Language in which the subject, object, and verb of a sentence appear or usually appear in SOV order

In linguistic typology, a subject–object–verb (SOV) language is one in which the subject, object, and verb of a sentence always or usually appear in that order. If English were SOV, "Sam oranges ate" would be an ordinary sentence, as opposed to the actual Standard English "Sam ate oranges" which is subject–verb–object (SVO).

The term is often loosely used for ergative languages like Adyghe and Basque that really have agents instead of subjects.

Among natural languages with a word order preference, SOV is the most common type (followed by subject–verb–object; the two types account for more than 75% of natural languages with a preferred order).[3]

Languages that have SOV structure include all Indo-Iranian languages (Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Nepali, Pāli, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Urdu, Zazaki), Ainu, Akkadian, Amharic, Armenian, Assyrian, Aymara, Basque, Burmese, Burushaski, Cherokee, Dakota, Dogon languages, Elamite, Ancient Greek, Hajong, Hittite, Hopi, Ijoid languages, Itelmen, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish, Classical Latin, Lakota, Manchu, Mande languages, Meeteilon, Mongolian, Navajo, Newari, Nivkh, Nobiin, Omaha, Quechua, Senufo languages, Seri, Sicilian, Sunuwar, Somali and virtually all other Cushitic languages, Sumerian, Tibetan and nearly all other Tibeto-Burman languages, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and all other Dravidian languages, Tigrinya, Turkic languages, almost all Uto-Aztecan languages, Yukaghir, Zazaki and virtually all Caucasian languages.

Standard Mandarin is generally SVO but common constructions with verbal complements require SOV or OSV. Some Romance languages are SVO, but when the object is an enclitic pronoun, word order allows for SOV (see the examples below). German and Dutch are considered SVO in conventional typology and SOV in generative grammar. They can be considered SOV but with V2 word order as an overriding rule for the finite verb in main clauses, which results in SVO in some cases and SOV in others. For example, in German, a basic sentence such as "Ich sage etwas über Karl" ("I say something about Karl") is in SVO word order. Non-finite verbs are placed at the end, however, since V2 only applies to the finite verb: "Ich will etwas über Karl sagen" ("I want to say something about Karl"). In a subordinate clause, the finite verb is not affected by V2, and also appears at the end of the sentence, resulting in full SOV order: "Ich sage, dass Karl einen Gürtel gekauft hat." (Word-for-word: "I say that Karl a belt bought has.")

A rare example of SOV word order in English is "I (subject) thee (object) wed (verb)" in the wedding vow "With this ring, I thee wed."[4]

SOV languages have a strong tendency to use postpositions rather than prepositions, to place auxiliary verbs after the action verb, to place genitive noun phrases before the possessed noun, to place a name before a title or honorific ("James Uncle" and "Johnson Doctor" rather than "Uncle James" and "Doctor Johnson") and to have subordinators appear at the end of subordinate clauses. They have a weaker but significant tendency to place demonstrative adjectives before the nouns they modify. Relative clauses preceding the nouns to which they refer usually signals SOV word order, but the reverse does not hold: SOV languages feature prenominal and postnominal relative clauses roughly equally. SOV languages also seem to exhibit a tendency towards using a time–manner–place ordering of adpositional phrases.

In linguistic typology, one can usefully distinguish two types of SOV languages in terms of their type of marking:

In practice, of course, the distinction between these two types is far from sharp. Many SOV languages are substantially double-marking and tend to exhibit properties intermediate between the two idealised types above.

Many languages that have shifted to SVO word order from earlier SOV retain (at least to an extent) the properties: for example, the Finnish language (high usage of postpositions etc.)

Basque in short sentences, usually, subject or agent–object–verb; in long sentences, usually, subject or agent-verb-objects):

Generally, Chinese varieties all feature SVO word order. However, especially in Standard Mandarin, SOV is tolerated as well. There is even a special structure to form an SOV sentence.[citation needed]

SOV structure is also widely used in railway contact in order to clarify the objective of the order.[5]

The following example that uses 把 is controversially labelled as SOV. 把 may be interpreted as a verb, meaning "to hold". However, it does not mean to hold something literally or physically. Rather, the object is held mentally, and then another verb is acted on the object.[citation needed]

Dutch is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (i.e. inflected) verb is moved to the second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, non-finite verbs (participles, infinitives) and compound verbs follow this pattern:

The French language usually uses a subject–verb–object structure but places proclitics before the verb when using most pronouns, which is sometimes mistaken for SOV word order.

The Georgian language isn't extremely rigid with regards to word order, but is typically either SOV or SVO.

German is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (i.e. inflected) verb is moved to the second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, compound verbs follow this pattern:

The word order changes also depending on whether the phrase is a main clause or a dependent clause. In dependent clauses, the word order is always entirely SOV (cf. also Inversion):

're is pronounced as the 'i' in 'girl' and 'ei' is pronounced as the 'ay' in 'say'.

is a particle that indicates the accusative case and 'sei' indicates past tense declarative. Here, 'e

Hungarian word order is free, although the meaning slightly changes. Almost all permutations of the following sample are valid, but with stress on different parts of the meaning.

The Italian language usually uses a subject–verb–object structure, but when an enclitic pronoun is used, this comes before the verb and the auxiliary.

The basic principle in Japanese word order is that modifiers come before what they modify. For example, in the sentence "こんな夢を見た,"[6] the direct object "こんな" (this sort of dream) modifies the verb "見た" (saw, or in this case had). Beyond this, the order of the elements in a sentence is relatively free. However, because the topic/subject is typically found in sentence-initial position and the verb is typically in sentence-final position, Japanese is considered an SOV language.[7]

A closely-related quality of the language is that it is broadly head-final.[9]

Like German and Dutch, the Indo-Aryan language Kashmiri is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (i.e. inflected) part of the verb appears in second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, whereas auxiliated verbs are discontinuous and adhere to this pattern:

Given that Kashmiri is a V2 language, if the word tsũũţh 'apple' comes first then the subject kuur 'girl' must follow the auxiliary chhi 'is': tsũũţh chhi kuur khyevaan [Lit. "Apples is girl eating."]

Also, the word order changes depending on whether the phrase is in a main clause or in certain kinds of dependent clause. For instance, in relative clauses, the word order is SOVAux:

'가 (Ga)/이 (i)' is a particle that indicates the subject. '를 (Reul)/을 (eul)' is a particle that indicates the object. The consonant 'ㄹ (l)' in the verb stem (열-) is dropped before the suffix.

※ Here, '나 (na, I (pronoun))' is changed to '내 (nae)' before '가 (ga)'.

Classical Latin was an inflected language and had a very flexible word order and sentence structure, but the most usual word order in formal prose was SOV.

Again, there are multiple valid translations (such as "a slave") that do not affect the overall analysis.

Punjabi is very flexible in word order and is written in two writing systems, Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi , the second of which is written from right-to-left.

Quechuan languages have standard SOV word order. The following example is from Bolivian Quechua.

Russian, similar to most other Slavic languages, is an inflected language and thus is very flexible in word combinations. It is generally considered an SVO language; however, sentences in SOV word order are not incorrect.

Sanskrit, like its predecessor, Vedic, is an inflected language and very flexible in word order; it allows all possible word combinations. However, it is generally considered a SOV language.

Somali generally uses the subject–object–verb structure when speaking formally.

The Spanish language usually uses a subject–verb–object structure, but when an enclitic pronoun is used, this comes before the verb and the auxiliary. Sometimes, in dual-verb constructions involving the infinitive and the gerund, the enclitic pronoun can be put before both verbs, or attached to the end of the second verb.

Tamil being a strongly head-final language, the basic word-order is SOV. However, since it is highly inflected, word order is flexible and is used for pragmatic purposes. That is, fronting a word in a sentence adds emphasis on it; for instance, a VSO order would indicate greater emphasis on the verb, the action, than on the subject or the object. However, such word-orders are highly marked, and the basic order remains SOV.

Like all other Turkic languages, Turkish has flexibility in word order, so any order is possible. For example, in addition to the SOV order above, this sentence could also be constructed as OSV (Elmayı Yusuf yedi.), OVS (Elmayı yedi Yusuf.), VSO (Yedi Yusuf elmayı.), VOS (Yedi elmayı Yusuf.), or SVO (Yusuf yedi elmayı.), but these other orders carry a connotation of emphasis of importance on either the subject, object, or the verb. The SOV order is the "default" one that does not connote particular emphasis on any part of the sentence.

The marker "ga" is a dative case marker for the object that precedes it. Due to flexibility in word order in Uzbek, it is possible to transform the sentence into OSV as well ("Xivaga Anvar ketdi" / "It was Anvar who went to Khiva").

The Zazaki language usually uses a subject–object-verb structure,[10] but it sometimes uses subject-verb-object too.