Sentence structure

4 Sentence structure


The general rule in English is that a simple declarative sentence should be structured subject – verb – object. For example:

The lawyer drafted the contract.

In this sentence, the lawyer is the subject, drafted is the verb, and contract is the object.

4.1.1 Subject

The subject is the part of the sentence that usually comes first and on which the rest of the sentence is predicated. It is typically – but not always – a noun phrase. In traditional grammar it is said to be the ‘doer’ of the verbal action.

A subject is essential in English sentence structure – so much so that a dummy subject (usually ‘it’) must sometimes be introduced (e.g. It is raining). However, they are unnecessary in imperative sentences (e.g. Listen!), and in some informal contexts (e.g. See you soon).

4.1.2 Verb

Verbs are traditionally described as ‘doing’ words. They are usually essential to clause structure.

Verbs may be classified either as main or auxiliary. Auxiliary verbs are traditionally described as ‘helping verbs’, and include be, do and have. Compare:

I bought oranges.

I have been buying oranges.

4.1.3 Object

The object is usually a noun phrase. In a simple declarative sentence it follows the verb. The object is usually said to be ‘affected’ by the verb.

Objects may be either direct or indirect. In the sentence ‘I owe you nothing’, you is the direct object and nothing the indirect object.


In more complex sentences, it may be necessary to introduce other parts of speech. These include:

4.2.1 Adjectives

An adjective is a word used to describe a noun or make its meaning clearer, e.g.

A green car.

An efficient engine.

Adjectives go before the nouns they qualify. For example:

The commerciallawyer drafted the salescontract.

4.2.2 Adverbs

Adverbs are words or phrases which add more information about place, time, manner or degree to an adjective, verb, other adverb or sentence (e.g. greatly, very, fortunately, efficiently).

Therefore, adverbs may be added to modify the meaning of our example:

The commercial lawyer efficientlydrafted the sales contract.