English sentence structures that reflect non-SVO word orders include questions, sentences containing relative clauses, and sentences with infinitives, participles, and gerunds, to name a few. An understanding of the ways in which such structures exhibit non-SVO word orders can provide teachers with important insights into the challenges confronting deaf students in reading comprehension and written expression.
Certain English questions alter the basic SVO word order pattern or introduce new elements into the sentence structure. In a YES-NO question, a "helping verb" such as be, have, will, can, should, etc., moves to the left of the subject as illustrated in these statement/question pairs.
The students (S) are reading (V) some books (O).
Are (V) the students (S) reading (V) some books (O)?
The students (S) will read (V) some books (O).
Will (V) the students (S) read (V) some books (O)?
In these cases, a complex verb phrase (for example, are reading) splits. With the helping verb to the left of the subject, the resulting word order becomes VSVO.
When a simple statement that does not contain a helping verb is expressed as a YES-NO question, the helping verbdo shows up to the left of the subject, as illustrated in the following pair.
The students (S) study (V) physics (O).
Do (V) the students (S) study (V) physics (O).
In the case of a WH-question, there are two operations that alter the basic SVO word order. As in a YES/NO question, a helping verb or do moves to the left of the subject. Additionally, the questioned phrase, for example, an object, appears at the beginning of the sentence in the form of a WH-phrase. These operations are illustrated in the following statement/question pair:
The students (S) bought (V) some books (O).
What (O) did (V) the students (S) buy (V)?
In the question What did the students buy?, the WH-phrase what represents the object position after the verbbuy. In such a question the object of the verb appears to be missing because English grammar requires it to "move" to the beginning of the sentence. This is clear from the fact that in a possible answer to this question, such as The students bought some books, some books is the object of the verb bought and therefore occurs after bought. So this statement/question pair illustrates that the normal SVO order of the statement changes to the order OVSV in the related question. For more details about WH-questions see the SEA Site module WH-Questions.
Noun Clauses/That Clauses
A noun clause, or that clause, in a sentence can give the impression that basic SVO word order is altered. In one respect, SVO order in such sentences is disturbed, but in another respect it isn't. In the following sentences, the noun clauses are highlighted:
The students (S) thought (V) that they had met us (O).
That we knew them (S) surprised (V) the students (O).
In the first sentence, the entire noun clause, that they had met us, serves as the OBJECT of the verb thought. And in the second sentence, the entire noun clause, that we knew them, serves as the SUBJECT of the verb surprised. So both sentences actually reflect the basic SVO English word order.
However, because each of those noun clauses itself contains a subject, verb, and object, the sentences superficially appear to deviate from SVO word order. The first appears to have SVSVO order, and the second appears to have SVOVO word order. (Note that the word that serves only to introduce these noun clauses and is not itself a subject or an object.)
The students (S) thought (V) that they (S) had met (V) us (O).
That we (S) knew (V) them (O) surprised (V) the students (O).
A relative clause is another English structure in which basic SVO word order can be altered. A relative clause is a structure that provides descriptive information about a noun phrase in a sentence. In the first example below, the second independent sentence (The student lost that book.) provides descriptive information about a book in the first sentence. The second example uses a relative clause, rather than a second independent sentence, to provide descriptive information. In the second example, the relative clause, which the student lost, occurs immediately after the noun phrase a book and provides descriptive information about a book.
The teacher (S) found (V) a book (O). The student (S) lost (V) that book (O).
The teacher (S) found (V) a book (O) which (O) the student (S) lost (V).
In the example containing the relative clause, the main clause, The teacher found a book, exhibits the basic SVO pattern of sentence elements. However, the relative clause, which the student lost, exhibits OSV word order. As with English WH-questions, a WH-phrase in a relative clause must appear at the beginning of the clause. For this reason, relative clauses often exhibit non-SVO word order. In the above example, which refers to a book in the main clause and represents the object of the verb lost within the relative clause. For more details about relative clauses see the SEA site module Relative Clauses.
Infinitive clauses in English are structures that contain the word to followed by a verb, for example, to study, to develop, to be repaired, and so on. Sentences containing infinitive clauses also deviate from the basic SVO word order. The sentences below illustrate this fact.
The professor (S) decided (V) to write (V) a book (O).
The instructor (S) persuaded (V) Mary (O) to take (V) that course (O).
The students (S) asked (V) the teacher (O) what (O) to read (V).
Infinitive clauses differ from regular clauses in that the infinitive generally does not have an explicit subject of its own. In the first example above, the subject of the infinitive to write is missing but is understood to be the professor, which is the explicit subject of the main verb decided. In other words, the professor did the deciding, and the professor will also do the writing, so we say that the professor is the understood, or logical, subject of the infinitive to write. In the second example above, the understood subject of the infinitive to take is the object of the main clause, Mary.
The third example above contains the infinitive clause what to read, which begins with the WH-word what. In this case, what serves as the object of the infinitive to read but must appear at the beginning of the clause in the same way that WH-phrases must appear at the beginning of WH-questions and relative clauses. In this particular sentence, the understood subject of to read is the subject of the main clause, the students. For more details about the interpretation of infinitive clauses see the SEA site module Logical Subjects of Infinitives.
So because infinitive clauses generally do not have explicit subjects and because a WH-word in an infinitive clause occurs at the beginning of the clause, sentences containing infinitive clauses exhibit various deviations from basic SVO word order. As indicated, the example sentences above have the following different word orders for their major grammatical components: SVVO, SVOVO, and SVOOV.
Participial clauses in English are structures which contain a verb with an -ing ending and which express an additional action related to a subject or object in the main clause of the sentence. As with infinitives, participles also have understood, or logical, subjects. Therefore, sentences containing participial clauses deviate from basic SVO word order in various ways, as illustrated in the following examples.
Finishing (V) the book (O), the student (S) completed (V) the assignment (O).
The student (S) dropped (V) the course (O), deciding (V) to take (V) it (O) next year instead of this year.
In the first example, the participle finishing begins the sentence and is followed by its object, the book. The main clause, the student finished the assignment, exhibits normal SVO order. In such a sentence, the understood subject of finishing is the main clause subject the student. That is, the sentence is interpreted to mean that the student finished the book and the student completed the assignment. But without an explicit subject, the non-SVO order of the participial clause creates a sentence exhibiting VOSVO order.
In the second example, the participial clause deciding to take it next year instead of this year follows the main clause. In this sentence, which exhibits a SVOVO order, the student is the subject of dropped and the understood subject of the participle deciding. For discussion of other kinds of participles see the SEA site modules Passive Voice and -ED/-ING Participles of Emotional Response Verbs.
A gerund is also a verb that has an -ing ending; it looks identical to a participle. However, the gerund clause has a different function from the participial clause. The gerund clause is a whole clause that, itself, serves as a subject or object within a sentence. The following sentence contains the gerund clause taking that course.
The students (S) enjoyed (V) taking that course (O).
In this sentence, taking that course serves as the object of the verb enjoyed. Yet the gerund clause itself consists of a verb (gerund) with its own object, that course. So, despite the fact that this gerund clause is the O in an SVO structure, internally it has the structure VO. Thus, superficially the above sentence reflects the order SVVO:
The students (S) enjoyed (V) taking (V) that course (O).
In the following two examples, the gerund clause serves as the subject of the sentence:
Taking that course (S) improved (V) the students' skills (O).
Taking that course (S) was (V) helpful (A). (A = ADJECTIVE)
Superficially these sentences exhibit VOSVO and VOSVA orders.
With respect to interpretation, the gerund, like an infinitive or a participle, has an understood, logical subject. InThe students enjoyed taking that course, the understood subject of taking is the students, which is the explicit subject of the main verb enjoyed.
In Taking that course improved the students' skills, the understood subject of taking is the students, which occurs later in the sentence. In Taking that course was helpful, there is no explicit sentence element to serve as the understood subject of taking. In this kind of sentence, the subject of taking is determined from the context in which the sentence occurs. Depending on the situation, the person taking that course might be the speaker of the sentence, the hearer, or someone else being referred to in a conversation.