Part Three Editing / Grammar Skills

Unit 19 Word Orders

Learning Objectives

  1. To learn the word orders in basic sentences, time and location expressions, frequency words, adjectives, and embedded questions
  2. To understand and practice different word orders through multiple examples and a variety of writing situations


I. Pretest

a computer with lines of codes on a desk
a computer with lines of codes on a desk

In the following ten sentences about the MOOCS, some parts are bold-faced and may contain mistakes in word order.  If the bold-faced part is correct, choose “correct”.  If not, choose the other answer. After you finish one sentence, you will get instant feedback on your answer before the next sentence. If you make mistakes, you can retry all the questions or see all the answers at the end of the pre-test.


II. Importance of Word Order

Word order refers to the arrangement of words in a sentence. While the word order in some sentences can be flexible, there are certain rules to show the proper sequence of words. If such rules are not followed, the sentences may sound very strange.

  • Always MOOCs are online.  X
  • MOOCs are always online. 
  • Students spend every week about two to three hours.  X
  • Students spend about two to three hours every week. 


III. Basic Word/Sentence Orders

You have studied basic sentence patterns in Unit 7 Sentence Essentials.  For review, open Unit 7 here. Those patterns also show the basic word orders:

subject + verb + direct object

  1. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.
  2. MOOCs cover different areas such as natural sciences, business, linguistics, computer science, engineering, and many more.
  3. Many of them take three to ten weeks to complete.
  4. Many world-class universities offer MOOCs.

subject + verb + indirect object + direct object

  1. My friends gave my sister and me some information on MOOCs yesterday.
  2. The information showed us the courses in computer science.

subject + linking verb + subject complement

  1. MOOCs are open and free to everyone
  2. Some of them are at very low cost, below $100 each.
  3. MOOCs are self-paced[1].
  4. They have grown more and more popular.


IV. Order of Time and Location Words

Time and location words can be placed in the beginning or end of a sentence. The general principle is to order them from a smaller unit to a larger one. If there are both time and location words in the same sentence, the location usually comes before time. Another option is to place one of them in the  beginning and the other in the end of the sentence.

  1. Next week, my friend and I are starting a new MOOC course in Spanish.
  2. We are starting a new MOOC course in Spanish next week.
  3. The last time it was offered was in January 2021. (month before year)
  4. We are able to choose the course from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain or the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico. (university before country)
  5. We are starting our Spanish MOOC course from the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico next week. (place before time)
  6. Next week, we are starting our Spanish MOOC course from the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico. (time expression in the beginning and location expression in the end)


V. Order of Frequency Words

Frequency words and expressions are common, but their positions in a sentence can be confusing. The following charts shows some general rules.

Frequency words

Beginning of Sentence

Middle of Sentence:

Before “do” verbs

After “be” verbs

Between helping verb and main verb

End of













√ *



√ *



√ *


Every day


Every other week


Once every three months


Twice a year


*A helping verb is required before the subject.


Yellow areas: The 1-word frequency words can be placed in the middle of a sentence – before a “do” verb, after a “be” verb, or between a helping verb and a main verb.

For detailed explanations and examples of “do”, “be”, helping, and main verbs, please refer to Unit 9 Verb Basics in Academic Writing. Open Unit 9 here.

  1. Students always like to take interesting online classes.
  2. For working students, MOOCs are often more convenient than in-person classes.
  3. Many students had never taken an online class before the Covid19 pandemic.


With gray checkmarks: Frequency adverbs like “ frequently, sometimes, occasionally” can be placed in the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence.

  1. Some working parents frequently take MOOCs.
  2. Sometimes MOOCs charge a small fee for students who want to have a certificate upon completion.
  3. Some of my friends take MOOCs occasionally.


Green areas: When “seldom, rarely, never” are used to begin a sentence, there should be a helping verb before the subject.

  1. Seldom do full time students take extra courses outside of their college because they are already very busy.
  2. Rarely are parents and their adult children studying in the same college, but the trend is growing.
  3. Never will there be a time when MOOCs disappear, I hope.


Purple areas: Most frequency expressions with 2+ words are usually placed in the beginning or at the end of a sentence, not in the middle of a sentence.

    1. Some MOOCs are offered several times a year.
    2. Every week, students study for certain hours.
    3. For example, CS50’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence with Python is offered free by Harvard University. It takes seven weeks to finish. Students will study ten to thirty hours a week. ( Last accessed on October 3, 2021.)


Exercise 1. The following sentences are about taking MOOCs. Some words are bold-faced. Mark “True” for the sentences with the correct word order and “False” for the sentences with the wrong word order.  If you make a mistake, you can retry the sentence. The corrections for the wrong sentences are provided in blue.

computer screens showing "MOOC"
computer screens showing “MOOC”

Exercise 2. Below are links to some MOOC courses offered through Coursera[2] by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Yale University, and University of Michigan. Open the links to see the course information.  Would you be interested in any of them now or in the near future?


VI. Order of Adjectives

Adjectives describe nouns and are placed before nouns. Adjectives give more specific and interesting information such as shape, smell, taste, color, and other qualities. When using more than one adjective in succession[5], it is important to know which one comes first and which one comes next.

  1. The baby is sleeping in a quiet, beautiful room. X
  2. The baby is sleeping in a beautiful, quiet room. √
  3. He is covered with a cotton, square blanket. X
  4. He is covered with a square, cotton blanket. √


Adjectives usually follow the order below:











Noun as Adjective


a lot of

a few




one, two…




































bowling (ball)

hiking (boots)[7]

paring (knife)[8]

picnic (table)

color (pencil)

grocery (store)

kitchen (sink)

office (building)



Exercise 3. Drop the given adjectives and nouns in the right order in each sentence about a baby and his room.  You will get instant feedback on your choices.  After each question,  you may retry or see the answers.


VII. Order in Embedded Questions

Sometimes there is a question inside a sentence or inside another question. That is why it is called an “embedded[9] question”. It is common to hear some people incorrectly say or ask:

  • We would like to know where is the childcare center.
  • Could you tell us which room should my child go to?

In such “embedded questions”, the question part should not follow the usual question order. Instead, it should be:

question word + subject + verb

The correct way:

  • We would like to know where the childcare center is.
  • Could you tell us which room my child should go to?

Study more examples:

  1. “What time is the childcare center open?”  (direct question)
  2. Please tell me what time the childcare center is open.  (embedded question)
  3. “Who is my child’s teacher?”  (direct question)
  4. Do you know who my child’s teacher is?  (embedded question)
  5. “How many children are there in one class?” (direct question)
  6. The teacher has not told us how many children there are in one class.  (embedded question)
  7. “What time must we pick up our child?”  (direct question)
  8. I want to be certain what time we must pick up our child.  (embedded question)


Exercise 4. Choose the correct word order in the following sentences with embedded questions about a day care center. You will receive instant feedback.  You may retry the sentence or see the answer after you complete each question.

a kindergarten classroom
a kindergarten classroom


VIII. Unit Review Practice


Exercise 5. Choose the correct word order for the following sentences about a pet dog.  In the right order, drag the words or phrases to the boxes. You will receive instant feedback.  After each question, you may retry or see the answers.


friend, Teddy, dog, good, my, pet, is

My pet dog Teddy is my good friend.


Exercise 6. The following paragraph about two puppies in love is adapted from a previous unit. Arrange the given words in the right order and type them in the boxes.  Type only one word in each box. You will get instant feedback on your answers.  When you complete the entire exercise, you may retry or see all the answers.

The first sentence is an example: 

a dog jumping from ocean
a dog jumping from ocean


The story happened on a small Japanese 

(Japanese, small) island Aka in the 1980s.


Exercise 7. Choose one of the following topics to write a paragraph. Include some adjectives and frequency words.

  1. Whom do you love the most? Describe him or her.
  2. What is the best gift you have received? Describe it.
  3. Which is your favorite room in your house or apartment? Describe it.
  4. What has been the most exciting scene you have seen? (for example, a parade[10], a party, a ceremony, etc.) Describe it.


 NSNT Practice

a pen writing in a notebook
a pen writing in a notebook

Go to The NSNT Free Writing Approach and Additional Weekly Prompts for Writing in Appendix A. (Open Appendix A here.) Choose two topics that you have not written about. You may start with the NSNT approach. Then revise and edit your paragraphs. Pay attention to the word order. You are encouraged to share your writing with your partner and help each other improve.


Vocabulary Review

a page in a dictionary
a page in a dictionary

The words here have appeared in this unit.  The best way to learn them is to guess the meaning of each word from the context.  Then hover your computer mouse over the number beside each word to check its meaning and part of speech. These words are also listed in the footnote area at the end of each unit.

Here, you can use the flashcards below to review these words.




1. Word order means the sequence of words in a sentence.

2. The basic word/sentence orders are:

  • Subject + verb + direct object
  • Subject + verb + indirect object + direct object
  • Subject + link verb + subject complement

3. When there are time words and location words,

  • They can be placed in the beginning or end of a sentence.
  • Arrange the time or location from a smaller unit to a larger unit.
  • Location words usually come before time words.

3. Frequency adverbs and expressions may be placed:

  • in the beginning of a sentence
  • in the middle (before an action verb, after a “be” verb, or between a helping verb and a main verb)
  • at the end of a sentence

4. With more than one adjective in succession, arrange them in proper order: determiner, opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, religion, material, purpose, noun as adjective.

5. An embedded question needs to follow the order: question word + subject + verb.



Media Attributions

  1. self-paced: adjective, learning at one's own speed
  2. Coursera: noun, an online course provider that works with many universities.
  3. fundamentals: noun, basics
  4. cloud computering: the delivery of computer services such as servers and storage
  5. in succession: prepositional phrase, one after another
  6. circular: adjective, round, like a circle
  7. hiking boots: noun phrase, boots that people wear when they are hiking
  8. paring knife: noun phrase, a small knife for kitchen tasks like cutting, chopping, and slicing
  9. embedded: adjective, located in the middle of something
  10. parade: noun, a large public procession to celebrate an important event, usually with music


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Building Academic Writing Skills Copyright © 2022 by Cui, Lin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.