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1 – Who – The subject (Who does perform the action?)
2 – What – Verb phrase + Direct and indirect objects (What does the subject do?)
3 – How – Adverb or adverb phrases (How does the subject perform the action?)
4 – Where – Place (Where does the action take place?)
5 – When – Time (When does the action take place?)
6 – Why – Reason/Purpose (Why does the action take place?)
These are the six questions that represent the basic parts of whatever English sentence. You should also take into account this word order when constructing a sentence in English: Subject – Verb – Adverb – Place – Time – Reason.
Little example: “I – hurt myself – badly – in the courtyard – yesterday evening – because I didn’t see the doorstep.”
However, as we are going to see today, there are numerous exceptions.
1 – WHEN THE VERB “TO BE” IS THE MAIN VERB, YOU CAN PUT THE ADVERB BETWEEN THE MAIN VERB AND THE DIRECT OBJECT. NORMALLY YOU SHOULD NEVER SEPARATE THE MAIN VERB AND THE DIRECT OBJECT:
a) That is certainly the car we saw yesterday.
b) That is the car we saw yesterday, certainly.
Note: You could also say “That certainly is the car we saw yesterday.” but it would sound a bit more emphatic.
2 – YOU CAN PUT THE ADVERB BETWEEN THE SUBJECT AND THE MAIN VERB:
a) She gleefully talked about her new project.
b) She talked about her new project gleefully.
3 – IF THE MAIN VERB HAS AN AUXILIARY, THEN YOU CAN PUT THE ADVERB BETWEEN THE AUXILIARY VERB AND THE MAIN VERB:
a) They had actually done the best they could.
b) They had done the best they could actually.
4 – IF THERE IS A MODAL VERB YOU CAN PUT THE ADVERB BETWEEN THE MODAL VERB AND THE MAIN VERB:
a) I think you should thoroughly reflect about that.
b) I think you should reflect about that thoroughly.
a) I think it shouldn’t necessarily be defined as negative.
b) I think it shouldn’t be defined as negative necessarily.
5 – YOU CAN ALSO PUT THE ADVERB OR THE ADVERBIAL PHRASE BETWEEN THE MAIN VERB AND THE PREPOSITION WHEN THE MAIN VERB IS INTRANSITIVE:
a) She talked proudly about her son.
b) She talked about her son (very) proudly.
c) She proudly talked about her son.
6 – YOU SHOULD PUT THE ADVERB BETWEEN THE DIRECT AND INDIRECT OBJECTS:
a) She tried to empty her mind completely of all the concerns about her family.
She tried to empty her mind of all the concerns about her family completely.
7 – YOU CAN PUT THE ADVERB AT THE BEGINNING IN ORDER TO EMPHASIZE THE MEANING OF THE SENTENCE:
a) Shorty you have to make a decision.
b) You have to make a decision shortly.
EMPHASIZING THE PLACE, TIME, OR REASON/PURPOSE OF THE ACTION
8 – YOU CAN PUT “WHERE”, “WHEN”, AND “WHY” AT THE BEGINNING:
a) Inside the house, there was a lot of people.
b) There was a lot of people inside the house.
a) In the morning, we are used to having a walk.
b) We are used to having a walk in the morning.
Because of hunger, she was trembling.
She was trembling because of hunger.
9 – WHEN EXPRESSING MOVEMENT, YOU HAVE TO PUT THE PLACE FIRST AND THE ADVERB OR ADVERB PHRASE AFTER:
a) We came back home by bus at midnight.
We came by bus back home at midnight.
a) He walked to the station thoughtfully.
He walked thoughtfully to the station.
10 – YOU MUST INVERT THE SUBJECT-VERB ORDER WHEN ASKING A QUESTION:
a) Are you ready?
You are ready?
11 – YOU SHOULD INVERT THE SUBJECT-VERB ORDER WHEN EXPRESSING AGREEMENT OR SIMILAR ACTIONS PERFORMED BY DIFFERENT SUBJECTS, USING THE WORDS “SO”, “NEITHER”, AND “NOR”:
Statement: “I love horses.”
Answer: “So do I.” (instead of “
So I do”)
Statement: “Anna is not happy with her job.”
Answer: “Nor is Carl.”
Alternative answer: “Neither is Carl.”
IN FORMAL ENGLISH
12 – ESPECIALLY IN FORMAL ENGLISH, YOU SHOULD INVERT THE SUBJECT-VERB ORDER WHEN NEGATIVE ADVERBIAL EXPRESSIONS OR FREQUENCY ADVERBS ARE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SENTENCE:
a) Under no circumstances are they obliged to do that.
b) In no way could she have succeeded.
c) At no time have we seen anything wrong.
d) Not until the dinner ends, will you be allowed to go.
e) Little had I known about that until they told me.
f) Seldom have I seen something like that.
g) Rarely does she make errors at work.
h) Never have I seen something similar.
K) Hardly ever does she drive her car.
13 – YOU SHOULD ALSO INVERT THE SUBJECT-VERB ORDER WITH ADVERBIAL EXPRESSIONS BEGINNING WITH “ONLY” OR “NOT ONLY”:
a) Only when they opened the bag, did they discover the fraud.
b) Not only did they cheat us, but they also disappeared.
14 – THE INVERSION SUBJECT-VERB IS ALSO COMMON IN AGREEMENT WITH THE ADVERBS “HARDLY” (+ WHEN), “SCARCELY” (+ WHEN), AND THE EXPRESSION “NO SOONER” (+ THAN):
a) Hardly had the sun risen* when** the alarm started blaring.
b) Scarcely had I arrived* when** they started asking me a lot of questions.
c) No sooner had they fixed* the tap than** a pipe started to leak.
* As you can see this type of subject-verb inversion requires the Past Perfect tens.
** “When ” and “than” in that case are conjunctions.
15 – YOU CAN USE THE SUBJECT-VERB INVERSION TO REPLACE “IF” IN CONDITIONAL SENTENCES:
– First conditional
a) Should you find any problem, please call me.
b) If you find any problem, please call me.
– Second conditional
Were he to receive such amount of money, he would almost surely spend it on useless things.
If he received such amount of money, he would almost surely spend it on useless things.
– Third Conditional
a) Had you followed my advice, you wouldn’t have been in that situation now.
b) If you had followed my advice, you wouldn’t have been in that situation now.
16 – YOU CAN ALSO USE THE SUBJECT-VERB INVERSION WITH ADVERBIAL EXPRESSIONS AND PREPOSITIONS OF PLACE SUCH AS “HERE” AND “THERE”:
a) Here is the clock you lost. (Instead of “The clock you lost is here.”)
b) There play our children. (Instead of “Our children play there.”)
c) Beside the window hung a wonderful picture. (Instead of “A wonderful picture hung beside the window.)
d) Into the room came the police. (Instead of “The police came into the room.”)
This type of subject-verb inversion is only possible with nouns, never with pronouns.
You can express the same thing using a pronoun, but with no subject-verb inversion. For example: “They play there.” (
“ There play them.” is incorrect).