In this post we are going to learn about word order in English.
Word order refers to the way words are arranged in a sentence. The standard word order in English is: Subject + Verb + Object. To determine the proper sequence of words, you need to understand what the subject, verb and object(s) are.
Subject: typically a noun or pronoun—the person, place or thing
Verb: the action or state of being
Object: the word or group of words influenced by the verb
The sequence of words is critical when communicating in English because it can impact the meaning of what you’re trying to say.
Here’s one for you to try. Choose the correct word order for the group of words below:
A. Rides the boy a bike.
B. The boy rides a bike.
C. The bike rides a boy.
If you chose option B, you would be correct. If not, consider listening to English conversations to help build your skills and pick up on these patterns. Do this often and you’ll be a word-order expert in no time!
Besides that simple rule, you should also pay attention to the sequence of other parts of the sentence like adverbs, adjectives, etc. Let’s take a look at some other cases:
The English word order is inverted in questions. The subject changes its place in a question. Also, English questions usually begin with a verb or an auxiliary verb if the verb is complex.
Verb + Subject + object / Auxiliary verb + Subject + verb + object
Example: Can you finish the assignment? / Did you go to work?
* Indirect Objects + Direct Objects
Sentences with transitive verbs can have a mixture of direct and indirect objects. Indirect objects are usually the receiver of the action or the audience of the direct object. If the sentence has both kinds of objects, the indirect object always comes before the direct object when there is no preposition.
Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object
He gave the man a good job.
The singer gave the crowd a spectacular concert.
The order of direct and indirect objects can also be reversed. However, for the reversal of the order, there needs to be the inclusion of the preposition “to” before the indirect object. The addition of the preposition transforms the indirect object into what is called a prepositional phrase.
Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Preposition + Indirect Object
He gave a lot of money to the man.
The singer gave a spectacular concert to the crowd.
Adjectives commonly refer to words that are used to describe someone or something. Adjectives can appear almost anywhere in the sentence. They can sometimes appear after the verb to be:
Example: He is nice. / She is big.
Adjectives can also appear before a noun.
Example: A big house. / A nice guy.
However, some sentences can contain more than one adjective to describe something or someone. These adjectives have an order in which they can appear before a now. The order is:
Opinion – size – physical quality – shape – condition – age – color – pattern – origin – material – type – purpose
If more than one adjective is expected to come before a noun in a sentence, then it should follow this order. This order feels intuitive for native English speakers. However, it can be a little difficult to unpack for non-native English speakers.
Example: The ugly old woman is back. / The dirty red car parked outside your house.
When more than one adjective comes after a verb, it is usually connected by “and”:
Example: The room is dark and cold. / Susan is tall and thin.
* Place and Time
You should always follow this sequence when your sentence contains an adverb of place and time. (where + when / how long / how often)
Example: We went to a party last night.
Where – to a party
When – last night
Example: Lisa walks to work every day..
Where – to work
When – every day
* Other adverbs
These adverbs always come in the middle of the sentence, before verbs and after the verb to be: always, often, ever, rarely, also, already, all, usually, sometimes, never, seldom, just, still, both.
Example: My neighbor never speaks to me. / She is always late.
If there is an auxiliary verb or a modal verb, they usually go between both verbs:
Example: I have always remembered you. / Do you usually drive to work?
* Sentence adverbs
Sentence adverbs (like perhaps, surely, indeed, naturally, also …. ) relate to a whole clause or sentence, not just a single word. In most cases, they stand outside the clause they refer to, notably at the start of the clause. However, they may be placed elsewhere in the clause for reasons of stress or emphasis.
Example: Surely the man has already written his letter. / The man has surely already written his letter.
* Special Cases
Yet is usually used in negative sentences and questions at the end of a sentence:
Example: She isn’t home yet. / Are they married yet?
Usually can also be placed at the beginning of sentences:
Example: Usually, they don’t work on Saturdays.
Sometimes can also be placed at the beginning and end of sentences:
Example: He drives to work sometimes. / Sometimes he drives to work.
If you are confused, try to remember the SVOMPT word order rule: