Word Order in English

Word order refers to the way words are arranged in a sentence. The order of words in English is important if you want to communicate your thoughts and ideas. English has a strict word order in basic sentences:

Subject + Predicate

See also in this series on sentence structure and word order:

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses



English word order is strict and not very flexible. This means that the order of words in an English sentence rarely changes: the subject almost always comes before the predicate
There are however a few parts of speech that can move in sentences. We will cover these later in this lesson.

Native English speakers are used to hearing some English parts of speech in a specific order. If these parts of speech are in a different order, it can be confusing.

Even very small differences in English word order can sound strange to native English speakers. For example, the sound of a clock in English is tick-tockTock-tick sounds strange to native speakers. Tick-tock sounds correct.

clock

The next image is in black and white. White and black sounds strange to native speakers. Black and white sounds correct.

black and white image

Are you ready to learn Word Order in English? Let's begin!

This lesson is broken down into four parts. Click the links here to go directly to each section.

Basic word order in English


Word order: adjectives


Word order: adverbs


Word order: indirect objects


Basic word order in English

The basic word order of an English sentence is Subject + Predicate.

The predicate is the part of the sentence that tells something about the subject. The predicate always includes the verb.

So, 
Subject + Predicate word order can be broken down into smaller pieces like this:

subjectverb

Or

subject + verb + object
 
Let's review the definitions of these 
parts of speech.
  • subject = noun or pronoun

    The person, place, or thing that the sentence is about.


  • verb = action or state of being

    one verb or a verb phrase


  • object = the noun or nouns that receives the action of the verb or is affected by the action of the verb

Unlike some languages, English usually requires you to put the subject near the beginning of the sentence
before the verb. Native speakers rarely stray from this word order in correct English.


Examples:

Look for the correct word order in these examples. The examples are color-coded.

subject + verb + object

teacher

Correct
:

The teacher taught.

Incorrect:

Taught the teacher.


students

Correct
:

The students listen.

Incorrect:

Listen the students.


man with flowers

Correct
:

He gave flowers to her.

Incorrect:

Flowers to her he gave.



boy with flower


Correct
:


She smiled at the boy.

Incorrect:

At the boy she smiled.

 
The sentences above are simple English sentences. Remember, in English sentences, word order is very specific. The subject always comes before the verb.
 
To make sentences more descriptive and complex, we add adjectives, adverbs, and 
indirect objects.

In the next three sections, you will learn word order with adjectives, adverbs, and indirect objects.

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Word order: adjectives


Word order: adverbs


Word order: indirect objects


Word order: adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe nouns. There are many adjectives in English. Here are a few:

happy        sad        funny        blue        large

 quiet        pretty        three        green        simple

 
We can make sentences more descriptive by adding adjectives to describe the 
subjects and objects in a sentence.

Adjectives often come before the noun that they describe. 
 

Examples:

 
The smart teacher taught the quiet students.
 
The happy students listened to the serious teacher.

teacher

Adjectives can also be placed at the end of a sentences by using a stative verbs. (Stative verbs express a state rather than an action: seem, love, be, is, know.)

Examples:
 
The teacher is smart. The
students are quiet.
 
The students seem happy, but the teacher looks serious.

All of these sentences still follow the 
SubjectVerbObject word order:
 

Complete Subject
: The smart teacher

Verb: taught

Object: the quiet students


 
Complete Subject: The happy students

Verb phrase: listened to

Object: the serious teacher



Subject: The students

Verb: seem

Adjective: happy.



Subject: The teacher

Verb: is

Adjective: smart.



Often, there is more than one adjective in a sentence. Adjectives have their own word order in a sentence as shown in this chart:

 
order of adjectives chart


Example:

The smart American
teacher taught the quiet, young Chinese students.

The Chinese students are quiet and young.


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Word order: adverbs

We can also make sentences more descriptive and complex by adding adverbs. An adverb is a word that describes or gives more information about a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or even an entire sentence. There are many adverbs in English. Here are a few:

yesterday        quickly        really        heavily        fast        sometimes

hard        suddenly        today        too        never        very
 

Examples:

(The adverbs are in purple.)

  • The teacher quickly taught the students.

  • Yesterday, the teacher taught the students.

  • Yesterday, the teacher quickly  taught the students.

  • The teacher quickly taught the students yesterday.

teacher

 
These sentences still follow the 
SubjectVerbObject word order. Sometimes the adverb is placed at the beginning of the sentence before the subject, but the subject still comes before its verb.


Adverbs can be placed in three places in a sentence.


Placement of adverbs in a sentence

In English, we never put an adverb between a verb and the object.

Correct: She always cooks pizza.

Incorrect: She cooks always pizza.


Adverbs and adverb phrases can be placed in three places in a sentence:

 
1. At the front of the sentence, before the subject

  • Yesterday, the teacher taught the students.

  • Suddenly, I ran to the door.

  • At the corner, she turned right.

2. At the end of a sentence, after the object

  • The students will take the test tomorrow.

  • John invited his friends too.

  • She will arrive home in an hour.

3. In the middle of a sentence (before or after the verb) or in the middle of a group of verbs

  • before the verb:

    She often studies before class.

    Jack rarely checks his mailbox.


  • after the verb:

    The student works quietly at her desk.

    Billy looks fondly at his mother.


  • in the middle of a group of verbs:

    The teacher will quickly teach the students.

    Lisa has nearly finished the race.

Adverbs are usually placed near the verb that they modify. Most adverbs can be placed in any of the positions in a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. (But different placements emphasize different things. Placing the adverb at the end gives more emphasis to the adverb.)

Example:
  1. Suddenly, I ran to the door.
  2. I suddenly ran to the door.
  3. I ran to the door suddenly.

The placement of
suddenly does not change the meaning of the sentence.

However, the placement of some adverbs
can greatly change the meaning of a sentence.

Example:
  1. Only I love you. (I love you. Nobody else loves you.)
  2. I only love you. (I love you. I do not love anything else.)
  3. I love only you. (You are the only person I love. I do not love anybody else.)
  4. I love you only. (You are the only person I love. I do not love anybody else.)
The fourth sentence has the same meaning as the third sentence, but the third sentence has a stronger emphasis.


More than one adverb in a sentence

When there is more than one adverb in a sentence, they usually go in this order: manner, place, frequency, time. There are several rules for order of adverbs in a sentence that we will discuss in another lesson.

For more information about the order of adverbs and adverb phrases in a sentence, go to this lesson: Order of Adverbs.
 
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Word order: indirect object

Before reading this section, you might want to review objects of a sentence here: English Direct Object, Indirect Object, and Object of the Preposition.

An indirect object is a person or thing that the action is done to or for.

A direct object is a person or thing that is affected by the action of the verb. The direct object receives the action of the verb.

Word order of the 
indirect object is important in English. The indirect object usually comes right before the direct object, but not always.

The 
indirect object can be placed before or after the direct object in a sentence depending on whether you use the preposition "to."
 
The indirect object comes after the direct object when it is formed with the preposition to. When it is placed here, it is called the object of the preposition.
 
boy with flower

He gave flowers.

He gave flowers to his mother.



people talking

He is telling the story.

He is telling the story to her.



man with package

He mailed the package.

He mailed the package to his family.
 

The indirect object comes before the 
direct object if to is not used.
 
boy with flower

He gave flowers.

He gave his mother flowers.




people talking

He is telling the story.

She is telling her the story.



man with package

He mailed the package.

He mailed his family the package.


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Word Order Pinterest Graphic


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