Clause structure and verb patterns

Level: elementary

Clause structure

All clauses in English have at least two parts, a noun phrase (subject) and a verb phrase:

Noun phrase (subject) Verb phrase
The children laughed.
All the people in the bus were watching.

But most clauses have more than two parts:

Noun phrase (subject) Verb phrase Object, complement or adverbial
John wanted a new bicycle.
All of the girls are learning English.
This soup tastes awful.
Mary and the family were driving to Madrid.
She put the flowers in a vase.

The first noun phrase of a sentence is the subject. English clauses always have a subject:

His father has just retired. He was a teacher. (NOT Was a teacher.)
I'm waiting for my wife. She is late. (NOT Is late.)

except for the imperative, which is used for orders, invitations and requests:

Please come to dinner tomorrow.
Play it again, please.

If we have no other subject, we use there or it. We call this a dummy subject:

There were twenty people at the meeting.
There will be an eclipse of the moon tonight.
It's a lovely day.
It's nearly one o’clock.

What's the subject?


Verb patterns

Different verbs have different patterns, so the structure of the clause depends on the verb.

Transitive and intransitive verbs

Most verbs in English are either transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb has the structure noun + verb + noun:

Noun (subject) Verb Noun (object)
John wanted a new bicycle.

Transitive verbs need an object. Common transitive verbs are:


An intransitive verb has the structure noun + verb:

Noun (subject) Verb
John smiled.

Intransitive verbs do not have an object. Common intransitive verbs are:


Some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive:

She sang a wonderful aria.
We were singing.
Transitive: N + V + N
Intransitive: N + V
We were playing football.
We were just playing.
Transitive: N + V + N
Intransitive: N + V

Common verbs like this are:

Transitive or intransitive?


Other patterns

Some verbs are both transitive and intransitive, but the object when they are transitive is the same as the subject when they are intransitive:

Peter closed the door.
The door closed.
Transitive: N + V + N
Intransitive: N + V
I boiled some water.
The water boiled.
Transitive: N + V + N
Intransitive: N + V

These are called ergative verbs.

There are other kinds of verb patterns. For example:

Verb patterns


Average: 4.1 (17 votes)

Submitted by Aparna Dinesh on Sat, 20/07/2024 - 11:39



Need a clarification for the following:

1.Air pollution is emerging as a global problem around/in the world.

Is it around or in? 


2 .Tomorrow is my parents anniversary. I ought to/ should/need to wish them.

Is it ought to , should, need to,?


Kindly give the reason for the choice.






Hello Aparna Dinesh,

Generally speaking, we don't provide answers to tasks from elsewhere. This is for several reasons. First, if we did this we would end up doing people's homework for them, which is not our role! Second, the questions may well have problems. Here, for example, your second question is not fully grammatical as we do not use 'wish' in this way. Third, we have no guarantee that questions that we have not written actually suit the language being tested. More than one answer is possible in each of these examples, for instance. So for all of these reasons, the person to go to for your explanation is the person who prepared the questions.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Radioheady on Mon, 01/04/2024 - 17:09


Hello sir. I wonder which of the following is correct: "I'm open to meeting wherever/whenever is most convenient for you" or "I'm open to meeting wherever/whenever it is most convenient for you"? I personally prefer the latter, as I don't see "wherever" or "whenever" can serve as a pronoun and serve as a subject in the clause. By the way, is it a relative clause or an adverbial clause?

Thanks for your time.

Hello Radioheady,

You're right that wherever and whenever are used as adverbs or conjunctions rather than nouns. However, in certain expressions they are used as nouns with the meaning 'whatever time' or 'whatever place'. Your sentence is a good example of this. Another common example is this:

Wherever/wherever is fine for/by me.

The clause here is an adverbial clause. You can read more about adverbial clauses here: 



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Basheer Ahmed on Mon, 18/12/2023 - 00:13


Hello LearnEnglish team,

Could you please help me clarify my confusion relating to sentence types?

Here it is,

1. Michael is going to the UK next week and thinking about having a chance to visit the Royal Palace. (is it a simple sentence or compound?)
2. Michael is going to the United Kingdom next week and thinking about having a chance to visit the Royal Palace, which is considered as one of the expensive buildings in the UK. (can we say it is a compound-complex sentence?)

I would really be grateful if you could respond to this.

Thank you.

Hi Basheer Ahmed,

You can consider the first one a simple sentence, containing a compound verb: Michael is going ... and thinking ... .In the same way, the second one is a complex sentence. 

If we add the full clause elements, they are a compound and a compound-complex sentence, e.g. Michael is going to the UK next week, and he is thinking ... . (Often, a comma is put before the conjunction in a compound sentence.)

I hope that helps.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by AE42 on Fri, 17/11/2023 - 18:19


Is the phrase "though good" a subordinate clause in the sentence: "Your report, though good, is still not up to our standards." ?


Hello AE42,

Yes. 'Though' can be an adverb or a subordinating conjunction. Here, it is the latter. The 'full' clause would be 'though it is good' but there is no need to repeat the verb.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Swientoslaw on Fri, 08/09/2023 - 09:36


Hello LE-team!
I apologize if I put my question in the wrong place. Here's a phrase I recently came across:
"Men don’t cheat because they’re scoundrels..." (i.e. it says here that men who cheat are not scoundrels - they cheat for other reasons).
Question: is it possible, without losing or changing the meaning (if it is grammatically correct at all?), to rewrite this sentence as follows: "Men cheat not because they are scoundrels ..." (i.e. this is a literal translation of the construction often used in my native language) . Is it correct to use "not because" the way I did, or should I necessarily put an object after the word "cheat"?
Thank you in advance for your response

Hi Swientoslaw,

Yes, your rephrasing is grammatically correct, and the meaning is the same! The verb cheat can be intransitive or transitive, so an object is not necessary (although you can of course add one).

From the point of view of clarity, I would also add that your sentence (Men cheat ...) might be more clearly worded than the original sentence. That's because in the original, by looking at the first few words of the sentence alone (Men don't cheat ... ), the meaning appears to be the opposite of the speaker/writer's actual meaning (i.e. that men do cheat, just not for this reason). Listeners or readers may feel momentarily confused, until they read or hear the rest of the sentence. Your rephrasing avoids this potential confusion.

I hope that helps.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by tutoring on Sat, 15/04/2023 - 10:03


I am confused about something and would really appreciate your help.

As we know, the difference between compound and complex sentences is that one is made up of independent clauses while the other includes dependent and independent clauses.
So if we discuss the following examples:
1. Sally was tired but she decided to work anyway. - a compound sentence with two independent clauses: Sally was tired. / She decided to work.
2. Although Sally was tired, she decided to work anyway. - a complex sentence.

My question is, in N2, if we take out “although” don’t we get two independent clauses? So why is N1 considered compound and N2 complex? Is it only because “but” is called a coordinative conjunction and “although” is subordinative?

Hi tutoring,

Yes, right. "Although" in 2 makes the clause subordinate. Taking out "although" changes the sentence structure, and the sentence is no longer grammatical unless another conjunction is added. The relationship between clauses is specified by the conjunction.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Sokhom on Thu, 23/02/2023 - 02:30


Hello, Sir!
I wanted to know if the sentence below is compound-complex sentence.
Elon Musk has told Twitter staff that remote working will end and difficult times lie ahead.
Does "and" connect 2 dependent clauses: 1 that remote working will end & 2 that difficult times lie ahead?
Thank you for your time.
Best Wishes!

Hello Sokhom,

I'm afraid this is not something we deal with at LearnEnglish. I'd suggest you have a look at a site like grammarly, where they cover this sort of grammar quite extensively.


Best wishes,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Mon, 06/02/2023 - 02:39



Could I ask you about the preposition in the sentence "All the people IN the bus were watching." Is it correct to say "on the bus"? If so, is there any difference? Can I also say "in the ship", "in the train", "in the plane"?

Thank you so much for your important work and help (I tell all my friends how helpful British Council teachers and team are) and I'm grateful for the answering this post beforehand!!!

Hi howtosay_,

Typically, "on" is used for all of those forms of transport, but people do occasionally say "in". The meaning is the same.

We are very glad to hear your kind comments. Thank you! We hope you continue to enjoy using the site.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Tue, 31/01/2023 - 09:36


Thank you Sir, but,is this use of the verb considered to be correct in formal writing?
I read in a text book that verbs like "love"."hate", "like"...can be followed by ing form or to infinitive and verbs like "want", "need","ask"... are followed by to infinitive.Is this grammatically correct to use them like the previous comment?

Hi Sajatadib,

Yes, it is considered grammatically correct, although the Cambridge Dictionary adds that it is usually used in informal situations. You may be interested in this page for more explanation: (see the Want meaning ‘need’ section).

Want and need can be followed by an -ing form verb (they both have the "need" meaning), but not "ask".

I hope that helps!


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Mon, 30/01/2023 - 18:17


Hello Sir,
The verb after "want" and "need" should be to infinitive,right?
But I heard this sentence : I don't want you telling me what to do.
Could you help me understand the ing form after want?
Thank you.

Hi Sajatadib,

"Want" can be followed by an -ing verb too. Here are some more examples.

  • The staff still want paying.
  • There are hundreds of things that need doing around the house.
  • Don't put the clothes away. They want washing first.

The meaning of "want" here is more like "need" or "it is necessary". The sentence that you mentioned means something like "I don't need you to tell me what to do" or "It's not necessary for you to tell me what to do". It's stronger than the regular meaning of "want".

Does that make sense?


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Tue, 27/12/2022 - 23:44



Could you please answer the following questions:

Is that grammatically correct to say "Twenty people were at the meeting". And can I say " I went with my friend to the cinema yesterday" or "With my friend I went to the cinema yesterday" or am I to use cleft sentences for emphasis because these ones aren't correct? I went to the cinema with my friend yesterday sounds correct to me (I hope it is), but I have doubts concerning the other two sentences.

Thank you very much for your precious contribution to our knowledge, and thank you beforehand for answering this post!!!

Hello howtosay_,

The first sentence ('Twenty people...') is fine and a perfectly natural phrasing.

The other sentences are possible but sound very clumsy. Although it is possible to move prepositional phrases such as 'with my friend' around it is rarely done and tends to produce constructions which are distracting rather than emphatic. You could use a cleft sentence construction (It was with my friend that...) if you really needed to, but I find it hard to think of a situation where you would want to put such heavy emphasis on this and could not do it through, for example, using your voice or a contrasting phrase (...with my friend, not my wife).



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Peter!

Thank you, I'm very very grateful to you!!! Could I ask you to clarify if "I went to the cinema with my friend yesterday" (as an ordinary sentence without any emphasis) sounds clumsy too? And if so, how do you say it correctly?

Hello again howtosay_,

That sentence is fine. Generally speaking, prepositional phrases come at the end of the clause, so both 'yesterday' and 'with my friend' come at the end of this sentence. It doesn't matter in which order.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Peter!

Thank you very much for your answers!!! I've been trying to find this kind of information on my own for a long time, but I couldn't. So, I very appreciate your help!

Submitted by Dr Paul on Wed, 21/09/2022 - 15:12


Hello Kirk,

I'm having doubts about the deconstructed sentence below, in particular the object of the (main) verb. Could you check?



You can’t stop people doing what they want.

You = subject
Can’t = modal verb, finite verb
Stop = transitive verb, main verb, bare infinitive
Can’t stop = verb phrase
People doing what they want = noun phrase (or zero that-clause?), direct object
People = noun
Doing what they want = gerund phrase, complement of noun phrase
Doing = gerund, verbal, non-finite verb
What they want = wh-clause, noun clause, object of gerund phrase, gerund complement
They = subject (pronoun)
Want = (transitive) verb

Hello Dr Paul,

Please note that this level of syntactical analysis isn't something I'm that all that familiar with, but yes, that looks correct to me.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dr Paul on Thu, 08/09/2022 - 12:03


Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been deconstructing three sentences (see below). Could you tell me whether the names behind the separate parts are correct?

Kinds regards,


I believe that he is dangerous

I = subject = personal pronoun (subject form)
Believe = transitive verb, active verb, finite verb, reporting verb
That he is dangerous = that-clause = direct object
He = subject = personal pronoun (subject form)
Is = linking verb and finite verb
Dangerous = modifier = adjective = subject complement

He is believed to be dangerous

He = subject = personal pronoun (subject form)
Is = finite verb
Believed = non-finite verb, past participle, transitive verb, reporting verb
Is believed = passive verb
To be dangerous = infinitve phrase = noun phrase = direct object
To be = infinitve = verbal (= non-finite verb) and functions as a noun
Dangerous = modifier = adjective

They believe him to be dangerous

They = subject = personal pronoun (subject form)
Believe = finite verb, active verb, transitive verb, reporting verb
Him = indirect object = personal pronoun (object form)
To be dangerous = see above
To be = see above
Dangerous = see above

Much appreciated, Kirk.

Unfortunately I used the wrong tense. I should have written 'I have deconstructed three sentences' (present perfect simple) in stead of 'I have been deconstructing three sentences' (present perfect continuous), because we don't use the latter if we're talking about how much or how many (in this case: three sentences).