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The English language has its own word order.

English meaning demands that we place the subject of an independent clause as the first word of a sentence. In turn, the subject is followed by the finite verb, which is followed by other information, such as the object. Linguists call this SVO (subject, verb, object) order. 

Another way to explain SVO order is to state that the subject of the independent clause (what the clause is about) is followed by what is called the predicate. The predicate contains the finite verb phrase and any other information that may be included in the clause, including object, complement, prepositional phrases and / or other adverbials, and dependent clauses. 

A problem ensues when information comes before the subject of the independent clause. Linguists call this a grammatical "transformation." 

Theme refers to the first information given in an independent clause.  If the subject appears first, the theme is unmarked. Occasionally, an adverbial is placed before the subject, and the theme is marked.

Rheme refers to the part of the clause that follows the theme.


unmarked theme: The Titanic  rheme: sank in April of 1912.

marked theme: In April of 1912, rheme: the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage..

unmarked theme: Jack  rheme: lived in Wisconsin when he was a boy.

marked theme: When Jack was a boy, rheme:  he lived in Wisconsin.


The subordinator WHEN  precedes the subject of the dependent clause, Jack, and creates a dependent adverbial clause. The dependent clause precedes the subject of the independent clause, HE.



For additional exploration of the theme, click From Deep Structure to Surface Structure.

Click here for phrases.


Click here for adverbials.

Click here for dependent adverbial clauses.