English and its strict word order.

This blog looks at word order.

Hi All!

For an Assertive sentence,

the word order is:

   1. Article
   2. Adjective- which may be modified by an  [ 2a. Adverb]
   3. Noun / Pronoun
   4.  Verb- which may be modified by an [ 4a. Adverb ]
   5. Preposition
   6. Article
   7. Adjective- which may be modified by an  [7a. Adverb]
   8. Noun / Pronoun.

{An example: `The young boy kicked at the round football`

which has the above order- Article [1] + Adjective [2] + Noun [3] + Verb [4] + Preposition [5] + article [6] + adjective [7] + Noun [8]}

Two words, phrases, or, sentences can be joined by a conjunction, in which case the order repeats.

An Interjection can also come at the beginning of a sentence where a noun, or, a pronoun comes.

A web-site [www.telescopictext.com] is pointed out for consideration. This starts with a very simple sentence. This sentence can be expanded by adding words to the words in the initial sentence. Let us analyze some sentences from the telescopic text. [Please look at the numbers of the parts of speech and compare them with the order given above. They always go in numerical order from [1] to [8]].

The first sentence is, “I made tea”

Pronoun [3] + verb [4] + noun [8].

Secondly let us look at, “I walked into the kitchen and made tea”.

Pronoun [3] + verb [4] + preposition [5] + article [6] + noun [8] + [conjunction] + verb [3] + noun [8].

After the conjunction “and” we have a new phrase which also follows the word order.

Thirdly, “I walked bleary eyed into the kitchen and made tea”.

Pronoun [3] + verb [4] + adjective [7] + preposition [5] + article [6] + noun [8] [conjunction] + verb [4] + noun [8].

I suggest that the adjective be placed before the pronoun [3] in the above sentence as the best place for a modifier would be next to the word it modifies.

So, it would read Bleary- eyed, I walked into the kitchen and made tea. The word order would then become,

Adjective [2] + Pronoun [3] + verb [4] + preposition [5] + article [6] + noun [8] [conjunction] + verb [4] + noun [8].

Next, “The kettle began grumbling fiercely so I poured water on a tea bag and watched it brew”.

Article [1] + noun [3] + verb [4] + adverb [4a] + [conjunction] + pronoun [1] + verb [4] + noun [8] + preposition [5] + article [6] + noun [8] + [conjunction] + verb [4] + pronoun [8] + verb [8].

In this sentence, the conjunction ` so` joins two sentences, so, we can treat “I poured water” as a separate sentence. The order then goes from pronoun [8] back to verb [4] after the conjunction “and” [should we end a sentence with a conjunction?].

I have read the remaining sentences in the telescopic text and almost all of them follow the above word order. Since there are no interrogative, or exclamatory, or, imperative sentences the above word order would seem to hold good for over 90% of assertive sentences in the telescopic text. Some which do not follow are used everyday, but, they have ambiguous meaning as pointed out on a web-log. For example,

“I made myself tea” should be revised to “I made some tea for myself”, according to a commentator.  He says “I made myself tea” can be read as “I” turned into “tea”. It is pointed out that this is similar to “I made myself a sandwich” which is used all the time. But, if we look at the sentence “ I made tea for myself” we see that it has the order: Pronoun [3] + verb [4] + noun [8] + preposition [5] + pronoun [8]. The idea is that if a sentence were to be grammatically correct then it might not have too much ambiguity. Could somebody please comment on this?

Average: 4.8 (5 votes)

Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight