You’re about to find out the 2 typical mistakes that English learners make with word order. Click here for 3 more classic mistakes that learners make.
One of the most common mistakes I hear from my students and friends is getting the word order wrong in English.
Why is this important?
Word order is really, really important in English and sometimes can change the whole meaning of a sentence.
Here are the two most common word order mistakes I hear.
Are you making these mistakes, too?
If so, I’m going to show you how to fix them, and you can thank me. With magic cakes, please.
Word Order in English Mistake #1
“I don’t know very well Manchester.”
A long, long time ago, I wrote a short post about how you can fix some of your most common English problems with one simple trick.
Basically, we can look at sentences in colours.
So for example, you can divide the sentence “That rabbit attacks people” into three parts:
The red part is the verb and the blue parts … aren’t.
With this “blue-red-blue,” we can make a basic sentence.
But sometimes we want to add “extra information” to a sentence.
So instead of saying:
I met Charles Dickens.
You might want to add:
I met Charles Dickens in my dream last night.
The extra information (“in my dream last night”) isn’t grammatically necessary, but it might stop people from thinking you’re a bit mad.
In a lot of languages, we can just put the extra information anywhere we like.
But unfortunately, English just isn’t that free.
Usually, the most natural place to add extra information is at the end of a sentence:
And sometimes at the beginning of the sentence:
Just don’t add it here:
That’s it — just remember “blue-red-blue-black.”
Word Order in English Mistake #2
“We have also a lot of cats.”
I hear this one a lot.
Especially from cat people.
To solve this, we need to go back to “blue-red-blue” (and sometimes black) thinking.
So, remember I told you that most sentences are “blue-red-blue”:
And that if we want to add extra information, it usually goes at the end:
Or at the beginning:
Well, we also have another type of extra information, which can break the “blue-red-blue” rule.
I call them “VIP adverbs” — that’s because they’re the only words that can go in the middle of “blue-red-blue.”
But what are they?
VIP adverbs are usually one-word adverbs.
They include frequency adverbs:
Sometimes, usually, never, often, seldom, etc.
They include adverbs that come from adjectives:
Quickly, deftly, sexily, etc.
They can also include time adverbs:
Suddenly, eventually, immediately, etc.
And some other types of adverbs:
Only, just, also, really, etc.
There are a few one-word adverbs that aren’t VIP adverbs. Common ones include:
Here, there, today, tomorrow, outside and maybe.
These ones usually go at the end of the sentence.
But where do VIP adverbs go exactly?
In most languages they go here:
But not in English, of course.
Because English likes to be “different” and uncooperative. Or at least it seems like that, right?
In English, they go right in the middle:
Let’s look at some examples.
With two-part verbs
The VIP adverb goes right in the middle:
So that’s why we say:
“I will always love you.” (Like in that song.)
“He’ll never know… He’ll never know! Ha ha ha ha!” (Like in this excellent episode of Black Books.)
“I’ve always been crazy.” (Like in this song I’d never heard of until I Googled this sentence! Not bad, though, is it?)
With one-part verbs
It gets a little tricky when we look at one-part verbs:
Where’s the auxiliary? It’s not there!
Actually, it is there. It’s just invisible:
Confused? Let’s take a step back. Click here for a quick overview of auxiliaries.
You might also know these as “helping verbs.”
In any sentence with a verb in it, the auxiliary is between the subject and the verb.
Usually you can see it:
He’s eating giraffe soup again.
I can see him!
Sometimes you can’t see it, but it’s there:
I live here. – I (do) live here.
She met him at an elephant factory. – She (did) meet him at an elephant factory.
The easy way to find the auxiliary? Just use the question form – it’ll be the first word of the question:
Is he eating giraffe soup again?
Can you see him?
Do you live here?
Have they even looked at the report?
Did she meet him at an elephant factory?
So where does the VIP adverb go?
You guessed it! Right in the middle.
With non-action verbs
What do I mean by “non-action” verbs?
Here are a few examples:
I’m very happy with your massive hat.
He was a pig, but he’s much better now.
We’re here. Where are you?
All of these sentences use the verb “be” (am, is, are, was, were) without another verb. Notice that there’s no real “action” in the sentences.
I kind of consider “be” more of a “half verb” (when it’s used this way). It doesn’t really do anything, right?
And it’s all by itself in the red there. Without any friends:
As you can see, when there’s no other verb, “be” is in the first of the two red parts.
So where does the VIP adverb go?
The same place as always — right in the middle of the “blue-red-blue.”
So there we are — two classic mistakes that, in a way, come from the same problem.
How much do you remember? Let’s see. Can you fix these sentences?
- I don’t know very well Manchester.
- We went today to the big castle.
- He was last year a doctor. Now he makes millions playing Sudoku.
- We have also a lot of cats.
- You never are here.
- Your beautiful horse made suddenly a loud noise. It sounded weird.
- Living here also will get boring.
- Have you been ever to my father’s ice rink? You should — it’s awesome!
Answer in the comments!
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