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Describing language
Describing language

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4 Adding more information

Sentences are made up of different parts structured in a predictable and orderly way. Every sentence has at least a subject and a verb. Some sentences also have an object (or even two!). To this basic structure, we can add more information with additional phrases, and also combine short, simple sentences together into longer, more complex ones.

One way we can add more information to sentences is by including elements that tell us more about the context of an event or idea:

At the end of the day, you and your sisters made a delicious cake.

The former head of MI5 will give evidence at the hearing.

We can park in the village.

Toby is useful in an emergency.

In this episode Debbie is reunited with her long-lost twin.

These sentences go beyond the basic SVO or SV structures, as you can see in the table below.

  Subject Verb Object  
  The former head of MI5 will give evidence at the hearing
  We can park in the village
  Toby is useful in an emergency
At the end of the day you and your sisters made a delicious cake
In this episode Debbie is reunited   with her long-lost twin

The words in the first and last columns of the table aren’t subjects, verbs or objects. You might have noticed that they are all prepositional phrases. Their job is to add information such as where, when and how the action or event in the sentence took place. They can also be moved to another part of the sentence.

At the hearing, the former head of MI5 will give evidence.

In an emergency, Toby is useful.

Debbie is reunited in this episode with her long-lost twin.

We call these additions to the basic sentence structure adverbials (you might also find them referred to as adjuncts).

Activity 5 Find the prepositional phrases

Timing: This activity should take around 10 minutes

We can use prepositional phrases to make some really long sentences. How many different prepositional phrases can you find in the sentence below? Make a note of them in the box. It will help you to find the subject, verb and object first. (If you need a reminder about prepositional phrases, go back to Week 6.)

On Tuesday at the office canteen in the middle of morning break Thomas ate Lisa’s birthday cake from the box over in the corner out of sight.

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On Tuesday; At the office canteen; In the middle of morning break; From the box; In the corner; Out of sight.

In this example there is only a single subject (Thomas), a single verb (ate), and a single object (Lisa’s birthday cake). All the other elements are prepositional phrases that we can change, move around, or delete entirely and the sentence will still be grammatical: Thomas ate Lisa’s birthday cake.

While you have focused here on prepositional phrases, adverbials can take a variety of different forms. They can also include words like yesterday or last week to show the time of an event, as well as adverbs like quickly or quietly, which show the manner in which something took place.