7 Basic Sentence Patterns

The English language has seven basic sentence (or clause) patterns. Examples are:

  1. John / laughed. (SV)*
  2. John / kissed / Jane. (SVO)
  3. John / is / tall. (SVC)
  4. John / gave / Jane / a present. (SVOO)
  5. John / made / Jane / angry. (SVOC)
  6. John / sat / up. (SVA)
  7. John / put / the bag / down. (SVOA)

Most simple and complex (but not compound) clauses are of one of these patterns no matter how long the clauses are. For example, the following two sentences are essentially of the same pattern.

  1. Jane / bought / fruit. (SVO)
  2. My long lost sister Jane / has been buying / a variety of fruit. (SVO)

* There are five sentence class terms: S = subject, V = verb, O = object, C = complement, and A = adverbial. The slash (/) denotes the boundary between syntactic terms.

Reference: Everyday Grammar by John Seely.

See also:

40 thoughts on “7 Basic Sentence Patterns

  1. I have read one of the question: He collaborated with a distinguished painter.
    I am a bit confused about the idea of V in SVO. Does V only stand for a verb or it can also be a phrasal verb? Or should phrasal verbs be discussed separately?

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    • Thanks for the interesting question!

      It is best to keep clear whether you are thinking about a verb as a ‘word class’ (verb in contrast to noun, adverb, adjective, etc) or as a ‘sentence class’ (verb in contrast to subject, object, complement, etc). Here we are talking about sentence class. The question then is whether this sentence is considered a SVO (where the verb is ‘collaborated with’) or SVA (where the verb is ‘collaborated’, where the rest of the sentence completes the verb as a non-optional adverbial chunk).

      There is no agreement on which it is. But I would lean with SVO because we generally ask “Who did he collaborate with?” rather than “How did he collaborate?” The verb “chunk” seems to be “to collaborate with”. The “How” question seems odd.

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  2. could you help me with this one? : )
    he collaborated with a distinguished painter on the designs.
    I’m guessing it’s SV since collaborate is an intransitive verb? but what do you call the clause ‘with a distinguished painter on the designs.’ at the end? complement? I don’t think it’s a complement either since it’s not really complementing the subject? also cause i thought a SV sentence would be a complete sentence by itself and I think he collborated sounds like an incomplete sentence to me?

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    • It cannot be SVC because by definition SVC means S=C. “He” does not equal “with a distinguished painter on the designs”. But neither can it be SV because, as you had said, it be an incomplete. “He collaborated” is not a sentence.

      The sentence is SVO “He collaborated with a distinguished painter”, the verb being “collaborated with”.

      “on the designs” is an optional modifier. Delete it and the sentence is still complete.

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    • No. 4 in the sentence pattern has an SVOO construction.

      John / gave / Jane / a present.

      Jane is the indirect object while the present is the direct object. The terms indirect refers to the relationship of an object and the verb of the sentence. What John gave was a present. He did not give Jane. Jane was the recipient of the present.

      So, the object which is affected by the action (the verb) is the direct object. And the object which is passive to the action is the indirect object. This is clear when the same sentence is rephrased so that the indirect object is expressed as an obligatory adverbial as in

      4a. John gave a present to Jane.

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    • It could be A. It is an A if it is obligatory. Here it can be optional.

      I will admit this is a case in which it can be either. So it depends on what comes before the sentence.

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  3. Can you help me with this sentence.
    An average person eats about forty-five tons of food during his lifetime.

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    • I think this is S/V/O/A. [An average person (S)] [eats(V)] [forty-five tons of food(O)] [during his lifetime(A)] <- the last part describes when he eats not the food so technically its an adverb.

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    • Consider (1) and (2).

      (1) The average person eats forty-five tons of food.
      (2) The average person eats forty-five tons of food during his lifetime.

      Both are these are acceptable. If something is optional (as in “during his lifetime”) it is not counted as part of the basic pattern. So in my opinion SVO is fine.

      One must differentiate optional and obligatory adverbs.

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