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of 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
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]

In linguistic typology, subject–verb–object (SVO) is a sentence structure where the subject comes first, the verb second, and the object third. Languages may be classified according to the dominant sequence of these elements. It is the most common order by number of speakers, and the second most common order by number of known languages, after SOV. Together, SVO and SOV account for more than 75% of the world's languages.[3] It is also the most common order developed in Creole languages, suggesting that it may be somehow more initially 'obvious' to human psychology.[4] Albanian, Arabic, Assyrian (VSO and VOS are also followed, depending on the person), Berber, Bulgarian, Chinese, English, Estonian, Filipino, Finnish (but see below), French, Kurdish, Ganda, Greek, Hausa, Hebrew, Italian, Javanese, Kashmiri, Khmer, Latvian (but SOV if the object is a pronoun), Macedonian, Polish, Kashubian, Portuguese, Quiche, Romanian, Rotuman, Russian (but see below), Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Swahili, Thai, Vietnamese, Yoruba and Zulu are examples of languages that can follow an SVO pattern. The label is often used for ergative languages which do not have subjects, but have an agent–verb–object order. The Romance languages also follow SVO construction, except for certain constructions in many of them in which a pronoun functions as the object (e.g. French: je t'aime, Italian: (io) ti amo or Spanish: (yo) te amo, meaning "I you love" in English). All of the Scandinavian languages follow this order also but change to VSO when asking a question. Arabic and Hebrew will occasionally use an SVO pattern with sentences with subject pronouns (e.g. Arabic أنا أحبك, Hebrew: אני אוהב אותך, lit. "I love you."). However the subject pronouns here are grammatically unnecessary and most other constructions suggest that both languages are VSO languages at their core, though Modern Hebrew generally uses SVO construction as well as the modern varieties of Arabic. Other SVO languages, such as English, can also use an OSV structure in certain literary styles, such as poetry.

An example of SVO order in English is:

Andy ate cereal.


Some languages are more complicated. For example, Russian, Finnish and Hungarian languages allow all possible combinations[citation needed]: SVO, OVS, SOV, OSV, VSO, VOS. Word order is often changed to emphasize a different part of the sentence. or to change the nuance of the meaning. In Polish all 6 permutations are allowed, moving word/phrase to the front or, less commonly, to the back of a sentence or clause add emphasis e.g. "Roweru ci nie kupię" (I won't buy you a bicycle), "Od piątej czekam" (I've been waiting since five).[5]

In German, Dutch, and Kashmiri SVO in main clauses coexists with SOV in subordinate clauses, as given in Example 1 below; and a change in syntax – for instance, by bringing an adpositional phrase to the front of the sentence for emphasis – may also dictate the use of VSO, as in Example 2. (See V2 word order.) In Kashmiri the word order in embedded clauses is conditioned by the category of the subordinating conjunction, as in Example 3.

Example 1: "Er weiß, dass ich jeden Sonntag das Auto wasche" (German: "He knows I wash the car every Sunday", lit. "He knows, that I every Sunday the car wash"). Cf. the simple sentence "Ich wasche das Auto jeden Sonntag", "I wash the car every Sunday".

Example 2: "Elke zondag was ik de auto" (Dutch: "Every Sunday I wash the car", lit. "Every Sunday wash I the car"). "Ik was de auto elke zondag" translates perfectly into English "I wash the car every Sunday", but, as a result of changing the syntax, inversion SV->VS takes place.

Example 3: "mye ees phyikyir yithi.ni tsi temyis ciThy dyikh" (Kashmiri: "I was afraid you might give him the letter", lit. "to.me was worry lest you to.him letter will.give"). If the embedded clause is introduced by the transparent conjunction zyi the SOV order changes to SVO. "mye ees phyikyir (zyi) tsi maa dyikh temyis ciThy". [6]

English developed from such a reordering language and still bears traces of this word order, for example in locative inversion ("In the garden sat a cat") and some clauses beginning with negative expressions: "only" ("only then do we find X"), "not only" ("not only did he storm away but also slammed the door"), "under no circumstances" ("under no circumstances are the students allowed to use a mobile phone"), "on no account" and the like. In these cases do-support may or may not be required, depending on the construction.


Subject–verb–object languages almost always place relative clauses after the nouns they modify and adverbial subordinators before the clause modified, with Chinese languages being notable exceptions.

Although some subject–verb–object languages in West Africa, the best known being Ewe, use postpositions in noun phrases, the vast majority of them have prepositions as in English. Most subject–verb–object languages place genitives after the noun, but a significant minority, including the postpositional SVO languages of West Africa, the Hmong–Mien languages, some Sino-Tibetan languages, and European languages such as Swedish, Danish, Lithuanian and Latvian, have prenominal genitives[7] (as would be expected in a SOV language).

Outside Europe, subject–verb–object languages have a strong tendency to place adjectives, demonstratives and numerals after the noun they modify, but Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Malay place numerals before nouns, as in English. Some linguists have come to view the numeral as the head in this relationship to fit the rigid right-branching of these languages.[8]

There is a strong tendency for SO languages to have auxiliaries precede main verbs: I am thinking. He should reconsider. Etc.

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. ^ Crystal, David (1997). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55967-7. 
  4. ^ Diamond, Jared. The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee. p. 143
  5. ^ Polish, An Essential Grammar by Dana Bielec (Routledge, 2007), p. 272
  6. ^ Hook, P.E., and O.N. Koul. (1996). In V.S. Lakshmi and A. Mukherjee, ed. "Word order in Indian languages". Osmania University: Centre of Advanced Study in Linguistics. p. 102. ISBN 81-85194-42-4. 
  7. ^ Order of Genitive and Noun
  8. ^ Donohue, Mark; "Word order in Austronesian from north to south and west to east" in Linguistic Typology 11 (2007); p. 379

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