Why ESL Learners Can’t Live Without Sentence Patterns

What are sentence patterns and why are they important?

Sentence patterns are ways in which sentences are put together. By knowing more about common sentence patterns in the English language, you will be able to use your ESL skills to understand English, and to speak and write better in English, too.  In the English language, unlike many other languages, words are arranged in patterns to give the words meaning. By understanding the patterns, you understand the words. Your English language skills improve. You can talk to anyone. You can read more difficult text and uncover the power of words.\

The basic sentence patterns in the English language involve the eight parts of speech:  nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections.

After a quick review of each part of speech, you will be better apt to understand how to put these words together to construct sentences into common patterns.

A noun is a person, place or thing that is either countable or uncountable.  Examples include John, grandmother, New York City, farm, bus, hope. You will note that some of these nouns are common (grandmother, farm, bus, hope) and some are proper (John, New York City). Proper nouns are specific and must be capitalized. All of these nouns are countable except for hope.Hope is an intangible noun as well as other words that describe attributes like bravery, loyalty, honesty, integrity, compassion, success, courage, deceit, and misery. In addition, emotions and feelings are uncountable nouns like love, hate, anger, peace, and pride. Ideas are uncountable nouns like dream, justice, truth, trust, and dedication. Other words that describe movements and events are also uncountable nouns like progress, education, leisure, relaxation, and friendship. Nouns are often the subject of a sentence or the object of a sentence.

Noun part of speech

A verb is a word that indicates an action or a state of being. Examples include ski, shout, study, be, is, announce. The difference between action verbs and state of being is just that. Action verbs show action. States of being verbs do not. So in the above list, be and is are state of being verbs. They do not have action. You cannot be or is.

A pronoun is a word that is used to take the place of a noun of another pronoun. There are different kinds of pronouns such as subject pronouns, object pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, and possessive pronouns. Examples include I and they as subject pronouns, him and them as object pronouns, which and that as demonstrative pronouns, and their and ours as possessive pronouns.

An adjective is used to describe a noun or a pronoun. Examples include happy, yellow, many, large, first, none. These words give vibrancy to language and make your conversation and your writing more descriptive. They help the listener and the reader to visualize what you are saying.

An adverb is used to describe a verb which tells how, where, or when something is done. Examples include seldom, very, too, rarely, freely, often, happily. Adverbs often end in the suffix ly. Like adjectives, their role is to make your conversation and your writing more descriptive. We can tell what is happening by using adverbs. For example, when you add the adverb slowly to the sentence She ran… you get a completely different image than if you added the adverb quickly.

A conjunction is a word that is used to join words, groups of words, or to connect two sentences into a more complex sentence. Examples include but, or, either, and, because, while, although, since. They are small words that help make your writing more interesting because you can have varying lengths of sentences.

A preposition is a word used to show the relationship of nouns and pronouns to other words in the sentence. Examples include by, over, to, beside, after. There are probably 150 prepositions in the English language which help to clarify exactly what you are saying in a sentence. For example, if you at the office is different from nearby the office or behind the office.

Interjections are words to express strong emotions in a sentence. Examples include Hey! Yeah! Wow! Yippee! If you listen closely to native speakers of English, you will notice that the English language is filled with interjections to express any number of emotions. In fact, on your computer there are emoticons that many of you have undoubtedly used.

angry, frustrated girl with hands in her hair screaming - isolated on white

Okay - now that we have reviewed the parts of speech, what are the common sentence patterns in the English language?

1. Noun – Verb Sentence Pattern

This is the most basic sentence pattern. A verb follows a noun. Verbs that do not require an object follow this pattern so you can have two word sentences. Examples include:  Businessmen travel. Boxers fight. Mary supervises. Each of these has a noun first, and then a verb which reflects the action of the noun.You can take this basic sentence pattern and add to it with a noun phrase or demonstrative/possessive adjective, etc. Examples include: The businessmen travel. Those businessmen travel. Our businessmen travel. In this example, by adding to the sentence, you help describe the businessman so the listener or reader can better understand your message.

2. Noun – Verb – Noun Pattern

This common sentence pattern builds on the first pattern and involves nouns that involve objects. Examples include:  The child watches television. Henry plays soccer. The objects in these sentences help to define what the noun (subject) does. We know that the child is watching television and not a baseball game, etc. Likewise, we know that Henry is playing a sport – soccer rather than the piano or a computer game, etc

.3. Noun – Verb – Adverb Pattern

This sentence pattern builds on the first pattern (Noun – Verb) by describing the action being done. An adverb is used to describe this action. Examples include: Mrs. Smith plays beautifully. Margaret doesn’t work quickly. The President tries hard. By adding an adverb to the sentence pattern we can more clearly see/understand the action. Even though we don’t know what Mrs. Smith plays (instrument, card game, sport), we know that she does it “beautifully”. We know Margaret is not a fast worker, but we don’t know what work she does. We know the President tries hard, and this might relate to his job. But it could also mean he tries hard as a father, as a sports player, as someone balancing work and family, etc.

4. Noun – Linking Verb – Noun Pattern

Linking verbs are used to link nouns to one another in this sentence pattern. Examples include: Margaret is an ESL teacher. The student will become a banker. The police officers are heroes. The words is, will become, and are are linking verbs. Without them, we would not know as much as we do about Margaret, the student, or the police officers.

5. Noun – Linking Verb – Adjective Pattern

This sentence pattern uses linking verbs to link one noun to a description using an adjective. It is similar to #4 sentence pattern. Examples include: My report was detailed. His work habits are exemplary. Their sales pitch is completed. The linking verb is able to make it possible for the adjective to be added to the sentence so we know that the report was detailed, the work habits are exemplary, and the sale pitch is completed. The adjectives add to the sentence so we get more of a picture of what has happened.

6. Noun – Verb – Noun – Noun Pattern

This sentence pattern uses verbs that take direct and indirect objects. Examples include: The father bought his son a computer. His boss showed Nathan his office. The company was sold yesterday afternoon. By using direct and indirect objects, we get a complete idea of what has happened… a son gets a computer from his father, Nathan sees the Boss’s office, and yesterday the company was sold.

Compound subjects and compound verbs

In addition to the simple sentence patterns described above, there are simple sentences that contain compound subjects (more than one subject) and/or compound verbs (more than one verb). Examples include: Mr. Cho and Dr. Lee work at the computer company. In this case, the compound subject is Mr. Cho and Dr. Lee. The two men work at the same company. In the sentence, Marilee takes a class and studies every night, the compound verb is takes and studies. The sentence is written to show that Marilee takes a class and also that she studies.

What other types of sentences are there?

Compound sentences

A compound sentence is made up of two independent clauses that are joined by a conjunction. The sentences can stand alone and are connected together because they are related. Compound sentences are needed to have a variety in your sentence patterns. Because there are two separate sentences, they need to be separated by a comma. You place the comma before the conjunction. For example: I have studied English for six months, and my friend has studied English for over three years. You can see that the compound sentence in the example is really two separate sentences: I have studied English for six months is one sentence. And my friend has studied English for over three years is the second sentence. In writing the sentence this way (as a compound sentence), you simply share factual information on how much both of you have studied English.By changing the conjunction, you often change the meaning of the sentence so you need to be aware that different conjunctions mean different things. What implication would the word yet or but have on the sentence? I have studied English for six months, yet/but my friend has studied English for over three years. This could mean many different things. It might mean that you know far less English because you have studied for a shorter time period. It might mean that even though you have studied English for much less time than your friend, you both know English.  Or it might compare both of you, and imply that you know even more English than your friend, despite the fact that he/she has studied much longer. You will need to think of this sentence pattern within the context of the other sentences in the conversation or the entire text if it is written language to fully understand a deeper intent.

Complex sentences

A complex sentence has one or more dependent clauses and one independent clause. Remember that clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a predicate. Complex sentences always use a subordinator, which is a linking word that joins the clauses together or they use a relative pronoun. Common subordinators include compare and contrast: although, though, even though, while, whereas; cause/effect: since, so that, because; time:  after, when, until, whenever, before; possibility: if, as if, whether, unless; place and manner: wherever, where, how. Relative pronouns are words such as that, which, whom, who, and whose.  

Let’s look at an example sentence:  

The students are studying because they have a test tomorrow. The subjects are students and they; the verbs are are studying and have. The two clauses are connected with the subordinator because. You do not put a comma before the word because. However, if the sentence began with a subordinator, you would use a comma. This example sentence shows the proper use of the comma:  If the students are studying, they have a test tomorrow. You place the comma because of two reasons. In saying or reading this sentence, there is a slight pause before the word they. You do not hear the pause if the clauses were independent as in the example sentence:  I went to the store and my mother went to exercise.

Study group

The following video explains the types of sentences: simple, compound, and complex and serves as a good review of what has been discussed in this article:

Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentences

Practice combining sentences

You can practice combining simple sentences into complex sentences by adding words to connect ideas, changing words if needed, and not repeating words. Let’s look at an example:

Mr. Jones is a boss. He works at IBM. It is located in Minnesota, USA.

Now, it is time to combine the simple sentences into a complex sentence(s):

Mr. Jones is a boss at IBM which is located in Minnesota, USA.


Listen to other people speak. Can you hear the different sentence patterns? Look closely at the sentences you read. Can you see the different sentence patterns? By being aware of sentence patterns, you can add these into your English language and you will be one step closer to English fluency. Check out our website at TalktoCanada.com and the different ESL language lessons we offer. Read about the benefits of learning ESL online. If I can help you, please contact me.

Hopefully this article helped you understand different sentence patterns in the English language. And now you can apply what you learned to conversational English and written language. How have you learned to expand your sentences? Can you share a tip with our readers?

Woman Celebrating Birthday With Friends At Nightclub

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