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Word order in sentences - Easy Learning Grammar

The order of words in an English sentence is very important. A change in word order often results in a change of meaning.Many other languages use inflection, a change in the form of words, to show how the parts of a sentence function. English has very few inflections, so the place that a word occupies in a sentence, its syntax, is the most important feature.

Neutral word order

Most sentences have a subject, and then something that is said about the subject, which is usually the rest of the sentence. This divides the sentence into the subject and the predicate.
  • John (subject) bought the tickets on Saturday (predicate).
  • The wall (subject) was torn down (predicate).
  • My elderly mother (subject) is rather deaf (predicate).
Most sentences put the information that they carry in this order. This is neutral word order. When this neutral order is changed, the meaning of a sentence also changes.
  • The cat killed the dog.
  • The dog killed the cat.
  • The child watched the rabbit.
  • The rabbit watched the child.

Word order in simple sentences

Simple sentences are those which have only one clause. They are extremely common in all forms of written and spoken English. Simple sentences have a normal word order which varies according to whether the sentence is:
  • a statement,
  • I saw you at the theatre on Saturday night.
  • I didn’t see you at the theatre on Saturday night.
  • a question,
  • Did I see you at the theatre on Saturday night?
  • Didn’t I see you at the theatre on Saturday night?
  • a command.
  • You should buy a ticket now.
  • You shouldn’t buy a ticket yet.
  • Buy a ticket now.
  • Don’t buy a ticket now.
Word order also varies according to whether the sentence is negative or positive.

Focusing

When we want to focus the attention of a reader or a listener on a particular word or phrase, we can use variations on neutral order, such as putting the subject last, splitting the clause into two, or repeating some part of the sentence.Some variations on the theme of neutral word order.
  • We used to call him ‘Fuzzy’.
  • ‘Fuzzy’, we used to call him.
  • Didn’t we use to call him ‘Fuzzy’?
  • ‘Fuzzy’ was what we used to call him.
  • It was ‘Fuzzy’ we used to call him.

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