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The Grammar of Star Wars

The Grammar of Star Wars
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This past Monday, May 4, was Star Wars Day. The holiday began in 2011 to celebrate the film series and its influence on popular culture.

Every Star Wars Day, fans around the world say, “May the fourth be with you!” The words “May the fourth” sound like “May the Force,” part of a line in the movie from character Obi-Wan Kenobi. “May the Force be with you” is something he said often in the films.

Star Wars has influenced English speech in many ways. Today, for example, English dictionaries contain words from the films, such as “jedi,” though its meaning has changed a little.

But Star Wars has also brought us unusual sentence structures, mainly influenced by the speech of the character Jedi trainer Yoda. He is the beloved 900-year-old green creature who shows character Luke Skywalker how to become a Jedi. Yoda’s way of speaking is the most memorable thing about him, except for his unusual appearance.

Today, Everyday Grammar will look at a few of Yoda’s lines to examine the sentence formation. This is a fun way to practice identifying the many parts of speech in English.

Subjects, verbs and objects

Before we begin, let’s look at three important parts of speech.

A subject is a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun that performs the action of a verb in a sentence. For example, “Yoda” is the subject of the sentence, “Yoda teaches Luke Skywalker about the Force.”

A verb is a word that expresses an action, happening or state of being. In the same sentence example, the verb is “teaches.”

And an object is a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun that receives the action of a verb. In the sentence, the object is “Luke Skywalker.”

Notice the word order goes like this: subject-verb-object. Most English sentences and clauses follow this word order. Not all sentences have objects, but knowing where to put them is useful.

Very good Yoda's speech is

Yoda almost never uses the subject-verb word order of standard English. And many of his sentences contain linking verbs.

A linking verb is a verb that connects the subject of a sentence to a subject complement, which is a word or phrase that describes the subject.

Listen to a sentence that uses normal English word order and has a linking verb:

The mind of a child is truly wonderful.

In this sentence, the subject is “the mind of a child,” the linking verb is “is” and the subject complement is “truly wonderful.”

Now, listen to how Yoda said this sentence in the Star Wars film, “Attack of the Clones.”

Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.

Here, Yoda put the subject complement “truly wonderful” first, the subject “the mind of a child” next and the linking verb “is” last.

Often, when a sentence has a subject complement, Yoda puts it at the beginning. Listen to this example, from the film “The Empire Strikes Back”:

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

In this sentence, the words “luminous beings” are the subject complement, “are” is the linking verb, and “we” is the subject. But note that Yoda put the subject at the end this time, rather than after the subject complement.

Generally speaking, Yoda’s sentence structure was not consistent. And that is OK since he is an imaginary character – and written to be hundreds of years old! We can still enjoy exploring his sentences to see where he places things.

Use auxiliary verbs Yoda does

Another thing Yoda does often is to separate main verbs from auxiliary verbs or modal verbs in sentences that contain them.

Suppose you wanted to tell Luke Skywalker something about Darth Vader. Normally, English sentences put auxiliary verbs before main verbs, like this:

And you will confront him.

Here, the auxiliary verb is “will” and comes before the main verb, “confront.” Together, “will confront” makes the simple future verb tense.

But listen to how Yoda says that same sentence about Vader, from the film “Return of the Jedi”:

And, confront him you will.

Notice that he has completely separated the auxiliary and main verbs. He put the auxiliary “will” at the end of the sentence and the main verb “confront” at the beginning.

Even in this same piece of dialogue, however, the old, green teacher forms sentences other ways. Listen to more of the Yoda speech, in three short sentences:

You must confront Vader! Then, only then, a Jedi will you be. And confront him you will.

In each of these sentences, he places the subject, the modal or auxiliary, and the main verb in different places.

The writers of the Star Wars movies made Yoga’s speech inconsistent in structure, maybe just to play with language.

And now, it is your turn to have some fun with language. Visit our website to find a few more Yoda quotes and see if you can identify the parts of speech.

May the Force be with you!

I’m Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.



Now, you try it! Follow the directions for each of Yoda’s sentences. Write your answers in the comments. We will post the correct answers next week!

1-What is the subject complement? “Powerful you have become.”

2-Put this in the correct word order and add any missing word/s: “Secret shall I tell you?”

3-What word is missing from this sentence? “Wars not make one great.”

4-What is the subject of this sentence? “Always in motion is the future.”

5-Put this in the correct word order and make any needed changes: “Happens to every guy sometimes this does.”

6-What is the object of this sentence? “This one a long time have I watched.”


Words in This Story

character - n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show

practice - v. to do something again and again in order to get better at it

Jedi - n. a member of the mystical knightly order in the Star Wars films, trained to guard peace and justice in the Universe

clause - n. A part of a sentence that has its own subject and verb

phrase - n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence

luminous - adj. producing or seeming to produce light

crude - adj. Very simple and basic

standard - adj. accepted and used by most of the educated speakers and writers of a language

modal verb - n. a verb that is usually used with another verb to express ideas such as possibility, necessity, and permission

auxiliary verb - n. a verb that is used with another verb to show the verb's tense, to form a question, or to do something else

dialogue - n. the things that are said by the characters in a story, movie or play