Adapted and abridged from: http://linguapress.com/grammar/word-order.htm
In the examples, the sentences are colour-coded: subjects in red,
verbs in blue, direct objects in brown, etc.
1.In a normal (declarative) sentence, the subject of a sentence
comes directly in front of the verb. The direct object
(when there is one) comes directly after it:
•The old woman answered the phone.
• People who live in glasshouses shouldn't throw stones.
•The first lady smirked.
Note that by the subject, we mean the subject noun or pronoun
plus adjectives or descriptive phrases that go with it. The rest of the
sentence – i.e. the part that is not the subject - is called the predicate.
2. If a sentence has any other parts to it - indirect
objects, adverbs or adverb phrases - these usually come
in specific places:
2.1. The position of the indirect object
• The indirect object follows the direct object when it is formed
with the preposition to
The indirect object comes in front of the direct object if to is omitted
• The pharmacist sold some medicine to the patient.
• The pharmacist sold the patient some medicine.
2.2. The position of adverbs or adverb phrases
These can come in three possible places:
a) Before the subject (Notably with common adverbs or adverb
Yesterday the postman delivered a ransom note
b1) After the object (virtually any adverb or adverb phrase can be
The girl wrote an essay on her laptop on the plane.
b2) or with intransitive verbs after the verb.
Father was reading on a deckchair in the back yard.
c) In the middle of the verb group. (Notably with short
The two boys have already eaten up their soup.
2.3. Word order with "sentence adverbs"
Sentence adverbs (like perhaps, surely, naturally, also .... ) relate
to a whole clause or sentence, not just a single word. In most
cases, they stand outside the clause they refer to, notably at the
start of the clause. However, they may be placed elsewhere in
the clause for reasons of stress or emphasis.
• Surely mother has already made breakfast.
• Perhaps she has already faxed her resumé.
• She has perhaps already faxed her resumé.
• Naturally Miss Maple grew orchids in her green house.
Contrast this with:
Miss Maple grew orchids naturally in her green house.
which has a quite different meaning.
3. In standard English, nothing usually comes between the subject
and the verb, or between the verb and the object.
There are a few exceptions. The most important of these
are adverbs of frequency and indirect objects without to.
The man often wrote his mother a letter.
I sometimes give my dog a bone.
Here you have these few simple rules applied to complex
sentences, with subordinate and coordinated clauses.
The principal, [who often told his staff (to work late,] never left the
office before he had checked his email.]
Exceptions to these rules - and writers and speakers sometimes
use different or unusual word order for special effects. Here are just
a few examples:
•Never before had I seen such a magnificent exhibition.
(After never or never before, subject and verb can be - and
usually are - inverted. Do not invert when never follows the
•Hardly had I left the house, than it started to rain.
(When a sentence starts with hardly, subject and verb must be
•Had I known, I'd never have gone there.
(Inversion occurs in unfulfilled hypothetical conditional structures
when if is omitted
•The book that you gave me I'd read already.
(The long object, The book that you gave me, is placed at the
start of the sentence for reasons of style: this unusual sentence
structure is not necessary, just stylistic).
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