Sentence Structure: The Basics of Word Order

The Basics of Word Order (SVO)

A grammatical sentence is more than just the sum of its parts. All those parts have to be in the correct order, too. Using an incorrect word order, on the other hand, may lead to errors or a lack of clarity. Thankfully, the basics of word order are easy to remember if you use the initialism “SVO.”

Subject + Verb + Object (SVO)

The minimum required for a grammatical sentence is a subject (i.e., the person or thing that is doing or being something) followed by a verb (i.e., the action or state of being). You can see this in the table below:

Subject (S)

Verb (V)

Steve…

…dances.

The sentence above has only two words: the proper noun “Steve” and the verb “dances.” This is enough to create a grammatical sentence, but only if we use those words in the order shown. If we were to reverse the word order here, it would not make sense (“Dances Steve”).

Any sentence with a transitive verb will also require a direct object after the verb. This “object” is the thing being acted upon in the sentence. For example:

Subject (S)

Verb (V)

Object (O)

Sally…

…kicks…

…the ball.

In the sentence above, the subject (“Sally”) acts upon (“kicks”) the object (“the ball”). Any order other than subject + verb + object here would be ungrammatical with adding extra words. And as such, this basic word order is often the clearest, most concise option available.

Indirect Objects

If you’re feeling a little braver about word order now, you might be ready to tackle indirect objects. An indirect object is the thing that receives the direct object in a sentence, such as in the following:

Subject

Verb

Direct Object

Preposition

Indirect Object

Jimmy…

…gave…

…the present…

…to…

…his grandad.

To break this down a bit, in this case:

  • “Jimmy” is the subject.
  • The verb is “gave.”
  • The direct object is “the present.”
  • And “his grandad” is the indirect object.

As you can see, then, when following a preposition like “to” or “for,” we place the indirect object after the object in the sentence. However, if we omit the preposition the sentence, the indirect object would go before the object (making the correct order subject + verb + indirect object + object):

Subject

Verb

Indirect Object

Direct Object

Jimmy…

…gave…

…his grandad…

…the present.

This distinction is key, so it’s always worth checking whether your sentence contains a preposition if you’re unsure about the correct word order.

Summary: The Basics of Word Order

The basic word order in English is captured in the initials SVO:

Subject + Verb + Object

Each of these plays a specific role in the sentence:

  • Subject (S) – The person or thing that enacts the verb in the sentence.
  • Verb (V) – The action or state of being described.
  • Object (O) – The direct object is the person or thing being acted upon.

The minimum required for a grammatical sentence is a subject plus a verb. But any sentence with a transitive verb will have a direct object as well.

The word order may be slightly more complicated in a sentence that includes an indirect object (i.e., the recipient of a direct object in a sentence). In this case, the correct word order depends on whether you’re using a preposition. If you are using one, the correct order is:

Subject + Verb + Object + Indirect Object

If the preposition is omitted, the sentence should be ordered:

Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Object

Finally, don’t forget that proofreading is a great way to ensure that your writing is free from grammatical errors. And our expert editors are always here and ready to help, so why not submit a document today?

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