• Andrew

Grammar Bites | Basic Word Order (YouTube Script)



In our last video, we talked about the basic components of the sentence. Now, we’re going to begin to talk about some of the patterns that govern how those components fit together.

If you were to talk to a linguist (and what reason could you have not to?), they would probably tell you that English is an SVO language. That means that sentences in English follow a particular pattern for ordering their parts. Thus, standard sentences start with a subject that is followed by a verb, and, where applicable, they conclude with an object.

This fact is important because it tells you that word order matters when you’re using English. If you take a standard subject-verb-object sentence and rearrange its parts, you end up with a sentence that means something new. Word order matters.

This basic SVO pattern can help you to figure out how your sentences are put together, something that isn’t too tricky when you’re working with simple sentences but that can become very helpful when you’re working with longer, more complex sentences.

No matter how involved your sentences get, you can rely on the fact that the subject and object are always noun phrases and that the verb is always a verb phrase. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the subject is always a single word that can be classified as a noun.

Later on, we’ll talk more about what goes into subject, verb, and object slots in sentences and how they all fit together and connect to modifiers. But it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of just what each of these slots means for you as a writer. Traditionally, verbs are described as the main actions of a sentence, subjects are described as characters who carry out those actions, and objects are described as the things that receive the effects of actions. But that’s not always the case—subjects can be inanimate concepts, verbs can describe no action at all, and objects can look a lot like active characters.

You see, the power of word order in English is so great that just putting words in a particular slot will turn them into the kind of word that that slot was built for. For example, anything you put in the subject slot of a sentence becomes a noun phrase and the subject of a sentence, even if it doesn’t look like a very active character. Similarly, any word you put in the verb slot becomes the main verb of the sentence, even if you normally think of it as a noun (and if you don’t believe me, just google it). Again, when it comes to writing sentences, placement tells you what a word is more reliably than any dictionary will.

Additionally, it’s worth acknowledging that you can fit more than just a single word in your subject, verb, and object slots. You could have something that looks like a sentence of its own sitting quite comfortably in the subject slot of your sentence. Whether or not you should write that way is, of course, not a question about grammar. At this point, we’re only going to point out that it’s possible, not whether or not it’s in good taste.

So remember, long or short active or lifeless, subjects come first, verbs come second, and objects, where applicable come last. Everything else is just modifiers (which we’ll get to eventually).