Syntax and word order

(Rules for the English syntax and word order in a sentence)

Table of contents – syntax and word order

On this page you will find the following:

  1. General word order in English
  2. Word order in questions
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What is the word order in English grammar?

As a learner, you need to know that the sentence structure, which is the word order, is considerably rigid in English. This lack of flexibility occurs because the constituents of the sentence cannot be moved arbitrarily within it. So, they usually need to occupy their fixed place or position. In principle, the subsequent order of the constituents or parts applies in positive and negative English sentences:

Rule for English sentence formation


is the acronym (abbreviation) for

Subject (S)Verb (V, main verb)Object (O)

In most cases, this order may not be changed. Compare the examples:

Subject Verb(s) Object
I drink coffee.
You don’t have a car.
We can play the guitar.

In a more detailed breakdown, the English sentence structure looks as follows. Note that the place (details: locative adverbials) always comes before the time (details: temporal adverbials):

Subject Verb(s) Indirect object Direct object Place Time
He can give her the book at home tomorrow.
They are going to write him a letter at work next week.

Alternatively, the adverbial of time may appear at the beginning of the sentence:

Time Subject Verb Indirect object Direct object Place
Every day Sue does exercises at the gym.

Subordinate clauses can be extended by a preceding conjunction (connective words in English):

Conjunction Subject Verb(s) Indirect object Direct object Place Time
because they won’t be there later.
and I cannot tell you the secret now.

What is the typical word order in questions?

Interrogative sentences, which are questions in most cases, also retain the order of subject–verb–object. Note, however, that the question word appears at the beginning of the sentence, and the auxiliary verb moves to the position in front of the subject:

Question word Auxiliary verb Subject Main verb Indirect object Direct object Place Time
Why can’t he help me at work tomorrow?
When did you come home last night?

Further explanations related to the ‘English syntax and word order’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Rules for the sentence structure and word order in English grammar’ and could be interesting too: