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Basic Word Order Rules in English

Published by at August 18th, 2021 , Revised On August 24, 2023

The sentences in English, in general, take a straightforward form. You can create grammatically correct sentences by following the basic rules for which words appear in a sentence.

However, there are many exceptions that you should be mindful of, especially when pushing these basic rules to their limits.

This article highlights these exceptions and provides a strategy that you can follow in most cases. It also presents the basic sentence structure templates for avoiding common “adjectives and adverbs” mistakes when forming English sentences.

The Basic Sentence Structure in Academic Writing

While most sentences comprise several clauses, the simplest English sentence consists of a single clause. A sentence that is made up of just one clause is called a “simple sentence”. Other more complex types of sentences include “compound-complex sentences”, “compound sentences”, and “complex sentences”.

However, to avoid complications, we will look at the simplest form of a sentence consisting of a single clause. The same rules will apply to the additional clauses in more complex sentences consisting of several clauses.

The following description of the basic word rules will help you recognize the most commonly used clause patterns you can expect to find.

A clause in a sentence is a combination of several words. Each clause consists of a subject and a predicate. The subject is the thing that performs an action and contains a noun, whereas the predicate is the action itself and includes a verb.

Still, the subject and predicate are not made up of only the noun and the verb, respectively. The subject is made up of all the words that accompany the noun (The expensive car). Similarly, the predicate entails all the words that accompany the verb, for example, drinks a coke bottle.

The predicate in the following sentence examples comprises the verb position and all the words that come along with it.

Intransitive Verb

There is another type of verb, known as the intransitive verb, that stands alone. No other words follow it.  We create the simplest sentences in English using intransitive verbs. Only a subject is needed before the intransitive verb to make a sentence, which means the sentence consists of only one subject and one predicate.

Subject + verb

Snow + fell.

Linking Verb

A linking verb demonstrates the connection between the subject and the quality of the subject (also known as “subject component”, a “predicate adjective”, or a “subject complement”.

Linking verb example

Subject + verb + predicate adjective

The stars were shining.

Transitive Verb

In a transitive verb, the subject does something to something else. The object, because it experiences the action, is called the direct object.

Transitive verb example

Subject + verb + direct object

The baseball striker smashed the ball.

Example of Indirect Objects

Just like the direct object, the Indirect object adds another position to a sentence. An indirect object in a sentence holding a transitive verb shows the thing that receives the direct object.

Subject + verb + direct object + indirect object

He gave the pirate a chance.

Example of Reversed Direct and Indirect Objects

The direct and the indirect object can also show in a reversed order in a sentence with the additional prepositional element “to”. With a reversal order of direct and indirect objects and the inclusion of a preposition, the sentence transforms into what’s knows as a prepositional phrase in the English language.

When we add a preposition and reverse the order of the direct and indirect object in the above example (not necessary to it), the order of the words in the sentence also changes as follows:

Subject + verb + direct object + indirect object

He gave a chance to the chance.


Frequently Asked Questions

Ordering words, also known as transition words or sequence words, guide the flow of writing. They include “firstly,” “meanwhile,” “next,” “in conclusion,” etc. These words help organize ideas, show relationships between points, and create a smooth, coherent narrative or argument.

About Grace Graffin

Avatar for Grace GraffinGrace has a bachelor's and a master's degree from Loughborough University, so she's an expert at writing a flawless essay at ResearchProspect. She has worked as a professional writer and editor, helping students of at all academic levels to improve their academic writing skills.