Subject–verb–object

Word
order
English
equivalent
Proportion
of languages
Example
languages
SOV"She him loves."45%45
 
Proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, Hindi, Ancient Greek, Latin, Japanese, Korean
SVO"She loves him."42%42
 
Cantonese, English, French, Hausa, Italian, Malay, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish
VSO"Loves she him."9%9
 
Biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Irish, Filipino, Tuareg-Berber, Welsh
VOS"Loves him she."3%3
 
Malagasy, Baure, Proto-Austronesian
OVS"Him loves she."1%1
 
Apalaí, Hixkaryana, tlhIngan Hol
OSV"Him she loves."0%Warao
Frequency distribution of word order in languages surveyed by Russell S. Tomlin in 1980s[1][2]
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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 in unmarked sentences (i.e., sentences in which an unusual word order is not used for emphasis). The label is often used for ergative languages that do not have subjects, but have an agent–verb–object order.

SVO is used in the active voice. SVO is 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]

Languages regarded as SVO include: Albanian, Arabic dialects, Assyrian, Bosnian, Chinese, English, Estonian, Finnish (but see below), French, Ganda, Greek, Hausa, Icelandic (with the V2 restriction), Igbo, Italian, Javanese, Kashubian, Khmer, Latvian, Macedonian, Malay (Malaysian and Indonesian), Modern Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, Quiche, Reo Rapa, Romanian, Rotuman, Russian (but see below), Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Thai and Lao, Ukrainian (but see below), Vietnamese, Yoruba and Zulu.

Ancient Greek has free syntactic order, though Classical Greeks tended to favor SOV. Many famous phrases are SVO, however.

Properties

Subject–verb–object languages almost always place relative clauses after the nouns they modify and adverbial subordinators before the clause modified, with varieties of Chinese 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, such as English, have prepositions. 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 like Swedish, Danish, Lithuanian and Latvian have prenominal genitives[5] (as would be expected in an SOV language).

Non-European languages, usually subject–verb–object languages, have a strong tendency to place adjectives, demonstratives and numerals after nouns that they modify, but Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian place numerals before nouns, as in English. Some linguists have come to view the numeral as the head in the E relationship to fit the rigid right-branching of these languages.[6]

There is a strong tendency, as in English, for main verbs to be preceded by auxiliaries: I am thinking. He should reconsider.

Other Languages