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How to Break Down a Sentence

Updated April 17, 2017

Identify the verb in the sentence. The verb is the main action that takes place. In the sentence "Bob closed the door," "closed" is the verb. Be careful not to be fooled by action words that perform a different function in the sentence. For example, in "Running is hard work," "Running" is a noun, while "is" is the sentence's main action.

Identify the sentence's subject. The subject is the person or thing that performs the verb. In the examples above, "Bob" and "Running" are the subjects that perform the verb. The subject can be a group of words. In the sentence "Jack and Melissa looked at the stars," the subject is "Jack and Melissa."

Identify the direct object of the sentence. The direct object is the person or thing on which the sentence's actions is performed. In "Bob opened the door," "the door" is the direct object, the thing that Bob opened. Note that only transitive verbs take a direct object. If a verb is used intransitively, there is no direct object to identify. For example, "Andrea slept 10 hours" contains no direct object because Andrea does not sleep in or on anything.

Identify adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs describe objects and verbs. The sentence "Jack and Melissa looked at the stars" contains no adjectives and adverbs. The adjective "bright" and the adverb "carefully" describe an object and a verb: "Jack and Melissa looked carefully at the bright stars."

Identify prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases describe how a verb is performed; they begin with a preposition, words such as "on," "in," "around" and "about." For example, in the sentence "Andrea slept on a bed," "on a bed" is a prepositional phrase. It describes place and shows how the sleeping is performed. The object in a prepositional phrase (in this case, "bed") is also called the indirect object.

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About the Author

David Coodin began working as a writer in 2005, and has been published in "The Walrus." He contributes to various websites, writing primarily in the areas of education and art. Coodin holds a Ph.D. in English literature from York University in Toronto.