Word order

In linguistics, word order typology is the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic sub-domains are also of interest. The primary word orders that are of interest are the constituent order of a clause – the relative order of subject, object, and verb; the order of modifiers (adjectives, numerals, demonstratives, possessives, and adjuncts) in a noun phrase; and the order of adverbials.

Some languages use relatively restrictive word order, often relying on the order of constituents to convey important grammatical information. Others—often those that convey grammatical information through inflection—allow more flexibility, which can be used to encode pragmatic information such as topicalisation or focus. Most languages, however, have a preferred word order,[1] and other word orders, if used, are considered "marked".[2]

Most nominative–accusative languages—which have a major word class of nouns and clauses that include subject and object—define constituent word order in terms of the finite verb (V) and its arguments, the subject (S), and object (O).[3][4][5][6]

There are six theoretically possible basic word orders for the transitive sentence. The overwhelming majority of the world's languages are either subject–verb–object (SVO) or subject–object–verb (SOV), with a much smaller but still significant portion using verb–subject–object (VSO) word order. The remaining three arrangements are exceptionally rare, with verb–object–subject (VOS) being slightly more common than object–subject–verb (OSV), and object–verb–subject (OVS) being significantly more rare than the two preceding orders.[7]

(SVO)
(SOV)
(VSO)
(VOS)
(OSV)
(OVS)

Constituent word orders

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[8][9]
()

These are all possible word orders for the subject, verb, and object in the order of most common to rarest (the examples use "she" as the subject, "ate" as the verb, and "bread" as the object):

Sometimes patterns are more complex: German, Dutch, Afrikaans and Frisian have SOV in subordinates, but V2 word order in main clauses, SVO word order being the most common. Using the guidelines above, the unmarked word order is then SVO.

Many synthetic languages such as Latin, Greek, Persian, Romanian, Assyrian, Russian, Turkish, Korean, Japanese, Finnish, and Basque have no strict word order; rather, the sentence structure is highly flexible and reflects the pragmatics of the utterance.

Topic-prominent languages organize sentences to emphasize their topic–comment structure. Nonetheless, there is often a preferred order; in Latin and Turkish, SOV is the most frequent outside of poetry, and in Finnish SVO is both the most frequent and obligatory when case marking fails to disambiguate argument roles. Just as languages may have different word orders in different contexts, so may they have both fixed and free word orders. For example, Russian has a relatively fixed SVO word order in transitive clauses, but a much freer SV / VS order in intransitive clauses.[citation needed] Cases like this can be addressed by encoding transitive and intransitive clauses separately, with the symbol 'S' being restricted to the argument of an intransitive clause, and 'A' for the actor/agent of a transitive clause. ('O' for object may be replaced with 'P' for 'patient' as well.) Thus, Russian is fixed AVO but flexible SV/VS. In such an approach, the description of word order extends more easily to languages that do not meet the criteria in the preceding section. For example, Mayan languages have been described with the rather uncommon VOS word order. However, they are ergative–absolutive languages, and the more specific word order is intransitive VS, transitive VOA, where S and O arguments both trigger the same type of agreement on the verb. Indeed, many languages that some thought had a VOS word order turn out to be ergative like Mayan.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Woordorde
Boarisch: Wortstejung
čeština: Slovosled
Deutsch: Wortstellung
eesti: Sõnajärg
Esperanto: Vortordo
français: Ordre des mots
한국어: 어순
Bahasa Indonesia: Urutan kata
magyar: Szórend
македонски: Збороред
Bahasa Melayu: Urutan kata
Nederlands: Woordvolgorde
日本語: 語順
norsk nynorsk: Ordstilling
română: Topică
Simple English: Word order
slovenčina: Slovosled
српски / srpski: Ред речи
文言: 語序
吴语: 语序
中文: 語序