Sentence Structures — The ability to use language proficiently transcends the natural acquisition which everyone is endowed with. The knowledge of permissible structures and word order is crucial for anyone who desires to speak and write a language confidently. Words are not arbitrarily arranged; they follow specific orders and are grouped within sentence elements. The knowledge of these sentence elements, as well as the basic sentence types they can generate, is quite essential to language use, especially in written form. On the strength of the foregoing, the rest of this treatise will discuss the five-sentence elements, the word classes that generate them and the basic sentence types in English.
The five-sentence elements are subject, verb, object, complement and adjunct (SVOCA). The subject is the performer of an action or the agent of the verb. It is usually at the beginning of a sentence, and it is generated by a noun or any of its equivalents, such as a pronoun, a noun phrase or a noun clause. A verb shows the proposition conveyed in a sentence in terms of action, state or process. The verb of a sentence can be generated by one to as many as six verbs, as illustrated below:
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Jesus (subject) wept (verb).
The child (subject) could have been being beaten (verb).
The object deals with any noun or its equivalent that receives the action of a transitive verb. A verb is transitive when its action is transferred to something or someone.
Kunle (subject) killed (verb) the goat (object).
Sentence Structures And Basic Sentence Types
Moving on, the object could be direct or indirect. The direct object is the direct sufferer of the action of a verb, and it is usually an inanimate noun, while the indirect object is usually an animate noun that serves as the recipient/receiver of the direct object:
The man (subject) gave (verb) his friend (indirect object) a book (direct object).
The complement is the element of a sentence that tells more about the subject or the object. As the name implies, it completes the meaning of a subject or an object. The complement can be a noun or its equivalent, or an adjective, as illustrated below:
Dr GAB (subject) is (verb) a teacher (subject complement).
My students (subject) are (verb) very diligent (subject complement).
We (subject) made (verb) Titi (object) our leader (object complement).
The children (subject) found (verb) the game (object) quite interesting (object complement).
It should be noted that there has to be an object in a sentence before there can be an object complement. This is because the object complement talks more about the object, just as the subject complement completes the meaning of the subject. In the examples cited above, ‘our leader’ refers to the object, ‘Titi’, whereas ‘quite interesting’ describes the object, ‘game’. This is why they are labelled object complements.
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The last of the elements of a sentence is the adjunct. The adjunct gives circumstantial information about time, place, reason, purpose, condition, concession, degree, manner, frequency and whatnot. Examples of sentences with adjuncts are shown below:
Femi (subject) lives (verb) there (adjunct of place).
They (subject) arrived (verb) now (adjunct of time).
The boys (subject) moved (verb) quietly (adjunct of manner).
Having established that, it is essential to affirm that adjuncts exhibit three major characteristics, namely mobility, multiplicity and inversion. Mobility implies that an adjunct can move from one part of a sentence to another, as evidenced in the sentences below:
Yesterday, I saw Mary.
I saw Mary yesterday.
Multiplicity implies that a clause can have one or more adjuncts, as depicted in the accompanying example sentence:
Soon (adjunct 1), the man (subject) will declare (verb) his intention (object) publicly (adjunct 2).
Inversion involves the use of adjuncts to change the structural form of a sentence. For instance, an adjunct can be used to change a declarative sentence (statement) to an interrogative sentence (question):
Kunle (subject) stays (verb) here (adjunct). — statement
Where (adjunct) does (verb) Kunle (subject) stay (verb)?—question
Having expatiated on the elements of a sentence, the remainder of the piece will present eight basic clause types which are derivable from these sentence elements:
SV (subject, verb)
The man died.
SVO (subject, verb, object)
I saw him.
The man stopped her.
SVC (subject, verb, complement)
I am a proud teacher.
Teachers are very diligent.
SVA (subject, verb, adjunct)
We learn always.
Laide cooks well.
SVOO (subject, verb, indirect object, direct object)
We gifted him a car.
He wrote her a letter.
SVOC (subject, verb, object, complement)
The students made the event so colourful.
We considered the act downright ridiculous.
SVOCA (subject, verb, object, complement, adjunct)
They will call her their servant soon.
Many people find this administration frustrating in recent times.
In conclusion, the knowledge of sentence structures makes it easy for language users to break down confusing sentences and disambiguate difficult sentences. For this very reason, mastering the elements of a sentence is crucial for the functional use of language.
© 2021 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr GAB)
Department of English,
Lagos State University.