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Basic English Sentence Structures

Glossary of English Grammatical Terms

This glossary provides definitions and examples of basic components of English grammar.

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Glossary of Grammatical Terms

Action Verb

Action verbs specify the action performed by the subject.


 "John ran to the store."
 "Mary swims very well."

Adjectives modify nouns and have three forms or degrees:

Adverbial Particle
Adverbial particles are prepositions that are considered part of the verb because they change the meaning of the verb. Some verbs allow one or more words between the verb and the particle.

Example: "Turn off the lights.",    "Turn the lights off."

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

Example: "Mary walks gracefully".    "She is very pretty".

English has three articles:

Examples: "the mouse", "a mouse", "an orange mouse",
"an honor"
(H is silent), "a horse" (H is aspirated).

Auxiliary Verb
Auxiliary verbs are used with other verbs to express moods or tense. Common auxiliary verbs are:
will, would, may, might, shall, should, can, could, must

Examples: "Mary will sing.", "Mary can sing."

Compound Sentence
Compound sentences consist of two or more simple sentences separated by conjunctions.

<Compound Sentence> = <Simple Sentence> <conjunction> <Simple Sentence> |
       "Either" <Declarative Sentence> "or" <Declarative Sentence> |
       "Either" <Imperative Sentence> "or" <Imperative Sentence>

Example: "John is already here and Mary is coming soon."

Conditional Sentence
Conditional sentences are used to describe the consequences of a specific action, or the dependency between events or conditions. Conditional sentences consist of an independent clause and a dependent clause.

<Dependent Clause> = ("if" | "when") <Declarative Sentence>
<Independent Clause> = <Declarative Sentence> | <Interrogative Sentence>
<Conditional Sentence> =
    <Dependent Clause>"," <Independent Clause> |
    <Independent Clause> <Dependent Clause>

Example: "You will be sorry if you don't come soon."

The presentation of the complete set of inflected forms of a verb.

Click here to conjugate over 7,400 regular and irregular English verbs.

Conjunctions are used to connect sentences or part of sentences. Common conjunctions:
and, or, but
Paired conjunctions:
Either ... or,
Neither ... nor
Subordinate conjunctions introduce subordinate clauses.
where, when, while, because, if, unless

Consonants and Vowels
AEIOU are vowels.

Declarative Sentence
Declarative Sentences are used to form statements. Declarative sentences consist of a subject and a predicate. The subject may be a simple subject or a compound subject.

<Declarative Sentence> = <subject> <predicate>

Example: "This is a declarative sentence."

Formal Description
A Formal Description is like a mathematical formula that when applied to words produces a correctly formed sentence structure. The expression

<noun phrase> = "the" <specific proper noun>

means that you can create a "noun phrase" by first writing the article "the" and then writing a specific proper noun.

Example: "the Grand Canyon".

Gender is the classification of nouns and pronouns according to distinctions in sex. There are four genders: Masculine, Feminine, Common, and Neuter. Masculine gender denotes the male sex. Feminine gender denotes the female sex. Common gender denotes either sex. Neuter gender denotes the absence of sex.

 Masculine: he, father, king
 Feminine: she, sister, princess
 Common: child, cousin, neighbor
 Neuter: it, table, dress

Imperative Sentence
Imperative sentences are used in commands. Imperative sentences consist only of predicates with verbs in infinitive form. The implied subject is "You". Frequently, imperative sentences are terminated with an exclamation point.

 Come here!
 Don't drive outside your lane.

Interjections express strong feeling or emotion and have no grammatical relation to any other word in a sentence. Some common interjections are: Oh, Alas, Aha, Bah, Whew.

Examples: "Aha! I found it!".

Interrogative Sentence
Interrogative sentences are used to form questions. Interrogative sentences frequently start with auxiliary verbs, or pronouns and adverbs such as "Who", "What", "Where", "When", and "Why". Interrogative sentences are terminated by a question mark.

 Where are you?
 Will John come for dinner?

Irregular Noun
The plural form of a noun is generally formed by adding an "s" or "es" ending to the singular form. Irregular nouns do not follow this rule.

 maximum, maxima
 child, children

Irregular verb
Irregular verbs do not have a predictable pattern of conjugation.
Compare Verb and the Verb "to be" below.

Linking Verb
Linking verbs associate attributes (adverbs or adjectives) with a subject. Common linking verbs are:
be, look, become
 "John is smart."
 "Mary became angry."
 "The patient looked pale."

Modal Auxiliary
See Auxiliary Verb.


A noun usually denotes a thing, place, person, quality, or action. Common nouns refer to ordinary things (mouse, tree, computer), whereas proper nouns refer to persons, specific things or specific places (John, the Brooklyn Bridge, Texas). Proper nouns are generally capitalized. Nouns have two common forms: singular and plural. Singular nouns refer to one object (book), plural nouns refer to two or more objects (books). Each noun form has a corresponding possessive form that is used to refer to the properties of the object ("the book's pages" means the pages of the book). Nouns also have "gender" which is a classification according to distinctions in sex.

Click here for plurals of regular and irregular English nouns.

Personal Pronoun

Personal pronouns stand in the place of a person's name. In the sentence "John went home.", the word "John" may be replaced with the personal pronoun "he". Personal pronouns have four cases: nominative (subjective), objective, possessive adjectives (genitive), and possessive. Pronouns have also "person" (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), "number" (singular or plural), and "gender" (masculine, feminine, or neuter) attributes.

Personal Pronouns - Nominative (Subjective)
The nominative pronouns are used in the subject of a sentence.

Example: You have a book.

3rd,singularhe, she, it

Personal Pronouns - Objective
Objective pronouns are used in the object of a sentence.

Example: Give me the book.

3rd,singularhim, her

Personal Pronouns - Possessive adjectives (Genitive)
Possessive adjectives are sometimes called attributive possessive pronouns. They generally modify noun phrases.

Example: This is my book.

Person,numberPossessive adjectives
3rd,singularhis, her

Personal Pronouns - Possessive
Possessive pronouns are nominal in nature and they occur in the object of a sentence.

Example: This book is mine.

Person,numberPossessive pronouns
3rd,singularhis, hers


The predicate is the part of the sentence that contains a verb or verb phrase and its complements. The predicate of the sentence "John cried" is "cried". The predicate of the sentence "Mary will give me a letter." is "will give me a letter".

<predicate> = (<verb> | <verb phrase>) <complement>

Click here for detailed information about the Predicate.

Prepositions indicate relationships between different parts of the sentence. Common prepositions are:
from, toward, in, about, over, above, under, at, below
Clouds are over the earth and below the moon.
John went toward the mountain at 3:00 O'clock.

Pronouns are words used instead of a noun. Demonstrative pronouns are this, that, and such.

That is pretty.

Pronouns like who and which are interrogative pronouns when they introduce questions.

Which is pretty?

Pronouns like who and which are called relative pronouns when they introduce clauses.

The flower, which is on the table, is pretty.

Indefinite pronouns are each, either, some, any, many, few, and all.

Some are pretty.

Personal pronouns are used to refer to persons.


The subject is the part of the sentence which performs an action or which is associated with the action. The subject of the sentence "John cried" is the proper noun "John". The subject of the sentence "Lions and tigers growled." is the compound subject "lions and tigers".

<subject> = <simple subject> | <compound subject>
<simple subject> = <noun phrase> | <nominative personal pronoun>
Click here for detailed information about the Subject.

Action verbs constitute the majority of English verbs. They include "sing", "write", "swim", etc. The typical regular verb conjugation is similar to:

Infinitive (Vinf):start 
Present Participle (Ving):starting 
Past participle (Vpastp):started 
Person,Number PresentPast (Vpast)
1st,singularI(V1s) startstarted
2nd,singularyou(V2s) startstarted
3rd,singularhe/she/it (V3s) starts started
1st,pluralwe(V1p) startstarted
2nd,pluralyou(V2p) startstarted
3rd,pluralthey(V3p) startstarted

Click here to conjugate over 7,400 regular and irregular English verbs.

Verb Phrase

Verb Phrases are sequences of auxiliary and action verbs that may show tense, mood, aspect, and voice. The future tense, for example, is constructed by placing "will" before an infinitive form of a verb as in "She will study tomorrow". Aspect refers to the manner in which the verb action is experienced. An example of present perfect aspect is "John has lived in Paris".

Click here for detailed information about Verb Phrases.

Verb Tense

Verb tense is an inflectional form of a simple verb or verb phrase expressing a specific time distinction. For details, see the description of Predicate.

The Verb "To Be"
The verb "to be" is the most irregular verb in English. It is used as a linking verb to show the existence or condition of the subject. It is also used as an auxiliary verb to form the passive voice. It is conjugated as follows:

Present Participle:being 
Past participle:been 
Person,Number PresentPast
3rd,singularhe/she/it iswas

The form "ain't" is considered substandard; do not use it. Use "isn't", "aren't", "am not", or another appropriate form instead.
Click here for more details about the verb "To Be".


English has five vowels: AEIOU. The consonants W and Y are called semivowels because they can act as vowels in certain words. Vowels are sometimes categorized as short and long. A short vowel has generally a single tone, e.g., the A in "cat", whereas a long vowel usually has a diphthong sound, e.g., the A in "cake". Although English orthography is very irregular, many words double a consonant or use consecutive consonants after a vowel to indicate that the vowel is short. For example "boss" or "Boston" have short Os, and "rack" has a short A. The long vowel is normally indicated by following the vowel with a single consonant and another vowel, e.g., the A in "raking", or by using a terminal E which is called a "silent E". The A in "rake" and the O in "tone" are examples of long vowels.
See also consonant.

© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora


Sentence Types
Parts of Speech
• - The Subject
• - The Predicate
• - Verbal Phrases

Regular verbs
Irregular verbs
Verb "to be"
English vocabulary