English Word Order

Overview

Learn how to sort the different elements of a sentence and how to use correct word order in statements and questions.

order

English operates as an “S-V-O” language in terms of word order. This means that the subject comes first, followed by the verb, and then the object, if there is one. The subject in a simple sentence consists of a noun or pronoun. The verb is the action being performed or the state of the noun or pronoun.

Examples:

Roy plays golf.
Sheila is friendly.

In the examples, Roy and Sheila are the subjects. The verbs are “play” and “be,” but are conjugated to reflect the singular subjects (“plays” and “is”). In the first one, “golf” is the object of the sentence (what is being played). In the second sentence, “friendly” is a predicate adjective that describes the subject (Sheila). 

Other things to keep in mind regarding basic word order in sentences:

-adverbs can be placed first in a sentence to add emphasis to an element of time, manner (less common) and place

Examples (adverbs in italics): 

Tomorrow, I will go to the store.  (time)
Slowly, he opens the door.  (manner)
At home, we can relax.  (place)

-objects occur after verbs and before other elements (time, manner, place) of the sentence

Examples (direct objects in italics):

Melissa buys food at the grocery store.  (place)
Doug and Amy watch TV in the evening.  (time)
We leave the room quietly.  (manner)

Note that there is some variation possible in word order, such as the placement of an adverb before the verb, adjective, or other adverb it modifies:

We quietly leave the room.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
Writing:
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
Reading:
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
Listening:
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.