Normal Sentence Pattern in English



A rule in grammar is a generalization. It is a formula that one makes to account for how a given grammatical construction usually behaves. A rule is not necessarily true in every instance. It is generally true. Don't be concerned if you see or hear something that does not coincide with a rule in this book.


Method of Study

The best method of improving your use of English grammar with this guide is to study the formulas and sample sentences. Then do the practice exercise at the end of each section. After each group of lessons, there is an exercise using grammatical points from the preceding explanations. If you still make errors, the practice test answer keys and the index give you the page number of the explanation to study again.

Normal Sentence Pattern in English

John and I
a pizza
 "present perfect"
last night
 last week

• Subject: The subject is the agent of the sentence in the active voice; it is the person or thing that does the action of the sentence, and it normally precedes the verb. Note: Every sentence in English must have a subject. (In the case of commands, the subject is understood.) The subject may be a single noun.

Coffee is delicious. Milk contains calcium.


The subject may be a noun phrase. A noun phrase is a group of words ending with a noun. (It cannot begin with a preposition.)

The book is on the table. That new, red car is John's.


Examples of subjects:

We girls are not going to that movie.

George likes boats.

Mary, John, George, and I went, to a restaurant last night.

The weather was very bad yesterday.

The chemistry professor cancelled class today.

The bank closed at two o'clock.


In some sentences there is not a true subject. However, it and there can often act as pseudo-subjects and should be considered as subjects when rules call for moving the subject of a sentence.

It is a nice day today.

There was a fire in that building last month.

There were many students in the room.

It is raining right now.


• VerbThe verb follows the subject; it generally shows the action of the sentence. NoteEvery sentence must have a verb. The verb may be a single word.

John drives too fast.

They hate spinach.


The verb may be a verb phrase. A verb phrase consists of one or more auxiliaries and one main verb. The auxiliaries always precede the main verb.

John is going to Miami tomorrow. (auxiliary - is; main verb - going)

Jane has been reading that book. (auxiliaries - has, been; main verb - reading)


Examples of verbs and verb phrases:

She will go to Boston next week.

Jane is very tall.

She must have gone to the bank.

Joe has gone home.

Mary is watching television.

It was raining at six o'clock last night.

 • ComplementA complement completes the verb. It is similar to the subject because it is usually a noun or noun phrase; however, it generally follows the verb when the sentence is in the active voice. Note: Every sentence does not require a complement. The complement cannot begin with a preposition. A complement answers the question what? or whom?

Examples of complements:

John bought a cake yesterday.

Jill was driving a new car.

He wants to drink some water.

She saw John at the movies last night.

They called Mary yesterday.

He was smoking a cigarette.


• ModifierA modifier tells the time, place, or manner of the action. Very often it is a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase is a group of words that begins with a preposition and ends with a noun. Note: A modifier of time usually comes last if more than one modifier is present.

Examples of prepositional phrases:

in the morningat the universityon the table

A modifier can also be an adverb or an adverbial phrase:

last nighthurriedlynext yearoutdoorsyesterday

NOTEEvery sentence does not require a modifier. A modifier answers the question when? where? or how?

Examples of modifiers:

John bought a book at the bookstore. (modifier of place)

Jill was swimming in the pool yesterday. (modifier of place / modifier of time)

He was driving very fast. (modifier of manner)


NOTE: The modifier normally follows the complement, but not always. However, the modifier, especially when it is a prepositional phrase, usually cannot separate the verb and the complement.

Incorrect: She drove on the street the car .

Correct: She drove the car on the street. 

Exercise 1: Subject, Verb, Complement, one Modifier

Identify the subject, verb, complement, and modifier in each of the following sentences. Remember that not every sentence has a complement or modifier. Examples:

Jill / is buying / a new hat / in the store. (subject / verb phrase / complement / modifier of piece)

Betty / is shopping / downtown. (subject / verb phrase / modifier of place)


1. George is cooking dinner tonight.

2. Henry and Marcia have visited the president.

3. We can eat lunch in this restaurant today.

4. Pat should have bought gasoline yesterday.

5. Trees grow.

6. It was raining at seven-o'clock this morning.

7. She opened a checking account at the bank last week.

8. Harry is washing dishes right how.

9. She opened her book.

10. Paul, William, and Mary were watching television a few minutes ago.