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Title: Verb–agent–object  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Subject–verb–object
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Template:Language word order frequency

In linguistic typology, a verb–subject–object (VSO) language is one in which the most typical sentences arrange their elements in that order, as in Ate Sam oranges (Sam ate oranges). VSO is the third-most common word order, after SVO (as in Standard Average European) and SOV (as in Latin and Japanese).

Examples of languages with VSO word order include Semitic languages (including Arabic, Classical Hebrew, and Ge'ez (Classical Ethiopic) (dead language)), and Celtic languages (including Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, and Breton).

Other families where all or many of languages are VSO include the following

Both the Spanish and Greek language resemble Semitic languages such as Arabic in allowing for both VSO and SVO structures: e.g. "Jesús vino el jueves" / Vino Jesús el jueves, "Tu madre dice que no vayas"/"dice tu madre que no vayas". In Spanish, the only restriction on the VSO form is for the object to require a definite or indefinite article in the sentence.


Formal Arabic is an example of a language that uses VSO. For example:

Sentence يقرأ المدرس الكتاب
Transliteration yaqraʼu l-mudarrisu l-kitāba
Gloss reads the teacher the book
Parts Verb Subject Object
Translation The teacher reads the book

^* Words are in reverse order as Arabic is written right-to-left

Another Semitic language, Biblical Hebrew, uses VSO, as seen here, in Exodus 33:1 and many other places in the Tanakh.

Sentence ...וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה
Words * אֶל-מֹשֶׁה יְהוָה וַיְדַבֵּר
Romanization of Hebrew Vayidaber YHWH el-Moshe...
Gloss spoke YHWH to Moses
Parts verb subject object
Translation And YHWH spoke to Moses...

^* Words in Hebrew, as in Arabic, are written from right to left.

In Welsh, some tenses use simple verbs, which are found at the beginning of the sentence followed by the subject and any objects. An example of this is the preterite:

Sentence Siaradodd Aled y Gymraeg.
Words Siaradodd Aled y Gymraeg
Gloss spoke Aled DEF Welsh
Parts Verb Subject Object
Translation Aled spoke Welsh.

Other tenses may use compound verbs, where the conjugated form of, usually, bod (to be) precedes the subject and other verb-nouns come after the subject. Any objects then follow the final verb-noun. This is the usual method of forming the present tense:

Sentence Mae Aled yn siarad y Gymraeg.
Words Mae Aled yn siarad y Gymraeg
Gloss is Aled V-N.speak DEF Welsh
Parts Aux. Verb Subject Verb-Noun Object
Translation Aled speaks Welsh.

Inversion into VSO

There are many languages that switch from SVO (subject–verb–object) order to VSO order with different constructions, usually for emphasis. For example, sentences in English poetry can sometimes be found to have a VSO order; Arabic sentences use an SVO order or a VSO order depending on whether the subject or the verb is more important. Also, Arabic sentences use a VOS order, the construction of the word changing depending on whether it is a subject or an object.

Non-VSO languages that use VSO word order in questions include English and many other Germanic languages, French, Finnish, Maká, Emilian, and Spanish (but not always).

Swedish, Danish and Norwegian invert word order to VSO in questions as well, (ex: Spiste du maten? - Ate you the food?) but there are also many circumstances, such as an expression preceding the subject and verb, and when using the preterite form of a verb (ex: Igår leste (V) jeg (S) boka (O) - Yesterday read I the book), where the order is also VSO.

See also

Notes and references

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