5+2: the 7 “canonical” sentence patterns of English

VOCABULARY:

I am using the word “canonical” to refer to the most basic form of the English sentence.

EXAMPLE:

The dog chases the cat” is a canonical sentence.

Non-canonical forms of “The dog chases the cat” include:
The cat is chased by the dog.
It is the cat that is chased by the dog.

All three sentences are grammatically correct, but only “The dog chases the cat” is “canonical.”

The chart below appears in John Seely’s short, clear, and extremely useful book Grammar for Teachers, a 170-page distillation of Quirk and Greenbaum’s 1779-page A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language.

The 7 canonical sentence patterns:

S V    
SUBJECT VERB    
Elephants exist.
S V O  
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT  
Elephants like  grass.
S
SUBJECT VERB (INDIRECT) OBJECT  (DIRECT) OBJECT
Elephants give children rides.
S V C  
SUBJECT VERB COMPLEMENT
Elephants
Elephants
are
are (not)
animals.
animals.
S V  O C
 SUBJECT VERB OBJECT COMPLEMENT
Elephants make children happy.
S V  A  
SUBJECT VERB ADVERBIAL  
Elephants live here.
S V O A
SUBJECT  VERB OBJECT ADVERBIAL
Elephants thrust him away.

In these patterns, all of the “sentence slots” — S, V, O, C, and A — must be filled. If a slot is not filled, the sentence becomes “grammatically incomplete.”

I’ve written “5+2” in the title of this post because the final two patterns – SVA and SVOA – are, in Seely’s words, “much less common.”

As Seely puts it: “They only occur with a very small number of verbs, but they are important.”

NOTE: The basic patterns can be carved up in a few different ways. For a 10-sentence scheme, see this post on Martha Kolln’s 10 basic sentence patterns.

AND SEE:
SVO v. SVC
5 + 2: the 7 ‘canonical’ English sentences
Class notes X-1-2-3
3 ways to combine the 7 sentence patterns
10 basic sentence patterns in the English language
SM’s sophisticated SVOO sentence
DT’s astute observation (reflexive pronouns)

A short overview of English syntax by Rodney Huddleston

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