Word order

Word order in statements

Subjects and verbs

Subjects usually come first in English sentences. The verb comes afterward. They can be simple:

He | lied.

Or more complicated:

Over a dozen of the plane's passengers | died.



When the sentence has an object, it comes after the verb. These too can be simple:

I | dropped | it.

Or more complicated:

I | lost | the necklace that had been passed down to me by my grandmother.

You can also have an indirect object before the direct object:

He | sent | her | flowers.


Descriptive sentences

There are also sentences where the last part of the sentence describes the subject. These sentences have a subject, a linking verb, and then something that describes the subject.

I | feel | tired.

We | are | so sorry.

The end of the sentence can be either an adjective:

He | 's | angry.

I | am | really disappointed in you.

Or a noun:

I | am | a nurse.

He | is | one of only five surgeons in the country who have successfully completed this procedure.



One special case is sentences that start with "there" plus a "be" verb ("is", "are", "was", "have been"), etc., and describes a scene or situation. For example:

There | 's | a package | on the table.

There | were | a few problems | with that idea.

In these sentences, "There" doesn't refer to anything specific. It just means that something exists.


Word order in questions

Yes/No questions

For questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no", we start with the helping verb, followed by the subject, and then the main verb (and object if there is one):

Can | you | swim?

Are | we | leaving soon?

Have | you | met | him?

If the sentence doesn't naturally have a helping verb, use "do":

Do | you | like | me?

In descriptive sentences, you can just use the linking verb by itself at the beginning:

Is | he | nice?

But if you use a verb like "feel", "look", or "seem", you need to start with "do" or "does", then the subject, verb, and object:

Do | you | feel | sick?

Does | it | look | good?

When you're asking about whether something exists, start with "Is there", "Was there", etc.:

Are there | any peanuts | in there?

Was there | a lot of traffic?


Implied Yes/No questions

Sometimes we ask "yes" or "no" questions using the regular sentence order.

We just change the tone of voice to make it sound like a question. In writing, we show that it's a question by putting a question mark at the end:

That's | your sister?


Wh- questions

Another kind of question is one that requires a more complicated answer. It starts with a question word: who, what, when, where, why, or how.

When you're asking about the subject, the sentence is just the question word, then the verb:

Who | died?

What | just fell?

Who | told | you | that?

When you want to ask about another part of the sentence, it's a little more complicated. You start with the question word, then use a helping verb (or "did" if there's no other one in the sentence). Then comes the subect, the verb, and other parts of the sentence:

What | did | you | say?

Why | can't | I | go?

Where | do | you | want | to meet?

How | should | I | do | it?

When you're asking about something that belongs in a prepositional phrase like "for ___", "to ___", etc., you can either put the preposition at the beginning of the sentence with the question word (in formal English) or in the spot where that phrase would usually fall in the sentence:

For whom | did | you | buy | it?

Who | did | you | buy | it | for


English sentences can get really complicated, but these are the basic patterns that make up all the rest. If you can learn these patterns really well, the rest of English will start to make a lot more sense!

  Print this Article