Lesson Twenty-six

Sentence Patterns

Sentence patterns are the phrases and clauses that make up the structure of a sentence. The way you use these patterns adds variety to your communication.


Phrases are groups of words connected that do not make a complete sentence because they lack a subject and/or verb. Clauses are a group of words that contain a verb and other sentence components. Depending on the type of clause, it may make a complete sentence and it may not.


 Knowing your sentence patterns makes sure that all of the words you put in your sentences are in the right order. Here’s another little tip: if you know your sentence patterns, you will be able to figure out the kinds of words you’re using as well. More on that later.


At Learn American English Online, we are all about giving you the basic foundational tools that you need to create your English skills. Starting small, and mastering the small stuff before you move on to the medium and large stuff, gives you a strong foundation. Think about a house: you wouldn’t want your house to be built on sand, would you?


Take your time going through this lesson, even if you feel like you already know most of it. For extra practice, label sentences in a book you’re reading, or on a piece of your English homework. The more you practice this lesson, the more naturally you will find yourself thinking in English!

There are four basic patterns that are used when putting together a sentence:

  1. Subject + Verb (S + V)
  2. Subject + Verb + Direct Object (S + V + DO)
  3. Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object (S + V + IO + DO)
  4. Subject + Verb + Subject Complement (S + V + SC)

A subject is usually a noun or a pronoun, but it may also be a gerund, an infinitive, a clause, or a phrase.


The verbs in these patterns are action verbs or linking verbs.


It’s important to consider that subjects or verbs are sometimes compound. That means there is more than one word serving as a subject or a verb in a sentence or question.


S + V

They live in Memphis.

subject: they

verb: live


S + V + DO

My brother bought a house.

subject: brother

verb: bought

direct object: house


S + V + IO + DO

She gave her friend some advice.

subject: she

verb: gave

direct object: advice

indirect object: friend


two young women talking

S + V + SC

The shoes are black.

subject: shoes

verb: are

subject complement: black




It’s useful to identify prepositional phrases before you decide which word is the subject, the verb, the direct object, etc. Many teachers tell students to draw parentheses around the prepositional phrases–if they exist–before determining the pattern of the sentence.


For example:

  • Bob works (at a shoe store) (in the mall).
  • (In the middle) (of the room) there is a table.
  • Most (of the students) like the class.


In the first sentence, the subject is “Bob” and the verb is “works.”

In the second sentence, the subject is “there,” the verb is “is” and the subject complement is “table.”

In the third sentence, the subject is “most,” the verb is “like” and the word “class” is the direct object.


It’s easier to identify these parts of the sentence if you find the prepositional phrases first.


The sentences that you learn about on this page are basic sentence patterns. There are many, many different ways to form a sentence; however, you should learn these four basic patterns first.


Next: Lesson Twenty-seven

Prepositional Phrases