Subject–object–verb

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In linguistic typology, a subject–object–verb (SOV) language is one in which the subject, object, and verb of a sentence appear or usually appear in that order. If English were SOV, then "Sam oranges ate" would be an ordinary sentence, as opposed to the actual standard English "Sam ate oranges". The label is often used for ergative languages such as Adyghe and Basque that do not have subjects but have an agent–object–verb order.

Incidence[edit]

Word
order
English
equivalent
Proportion
of languages
Example
languages
SOV "She him loves." 45% 45
 
Pashto, Latin, Japanese, Afrikaans
SVO "She loves him." 42% 42
 
English, Hausa, Mandarin, Russian
VSO "Loves she him." 9% 9
 
Biblical Hebrew, Irish, Zapotec, Tuareg
VOS "Loves him she." 3% 3
 
Malagasy, Baure
OVS "Him loves she." 1% 1
 
Apalaí?, Hixkaryana?
OSV "Him she loves." 0% Warao

Frequency distribution of word order in languages
surveyed by Russell S. Tomlin in 1980s.[1][2]

Among natural languages with a word order preference, SOV is the most common type (followed by subject–verb–object; the two types account for more than 75% of natural languages with a preferred order).[3] Languages that have SOV structure include Afrikaans, Ainu, Akkadian, Amharic, Armenian, Assamese, Aymara, Azerbaijani, Basque, Bengali, Burmese, Burushaski, Dogon languages, Elamite, Ancient Greek, Hindi, Hittite, Hopi, Hungarian, Ijoid languages, Itelmen, Japanese, Kazakh, Korean, Kurdish, Classical Latin, Manchu, Mande languages, Marathi, Mongolian, Navajo, Nepali, Newari, Nivkh, Nobiin, Pāli, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Quechua, Sanskrit, Senufo languages, Seri, Sicilian, Sindhi, Sinhalese and most other Indo-Iranian languages, Somali and virtually all other Cushitic languages, Sumerian, Tagalog, Tibetan and nearly all other Tibeto-Burman languages, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and all other Dravidian languages, Tigrinya, Turkic languages, Turkish, Urdu, Yukaghir, and virtually all Caucasian languages.

Standard Mandarin is SVO, but for simple sentences with a clear context, word order is flexible enough to allow for SOV or OSV. German and Dutch are considered SVO in conventional typology and SOV in generative grammar. For example, in German, a basic sentence such as "Ich sage etwas über Karl" ("I say something about Karl") is in SVO word order. When a noun clause marker like "dass" or "wer" (in English, "that" or "who" respectively) is used, the verb appears at the end of the sentence for the word order SOV. A possible example in SOV word order would be "Ich sage, dass Karl einen Gürtel gekauft hat." (A literal English translation would be "I say that Karl a belt bought has.") This is V2 word order.

A rare example of SOV word order in English is "I (subject) thee (object) wed (verb)" in the wedding vow "With this ring, I thee wed."[4]

Properties[edit]

SOV languages have a strong tendency to use postpositions rather than prepositions, to place auxiliary verbs after the action verb, to place genitive noun phrases before the possessed noun, to place a name before a title or honorific ("James Uncle" and "Johnson Doctor" rather than "Uncle James" and "Doctor Johnson"), and to have subordinators appear at the end of subordinate clauses. They have a weaker but significant tendency to place demonstrative adjectives before the nouns they modify. Relative clauses preceding the nouns to which they refer usually signals SOV word order, but the reverse does not hold: SOV languages feature prenominal and postnominal relative clauses roughly equally. SOV languages also seem to exhibit a tendency towards using a time–manner–place ordering of adpositional phrases.

In linguistic typology one can usefully distinguish two types of SOV language in terms of their type of marking:

  1. dependent-marking has case markers to distinguish the subject and the object, which allows it to use the variant OSV word order without ambiguity. This type usually places adjectives and numerals before the nouns they modify and is exclusively suffixing without prefixes. SOV languages of this first type include Japanese and Tamil.
  2. head-marking distinguishes subject and object by affixes on the verb rather than markers on the nouns. It also differs from the dependent-marking SOV language in using prefixes as well as suffixes, usually for tense and possession. Because adjectives in this type are much more verb-like than in dependent-marking SOV languages, they usually follow the nouns. In most SOV languages with a significant level of head-marking or verb-like adjectives, numerals and related quantifiers (like "all", "every") also follow the nouns they modify. Languages of this type include Navajo and Seri.

In practice, of course, the distinction between these two types is far from sharp. Many SOV languages are substantially double-marking and tend to exhibit properties intermediate between the two idealised types above.

Examples[edit]

Albanian[edit]

Sentence Agimi librin e mori.
Words Agimi librin e mori
Gloss Agimi the book took
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation Agimi took the book. (It was Agimi who took the book)

Azerbaijani[edit]

Sentence Yusif almanı yedi .
Words Yusif almanı yedi
Gloss Joseph the apple ate
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation Joseph ate the apple.

Basque[edit]

Basque does not have subjects, but has an agent–object–verb order in transitive clauses:

Sentence Enekok sagarra ekarri du.
Words Enekok sagarra ekarri du
Gloss Eneko (+ERGative) the apple brought (to bring) AUX has
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation Eneko has brought the apple

Burmese[edit]

Burmese is an analytic language.

Sentence ငါက စက္ကူဘူးကို ဖွင့်တယ်။
Words ငါ က စက္ကူဘူး ကို ဖွင့် တယ်
IPA ŋà
nga
ɡa̰
ga.
seʔkù bú
se'ku bu:
ɡò
gou
pʰwìɴ
hpwin.

de
Gloss I (subj) box (obj) open (pres)
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I open the box.

Chinese[edit]

Generally, Chinese languages are all SVO languages. However, especially in Mandarin, SOV is tolerated as well. There is even a special structure to form a SOV sentence.

Sentence 我把苹果吃了.
Words 苹果 吃了.
Transliteration píngguǒ chīle
Gloss I sign for moving object before the verb apple ate
Parts Subject Sign Object Verb
Translation I ate the apple.

Dutch[edit]

Dutch is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (i.e. inflected) verb is moved to the second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, non-finite verbs (participles, infinitives) and compound verbs follow this pattern:

Sentence Ik wil je helpen.
Parts Ik wil je helpen
Gloss I want you to help
Parts subject fin.verb object nonfin.verb
Translation I want to help you.

Pure SOV order is found in subordinate clauses:

Sentence Ik zei dat ik je wil helpen.
Parts Ik zei dat ik je wil helpen
Gloss I said that I you want to help
Parts subject fin.verb subord. conj. subject object fin.verb nonfin.verb
Translation I said that I want to help you.

French[edit]

The French language usually uses a subject–verb–object structure, but when using most pronouns, it places enclitics before the verb. That is sometimes mistaken for SOV word order.

Sentence Nous les avons.
Parts Nous les-avons.
Gloss We them/those-have
Parts Subject Object-Verb
Translation We have those/them

German[edit]

German is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (ie. inflected) verb is moved to the second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, compound verbs follow this pattern:

Sentence
Words Er hat einen Apfel gegessen
Gloss He has an apple eaten
Parts Subject Auxiliary Object Verb
Translation He ate an apple.

The word order changes also depending on whether the phrase is a main clause or a dependent clause. In dependent clauses, the word order is always entirely SOV (cf. also Inversion):

Subordinate Clause
Words Weil Horst einen Apfel gegessen hat, ...
Gloss Because Horst an apple eaten has, ...
Parts Conjunction Subject Object Verb Auxiliary
Translation Because Horst ate an apple, ...

Hungarian[edit]

Hungarian word order is free, although the meaning slightly changes. All six permutations of the following sample are valid, but with stress on different parts of the meaning.

Sentence Pista kenyeret szeletel.
Words Pista kenyeret szeletel
Gloss Pista bread slices
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation  Pista slices bread.

Italian[edit]

The Italian language usually uses a subject–verb–object structure, but when an enclitic pronoun is used, this comes before the verb and the auxiliary.

Sentence Io la sto mangiando
Parts Io la sto mangiando
Gloss I it am eating
Parts Subject Object Auxiliary Verb
Translation I am eating it

Japanese[edit]

Sentence 開けます。
Words 開けます。
Romanization watashi ga hako o akemasu.
Gloss I (sub) box (obj) open(polite)
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I (am the one who) open(s) the box.

The markers が (ga) and を (o) are, respectively, subject and object markers for the words that precede them. Technically, the sentence could be translated a number of ways ("I open a box", "It is I who open the boxes", etc.), but this does not affect the SOV analysis.

Japanese has some flexibility in word order, so an OSV is also possible. (開けます。)

Kazakh[edit]

Sentence Дастан кітап оқыды.
Words Дастан кітап оқыды
Transliteration Dastan kitap oqıdı
Gloss Dastan the book read
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation Dastan read the book.

Kashmiri[edit]

Like German and Dutch the Indo-Aryan language Kashmiri is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (ie. inflected) part of the verb appears in second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, whereas auxiliated verbs are discontinuous and adhere to this pattern:

Sentence کور چہے ثونٹہ کہیوان
Transcription kuur cha tsũũţh khyevaan
Gloss girl is apples eating
Parts Subject Auxiliary Object Verb
Translation The girl is eating apples.

Since Kashmiri is a V2 language if the word tsũũţh 'apple' comes first then the subject kuur 'girl' must follow the auxiliary cha 'is': tsũũţh cha kuur khyevaan [Lit. "Apples is girl eating."]

The word order changes also depending on whether the phrase is in a main clause or in certain kinds of dependent clause. For instance, in relative clauses, the word order is SOVAux:

Main clause + Subordinate Clause میے ان سوہ کور یوس ثونٹہ کہیوان چہے
Transcription => mye eny swa kuur => ywas tsũũţh khyevaan cha
Gloss => I brought that girl => who apples eating is
Parts Main clause => Subject Verb Object Relative clause => Subject Object Verb Auxiliary
Translation I brought the girl who is eating apples.

Korean[edit]

Sentence 상자다.
Words 상자 다.
Romanization nae ga sangja reul yeon da.
Gloss I (nominative) box (accusative) open (indicative)
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I open the box.

'가 (ga)/이 (i)' is a particle that indicates the nominative case. '를 (reul)/을 (eul)' is a particle that indicates the accusative case. '다 (da)' indicates the declarative.

※ Here, '나 (na, I (pronoun))' is changed to '내 (nae)' before '가 (ga)'.

Latin[edit]

Classical Latin was an inflected language and had a very flexible word order and sentence structure, but the most usual word order was SOV.

Sentence Servus puellam amat
Words Servus puellam amat
Gloss Slave (nom) girl (acc) loves
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation The slave loves the girl.

Again, there are multiple valid translations (such as "a slave") that do not affect the overall analysis.

Marathi[edit]

Sentence कसाई बकरा मारतो.
Words कसाई बकरा मारतो
Transliteration kasāi bakrā mārto
Gloss butcher goat kills
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation The butcher slaughters the goat.

Pashto[edit]

Sentence .زه کار کوم
Words زه کار کوم
Gloss زه (Subject Pronoun) کار (Noun) کوم (verb)
Transliteration ze kaar kawum
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I do the work.

Persian[edit]

Sentence .من سیب می‌خورم
Words من سیب می‌خورم
Gloss I apple eat (first person present tense)
Transliteration man seeb mikhoram
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I am eating an apple.

Portuguese[edit]

Portuguese is a SVO language, but it has some SOV constructs, albeit they tend to sound excessively formal or bookish in Brazil (as other constructs that are more prominent in Portugal), never being used colloquially in said country – it can even be said that it is foreign to Vernacular Brazilian Portuguese, in the case of the theory that Brazil's spoken and informal written registers present a diglossia.

The negative:

Nós não os temos. Literally: We not them have. Meaning: We don't have them.

SVO form: Nós não temos eles.

When using a temporal adverb, optionally with the negative:

Nós já [não] os temos. Literally: We already [not] them have. Meaning: (Positive) We already have them. (Negative) We don't have them anymore.

Nós ainda [não] os temos. Literally: We still [not] them have. Meaning: (Positive) We still have them. (Negative) We don't have them already.

SVO forms: Nós já temos eles, nós ainda temos eles.

When answering the phone: Sim, sou eu. Literally: Yes, am I. Meaning: Yes, I am or Yes, it's me

SVO form: Sou eu mesmo/sou eu mesma/sou eu mesme [sic], literally "Am myself [indeed]".

There is an infix construction for the future and conditional tenses:

Eu fá-lo-ei amanhã. Literally: I will ma-it-ke tomorrow. Meaning: I will make it tomorrow.

Eu fá-lo-ia ontem. Literally: I would ma-it-ke yesterday. Meaning: I would make it yesterday.

SVO form: Eu vou fazê-lo amanhã or eu o farei amanhã, and eu o teria feito ontem or eu o faria ontem.

On composed sentences, it is also allowed the SOV order for the last part in some situations like:

Ela não os comeu, mas comi-os eu. Literally: She not ate them, but ate them I. Meaning: She didn't eat them, but I did.

SVO form: Ela não os comeu, mas eu comi [eles].

Russian[edit]

Russian is an inflected language and very flexible in word order; it allows all possible word combinations.

Sentence Она его любит
Words Она его любит
Transliteration aná yevó lyúbit
Gloss she (nom) him (acc) loves
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation She loves him

Spanish[edit]

The Spanish language usually uses a subject–verb–object structure, but when an enclitic pronoun is used, this comes before the verb and the auxiliary. Sometimes, in dual-verb constructions involving the infinitive and the gerund, the enclitic pronoun can be put before both verbs, or attached to the end of the second verb.

Sentence Yo lo como
Parts Yo lo como
Gloss I it eat
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I eat it

Telugu[edit]

Sentence రాముడు బడికి వెళ్తాడు.
Words రాముడు బడికి వెళ్తాడు.
Transliteration Rāmuḍu baḍiki veḷtāḍu
Gloss Ramu to school goes.
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation Ramu goes to school.

Tamil[edit]

Sentence நான் தான் பெட்டியை திறப்பேன்.
Words நான் தான் பெட்டி யை திறப்பேன்。
Romanization Nān tān peṭṭi yai tiṟappēn.
Gloss I (nominative) box (accusative) open(indicative verb)
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I (am the one who) open(s) the box.

The தான் (tān) and யை (yai) are, respectively, nominative and accusative markers for the subject and object that respectively precede them. The தான் (tān) is optional in the Tamil language. The sentence may literally be translated as 'I [who am] the box [which] open shall.'

The sentence may also be translated, although less frequently, as பெட்டியை நான் தான் திறப்பேன் (Peṭṭiyai nāṉ tāṉ tiṟappēn), or simply, பெட்டியை திறப்பேன் (Peṭṭiyai tiṟappēn) as Tamil is a null-subject language because the indicative verb at the end of the word indicates the 1st person subject. This follows the object-subject-verb (OSV) pattern.

Turkish[edit]

Sentence Yusuf elmayı yedi.
Words Yusuf elmayı yedi
Gloss Yusuf the apple ate
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation Yusuf ate the apple.

Udmurt[edit]

Sentence мoн книгa лыӟӥcькo.
Words мoн книгa лыӟӥcькo.
Gloss I a book to read
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I am reading a book.

Yi[edit]

Sentence ꉢꌧꅪꋠ.
Words ꌧꅪ ꋠ .
Romaniz. nga syp-hni zze.
Gloss I (an) apple (to) eat.
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation I eat an apple.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Introducing English Linguistics International Student Edition by Charles F. Meyer
  2. ^ Russell Tomlin, "Basic Word Order: Functional Principles", Croom Helm, London, 1986, page 22
  3. ^ Crystal, David (1997). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (2nd edition ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55967-7. 
  4. ^ Andreas Fischer, “‘With this ring I thee wed’: The verbs to wed and to marry in the history of English.” Language History and Linguistic Modelling: A Festschrift for Jacek Fisiak on his 60th Birthday. Ed. Raymond Hickey and Stanislaw Puppel. Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 101 (Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1997), pp.467-81