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Simple English Sentence Construction

January 3rd, 2009

One of the most challenging aspects of learning a new language is understanding how to string together all the words you’ve learned into a cohesive sentence.  This is especially difficult, since the English language tends to structure its sentences differently than many other languages, so you won’t just be learning new words – you’re actually learning a whole new way of speaking.  However, it’s extremely important that you understand the basics of putting together a sentence – even with all the vocabulary in the world, you’ll still sound like a foreigner if you don’t order your sentences correctly.

Before we get started putting sentences together, let’s take a moment to review the two most important elements of the English language – nouns and verbs.  Nouns are words that describe people, places or things.  The words “banana,” “capitol,” and “girl,” are all nouns.  Verbs, on the other hand, describe actions.  For example, the words “walk,” “talk,” and “sing,” are all verbs.  Of course, there are many more complicated elements of the English language, like prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs and adjectives, but for now, we’ll just focus on the role of nouns and verbs in simple sentence construction.

At the most basic level, a sentence must have both a noun that is the subject of the sentence and a verb to be considered complete.  The sentence, “The girl walked,” is complete, even if it isn’t very complex.  In this case, “the girl” is both a noun and the subject of the sentence.  You can determine whether or not a noun is the subject of a sentence if the verb describes an action being taken by the noun.  Here, the word “walked” describes what the girl is doing.  The sentence, “Walked the dog,” is not complete, since there is no clear subject.  “The dog” did not walk itself, and the word “walked” implies that someone else is walking the dog.

Simple English sentences all start this way – with a noun that acts as a subject and a verb that describes what the subject is doing.  This is different from many other languages, where the verb is often modified to indicate the subject of the sentence.  For example, in Spanish, the word “vamanos” means “we go”, whereas in English, the two words must be written separately to form a complete sentence.  In Italian, the same phrase would be translated “andiamo”, where the base verb “vada” is modified to indicate the subject (“we”) of the sentence.

Obviously, English sentences can be much more complicated, but when you’re first getting started with the language, focus on identifying the subject and verb pairs in each sentence you hear and speak.  Verbs can be tricky, as there are many different verb tenses that can be used to indicate when the action is occurring.  For example, in the sentence “I go,” the present tense of the word “go” indicates that the action is occurring in the present.  The same sentence can be modified to “I went,” where the base verb “go” has been modified to demonstrate that the action has already occurred.  Unfortunately, there aren’t always clearly defined rules for which verb tenses should be used in any given situation, but with practice, these will begin to come naturally to you.