Word Order

Word order refers to the order or arrangement of words in a phrase, clause, or sentence. In order to study them in more detail, take a look at this article!

"Word Order" in the English Grammar

What Is Word Order?

The way words are arranged in a sentence is called 'word order'. Word order is a part of syntax because it determines how different kinds of sentences are formed. The wrong word order will result in confusion, unclear sentences, and incorrect meanings.

Why Is Word Order Important?

Word order affects the meaning of a sentence. It can show who acts and to whom the action is done. Many languages use inflection to show how different parts of a sentence function. However, English only has a few of them. So, the order of the words in a sentence is the determining feature. For example, you can almost be sure that the first noun you see is the subject of the sentence.

I read often books. → I often read books.

Working was I at home. → I was working at home.

Word Order: Declarative

The basic word order of an English sentence is subject + predicate. The predicate always contains a verb that says something about the subject. English sentences have a standard general order that can be represented as one of the following structures:

Here are some examples of each structure:

1. Mary stood up.

As you can see, subject (Mary) + verb phrase (stood up). 'SV' is the simplest form of a sentence.

2. Sam drinks tea.

As you can see, the order is 'subject (Sam) + verb (drinks) + object (tea)'.

3. He bought her a lovely ring.

Here, we have 'subject (he) + verb (bought) + indirect object (her) + direct object ( a lovely ring)'.

4. The film was amazing.

Here, subject is 'the film'. the verb be is a linking verb and 'amazing' is our subject complement.

Tip!

Remember, in English sentences, word order is very important. The subject always comes before the verb. A sentence must contain at least a subject and a verb. However, in the English language, we can also have sentences where the subject is omitted. For example:

Give me the book!

Here, the subject (you) is removed and the word order is 'verb + indirect object + direct object'.

Word Order: Interrogative

In direct questions, we use inverted word order which means the main verb or an auxiliary verb comes before the subject. There are different forms of this word order. Take a look at its types and examples:

Yes/No Questions

In yes/no questions the word order is as follows:
'modal/auxiliary verb + subject + main verb + object'.
For example:

The dogs were barking. → Were the dogs barking?

I have been working. → Have you been working?

She can sing. → Can she sing?

I'm fine. → Are you fine?

When a sentence does not have modals or auxiliary verbs, we must add the supporting auxiliary verb do before the subject which is followed by the base form of the main verb. For example:

She likes her dress. → Does she like her dress?

I enjoy tennis. → Do you enjoy tennis?

Wh-Questions

Questions that begin with a wh-word such as why, when, where, which, what, whom, whose, and how cannot be answered with a yes or no. That's why they are called information questions. We have two different types of wh-questions that are discussed below:

Information Questions: Inverted order

Most information questions are formed with the same rule of inverted word order as yes/no questions. Here are some examples:

Where are you going?

When can you meet me?

What have you done?

Information Questions: Standard order

Wh-words like 'who' and 'what' can function as the subject pronoun in a question. It happens when no auxiliary or modal verb is needed. In this case, we should use the standard word order. Take a look at some examples:

Who locked the door?

What happened here?

subject + verb + objects + complements

Warning

When a question has more than one auxiliary verb, the subject comes after the first auxiliary verb. For example:

Where have you been staying these past couple of weeks?

Tip!

When the direct question starts with a wh-word, the indirect question also starts with that question word. However, the word order of the indirect question is like a statement, not like a question. For example:

She asked: "where are you going?" → She asked where you are going.

Word Order: Negative

Negative sentences have the same basic word order as positive sentences. The difference is that negative sentences must contain 'not'. For example:

John has moved to LA. → John has not moved to LA.

The kitten is cute. → The kitten isn't cute.

Here, we have a form of be as the main verb.

She is working. → She isn’t working.

A negative sentence may have a modal verb and one or more auxiliary verbs. In this case, 'not' comes right after the modal or auxiliary verb. For example:

You should have talked to her. → You should not have talked to her

They should have been working. → They should not (shouldn't) have been working.

If a verb phrase only has a main verb without any modals or auxiliaries, the supporting auxiliary verb do must be added to make the sentence negative. However, 'be' as a main verb does not need a supporting auxiliary and can be made negative on its own. Remember that 'do' is followed by the base form of the main verb. For example:

He walks. → He does not ( doesn't) walk.

John drank tea.→ John did not ( didn't) drink tea.

Word Order: Imperative

The word order of imperative sentences, also called command sentences, is similar to that of declarative sentences. However, in imperative sentences, the subject (you) is usually omitted. These sentences can be affirmative or negative. Take a look at some examples:

Stop making a mess!

Don't call me.

Do not stare at me!

Adjectives Order

When we want to add information to a noun, we can use adjectives. If more than one adjective is used before a noun, they must appear in a particular order. The order of adjectives is as follows:
determiner, quantity, opinion, size, age, color, shape, origin, material, and purpose.
Here are some examples:

It was a fancy big old round brown German wooden musical clock.

It’s not that common to use more than three adjectives in a row. But it is possible and grammatically correct.

She was a beautiful, tall, thin, young, French girl.

The tired old man fell down the stairs.

Adverbs Order

When we want to add information to verbs, we use adverbs. When more than one adverb is used to describe a verb, we have to follow the order of adverbs, which is as follows:
Manner, place, frequency, time, and purpose.
Here are some examples:

She walks slowly (manner) down the alley (place) every evening (frequency) at 7 o'clock (time) to walk her dog (purpose).

As you can see, It is uncommon to use all types of adverbs in the same sentence.

I read there (place) each day (frequency) to pass some time (purpose).

Cleft Sentences Order

When we want to put emphasis and focus the attention of our listener or reader on a particular word or phrase, we can use cleft sentences. In the following, different types of cleft structures are presented with examples:

  1. It-cleft sentences
  2. There-cleft sentences
  3. Wh-cleft sentences
  4. All-cleft sentence
  5. If-because sentence

Jane's car got stolen. → It was Jane's car that got stolen

I'm trying to adopt this orphan kid. → There's this orphan kid I'm trying to adopt.

You need to rest for a while. → What you need to do is rest for a while.

She wants a good job. → All she wants is a good job.

Review

Word order in English is important because it can change the spirit, meaning, or fluency of a sentence. You must pay attention to the structure of each sentence and how words are placed.

questions the main verb or an auxiliary verb comes before the subject Are you tired?
who and what as the subject standard order Who ate my sandwich?
negatives negative sentences must contain not I do not love John.
imperative the subject (you) is usually omitted Stop!
adjectives before a noun She had red hair.
adverbs after verbs I drink tea every morning.
cleft sentences we use special word orders to emphasize All I want for my birthday is you.

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