Grammar 101: Why Word Order Matters

Some people will tell you that the little things don’t matter. In some cases, that might be in true. In other case, the little things are what make all the difference. That’s precisely the case when it comes to spelling and grammar. Overcoming big, overarching issues is relatively easy; it’s figuring out how to transcend the little errors.

This is one of the reasons why you should pay special attention to word order. Just as one letter can make for a completely opposite meaning, a different word order can cause the sentence to mean something entirely different too. Let’s illustrate this with a quick example.

1. My favorite new television show is The Walking Dead on AMC.
2. My new favorite television show is The Walking Dead on AMC.

Do those two sentences sound the same to you? While they’re both expressing some praise of the new zombie series on TV, they actually mean two entirely different things. With the first sentence, I am saying that among the new TV shows, The Walking Dead is my favorite. It does not include any existing shows; I am only talking about new programming.

With the second sentence, I am saying that The Walking Dead has dethroned some other program as my favorite television show among all TV shows. I had some other show as my favorite, but AMC’s zombie apocalypse is my new favorite. Can you see the difference?

Naturally, the importance of word order extends well beyond the realm of TV shows too. Let’s have a look at another couple of seemingly similar sentences.

1. I have to read this book.
2. I have this book to read.

With the first sentence, I am saying that I am obliged to read “this book.” It is something that must be done. With the second sentence, I am saying that I am in possession of “this book,” and while I could read it, I am not obliged to do so. One sentence indicates necessity; the other indicates ownership.

When people come up with questions related to grammar, they oftentimes ask which word they should use under what circumstances. That’s only half the battle. The other half is figuring out in what order those words should be used. As you can see from the two sample pairs above, a simple flipping of the words can make for completely different sentences.