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Sentence Structure: Subject-Verb-Adverbial sentences

Understanding Subject-Verb-Adverbial (SVA) sentences

A subject - verb - adverbial sentence consists of a subject A noun phrase (a person or a thing) or a nominal clause normally placed before a verb phrase and which acts as the performer of the verb. more..., a copular verb A verb which links a subject to a complement. more..., and an obligatory adverbial An adverb phrase used to provide circumstantial information about a clause, to indicate the writer’s stance, or to link units of discourse by indicating their relationship. more.... The subject is always filled by a noun phrase or a nominal clause. The adverbial is obligatory. The sentence will not be complete, or grammatical, without it. A subject - copula - adverbial sentence could be as simple as the example below:

The subject is a one-word noun phrase. The verb is the commonest copular verb (be) and the adverbial is a prepositional phrase. The adverbial is obligatory; without it the sentence would not make sense except perhaps are a short answer to a question (Which animals are in danger? Koalas are.).

However, noun phrases and adverbials can be long and complex so most SVA structures are much longer, as in some of the examples below (click and drag to stop, start and find the sentence you wish to examine):

You can view an analysis of some of the noun phrases in the above examples in the animations below (click on Subject to view each noun phrase).

In the above example the head of the subject phrase is "carbon dioxide". It is a compound noun and has no modifiers. The adverbial is a double one "there" is an adverbial of place and "for hundreds of years" is a prepositional phrase (one embedded The insertion of one phrase or clause inside of another (also known as nesting). more... in another).

Indicates an obligatory element. Indicates an optional element.

In the above example the head of the subject phrase is "species" and there is one postmodifier, Rhizanthella gardneri. This is an appositive noun phrase. It is the name of the species (a type of orchid). The adverbial (in Western Australia) is a prepositional phrase, specifying location.

In the above example the head of the subject phrase is "phase" premodified the adjective phrase "most intense" and postmodified by the prepositional phrase "of each event". The adverbial is a noun phrase "half a year". Noun phrases are rare as adverbials but they do occur, mainly as time or date adverbials.

In the above example the head of the subject phrase is "answer" postmodified by the prepositional phrase "to this question". The adverbial is also a prepositional phrase "in how our brains are hardwired to think". This has the preposition "in" and its complement is a nominal A noun, noun phrase or any word or phrase which is used as a noun, such as adjectives and complement clauses, and which can occupy any place where you might expect to find a noun (such as subject, object, complement, etc.). more... in the form of a wh-clause A clause which begins with a wh-word (who, what, which, where, when, why, how, whether, whatever, whichever ) and acts either as a dependent interrogative clause or a nominal relative clause. more... "how our brains are hardwired to think".

Optional Elements

Most sentences contain one or more optional elements as well as those strictly necessary to form a grammatical construction. Here is a simple example: The first adverbial "In the UK" is not part of the SVA constriction. It is an optional element and the rest of the sentence is an acceptable grammatical structure without it. All the other elements are obligatory.

You can see further examples of this structure (including optional elements) on the SVA page and test yourself on the SVA exercise page.


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