Basic Sentence Patterns in English: Rules and Structures You Need to Know

When I was still studying in my primary years, understanding the basic sentence patterns in English always drives me crazy. I don’t know why, but this English grammar lesson often gives me a sudden headache. As an English learner, I find it very difficult to comprehend the rules, not to mention the confusing explanation was given to us by my teacher.

However, when I began my TOEIC training at QQEnglish with our grammarians from the United Kingdom, I realized this lesson is only a piece of cake. I got really amazed by how our native English trainer simplified everything to us and I think it would be best to share what I have learned from them with you.

In English grammar, there are five basic sentence types you need to be familiar with. But before we proceed to the main topic, let us first review the importance of a sentence and the elements we can find within it. Previously, we considered English sentences as the most necessary tool for communication. Why? Because a person’s ability to write and speak effectively depends on how good they are at forming sentences.

Meanwhile, it would be more difficult to understand the basic sentence patterns in English if you are not familiar yet with the basic sentence structure in English. So, you better learn this first for you to comprehend this topic more easily.

To begin with, here’s a quick review of sentences.

basic sentence patterns in English

The Basic Elements of a Sentence

A sentence has two basic elements: the subject and the predicate. The subject is always a noun, a pronoun, or a group of words acting as a noun. It is what the entire sentence is about. Meanwhile, the predicate contains a verb that describes the subject. Take note, verbs do not always have to be action verbs. Lastly, subjects and predicates can be either simple or compound.

A sentence is a group of words that usually contain a subject (S) and a verb (V) and expresses a complete idea.

The subject is a noun, noun phrases, or pronoun that usually comes before the main verb. It also represents the person or thing that acts as the verb, or about which something is stated.

Verb, on the other hand,  is a word or group of words that describes an action or state.

A transitive verb has an object.

An intransitive verb does not have an object.

In the following examples, the subjects are in bold, while the predicates are italicized:

Grandma is awake.

He makes cakes and cookies.

Aside from the subject and predicate, sentences also contain objects. We have two kinds of objects in English grammar: Direct and Indirect object.

A Direct Object refers to the person or thing affected by the action of the verb. (He bought a ball.)

An Indirect Object usually refers to the person who ‘benefits’ from the action of the verb. (He bought her a ball.)

Additionally, we have the complement. A complement tells us something about the nature of the Subject or Object. There are two types of complements: Subject Complement and Object Complement.

Subject Complement = She is happy. S=C

Object Complement = He made her happy. O=C

And lastly, we have the modifier. A modifier is a word or group of words that modifies another word or group.

Now that we’re done with this recap, it is time to proceed to the lesson properly.

The Five Basic Sentence Patterns in English

You might have not noticed this one, but English sentences may present themselves in varying patterns. These patterns refer to the arrangements of the elements of a sentence. It starts from the most basic, to the most complex. As mentioned, there are five basic sentence patterns in English. Among them are:

1. Subject + Linking Verb + Complement ( S – LV – C)

2. Subject + Intransitive Verb ( S – IV )

3. Subject + Transitive Verb + Direct Object ( S – TV – DO )

4. Subject + Transitive Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object ( S – TV – IO – DO )

5. Subject + Transitive Verb + Direct Object + Object Complement ( S – TV – DO – OC)

S – LV – C

The first basic sentence pattern in English we have the S–LV–C. This includes a subject, a linking verb, and a complement. Linking verbs are the types of verbs that join the subject with an adjective or another noun. Some commonly used linking verbs include be, am, are, is, was, were, and seem.

Apart from linking verbs, we can also use sense verbs to make this type of sentence pattern. A sense verb is a verb that describes one of the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.

On the other hand, a subjective complement is a word or a group of words that often follow a linking/sense verb. Subjective complements can either be nouns, pronouns, or adjectives.

Consider the order of the subject, linking/sense verb, and complements in the following sentences:

1. She looks happy.

S: She

LV: looks

C: happy

2. Orange and Yellow are bright colors.

S: Orange and Yellow

LV: are

C: bright colors

3. The food tastes bad.

S: The food

LV: tastes

C: bad

S – IV

When learning the basic sentence patterns, the S–IV pattern is the simplest sentence type. It includes just a subject and an intransitive verb. Grammatically, intransitive verbs do not need a direct object. Unlike transitive verbs, verbs belonging to this type don’t answer the question “what?”. In most cases, dynamic and locomotive verbs (or verbs that express movement) belong to this sentence pattern.

Also, this pattern uses verbs that are in the base form and doesn’t need supporting information. This means that the thought of the sentence was already completed by the action of the verb.

Below are sample sentences with the S-IV sentence pattern.

1. She swims.

2. The book fell.

3. Peter marches.

4. Peter sneezed.

5. Evil exists.

S – TV – DO

This time let’s move on to the third basic sentence patterns in English we all are familiar with: the S–TV–DO pattern. This pattern includes a subject, a transitive verb, and a direct object. Here, we use transitive verbs, which means that we need a direct object. The trick here is to make sure our verb answers the question “what?”

Moreover, this pattern uses a verb that is in the =s form, most especially the stative verbs. The S-TV-DO pattern, unlike the S-IV pattern, needs supporting information, especially the object pointed about in the sentence (noun).

In the sample sentences we have below, the subject, transitive verb, and direct object are placed in a fixed order.

1. They are baking cookies and cakes.

S: they

TV: are baking

DO: cookies and cakes

2. The batter hit the ball.

S: The batter

TV: hit

DO: the ball

3. She teaches English.

S: She

TV: teaches

DO: English

S – TV – IO – DO

Next in the list of basic sentence patterns is the S–TV–IO–DO sentence. This type includes a subject, a transitive verb, an indirect object, and a direct object. If you have forgotten what indirect and direct objects are, CLICK here for a refresher.

In the sentences below, you’ll notice that the subject, the transitive verb, the indirect object, and the direct object are placed in the correct order.

1. Mary lent Josh money.

S: Mary

TV: lent

IO: Josh

DO: money

2. Ana taught her the answer.

S: Ana

TV: taught

IO: her

DO: the answer

3. He gave him the money.

S: He

TV: gave

IO: him

DO: the money

Interestingly, there are instances where the Direct Objects come first before Indirect Object in the sentences. And although some grammarians insist on its correctness, some consider the pattern acceptable in English. So, instead of S–TV–IO–DO, the pattern then becomes S–TV–DO-IO.

For example:

He gave him the money. (S–TV–IO-DO)

He gave the money to him. (S–TV–DO-IO)

S – TV – DO – OC

The last basic sentence pattern we have in English is the S–TV–DO–OC sentence type. This sentence pattern includes a subject, transitive verb, direct object, and an objective complement. Unlike subjective complements, objective complements describe a direct object.

The object complement in this sentence pattern refers to a specific description of the direct object being done by the subject, with the use of the verb. Generally, the OC in this pattern could be a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.

Check out the examples we have below.

1. She called the boy attractive.

S: She

TV: called

DO: the boy

OC: attractive

2. They painted the house blue.

S: They

TV: painted

DO: the house

OC: blue

Basic Sentence Patterns in English: Important notes to learn

As you move forward in learning English grammar, understanding the basic sentence patterns in English is essential. Although there are over 10 sentence patterns in English, the five basic sentence patterns that we discussed are the most common. They are the following.

1. Subject + Linking Verb + Complement ( S – LV – C)

For example:

I am happy.

2. Subject + Intransitive Verb ( S – IV )

For example:

Horses run.

3. Subject + Transitive Verb + Direct Object ( S – TV – DO )

For example:

Amy tutors Chris.

4. Subject + Transitive Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object ( S – TV – IO – DO )

For example:

The instructor assigned Steve poetry.

5. Subject + Transitive Verb + Direct Object + Object Complement ( S – TV – DO – OC)

For example:

Mary considered Ana her friend.

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