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of languages
SOV "She him loves." 45% 45
Hindi, Latin, Japanese, Afrikaans
SVO "She loves him." 42% 42
English, Hausa, Mandarin, Russian
VSO "Loves she him." 9% 9
Biblical Hebrew, Irish, Filipino, 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] ( )

In linguistic typology, object–subject–verb (OSV) or object–agent–verb (OAV) is a classification of languages according to whether this structure predominates in pragmatically neutral expressions. An example of OSV word order would be: Oranges Sam ate.

OSV as unmarked word order[edit]

This type of word order in unmarked sentences (i.e. sentences in which an unusual word order is not used for emphasis) is rare. Most languages that use OSV as their default word order come from the Amazon basin, such as Xavante, Jamamadi, Apurinã, Kayabí and Nadëb.[3]

An Apurinã example:[3]

anana nota apa
pineapple I fetch
I fetch a pineapple

British Sign Language (BSL) normally uses topic–comment structure. However its default word order when topic–comment structure is not used is OSV.

Fictitious languages[edit]

Star Wars franchise creator George Lucas attributed to his fictional character Yoda a native language featuring OSV grammatical order, as reflected in the character's instinctive application of the OSV template to Galactic Basic vocabulary in generating statements such as "Your father he is, but defeat him you must."

OSV as marked word order[edit]

Various languages allow OSV word order but only in marked sentences, i.e. in certain circumstances to draw special attention to the sentence or part of the sentence.

American Sign Language[edit]

American Sign Language uses topics to set up referent loci, so that sentences can appear to be in OSV order because ASL is a pro-drop language. However, ASL's default word order outside of topic–comment structure is SVO.[citation needed]

American Sign Language does not have a specific word order. The language tends to follow OSV order. However SVO order would be considered Signed English.[citation needed]


Arabic also allows OSV in marked sentences, for example:

إِيَّاك نَعْبُدُ وإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِين
Iyyāka naʿbudu wa iyyāka nastaʿīn
You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help.

English and German[edit]

This structure may on occasion be seen in English, usually in the future tense or used as a contrast with the conjunction "but", such as in the following examples: "Rome I shall see!", "I hate oranges, but apples I'll eat!"; and in relative clauses where the relative pronoun is the (direct or indirect) object, such as in "What I do is my own business." In English and German OSV also appears in relative clauses where the relative pronoun is the (direct or indirect) object, such as in "Was ich mache, ist meine Angelegenheit."


In Modern Hebrew, OSV is often used to emphasize the object. For example אני אוהב אותה (normal SVO) would mean "I love her", while "אותה אני אוהב" would mean "It is her that I love".


In Hungarian OSV is used to emphasize the subject:

A szócikket én szerkesztettem = The article/I/edited (meaning: It was I who edited the article - and not somebody else).

Japanese and Korean[edit]

In Korean, OSV is possible when the object is topicalized.

Sentence 그사과었어요.
Words 사과 어요
Romanization geu sagwa neun nae ga meog eoss eoyo.
Gloss the/that apple (topicalization marker) I (sub. marker) eat (past) (polite)
Parts Object Subject Verb
Translation It is I who ate that apple.

An almost identical syntax is possible in Japanese:

Sentence そのりんご食べました。
Words その りんご 食べ まし た。
Romanization sono ringo wa watashi ga tabe mashi ta.
Gloss the/that apple (topicalization marker) I (sub. marker) eat (polite) (past/perfect)
Parts Object Subject Verb
Translation It is I who ate that apple.


OSV is one of two permissible word orders in Malayalam, the other being SOV.


OSV is possible when the object is emphasized.[4]

Cah cihuah in niquintlazohtla
(indicative marker) women (topicalization marker) I-them-love
women I love them
It is the women whom I love.


In Turkish OSV is used to emphasize the subject:

Yemeği ben pişirdim = The meal/I/cooked (meaning: It was I who cooked the meal - not somebody else).


It can be used in Yiddish to emphasize the distinctive properties of the object.

See also[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. ^ a b O'Grady, W. et al Contemporary Linguistics (3rd edition, 1996) ISBN 0-582-24691-1
  4. ^ Introduction to Classical Nahuatl[vague]