the door. The clause distinguishes letter from all other letters.)


  2. non-essential (non-restrictive or non-defining): do not define or distinguish the preceding noun but merely add more information about it. The clause is not essential to the meaning of the sentence: that is, the clause can be removed without affecting meaning. In non-essential clauses the pronoun cannot be omitted. Also, the pronoun that is never used. Note that this type of clause is always enclosed in commas and that it may be the commas alone that determine whether it is essential or non-essential.

    My brother, who lives in Vancouver, is an architect. (My brother is an architect is the basic sentence. The clause merely gives more information about my brother.)
    The letter, which was shoved under the door, reeked of perfume. (The letter reeked of perfume is the base sentence. The clause is not distinguishing this letter from other letters, but merely adding more information about it.)
    The school secretary, Lynn, whose spelling is atrocious, wrote tudor in the notice instead of tutor. (The preceding noun Lynn has already been defined: the clause merely gives more information about her.)

Adverbial clause

  • functions as an adverb
  • can modify a verb, an adjective, an adverb, or the idea expressed in the independent clause
There are several types of adverbial clauses which are introduced by subordinating conjunctions:
  1. time
  2. 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%.

  3. place
  4. 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.

  5. reason or cause
  6. 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.

  7. purpose
  8. Conjunctions: so that, in order that, that

    Marcie left a note on the table so that George would know where she’d gone.

  9. result
  10. 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.

  11. condition
  12. 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.

  13. concession
  14. 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.

  15. manner
  16. 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.

  17. comparison
  18. 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

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