Basic Sentence Structure in English: What You Should Know!

Call it crazy, but when you ask someone about the basic sentence structure in English, they right away go nuts! Why? The answer is simple – they think it’s very difficult! But trust me, it’s just so easy when you know the very basics of English sentence structure.

Try remembering what a sentence is during your English 101 lesson before. And besides, try asking yourself what you have learned from your English teachers at school. Can you still remember them or have totally forgotten everything?

If you want to learn more about basic sentence structure in English, or maybe you want a refresher about this topic, then you are on the right page.

In this article, we’ll be learning about the basic sentence structure in English and other lessons related to this grammar focus.

To begin with, let’s talk about the parts of the sentence first.

In English, there are a couple of things you need to first know about when learning the basic sentence structure. These English knowledge I am talking about are Subject, Predicate, Object, Indirect Object, Complement, and Modifier.

Generally, it is very important to remember that every English word in a sentence serves a specific purpose in the sentence. According to the rules of grammar, sentence structure can sometimes be quite complicated. For the sake of simplicity, however, the basic parts of a sentence are discussed here.

The two most basic parts of a sentence are the subject and predicate.

SUBJECT

The first thing you need to learn and understand when learning the basic sentence pattern in English is the subject.

What is the subject of the sentence?

Well, it is a noun, noun phrases, noun clauses, or pronoun that usually comes before the main verb and represents the person or thing that performs the action of the verb or about which something is stated.

For example:

Sheena (noun)

Writing novels (noun)

What I had for breakfast (noun clause)

We (pronoun)

PREDICATE

The next thing you must understand when learning basic sentence structure in English is the predicate. Unlike the subject of the sentence, the predicate expresses action or being within the sentence. The simple predicate contains the verb and can also contain modifying words, phrases, or clauses.

Sheena / writes novels.

Writing novels / is her hobby.

What I had for breakfast / made me sick.

We / played basketball.

In our examples above, you notice that one element you’ll find in our predicate is a verb (writes, is, made, played). In English grammar, the predicate must contain a verb explaining what the subject does and can also include a modifier. Moreover, a simple predicate is a word that shows the action in a sentence.

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Clearly, we define the verb as a word or group of words that describe an action or state. Unlike other languages, English has two types of verbs: Transitive and Intransitive.

A transitive verb is a verb that needs an object to receive the action. On the other hand, an intransitive verb does not have an object. (To learn more about Verbs, please CLICK HERE.)

Below are some sentences containing both transitive and intransitive verbs.

Sample sentence:

The batter hit the ball.

The verb “hit” in this sentence is a transitive verb. Transitive verbs usually answer the question “What?” as in “Hit What?” Hit the ball.

The book fell.

The verb “fell” in this sentence is an intransitive verb. In most cases, locomotive verbs or verbs that express movement, like fell and swim, for example, are intransitive. These types of verbs don’t need objects at all.

When learning a new verb, it is very important to always pay attention to the grammar. Is it transitive or intransitive? It is highly recommended to have a learner’s dictionary handy with you all the time. This type of dictionary will tell and show you whether that verb requires an object. Although some verbs are classified as transitive or intransitive, some verbs can have both meanings.  This means that they can be both transitive and intransitive.

A verb you already know is “play.”

The children are playing. ( = intransitive verb)

The children played a game. ( = transitive verb)

Grammatically, the subject and predicate are the two basic structural parts of any complete sentence. Additionally, there are also other elements we can find within the subject or predicate. Interestingly, these words do nothing but add details and meaning to make the sentence more complete and comprehensive. These other important elements in the sentence are the direct object, indirect object, and subject complement.

OBJECTS

In a general point, an object in English grammar refers to a noun or pronoun that is governed by a verb or a preposition. There are two types of objects you need to be familiar with when learning the basic sentence structure in English: Direct Object and Indirect Object.

A direct object refers to the person or thing affected by the action of the verb.

For example:

He bought a ball.

Here, “a ball” is the direct object in the sentence. Clearly, we can ask “what has been affected by the verb bought?” The answer is “a ball.”

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On the contrary, an indirect object usually refers to the person who benefits from the action of the verb.

He bought him a ball.

In our sample sentence, the direct object we have is “him”. The pronoun “him” benefits the action of the verb.

COMPLEMENT

When learning the basic sentence structure, it is very important to add words that describe or give detail about the subject or object. In this sense, you need to learn what a complement is.

So what is a complement? A complement tells us something about the nature of the subject or object. Just like the rest of the elements in the sentence, a complement has two types: Subject Complement and Object Complement.

A subject complement either renames or describes the subject, and therefore is usually a noun, pronoun, or adjective. Subject complements occur when there is a linking verb within the sentence (often a linking verb is a form of the verb to be).

She is happy. –> She = happy (Subject = Complement)

He is a scientist. –> He = a scientist (Subject = Complement)

On the other hand, however, the object complement is a noun, a pronoun, or an adjective that follows a direct object to rename it or state what it has become.

He made her happy. –> her = happy (Object = Complement)

He painted the ceiling white. –> the ceiling = white (Object = Complement)

MODIFIERS

A modifier in the sentence is a word or group of words that modifies another word. Moreover, modifiers describe something or make it is meaning more specific, and they function as adjectives or adverbs.

Some common modifiers we can see in the sentence are:

1. Adverbs

2. Prepositional phrases

3. Adverb/Adjective Clauses

You might find this odd but modifiers act like ornaments in the sentence. It gives meaning and more details to the sentence yet, not recognizing them first when parsing sentences will surely confuse everyone. This is probably the reason why some TOEIC test-takers got totally confused when they encounter related items during the test.

Take the following sentences below:

A. I saw a spider.

B. I saw a spider on the wall (Modifier = prepositional phrase).

C. I unexpectedly (Modifier = adverb) saw a spider on the wall (Modifier = prepositional phrase).

D. I unexpectedly (Modifier = adverb) saw a spider on the wall (Modifier = prepositional phrase) yesterday (Modifier = adverb) at around 8 a.m. (Modifier =adverb).

I who is afraid of spiders (Modifier = adjective clause) unexpectedly (Modifier = adverb) saw one on the wall (Modifier = prepositional phrase) yesterday (Modifier = adverb) at around 8 o’clock in the morning (Modifier = adverb).

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