Word order: influence of French

Hello everybody,

This post is dedicated to my lovely French students, but it can be useful to all of you out there learning English!

One of the most common errors I have to correct during my lessons is word order. Some of the sentences collected from my students sound like this:

1. She likes a lot fashion./ She speaks very well English.

2. I saw with my husband a film.

3. You must absolutely eat in Nice socca. (socca is a local Nice delicacy, I love it!)

4. You can buy shoes from a shop shoe.

5. On what floor is the hotel room?

What’s wrong with these sentences? It’s the word order!

A typical English sentence follows the S+V+O order. Let’s explain what S, V and O are. S is the subject of the sentence, a noun or pronoun, a person or an object that do the action. V is the verb (more precisely the predicate), that is the action done by the subject, and O is the object that receives the action of the verb.

Corrections:

1. She likes fashion a lot. /She speaks English very well.

A lot” and “very well” are adverbials, which add information about how, when, where something has happened. In this case, a lot, very well come after the SVO structure.

2. Same situation here: I saw a film with my husband. “With my husband” (how you saw the film) comes after SVO.

Careful as some adverbs can stay before the verb. For example, both next sentences are correct:

a. I admire his courage greatly.

b. I greatly admire his courage.

Other examples of adverbs before verbs are many frequency adverbs: I always forget my notebook at home.

3. Same explanation: You must absolutely eat socca in Nice. In this sentence, there are two adverbials: the adverb “absolutely” that sits before the main verb and ” in Nice” at the end of the sentence.

I know few things are logical in English grammar :D, but I think there’s some logic in our last example: You must (modal for obligation) absolutely (adverb that stresses the urgency) eat socca (V followed by O – essential for understanding the message of the sentence) in Nice (this is the least important detail of the sentence, so it is left at the end).

If the stress of the sentence is on “in Nice”, you can write it at the beginning. Have a look here:

In Nice you must absolutely eat socca, while in Bordeaux you must absolutely taste the delicious cannellés.

4. You can buy shoes from a shoe shop.

Compound nouns (a shoe shop, morning routine, an article of newspaper, bus stop, train station, washing machine) are less frequent in French and when they happen, the main noun (shop) is before the modifying noun (shoe), while in English it’s the opposite.

morning routine: morning – modifying noun; routine – main noun

train station: train – modifying noun (which can be replaced with bus, tram etc); station – main noun.

5. What floor is the hotel room on?

For the French (and Italians), it’s unusual to put prepositions at the end of the questions, when this is the case in English:

  • What are you interested in?
  • Where do you come from?
  • What are you talking about?
  • Who can I give this to?

That’s all for today’s post, I hope this was useful! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next posts.

Please contact me for any reason; I love receiving messages and answering questions!

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3 thoughts on “Word order: influence of French

  1. Sztejnman Isabelle January 12, 2019 — 9:34 pm

    Hi Sylvia. I read your post for the first time. I love it. Now my word order understanding is better. I hope I’m making less mistakes when I’m writting a letter or a text. Thanks very much. Isabelle.

    Like

    1. Thanks for writing, Isabelle. I’m very glad you found it useful! Follow the blog and write to me if you have questions 🙂

      Like

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