Sentence Patterns: What Are Sentence Patterns? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on July 12, 2023

If you want to learn more about sentence patterns, you've come to the right place. This article will teach you what you need to know to construct your sentences in the right order.

Sentence pattern refers to how sentences are constructed:

  • The parts of speech you use in a sentence and the order in which you put them. 

This article is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Sentence Patterns?

When constructing a sentence, it's important to put your words in the right order since different parts of speech can take on different functions, so the word order will determine what role they play in the sentence.

There are pretty basic sentence patterns and more complicated ones. What's more, the pattern will depend on the type of sentence, but we'll learn more about that later. For now, let's start by taking a look at some of the most common patterns.

Basic Sentence Pattern

The most simple sentence is made up of a subject and a verb, so that's your sentence pattern for a basic sentence:

[Subject] + [Verb]

Let's take a look at a few examples of what that might look like:

I am running.

The cat sleeps.

Our train arrived.

Sometimes, there'll be a compound subject:

My husband and I are running.

Or a compound verb:

The cat sleeps and eats.

... or both:

The cat and the dog sleep and eat.

More Complex Patterns

It's actually quite rare to see sentences as simple as the ones shown above. They're mostly found in classrooms when used as examples on the whiteboard. In everyday language, the sentences you'll construct are a little more complex than that. Sometimes a lot more!

But the good news is the basic sentence pattern formula you saw above is the basis for all formulas. From there, you can add, remove and tweak as needed.

Let's take a look at how you might do that.

Direct Objects

The next level up from a very basic sentence like the ones shown above is to add a direct object.

You then get the following structure:

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Direct Object]

Direct objects only work with transitive verbs, which perform an action on or to something.

Here are some examples of sentences that follow this pattern:

The cat eats kibble.

I took the train.

My husband and I watered the garden.

Still pretty simple, right? Let's step it up a notch.


Adjectives don't complicate sentence patterns much because they can just be slotted in next to the noun they modify without affecting the rest of the sentence.

As a reminder, adjectives are modifiers that provide additional information about nouns and pronouns.

The sentence pattern would then look like this in its most basic form:

[Adjective] + [Subject] + [Verb]

This is an example of what that would look like in a sentence:

The brown cat eats kibble. 

My awesome husband waters the garden.

Colorful flowers have started growing. 

The pattern might vary slightly, like this:

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Adjective] + [Noun]

I took the midnight train.

Note that predicate adjectives are slightly different because they typically follow a linking verb and can't be removed without making the sentence grammatically incorrect.

So the pattern formula looks a bit more like this:

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Adjective] or [Adjective Phrase]

The cat was brown.

My cat is the brown one.

Our garden looks lush.

Indirect Objects

If you want to take things a step further, you can even add indirect objects into your sentences. That's the thing that receives the direct object.

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Indirect Object] + [Direct Object] 

I give my cat kibble.

We asked our daughter to help.

She bought us some seeds.


If you really want to step things up a notch, you can throw in some adverbs to modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

If you do that, here are some possible sentence pattern combinations:

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Adverb]

We waved joyfully.

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Direct Object] + [Adverb]

She ate her dinner quickly.

[Adjective] + [Subject] + [Adverb] + [Verb]

The scared cat gently approached. 

Prepositional Phrases

You can also add prepositional phrases at the end of your sentences to provide more information or context.

These sentences can be fairly simple like this:

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Prepositional Phrase]

I water my plants in the evenings.

Or it can be more complex, like this:

[Adjective] + [Subject] + [Adverb] + [Verb] + [Prepositional Phrase]

My poor cat patiently waited for me to feed her.

There are many possible combinations when it comes to sentence structure, so feel free to get creative and play around with your sentence patterns!

Extra Clauses

One thing to remember about making sentences is that they don't all have just one clause. Yet all the pattern formulas I showed you above only account for sentences with a single clause. So what should you do if you need to make a sentence with more than one clause, like a compound sentence, a complex sentence, or a compound-complex sentence?


All you have to do is combine two or more different sentence structure patterns and join them with a conjunction or the correct punctuation.

Here's an example of what that might look like if you were making a compound sentence:

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Direct Object] + [Conjunction] + [Subject] + [Verb] + [Direct Object]

The cat eats kibble but the dog has raw food.

Making Your Sentence Complete

We've covered the fundamentals of the different sentence patterns, so now it's time to talk about the unsung heroes that make a sentence a sentence.


Determiners are little words placed before the subject to give more specificity about which one you are referring to.

They are:

  • Articles: a, an, the
  • Demonstratives: this, that, these, those
  • Possessives: my, yours, his, her, its, our, their
  • Quantifierscardinal numbers ('one,' 'two,' 'three,' etc.); ordinal numbers ('first,' 'second,' 'third,' etc.); indefinite adjectives ('all,' 'many,' 'few,' etc.); distributive adjectives ('each,' 'both,' 'neither,' etc.)

Determiners come right before the subject, so even though they don't have a specific mention in the sentence pattern formulas, don't forget to use them when necessary.

Note that they aren't always necessary. Use your discernment!


Conjunctions are words that link words, phrases, or clauses together to make our sentences more seamless, more elegant, and more easily understood.

There are two types:

  • coordinating
  • subordinating conjunctions.

The coordinating conjunctions join together two same parts of speech: a verb with a verb, a noun with a noun, and so on.

They are known by the acronym FANBOY:

  • for
  • and
  • nor
  • but
  • or
  • yet

As for subordinating conjunctions, they connect a dependent clause to an independent clause.

There are too many to list, but here are some:

Again, these haven't always been mentioned in the sentence pattern formulas above, but they should be slotted whenever needed.


Never forget the punctuation in your sentences! There are two kinds of punctuation.

Punctuation is essential in sentence formation and plays an important role in sentence patterns because lacking punctuation or punctuation placed in the wrong spot can change the sentence's meaning.

Sentence Patterns for Different Types of Sentences

So we've covered some of the most common sentence patterns, and you've learned how to create others. Seems simple enough, right? So what's the catch?

Well, as long as you're writing declarative (and even exclamatory) sentences, you're covered. But the two other sentence types work a little differently. Let's take a look.

Interrogative Sentences

Interrogative sentences are what you use if you're asking a question.

Here are some common formulas for basic closed questions:

[Auxiliary Verb] + [Subject] + [Verb] + [Rest of the Sentence]

Are you feeling nervous about tonight? 

[Auxiliary Verb] + [Subject] + [Adjective]

Were you tired?

And here is the most common formula for basic open questions:

[WH Word] + [Auxiliary Verb] + [Subject] + [Main Verb] + [Rest of the Sentence]

Why do you love swimming so much?

As you can see, the main difference between interrogative and declarative sentences is that with the former, the subject comes later on, whereas, with the latter, they're usually placed right at the beginning of the sentence.

Imperative Sentences

Imperative sentences are in a league of their own because they're the only sentence that doesn't require a sentence! That's right, you heard me correctly.

So your imperative sentence pattern could be as simple as this:



Of course, they can also be a lot longer and more complex than that. You can add words around the verb as you see fit, but you'll never need a subject in the imperative part of the sentence. For instance, "Please sit here" is still an imperative sentence. If you were to say, "Please sit here so you don't get tired," the second verb is not imperative, which is why we do mention the subject 'you.'

Active Vs Passive Sentences

Most sentences are formed in the active voice, but sometimes you might want to use the passive voice. If that's the case, know that your sentence pattern will look slightly different. In fact, it's almost the opposite of an active voice sentence because the object comes first, and the subject comes later.

[Object] + [Verb 'be'] [Past Participle] +['by'] + [Subject]

The book was written by a famous author.

The active voice is usually the preferred form, so it's best to stick with that as a general rule. But there are times when the passive voice is appropriate, such as when you want to emphasize the action rather than the doer or when writing about a general truth. To learn more, check out this article.

Concluding Thoughts on Sentence Patterns

That concludes this article on sentence patterns. I hope you found it useful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Sentence patterns help you put your words in the right order so your intended meaning can come across.
  • The most basic sentence pattern is [Subject] + [Verb]
  • You can add to this structure as your sentences get more complex. 
  • Don't forget your determiners, conjunctions, and punctuation. 
  • The sentence patterns are different for interrogative, imperative, and passive sentences.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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