Verb–subject–object word order

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Word
order
English
equivalent
Proportion
of languages
Example
languages
SOV "Cows grass eat." 45% 45
 
Ancient Greek, Bengali, Burmese, Hindi/Urdu, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Oromo, Persian, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Turkish, etc
SVO "Cows eat grass." 42% 42
 
Chinese, English, French, Hausa, Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, Malay, Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili, Thai, Vietnamese, etc
VSO "Eat cows grass." 9% 9
 
Biblical Hebrew, Classical Arabic, Filipino, Geʽez, Irish, Māori, Tuareg-Berber, Welsh
VOS "Eat grass cows." 3% 3
 
Car, Fijian, Malagasy, Qʼeqchiʼ, Terêna
OVS "Grass eat cows." 1% 1
 
Hixkaryana, Urarina
OSV "Grass cows eat." 0% Tobati, Warao
Frequency distribution of word order in languages surveyed by Russell S. Tomlin in the 1980s[1][2] ()

In linguistic typology, a verb–subject–object (VSO) language has its most typical sentences arrange their elements in that order, as in Ate Sam oranges (Sam ate oranges). VSO is the third-most common word order among the world's languages,[3] after SOV (as in Hindi and Japanese) and SVO (as in English and Mandarin Chinese).

Language families in which all or many of their members are VSO include the following:

Many languages, such as Greek, have relatively free word order, where VSO is one of many possible orders. Other languages, such as Spanish and Romanian, allow rather free subject-verb inversion. However, the most basic, common, and unmarked form in these languages is SVO, so they are classified as SVO languages.

Languages[edit]

Semitic languages[edit]

Standard Arabic is an example of a language that uses VSO:

يَقْرَأُ ٱلْمُدَرِّسُ ٱلْكِتابَ

يَقْرَأُ

yaqraʼu

reads

verb

ٱلْمُدَرِّسُ

l-mudarrisu

the teacher

subject

ٱلْكِتابَ

l-kitāba

the book

object

يَقْرَأُ ٱلْمُدَرِّسُ ٱلْكِتابَ

yaqraʼu l-mudarrisu l-kitāba

reads {the teacher} {the book}

verb subject object

The teacher reads the book

^* Arabic script is written right-to-left

Another Semitic language, Biblical Hebrew, uses VSO, as in Genesis 1:1, which is seen here, and many other places in the Tanakh:

... בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם

בָּרָא

Bara

created

verb

אֱלֹהִים

Elohim

God

subject

אֵת

et

PTCL*

 

הַשָּׁמַיִם

ha-shamayim...

the heavens

object

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם

Bara Elohim et ha-shamayim...

created God PTCL* {the heavens}

verb subject {} object

God created the heavens...

^* et is a particle marking the direct object of the verb.

^* The Hebrew script is written from right to left.

Celtic languages[edit]

In Welsh, some tenses use simple verbs, which are found at the beginning of the sentence and are followed by the subject and any objects. An example is the preterite:

Siaradodd Aled y Gymraeg.

Siaradodd

spoke

Verb

Aled

Aled

Subject

y Gymraeg

DEF Welsh

Object

Siaradodd Aled {y Gymraeg}

spoke Aled {DEF Welsh}

Verb Subject Object

Aled spoke Welsh.

Other tenses may use compound verbs in which the conjugated form of usually bod (to be) precedes the subject and other verb-nouns come after the subject. Objects then follow the final verb-noun. Here is the usual method of forming the present tense:

Mae Aled yn siarad y Gymraeg.

Mae

is

Aux. Verb

Aled

Aled

Subject

yn siarad

V-N.speak

Verb-Noun

y Gymraeg

DEF Welsh

Object

Mae Aled {yn siarad} {y Gymraeg}

is Aled V-N.speak {DEF Welsh}

{Aux. Verb} Subject Verb-Noun Object

Aled speaks Welsh.

In Irish, phrases also use VSO:

Itheann Seán arán.

Itheann

eats

Verb

Seán

Seán

Subject

arán

bread

Object

Itheann Seán arán

eats Seán bread

Verb Subject Object

Sean eats bread.

In Irish, in forming a question, the same order is used (with an interrogative particle in front):

An itheann tú arán?

An itheann

Do ...eat

Verb

you

Subject

arán

bread

Object

{An itheann} tú arán

{Do ...eat} you bread

Verb Subject Object

Do you eat bread?

The typological classification of Breton syntax is problematic. It has been claimed that Breton has an underlying VSO character, but it appears at first sight that V2 is the most frequent pattern. That arises as a result of a process usually involving the subject noun phrase being fronted. It has been suggested that the fronting has arisen from a development in which clefting and fronting, which are very common in Celtic languages, became completely pervasive. A very similar development is seen in literary Middle Welsh but did not continue into Modern Welsh.

Inversion to VSO[edit]

There is some tendency in many languages to switch constructions for emphasis. Particularly, sentences in English poetry are sometimes written in VSO, and Early Modern English explicitly reflects the tacit VSO order that is found in Modern English by suppressing the imperative's now-understood subject. For example, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" contrasts with modern "Gather rosebuds while you may".

Arabic sentences use either SVO or VSO, depending on whether the subject or the verb is more important. Sociolinguistic factors also influence sentence structure especially since colloquial varieties of Arabic generally prefer SVO, but VSO is more common in Standard Arabic.[4]

Non-VSO languages that use VSO in questions include English and many other Germanic languages such as German and Dutch, as well as French, Finnish, Maká, and Emilian.

In languages with V2 word order, such as most Germanic languages except for Modern English, as well as Ingush and Oʼodham, the verb is always the second element in a main clause. the subject precedes the verb by default, but if another word or phrase is put at the front of the clause, the subject is moved to the position immediately after the verb. For example, the German sentence Ich esse oft Rinderbraten (I often eat roast beef) is in the standard SVO word order, with the adverb oft (often) immediately after the verb. However, if that adverb is moved to the beginning of the sentence for emphasis, the subject ich (I) is moved to the third position, which places the sentence in VSO order: Oft esse ich Rinderbraten.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Meyer, Charles F. (2010). Introducing English Linguistics (Student ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Tomlin, Russell S. (1986). Basic Word Order: Functional Principles. London: Croom Helm. p. 22. ISBN 9780709924999. OCLC 13423631.
  3. ^ WALS Chapter 81
  4. ^ Feature 81A: Order of Subject, Object and Verb