Basic word order

English word order is strict and rather inflexible. As there are few endings in English that show person, number, case, and tense, English relies on word order to show relationships between words in a sentence.

In Russian, we rely on word endings to tell us how words interact in a sentence.

English nouns do not have any case endings (only personal pronouns have some case endings), so it is mostly the word order that tells you where things are in a sentence, and how they interact. Compare:

The dog sees the cat.
The cat sees the dog.

The subject and the object in these sentences are completely the same in form. How do you know who sees whom? The rules of English word order tell you that.

Word order patterns

A sentence is a group of words containing a subject and a predicate and expressing a complete thought.

Word order arranges separate words into sentences in a certain way and indicates where to find the subject, the predicate, and the other parts of the sentence. Word order and context help to identify the meanings of individual words.

The main pattern of basic word order in English declarative sentences is SUBJECT + PREDICATE + OBJECT, often called SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT, for example: Tom writes stories. It means that if these three parts of the sentence are present in a statement (a declarative sentence), the subject is placed before the predicate, the predicate follows the subject, and the object is placed after the predicate. Adverbial modifiers are placed after the object, and adjectives are placed before their nouns.

Of course, some sentences may have just one word (Write!), or only a subject and a predicate (Tom writes.), or have an adverbial modifier and no object (Tom writes well.), and there are peculiarities, exceptions, and preferences in word order, but the pattern SUBJECT + PREDICATE + OBJECT (Tom writes stories.) is the most typical and the most common pattern of standard word order in English that serves as a basis for word order in different types of sentences.

Word order in different sentences

English sentences are divided into statements, questions, commands, and exclamatory sentences. Word order in different types of sentences has certain peculiarities.

Statements (Declarative sentences)

Statements (declarative sentences) are the most common type of sentences. A standard statement uses the basic word order pattern, i.e. SUBJECT + PREDICATE (+ object + adverbial modifier). Adverbial modifiers are placed at the end of the sentence after the object (or after the verb if there is no object). Attributes (adjectives, numerals) are placed before their nouns, and attributes in the form of nouns with prepositions are placed after their nouns.

Maria works.
Tom writes stories.
He talked to Anna yesterday.
My son bought three history books.
Tom writes short stories for children.

Questions (Interrogative sentences)

General questions

Auxiliary verb + subject + main verb (+ object + adverbial modifier):

Do you smoke?
Does he speak English?
Is he writing a report now?
Have you seen this film?

Special questions

Question word + auxiliary verb + subject + main verb (+ object + adverbial modifier):

Where does he live?
What are you writing now?
When did they visit Mexico?

Alternative questions

Alternative questions have the same word order as general questions.

Does he live in Paris or Rome?
Are you writing a report or a letter?

Tag questions

Tag questions consist of two parts.