Word order

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The word order (also sentence order , topology , sentence structure , word order ) is the arrangement of the words or sentence parts within a sentence , in particular that of subject , object and finite verb form (part of the predicate ). This arrangement is determined by the grammatical rules of a single language , with most languages ​​also providing rules according to which a basic order can be modified. Word order rules are mostly related to grammatical functions(such as subject, object), but in detail they can also be based purely on grammatical features (such as case ), on importance factors (such as semantic roles ) or often also on the information structure (known vs. new information, topic-rhema structure ) .

Classification of languages

The clauses subject (S), object (O) and finite verb form (V) can be regarded as main constituents for the purpose of syntactic typology , and one can then determine what their usual order is in a simple propositional sentence consisting only of these three Components. Example: "Peter (S) writes (V) novels (O)." The position of these three components is also called the base word position. The basic word order in German would therefore be SVO if one takes as a criterion which is the most frequent order in sentences with subject, object and one (1) verb (if one takes the structural description as the criterion, on the other hand, one classifies German as a language with a verb second position ).

Languages can now be divided typologically according to which basic word order predominates in them. According to the rules of combinatorics, there are a total of six different options for the position of three components, which are illustrated in the following by examples. Variants in which the subject stands in front of the object are more numerous in natural languages, but as can be seen from the respective languages ​​indicated, all possibilities occur.

Word order Example sentence Sample languages
Subject - Verb - Object (SVO) "Peter writes novels." English , French , Spanish , Swahili
Subject - Object - Verb (SOV) "Peter writes novels." Japanese , Korean , Turkish , Persian , Basque , Kurmanji
Object - Verb - Subject (OVS) "Peter writes novels." Hixkaryána , Apalai , Bacairi
Object - Subject - Verb (OSV) "Novels Peter writes." Xavante
Verb - Subject - Object (VSO) "Peter writes novels." Island Celtic Languages , Hawaiian , Classical Arabic
Verb - Object - Subject (VOS) "Writes novels Peter." Fiji , Malagasy

It should be noted that the example languages ​​given are only languages ​​with this word order as the "basic word order", so other word orders may also be possible. OVS is also possible in German (“Romane writes Peter”), but not quite as typical. In a similar way, the word order OSV ("Romane Peter Writes", English novels Peter writes ) can be used in English to emphasize the object , but there it is even more untypical than the OVS position in German.


Word order in linguistics

This version of the word order typology founded by Joseph Greenberg is problematic in many respects. The following reasons are given for this:

  • In some languages, grammatical function carriers such as subject, verb or object are difficult to identify or can possibly be omitted (e.g. in pro-drop languages ).
  • In some languages, possible word order patterns depend on the type of function holder; z. In Haida, for example, the basic word order depends on semantic properties of the verbal arguments, such as liveliness.
  • The basic word order defined in this way is not necessarily the fundamental one for the grammar of a language. In German , the criteria used in this typology result in SVO as the basic word order, but the systematically underlying position for the grammar is SOV.
  • There are languages ​​that allow a largely free word order without it being possible to say what the basic word order is (e.g. Vedic and the Australian language Walpiri .)

The basic word order in the generative grammar theory according to Chomsky , which began with generative transformation grammar, is of certain importance . Therein, it is assumed that each set generated in a basic word order ( base generate ) is and by operations such as transformation or movement ( move α in minimalist theories is placed) in a form that its superficial realization corresponds. This is actually the aforementioned main constituent position, which is fundamental for grammar and which is determined by the derivability of the positions actually occurring in various constructions, while the S / V / O basic word order type is often determined according to the frequency of the respective surface sequence.


  • David Crystal: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.
  • Werner Abraham: Word order in German. In: Ludger Hoffmann (Ed.): Deutsche Syntax. Views and prospects. de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 1992, ISBN 3-11-013706-2 , pp. 484-522 ( Institute for German Language, Yearbook 1991).
  • Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon Language. 2nd revised and expanded edition. Metzler, Weimar 2000, ISBN 3-476-01519-X .
  • Harald Haarmann : Elementary word order in the languages ​​of the world. Documentation and analysis of the development of word order patterns. Buske, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-87548-372-3 .
  • Jaromir Zeman: The German word order. Edition Praesens, Vienna 2002 (= study books. Volume 3).

Web links

Wiktionary: word order  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Christian Lehmann: Word order , introductory presentation from the online course Morphology and Syntax

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Joseph H. Greenberg: Some universals of grammar with particular reference to the order of meaningful elements. In: Joseph H. Greenberg (Ed.): Universals of language. Report of a conference held at Dobbs Ferry, New York, April 13-15, 1961. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 58-90.
  2. ^ Jill Brody: Some problems with the concept of basic word order. Linguistics 22 (5), 1984, pp. 711-736 doi : 10.1515 / ling.1984.22.5.711 .
  3. ^ John Enrico: Word Order, Focus, and Topic in Haida. International Journal of American Linguistics 52 (2), 1986, pp. 91-123.
  4. Jürgen Lenerz: On the sequence of nominal clauses in German. Narr, Tübingen 1977, ISBN 978-3-87808-805-9 .
  5. Ken Hale: Warlpiri and the grammar of non-configurational languages. Natural language and Linguistic Theory 1 (1), 1983, pp. 5-47, doi : 10.1007 / BF00210374
  6. ^ Noam Chomsky: The Minimalist Program. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1995, ISBN 978-0-262-53128-3 .