From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
of languages
SOV "She him loves." 45% 45
Proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, Hindi, Ancient Greek, Latin, Japanese, Korean
SVO "She loves him." 42% 42
English, French, Hausa, Indonesian, Malay, Mandarin, Russian
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
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, object–subject–verb (OSV) or object–agent–verb (OAV) is a classification of languages, based on whether the structure predominates in pragmatically-neutral expressions. It is occasionslly used in English: "Him I know".

Unmarked word order[edit]

Natural languages[edit]

OSV is rarely used in unmarked sentences, those using a normal word order without emphasis. Most languages that use OSV as their default word order come from the Amazon basin, such as Xavante, Jamamadi, Apurinã, Kayabí and Nadëb.[3] Here is an example from Apurinã:[3]

anana nota apa
pineapple I fetch
I fetch a pineapple

British Sign Language (BSL) normally uses topic–comment structure, but its default word order when topic–comment structure is not used is OSV.

Fictitious languages[edit]

Star Wars franchise creator George Lucas attributed to his fictional character Yoda a native language featuring OSV order, as reflected in the character's instinctive application of the OSV template to Galactic Basic vocabulary in generating statements such as "Your father he is, but defeat him you must."

Marked word order[edit]

Various languages allow OSV word order but only in marked sentences, those that emphasise part or all of the sentence.

American Sign Language[edit]

American Sign Language uses topics to set up referent loci.

ASL has a specific word order that changes, depending on the intended focus of the sentence or the context of the utterance. OSV is used most frequently when describing a scene or event, or when depicting verbs, it may also emphasise the importance of the object in question. SVO is also used, usually for direct, brief, or non-descriptive utterances.


Arabic also allows OSV in marked sentences:

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينَ.
Iyyāka naʿbudu wa-iyyāka nastaʿīn
You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help.

English and German[edit]

In English and German, OSV appears primarily in relative clauses if the relative pronoun is the (direct or indirect) object: "What I do is my own business" and "Was ich mache, ist meine Angelegenheit."

In English, OSV appears in the future tense or as a contrast with the conjunction but: "Rome I shall see!" and "I hate oranges but apples I'll eat!"


In Modern Hebrew, OSV is often used instead of the normal SVO to emphasise the subject: while אני אוהב אותה would mean "I love her", "אותה אני אוהב" would mean "It is she whom I love".[4]


In Hungarian, OSV emphasises the subject:

A szócikket én szerkesztettem = The article/I/edited (It was I, not somebody else, who edited the article).

Korean and Japanese[edit]

Korean and Japanese have SOV by default, but word order is relatively free if the verb is at the end, and OSV is common if the object is topicalised.

Sentence 그 사과었어요.
Words 사과 어요
Romanization geu sagwa neun je ga meog eoss eoyo.
Gloss the/that apple (topicalization marker) I (polite) (sub. marker) eat (past) (polite)
Parts Object Subject Verb
Translation It is I who ate that apple. (or) As for the apple, I ate it.


OSV is one of two permissible word orders in Malayalam, the other being SOV.


OSV emphasises the object in Nahuatl.[5]

Cah cihuah in niquintlazohtla
(indicative marker) women (topicalization marker) I-them-love
women I love them
It is the women whom I love.


OSV is used in Turkish to emphasise the subject:

Yemeği ben pişirdim = The meal/I/cooked (It was I, not somebody else, who cooked the meal).


OSV can be used in Yiddish to emphasize the distinctive properties of the object, that has influenced Yinglish in places like New York City, whose regional English was affected by Yiddish-speaking immigrants around the early 20th century, according to Leo Rosten. For example, in the sentence "Sure, him she loves," the emphasis, as it would be expressed in Yiddish, has been carried over into English.[6]

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. ^ a b O'Grady, W. et al Contemporary Linguistics (3rd edition, 1996) ISBN 0-582-24691-1
  4. ^ Friedmann, Naama; Shapiro, Lewis (April 2003). "Agrammatic comprehension of simple active sentence with moved constituents: Hebrew OSV and OVS structures". Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 46: 288–97. 
  5. ^ Introduction to Classical Nahuatl[vague]
  6. ^ Template:Author = Leo Rosten