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Word order

Most English sentences (clauses) conform to the SVO word order. This means that the Subject comes before the Verb, which comes before the Object. Examples:

It is more complicated when an indirect object (I) is added to the sentence. In this case the word order depends a.) on whether the direct and indirect objects are nouns or pronouns, and b.) on whether the indirect object is preceded by the word to. Here are the basic rules:

Indirect object with to:
· Two nouns
· Two pronouns
· Pronoun object/noun indirect object
SVOI I showed the computer to my friends.
I showed it to them.
I showed it to my friends.
She gave the present to her mother.
She gave it to her.
She gave it to her mother.

Indirect object without to:
· Two nouns
· Two pronouns
· Noun object/pronoun indirect object
SVI0 I showed my friends the computer.
I showed them it.
I showed them the computer
She gave her mother the present.
She gave her it.
She gave her the present.

Many English sentences also contain adverbials. The problem for the English learner is that some adverbials can be located in different places within the sentence, while other adverbials must appear in one place only. For example, it is correct to say both: I very quickly did my homework .. and I did my homework very quickly .., but only I did my homework in a hurry .. is possible. I in a hurry did my homework .. is wrong.

Learners who want to get their English word order right should ask a native speaker. Alternatively, they can consult a good usage guide such as Swan's Modern English Usage or 'google' the sentence/clause.*

* For example, the learner might not know which of the following sentences contains the more normal word order: "a. I want to get this right .." or "b. I want to get right this ..". If he or she enters the words into Google, the results are: sentence a - 731 hits; sentence b - 0 hits. The correct choice is clear!

Do a quiz on word order: quiz 1 - quiz 2.


Frankfurt International School: Art and artists. (Click to see at full size.)