English sentence structure is the basic arrangement of words in sentences. Every sentence includes a subject and a predicate. (It may include more than one.)
The subject tells who or what the sentence is about. Then the verb and the rest of the predicate give information about what the subject does or is.
It is possible to have one word sentences in English: a verbal command like “Come!” or “Listen!” In commands, the unexpressed subject of the sentence is ‘you.’
However, most English sentences begin with an actual subject (one or more nouns or pronouns, possibly with supporting adjectives) followed by a predicate (a verb or verbs and possibly modifiers, phrases, or objects.)
Besides simple sentences, it is possible to have
In these examples, the subject (noun or pronoun + modifiers like adjectives) is orange and the predicate is blue. (
Again, the predicate is the rest of the sentence-- most importantly, the verb, and sometimes also an adverb, prepositional phrase, or nouns that are objects of the verb.
See the section on direct and indirect objects near the bottom of this page.)
In questions the subject (S) follows the helping verb (HV) but precedes the main verb (MV) and the rest of the sentence, so the predicate is divided: HV- S- MV- rest of sentence.
To make the examples clearer, the helping verb is black, the subject is orange, and the main verb and rest of the predicate are blue.
A phrase is a group of words that gives information but is not a complete clause or sentence. (In other words, it does not include both a subject and a verb.)
Prepositional Phrases are groups of words beginning with a preposition and including a noun or pronoun (with supporting adjectives, etc.)
In the examples above, ‘in the treetops,’ ‘to the store,’ ‘before dark,’ and ‘for the test tomorrow’ are prepositional phrases.
Predicates can also include direct or indirect objects. The subject does something to the direct object: The boy hit the ball. Mom bought gifts.
Certain verbs can also have an indirect object: The boy gave me the ball. Mom bought us gifts. Indirect objects always precede (go before) direct objects.
Instead of using an indirect object, you could express the same idea with a prepositional phrase using ‘to’ or ‘for’ after the direct object: He gave the ball to me. Mom bought gifts for us.
Here are two examples (with explanations):
Some verbs cannot take direct objects, and other verbs require them. Dictionaries will tell you if a verb is transitive (takes an object), intransitive, or both.
In the first examples above, ’sing’ and ‘study’ are intransitive. But both can also be transitive: we can sing songs or study English. Other verbs like laugh or sleep are always intransitive. They cannot take a direct object at all.
I hope you don’t feel overwhelmed by all these grammar terms. You don’t need them to speak English, but understanding English sentence structure can sometimes help with reading or writing.
When you write, it’s important to remember: .
1. Each sentence in English needs a subject and a verb.
2. The subject and verb need to agree. (3rd person singular subject with 3rd person singular verb; plural subject with plural, base form, verb).
Examples: I am American. You are a student (or you all are students.) He is tired. We like fruit. Mary likes bananas better than apples. Do they need a ride? Does Bob like movies?
See Subject-Verb Agreement for more information
In questions and negative statements, it’s the helping verb that must agree with the subject. Also, for questions put the helping verb before the subject, and the main verb and the rest of the predicate after the subject. (Does he study English? Do they all study French?
For an explanation of the parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, verbs, prepositions, etc., see English Parts of Speech.
For more complicated English sentence structures, see the pages below.
How to form questions in English: a simple explanation with lots of examples using question words and helping verbs.
Compound sentences combine two independent clauses into one sentence. They're not hard with this explanation & a few examples!
Complex sentences combine an independent & a dependent clause to express a more complicated relationship between ideas.