Selline Odeny asked, “Please tell me about the subject-first and non-subject-first sentence patterns.”
Thanks for the request, Selline. I’d love to tell you about these sentence patterns.
While it’s true that sentences can begin with a dependent clause in which the beginning word is typically an adverb, I’ll be focusing on the main part of the sentence, the independent clause.
The most common sentence patterns in English have the subject first, followed by the verb. We first learn who or what the sentence is about, and then we discover what the person or thing does or is.
- Josie ran down the street. (“Josie” is the subject; “ran” is the verb)
- St. Louis is a fine place to visit. (“St. Louis” is the subject; “is” is the verb)
- The blue car careened down the mountain road. (“The blue car” is the complete subject; “careened” is the verb)
Less common are the sentence patterns that begin with a part of speech other than the subject (as is the case with this sentence, in which the adverb/predicate adjective pair “Less common” comes first). These inverted sentence patterns are used sometimes to delay revealing what the sentence is about and sometimes to create tension or suspense. Still other times, these patterns can be used to connect ideas between sentences more clearly.
- Never before had I seen such a beautiful tree. (Begins with the adverb “Never before”)
- In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. (Begins with a pair of prepositional phrases—”In a hole” and “in the ground”)
- Masterly and dry and desolate he looked, his thin shoulder-blades lifting his coat slightly. (A series of three adjectives precedes the subject)
- It was always pleasant crossing bridges in Paris.
Sentence 4, written by Ernest Hemingway, begins with the expletive (“It”) and the verb (“was always”), followed by the complement (“pleasant”) before finally arriving at the subject (“crossing bridges in Paris”). The sentence rewritten in the conventional subject-verb pattern would look like this: Crossing bridges in Paris was always pleasant.
A great resource for learning more about the “inverted” sentence patterns, the ones with something other than the subject first, is Scott Rice’s Right Words, Right Places, from which I took a few of these examples.