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Learning Word Order in English by Studying Predicate Forms

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

The predicate can take six forms in the English language. The following article describes the six forms of the English predicate that students can use to more easily learn the word order of English sentences.

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    The Predicate in English Grammar

    All clauses in English contain both a subject and a predicate. The subject always precedes the predicate in declarative sentences. Students studying the English language can more easily learn the word order of English sentences by studying the forms of the English predicate. The six forms of the predicate in English are:

    1. Subject–Verb
    2. Subject–Verb–Verb Phrase Complement
    3. Subject–Verb–Subject Complement
    4. Subject–Verb–Direct Object
    5. Subject–Verb–Direct Object–Object Complement
    6. Subject–Verb–Indirect Object–Direct Object

    The following sections discuss the six forms of the English predicate and include examples to illustrate use.

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    Subject–Verb Word Order

    The first possible word order in English is the Subject–Verb sentence. Predicates of Subject–Verb sentences contain only a verb phrase. The verb phrase functions as the predicate. The following sentences are examples of Verb predicates:

    • Subject | Verb

    • My pencil | broke.
    • The oak tree | has died.
    • The children | are swimming.
    • Your father | has been waiting up.
    • We | could have been eating.

    Sentences with only subjects and verbs are the most basic simple sentences in English.

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    Subject–Verb–Verb Phrase Complement Word Order

    The second possible word order in English the Subject–Verb–Verb Phrase Complement sentence. Predicates of Subject–Verb–Verb Phrase Complement sentences contain a verb phrase and a verb phrase complement usually in the form of a prepositional phrase. Verb phrase complements are words and phrases that directly follow and complete the meaning of the verb phrase. The following sentences are examples of Verb–Verb Phrase Complement predicates:

    • Subject | Verb | Verb Phrase Complement

    • The couple | argued | about the new car.
    • His agent | has listened | to his most recent recording.
    • Our next-door neighbor | objects | to rowdy children.
    • You | could have apologized | for laughing at my mistake.
    • The tourists | had been looking | at the sculptures.

    Verbs followed by prepositional phrases functioning as verb phrase complements are called prepositional verbs. The verb phrase complement always directly follows the head of the verb phrase in English sentences.

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    Subject–Verb–Subject Complement Word Order

    The third possible word order in English is the Subject–Verb–Subject Complement sentence. Predicates of Subject–Verb–Subject Complement sentences contain a verb phrase and a subject complement. Subject complements are words, phrases, and clauses that follow copular or linking verbs and describe the grammatical subject. The following sentences are examples of Verb–Subject Complement predicates:

    • Subject | Verb | Subject Complement

    • My puppy | is | overexcited.
    • The soup | smells | spicy but delicious.
    • Your sister | had been | upset.
    • The problem | could be | that your forgot to add the yeast.
    • You coworkers | was being | a lunatic.
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    Subject–Verb–Direct Object Word Order

    The fourth possible word order in English is the Subject–Verb–Direct Object sentence. Predicates of Subject–Verb–Direct Object sentences contains a verb phrase and a direct object. Direct objects are words, phrases, and clauses that follow and receive the action of transitive verbs. The following sentences are examples of Verb–Direct Object predicates:

    • Subject | Verb | Direct Object

    • The spy | has intercepted | the letter.
    • My mom | microwaved | the sweet potatoes.
    • We | must transcribe | the speech.
    • The mean judge | is berating | the shy contestant.
    • The scholar | has debunked | the popular myth.
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    Subject–Verb–Direct Object–Object Complement Word Order

    The fifth possible word order in English is the Subject–Verb–Direct Object–Object Complement sentence. Predicates of Subject–Verb–Direct Object–Object Complement sentences contain a verb phrase, a direct object, and an object complement. Object complements are words, phrases, and clauses that directly follow and describe the direct object. The following sentences are examples of Verb–Direct Object–Object Complement predicates:

    • Subject | Verb | Direct Object | Object Complement

    • The repair shop | painted | my car | black.
    • Studying grammar | has always made | me | happy.
    • The group | will elect | my supervisor | the new president.
    • The jury | has found | the defendant | not guilty.
    • I | consider | Transformers | one of my favorite movies.

    The object complement always follows the direct object in English sentences.

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    Subject–Verb–Indirect Object–Direct Object Word Order

    The sixth possible word order in English is the Subject–Verb–Indirect Object–Direct Object sentence. Predicates of Subject–Verb–Indirect Object–Direct Object sentences contain a verb phrase, an indirect object, and a direct object. Indirect objects are words, phrases, and clauses that indicate to or for whom or what the action of a ditransitive verb is performed. The following sentences are examples of Verb–Indirect Object–Direct Object predicates:

    • Subject | Verb | Indirect Object | Direct Object

    • The librarian | read | the children | the book.
    • Her husband | has given | her | a new diamond necklace.
    • A man | is buying | a friend | a gift.
    • You | could pass | me | the salt.
    • That poet | was writing | his true love | an ode.

    The indirect object always precedes the direct object in English sentences.

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    A Note on Adverbials and Adjuncts

    Although many sentences in English also contain adverbials (words, phrases, and clauses that modify an entire clause by providing additional information about time, place, manner, condition, purpose, reason, result, and concession) and adjuncts (words and phrases that frame an entire clause), these two grammatical structures are not part of the main clause. Adverbials and adjuncts are, therefore, not included in the descriptions of word order of English predicates.