Word order

This page has information about the typical order of words in English sentences, including the problem with adverbials.

Common word order patterns

Most English sentences (clauses) conform to the SVO word order. This means that the Subject comes before the Verb, which comes before the Object. Examples:

  • I (S) bought (V) a new camera (O).
  • She (S) doesn't like (V) dogs (O).

It is more complicated when an indirect object (I) is added to the sentence. In this case the word order depends on whether the indirect object is preceded by the word to or not:

  • the indirect object is preceded by to: SVOI
  • the indirect object is not preceded by to: SVIO


1. - indirect object preceded by to: SVOI
Two nouns:
I showed the camera to my friends.
Two pronouns:
I showed it to them.
Pronoun and noun:
I showed it to my friends.
2. - indirect object not preceded by to: SVIO
Two nouns:
I showed my friends the photo.
Two pronouns:
I showed them it.
Pronoun and noun:
I showed them the photo.

Where to put adverbials

Many English sentences also contain adverbials Adverbials have information about how, where and when something happens.

They include adverbs such as suddenly, very quickly and prepositional phrases such as in a hurry, behind the house.
. The problem for the English learner is that some adverbials can be located in different places within the sentence, while other adverbials can appear in one place only.

For example, it is correct to say both: I very quickly did my homework and I did my homework very quickly, but only I did my homework in a hurry is possible. I in a hurry did my homework is ungrammatical.

How to check word order

One way to check your word order is to do a Google search. For example, you might not know which of the following sentences contains the more common word order: "a. I want to get this right" or "b. I want to get right this".

If you enter the words into Google, the correct choice is clear:

  • I want to get this right: 731 results
  • I want to get right this: 0 results


  • I rarely eat meat: 95,000 results
  • I eat rarely meat: 8 results

Another way to check word order is to consult good grammar guide such as Swan's Practical English Usage. Alternatively, you could ask a native speaker or post a question on one of the English language learning forums.

There are several interactive quizzes on Word order in the Other Grammar drop-down menu on the Grammar index.