Simple sentences, question tags, adjectival and adverbial phrases

While simple sentences are important in grammatical analysis facilitating explanation and development of other sentence structures, their usage and study is critical in Stages 2 onwards due to the expanding lexical density and the unpacking of complex ideas required in nonfiction texts. Nonfiction texts studied at this level may have simple sentences, with very complex ideas, that are often several lines long. The analysis and therefore improvement of writing complex and compound sentences and how language is structured in quality texts can be studied in terms of simple sentences (or in terms of independent clauses). Commands and questions are also explained through changes to simple sentences.

A basic simple sentence consists of a main clause (an independent clause). It has one verb and a subject, and it may have an object that expresses a complete thought. Sophisticated Structures include – Extended simple sentences, for example ‘Like all living things, animals have personalities too.’

Simple sentences may also contain noun groups and verb groups that contain embedded prepositional, adverbial and adjectival phrases. A simple sentence can be short, with uncomplicated ideas – but a simple sentence can be long with complicated ideas. Simple sentences with complex ideas are widely used in the secondary context. It is critical to unpack these sentences in a variety of ways.

There are four clause structures – Statements, Command (or imperative), Exclamation and Question. Questions can also include a simple sentence with complexity: a question tag. The word group normally tagged onto a statement in order to signal that a reply or response is required is known as a question tag, for example ‘You are going tomorrow, aren’t you?’, ‘Move over, can't you?’ Question tags are used in spoken English but not in formal written English. They are a way of asking the other person to make a comment and so keep the conversation open. To make a tag, use the first auxiliary. If there is no auxiliary, use do, does or did. With a positive sentence, make a negative tag and with a negative sentence, make a positive tag.

  • It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
  • He has been, hasn’t he?
  • You can, can’t you?
  • It must be, mustn’t it?
  • You know him, don’t you?
  • He finished it, didn’t he?
  • He will come, won’t he?
  • It isn’t very good, is it?
  • It hasn’t rained, has it?
  • It can’t be, can it?
  • Jenny doesn’t know James, does she?
  • They didn’t leave, did they?
  • He won’t do it, will he?

Activities to support the strategy

1. Simple sentences

While a simple sentence conveys information quickly, too many simple sentences – without complex ideas, can make the reading / writing appear choppy and disconnected. Writers with advanced linguistics use a variety of sentence structures – including simple sentences.

Fiction authors will make use of simple sentences, often reducing the complexity of ideas, to allow readers to move quickly through text. Simple sentences are frequently used when moving towards the action / climax of the piece. At this point complex or compound sentences could detract from the tension, conflict and / or action.

Example of simple sentences with an object

Example of simple sentences with an object. The subject points to he, the verb points to met and the object points to him.

Activity 1: smart notebook

Simple sentences are unpacked with examples and opportunities for students to develop their own examples.

Activity 2: SVO cards

Students are placed in three groups. Each group is given a card to develop about ten examples of the language feature on their card. These words are written onto cards and illustrated (optional). Using the SVO cards students then create funny sentences.

The words can then be enlarged and placed next to the following sentence feature headings, but it is better if headings are arranged horizontally and words placed below.

SVO cards (PDF 277.76KB)

2. Adverbial phrase: describes the verb

An adverbial phrase or clause contributes additional information to the main clause. Generally, these will answer the questions:

  • how, for example ‘Leisurely they strolled to town with their cousins.’ (phrase)
  • when, for example ‘She had dinner after everyone had left.’ (clause)
  • where, for example ‘I spoke with him outside the house.’ (phrase)

An adverbial component can also contribute evaluative interpersonal meaning to a clause, for example ‘Frankly, I don't care’. Adverbs, adverb groups, prepositional phrases, nouns and noun groups can function as adverbials.

Example of simple sentence with adverbs and adverbial phrases to increase its descriptiveness:

Example of simple sentence with adverbs and adverbial phrases to increase its descriptiveness

Activity 3

Students use the SVO sentences they created and in small groups think of adding more information to the Verb by asking the questions how, when and where and building the simple sentences together. Sentences are shared and explained using targeted metalanguage to describe the grammatical features chosen to improve the sentence. For example:

The children walked to school. (Subject Verb Object)

How – quickly, When – in the morning, Where – along the bush track.

In the morning the children walked quickly to school along the bush track.

Students can play with the adverbial words and phrases by experimenting and moving them around the sentence. For example:

The children walked quickly along the bush track to school in the morning.

To add suspense: Quickly, the children walked along the bush track to school in the morning.

Students decide which sentence they like best and explain why. “I like the sentence where we added the adverb at the beginning because it makes the sentence suspenseful and more interesting to read.”

Activity 4: adverbial game using adverbs of manner (HOW)

Some adverbials depicting manner are typically created using adjectives and adding “ly”. For example:

Quick – quickly, slow – slowly, leisure – leisurely, beautiful – beautifully

(spelling words can be generated from grammar rules)


A student selects or is given a verb (an action) to act out in front of class or small group. The student then secretly selects from a list of class generated “how” adverbs. The student acts out the action using the manner selected whilst others guess the adverb. For example: eating crazily, walking drunkenly, talking quickly, blinking rapidly, skipping happily, typing leisurely, searching carefully, moving secretly, etc…

Activity 5: worksheet

Students find adverbial phrases (worksheet (PDF 136.12KB)) and then write the question that the sentence answers.

3. Adjectival phrases: describe the noun (subject)

Below is an example of simple sentence with noun group which includes an adjectival phrase “on his blanket”

Example of adjectival phrase (PDF 136.12KB)

Activity 6: I spy (adjectival phrases)

The I Spy game and instructions suitable for Stage 2 and 3 can be accessed at

Activity 7

Students use the SVO sentences they created with the added adverbial words and phrases and think of adding more information to the Nouns by using descriptive words to expand the noun group. Sentences are shared and explained using targeted metalanguage to describe the grammatical features chosen to improve the sentence. For example:

In the morning the children walked quickly to school along the bush track. (Simple sentence with adverbials)

Teacher provides students with questions to ask and to answer such as:

What are the children like? young and excited

What kind of track is it? narrow and sandy

What is the school like? small country school

What is the morning like? dark and gloomy

On a dark and gloomy morning the excited, young children walked quickly to their small country school along the narrow, sandy bush track. (Simple sentence with expanded noun groups)


Quickly, the young and excited children walked along the narrow, sandy bush track to their small country school on a dark and gloomy morning.

Online resources


Student news websites - writing stimulus


Australian curriculum

ACELA1493: Understand that the meaning of sentences can be enriched through the use of noun groups/phrases and verb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases. ACELA1495: Understand how adverb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases work in different ways to provide circumstantial details about an activity.

NSW syllabus

EN2-9B: Uses effective and accurate sentence structure, grammatical features, punctuation conventions and vocabulary relevant to the type of text when responding to and composing texts.

Return to top of page Back to top