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English Sentence Patterns

May 12, 2016

Do you teach sentence patterns to your students outright? Most textbooks don’t deal with sentence patterns all at once, but I’ve found it really helps my students understand English better when I lay out the patterns for them. When English language learners have a basic understanding of sentence patterns and structures in English, they can recognize parts of speech and correct their mistakes more easily.

Basic Sentence Patterns

English uses a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) sentence pattern, but this is only the beginning. Let’s take a look at the patterns for the main parts of speech in English.

1. Nouns (S, O, N):

Nouns are people, places, or things. Nouns and pronouns can be subjects of a sentence, objects of a sentence, or objects of a preposition. Nouns are often preceded by an article (Art), including a, an, the, a number (one, two), a quantifier (many, a few), or a possessive adjective (mytheir).

S + V + O
  • People like him.
Art + N
  • The girl ate an apple.

2. Verbs (V):

Verbs are the action or state of being in a sentence. Verbs usually follow a subject and can be followed by an object. With imperative verbs, the subject is dropped.

S + V (+ O)
  • My sister jogs.
  • She likes him.
V (+ O)
  • Begin.
  • Call me.

3. Adjectives (Adj):

Adjectives describe nouns and have two common patterns in English.

Adj + N
  • beautiful flower
BE + Adj
  • The flower is beautiful.

4. Adverbs (Adv):

Adverbs can describe verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or even the whole sentence. For more details and examples, see 7 Adverb Patterns.

Adv + V
  • often go
V + Adv
  • speak fluently
V + Adv + V
  • is quickly preparing
Adv + Adv
  • really well
Adv + Adj
  • very shiny
Adv + S + V + O
  • Actually, I like rainy days.
S + V + O + Adv
  • I like rainy days, actually.

5. Prepositions (Prep):

Prepositions are little words that indicate direction, time, place, etc. They are followed by a noun.

Prep + N
  • at school

Expanding on the Basics

Intermediate‑level students need to see how the patterns work in conjunction with each other. For example, in the Prep + N pattern, the noun can take an article (Art + N) and/or an adjective (Adj + N).

Example #1

Prep + N
  • at school
Prep + Art + N
  • at the school
Prep + Art + Adj + N
  • at the elite school

Example #2

Adj + N
  • fast car
Art + Adj + N
  • a fast car
Art + Adv + Adj + N
  • a really fast car

Example #3

V + Adv
  • writes often
V + Adv + V
  • is often writing
V + Adv + Adv + V
  • is so often writing

Example #4

  • Cats chase mice.
(Art + N) + V + (Art + N)
  • The cats chase the mice.
(Art + Adj + N) + (Adv + V) + (Art + Adj + N)
  • The hungry cats always chase the scared mice.

For higher‑level students, you can now show how complex sentences involve multiple clauses and phrases that are joined by conjunctions, transitional words (adverbs), punctuation, etc.

Screenshot of English Sentence Patterns resource

Subscribers can access these charts in our Resources – Grammar & Usage section.


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Comments (4)

CARMEN (Guest)

I teach ESL and any help I can get to have my students learn English is a plus

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

That's what we're here for, Carmen! Our goal is to make teachers lives easier. Thanks for your comment!

Jacqueline D.(Teacher)

I'm a Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and often our students benefit from similar supports and resources as ELLs. I really like how you present the patterns or what I call the "formula" for English sentences for intermediate students. I'm wondering what you think of using colours and shapes to identify parts of speech for younger students?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Jacqueline, this is a really interesting idea that I'll present to the publishing team at our next meeting. In our Parts of Speech lesson for young learners (https://ellii.com/courses/116/lessons/2499), we avoided showing all the patterns together because we thought it would be too confusing for them. But using colours and/or shapes might solve that, and also give them the "bigger picture." Thanks for your suggestion!

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