Five Sentence Patterns

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        Some high school textbooks teach students five "basic" sentence patterns. All five patterns have a subject at the beginning, followed by a verb.

reduced simple elaborated
S + V S + V + O

S + V + C

S + V + O + O

S + V + O + C

Which sentence pattern(s) you use is determined by the verb. A few verbs can use more than one pattern, but most use just one.

Simple: S + V + O

        Most verbs can and do have an object follow them. These transitive verbs () are the most common of all. The subject and object tell who and/or what. Extra information (such as an adverbial) telling when, where, how often, how much, and why does not affect the sentence pattern.

The object is sometimes optional and can be deleted. Objects that are not optional must be repeated or replaced by a pronoun.

Reduced: S + V

        Other verbs cannot have an object follow them. They are called intransitive verbs ().

Passive: S + V + alpha

        Passive sentences never have an object. They are active SVO sentences that have been transformed so that the object became the subject. Usually the original subject has been eliminated. If it remains, it moves to a plus-alpha (prepositional) phrase.

Special case: There + V + S

As a special case, ''there'' is sometimes used as a (false) subject, while the real subject comes after the verb and appears like (but is not) the object.

Simple: S + V + C

        Some special verbs (linking verbs) behave like the verb to be. Instead of an object the verb is followed by something called a complement. The complement may be a noun or an adjective, so there are two types of S-V-C sentences: S-V-C(noun) and S-V-C(adj). In either case, the complement describes the subject.
        It is important to remember that S is always an item in the category described by C(noun). If you find a sentence where that is not the case, you probably need EITHER to change the verb OR put a preposition in front of the noun.

There is a relationship between adjective pairs of feeling (usually ending in -ing and -ed) and the verbs that they come from. It can be clearly seen in a comparison of their basic sentence patterns.

So we have exciting movies and excited people (like Bob). Other adjective pairs that follow this pattern include shocking / shocked; interesting / interested; and frightening / frightened.

Elaborated: S + V + O + O

        Some verbs take two objects, though they can often be rewritten using a single object and a plus-alpha (prepositional) phrase.

The first two sentences can also be written:

Elaborated: S + V + O + C

        Sometimes an S+V+C sentence is imbedded in a longer, more complex sentence in such a way that its verb drops out and the subject becomes the object of the new, longer sentence.

The third sentence can also be written:

Now It's Time to Practice

        Take a piece of writing, perhaps something you yourself have written, and underline all the verb phrases. Then try to write a basic sentence for each such phrase and identify the pattern used.

Last updated March 2008
Copyright (C) 2004-2008 by Jeff Blair
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