Word order

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Word order is a part of grammar. It is the part of syntax that has to do with the order words are in a sentence. The word order is often different between languages. For example, in English, people say "I only play tennis sometimes." In German, they would say "Ich spiele nur manchmal Tennis," which if they translate only the words says "I play only sometimes tennis." In Norwegian that same sentence would be "Jeg spiller bare tennis noen ganger", directly translated to "I play only tennis some times" in English. In Portuguese this sentence could be "Eu só jogo tênis algumas vezes"; translating each word to English: "I only play tennis some times". Or even in Portuguese people can change the word order to "Eu jogo tênis só algumas vezes" ("I play tennis only some times"), but they cannot say "Eu jogo só tênis algumas vezes", because this means "I play only tennis sometimes".

Subject, verb and object[change | change source]

In English, a simple sentence with a verb (an action), subject (who or what is doing the action), and an object (whom or what the action is done to) is written in a Subject-Verb-Object word order (SVO). For example, in the sentence "Robert opens the door", Robert is the subject, opens is the verb and door is the object. This word order is only the second-most common word order among all languages, in which 42% are SVO languages.[1] Other examples of SVO languages include Mandarin Chinese, Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Indonesia, Spanish, French, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, and several others. While some of these languages have grammar features that allow them to have different word orders such as SOV and VSO, these languages use SVO for the simplest sentences.

In other languages, sentences like this can be in different orders. For example, in Latin, that sentence could be written "Robert ianuam aperit", literally "Robert the door opens". It could even be written "aperit ianuam Robert", literally "opens the door Robin". Languages that let you choose how to order the words often have a grammatical case system. In that sentence, "ianuam" is the accusative case of ianua (door). Accusative case means that the noun is the object of the sentence. "Robert" is in the nominative case, which means that it is the subject of the sentence. In English, changing the word order to "The door opens Robert" will change the meaning of the sentence. In Latin, however, "Robert ianuam aperit" and "ianuam Robert aperit" mean the same thing because ianuam is in the accusative case, so it is the object and Robert is the subject. Changing the cases of the words, however, to "Robertem ianua aperit" will change the meaning of the sentence - ianua is now in the nominative case so it is the subject and Robert is now the object.

Subject, object and verb[change | change source]

The Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) word order is the one used by the greatest number of distinct languages. The SOV word order is especially common in the theoretical language family known as the Altaic language family, which includes Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, the Turkic languages and many others. In Japanese, for example, a simple sentence is written in a Subject-Object-Verb word order (SOV). In other words, the sentence "Robert opens the door" becomes "Robert the door opens" in these languages. The languages often use postpositions, which act like prepositions except they appear after content words rather than before, to show the role a word has in the sentence. The sample sentence "Robert opens the door" would become ロバートはドアを開ける Robāto-wa doa-o akeru, in which は wa as in ロバートは Robāto-wa shows that ロバート Robāto (Robert) is the topic of the sentence and を o as in ドアを doa-o shows that ドア doa is the direct object of the sentence. Around 45% of all languages are SOV languages.[1]

Verb, subject, and object[change | change source]

The Verb-Subject-Object (VSO) word order is the third most common word order among all languages. There are far fewer VSO languages than SVO and SOV languages, since only 9% are VSO.[1] Language groups where VSO is common include Afroasiatic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic and Celtic languages such as Irish, Welsh and Cornish. In VSO languages, "Robert opens the door" becomes "Opens Robert the door". While Spanish sentences are usually SVO, sentences can often be made into VSO. In Spanish, the sentence "Robert opens the door" can either be written as Roberto abre la puerta (Robert opens the door) or Abre Roberto la puerta (Opens Robert the door).

Other types of word order[change | change source]

Aside from SVO, SOV, and VSO, other kinds of word orders are rather uncommon. The VOS word order makes up at around 3% of all languages, and languages that begin with the object (OVS and OSV) are extremely few at around 1-0% percent each.[1]

References[change | change source]