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Sentence Structure: Subject-Verb-Object Sentences

Understanding Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) sentences

A subject - verb - object 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 monotransitive verb A verb which takes only a direct object realised by a noun phrase. more..., and a direct object A direct object is the "thing" which is directly affected by a transitive verb. It may be a noun, noun phrase, nominal clause, an ing-clause, a to-cause, or a pronoun. more.... Both the subject and the object are always filled by noun phrases or 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... clauses. A subject - verb - object sentence could be as simple as the example below:

However, as we have seen, noun phrases can be long and complex so most SVO 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 or Object to view each noun phrase).

Indicates an obligatory element. Indicates an optional element.

In the above example the head of the subject phrase is "studies" and there are two premodifiers; the adjective "separate" and the noun modifier "attribution". The adjective "separate" really applies to "attribution studies": separate [attribution studies].

The example above contains an ed-clause A participle clause (past participle) often used as a post-modifying clause of a noun phrase, and as part of an adverbial. more... "consumed later in the day". You can see more examples of ed-clauses on the ed-clause page.

In the above example the head of the object is "policies" which is part of a prepositional phrase A phrase consisting of a preposition and a complement (usually a noun phrase), often used as a post-modifier of a noun phrase. more... "of public policies". "increasing" is a participial adjective modifying the noun "number", which is itself modified by an embedded prepositional phrase. You can see that we have a complex structure here, but these are not uncommon in academic writing. You can see more about these constructions and embedding on the prepositional phrase page.

There is one example above in which the object is not a noun phrase: the sentence "A doctor discovered what was wrong.". The clause "what was wrong" is a nominal relative clause A wh-clause which can be rewritten as a head noun modified by the wh-clause functioning as a relative clause. more... acting as the object.

Optional Elements

Most sentences contain one or more optional elements as well as those strictly necessary to form a grammatical construction. Here are a few examples:

Indicates an obligatory element. Indicates an optional element.

Leaving the adverb "only" out of the sentence would still leave a grammatical sentence.

"Sometimes" is a time (or frequency) adverbial. Omitting it would still leave a grammatical sentence.

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


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