In linguistic typology, a verbobjectsubject or verb–object–agent language – commonly abbreviated VOS or VOA – is one in which the most-typical sentences arrange their elements in that order which would (in English) equate to something like "Ate oranges Sam." VOS is the fourth-most common word order among the world's languages, after SOV (as in Hindi and Japanese), SVO (as in English and Mandarin) and VSO (as in Filipino and Irish). However, it only accounts for 3% of the world's languages. Families where all or many of the languages are VOS include the following:


of languages
SOV "She him loves." 45% 45
Ancient Greek, Bengali, Hindi, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Latin, Malayalam, Persian, Sanskrit, Urdu
SVO "She loves him." 42% 42
Chinese, English, French, German, Hausa, Hungarian, Italian, Malay, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese
VSO "Loves she him." 9% 9
Biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Irish, Filipino, Tuareg-Berber, Welsh
VOS "Loves him she." 3% 3
Malagasy, Baure, Car
OVS "Him loves she." 1% 1
Apalaí, Hixkaryana, Klingon
OSV "Him she loves." 0% Warao
Frequency distribution of word order in languages surveyed by Russell S. Tomlin in 1980s[1][2]


VOS word order is fourth most common among the world's languages,[2] and is considered to have verb-initial word order, like VSO. Very few languages have a fixed VOS word order, most primarily coming from Austronesian and Mayan language families.[3] Many verb-initial languages exhibit flexible word order (such as St’át’imcets, Chamorro, and Tongan), alternating between VOS and VSO.[4] VOS and VSO word orders are usually classified as verb-initial because they share many similar properties, such as the absence of the verb "have" and predicate-initial grammar.

Though not as universal, many verb-initial languages also have ergative clauses. For instance, most Mayan languages have an ergative-absolutive system of verb agreement and most Austronesian languages have an ergative-absolutive system of case marking.[3]

Generative analysis


There is ongoing debate in generative linguistics as to how VOS clauses are derived, however there is significant evidence for verb-phrase-raising. Kayne's theory of antisymmetry suggests that VOS clauses are derived from SVO structure via leftward movement of a VP constituent that contains a verb and object.[3] The Principles and Parameters theory sets VOS and SVO clause structure as syntactically identical, but the theory does not account for why SVO is typologically more common than VOS structure. According to the Principles and Parameters theory, the difference between SVO and VOS clauses lies in the direction in which parameters are set for projection of a T category's specifier. When the parameter is to the right of T(ense)'s specifier, VOS is realized, and when it is to the left, SVO is realized.[3]

The motivation for movement from SVO to VOS structure is still undetermined, as some languages show inconsistencies with SVO underlying structure and an absence of VP-raising (such as Chamorro and Tzotzil).[3] In verb-initial languages, the extended projection principle causes overt specifier movement due to either strong tense [T], verb [V], or predicate [Pred] features.[3]

Chung proposes a syntactic profile for verb-initial languages that are derived through VP-raising:[3]

  1. VP coordination is allowed.
  2. The subject and other constituents outside of the verb phrase can be extracted.
  3. The subject has narrow scope over sentential elements.

While it is possible that VOS structure is derived from SVO, others suggested that verb-initial languages (V1 languages) are

Subject-Only Restriction

The Subject-Only Restriction (SOR) exists in most if not all Austronesian languages, and it follows from the VP-Raising account of VOS order.[5]

In a given clause, only one argument such as the external arguments, the subjects (or the sentence's most prominent argument) are attainable for "extraction" to undergo movements, which includes any A bar movements such as wh-movement, topicalization, relativization.[6] No other arguments, such as the internal arguments or VP adjuncts, are eligible to such movement. Since SOR restricts any internal arguments and VP adjuncts from undergoing any movements, these VP-internal or low adjuncts are not qualified to behave like they are stranded by VP-Raising.[5] As a result, VOS orders are retained in these languages.

Examples in Seediq:[7]

VP-external constituents are the only accessible constituents when structures require movements (e.g. relative clauses or topicalization). In other words, structures requiring movements can only access constituents that are external to VP; any movements regarding the VP-internal or adjuncts constituents fails to satisfy the Subject-Only Restriction.[5]

Sentence M-n-ari inu patis Ape
Gloss buy where book Ape
Parts V O S
Translation Where did Ape buy books?
Sentence *Inu m-n-ari patis Ape
Gloss where buy book Ape
Parts V O S
Translation *Where did Ape buy books?

Since movements with respect to internal arguments and VP adjuncts are not allowed in Seediq, and that only VP-external movement is possible (unless the predicate undergo a change in voice morphology),[5] only a VOS order is grammatical.

VP-Remnant Raising

Remnant raising and clause-final adjuncts

VP-raising accounts for the language Toba Batak is proposed by Cole and Herman. However, prior to the VP moving to its final position, they argue that adverbs and prepositions move out of the VP. When there are adjuncts present, VP-raising is considered as a type of remnant movement.[5]

In contrast to Cole and Herman's prediction, Massam's proposal states that indirect objects and obliques generated higher than the VP will have grammatical subextraction, but not if they move outside of the VP.

Remnant Raising and VSO

If the object evacuates the VP before the VP moves into a higher position within the clause, it will derive VSO order instead of VOS. Massam looks at the difference between VP-raising accounts of VOS versus VSO by investigating the Niuean language.[5] Massam argues that whether a NP object or a DP is selected by the verb will determine if there is VP or VP-remnant raising. In order to get the structure of a VOS clause, an NP object is selected by the verb; the selected NP does not need case so it will stay in the VP. Consequently, the object is pseudo-incorporated into the verb in the VOS clause. If a DP object is selected by the verb, VP-remnant movement occurs and creates VSO order.

These two possibilities are shown in the tables below:[5]

Niuean VSO
Sentence Kua kai e mautolu e ika mo e talo he mogonei
Gloss PERF eat ERG 2PL.EX ABS fish COMPTV ABS taro LOC now
Parts Verb Subject Object
Translation We are eating fish and taro right now.
Niuean VOS
Sentence Kua kai ika mo e talo a mautolu he mogonei
Gloss PERF eat fish COMOPTV ABS taro ABS 2PL.EX LOC now
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation We are eating fish and taro right now.

VP-raising and VSO/VOS alternations

For languages where alternations between VOS and VSO are more difficult to characterize, there are other factors that help distinguish the word order. Unlike Niuean where objects are case marked in VSO and not in VOS, Kroeger proposes that factors such as thematic role and grammatical functions help characterize word order in the example of Tagalog.[5] In reference to the verb, the argument with the highest thematic role should be the closest to it and the highest grammatical function should be the farthest. For specifically active voice clauses, the competition between the two situations helps to explain the variation of word order in Tagalog. Since there is no conflict in non-active clauses, there is less variation in word order.

Flexible Linearization (FL) Approach

Bury proposed that any phrase containing a subject and a constituent with a verb and an object can be linearized with the subject, either to the left or to the right of the verb-object constituent.[4] This is called the Flexible Linearization (FL) approach, and with the combination of verb movement, it can account for most if not all VOS and VSO derivations. Under such assumption, word orders in languages surface as VOS because they may have been linearized with the subject, in this case to the right of the verb-object constituent.

FL approach differs from most other analyses such that it does not assume whether VOS or VSO has a more basic, rigid structure in the language, and that the other one is derived from a special rule.[4] In the FL approach, it emphasizes less on syntax and word orders, and assumes that both VOS and VSO can occur underlyingly in different languages. Thus, alternation between VOS and VSO is expected in verb-initial languages, unless the position of the subject or object has some grammatical role.[4]


Structure (not linearized): [ H [S [V O]] ] (where H stands for a head) can be pronounced as H + V S O, conventionally.[4]

Under the FL approach however, this structure can be pronounced as H + V O S,[4] as this phrase is said to be linearized with the subject to the right of the verb-object constituent. Consequently, we see a VOS order.

While both pronunciations are linearizations of the same structure, unless there are independent constraints on word order in a given language, both VSO and VOS orders are attainable in the same language.[4]

Scrambling VSO

Scrambling in languages following a VSO order allows the derivation of VOS word order. A primary example of this would be from the Tongan language:[8]

Tongan VSO

Sentence Na’e tamate’i ‘e T ̄evita ‘a K ̄olaiate.
Gloss PST kill.TR ERG David ABS Goliath
Parts V-transitive Subject Object
Translation "David killed Goliath."

Tongan VOS

Sentence Na'e tamate’i 'a K ̄olaiate ‘e T ̄evita
Gloss PST kill.TR ABS Goliath ERG David
Parts V-transitive Object Subject
Translation ‘David killed Goliath.’

The 2 sentences above in translation share the same meaning. However, the possibility of scrambling allows Tongan to scramble from its initial VSO state to a VOS form.[9]

Right Branching

Right branching occurs in VOS word orders when the initial language has a subject that acts as a right branching specifier. This means that the specifier becomes the sister of the V' located to the right. One of the forms of right branching in VOS is parameterized right branching. Parameterized right branching moves the subject out of the right branching VP domain, and into a left branching position. This is found in the language of Tz'utujil, where right branching occurs when the specifier begins with a lexical category, but left branching occurs when the specifier begins with a functional category.[5] The 2 tables below will provide these examples:

VOS Right Branching:

Sentence X-∅-kee-tij tzyaq ch’ooyaa’.
Gloss com-3sg.abs-3pl.erg-eat clothes rats
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation Rats ate the clothes

In this sentence, we see that the word order is Verb object subject. In a tree however, "rats," would appear as the sister to the V'. The V' would then branch out into the VP (eat), and the object (clothes). This is what would be referred to as right branching.

VOS Left Branching (SVO)

Sentence Ja ch’ooyaa’. X-∅-kee-tij tzyaq
Gloss DEF rats com-3sg.abs-3pl.erg-eat clothes
Parts Subject Verb Object
Translation The rats ate clothes

In this sentence, we see the word order changes from VOS to SVO, due to left branching instead of right branching. As previously mentioned, one of the rules of Tz'utujil is if the specifier begins with a functional category, it will be left branched. This means that the specifier will be placed as the sister to the left of V', and V' will branch as normally.


Zubizarreta (1998) proposes p-movement as an analysis of certain movement operations in Spanish. Firstly, the VOS order is not a basic order, but instead derived from VSO or SVO by preposing the object. VOS order is only allowed in contexts that indicate that the subject is focused. This movement is triggered when the subject needs to be focused, thus, it is not a feature driven movement but instead a prosodically motivated movement, hence, the name p-movement.[10]

p-movement is also a strictly local process. Zubizaretta claims that the stress on the subject is neutral, it is the Nuclear Stress Rule (NSR) rather than her proposed additional focal stress rule that assigns stress to the subject in VOS structures. A characteristic in property of NSR is that it allows for focus projection, thus expected that wide focal interpretations are available in VOS structures, just as it is in VSO and SVO orders.

Thus, it can be understood that this fronting of the object was motivated through allowing the subject to be positioned where nuclear stress falls.


VOS occurs in many languages, including Austronesian languages (such as Malagasy, Old Javanese, Toba Batak, Dusun and Fijian), Mayan languages (such as Kaqchikel and Tzotzil) and even Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, as it has a very free word order with inversions.

In Hadza, the default order is VSO, but VOS is very common as well.[11] This is also the case for some Salishan languages.

In Arabic, while the typical order is VSO, it is possible to follow VOS as an option. There are also cases where it is mandatory to follow VOS.[12]

Arabic (special cases)

Arabic is a language that follows an SVO order primarily. However, there are occurrences of VSO orders, resulting in the derivations of VOS word order. VOS word orders occur in the environment in which subject adjunction occurs. The first table will illustrate the SVO form of the sentence, the second table will illustrate a VSO form, and the third table will illustrate the SVO form:

الدرس قرأ المعلم Sentence
Ad-darsa Qara-a Al-muallimu Romanization
Def-Lesson PST-eat-3sg Def-Teacher Gloss
Object Verb Subject Parts
The teacher read the lesson Translation

VSO form:

الدرس المعلم قرأ Sentence
Ad-darsa Al-muallimu Qar-a Romanization
Def-Lesson Def-Teacher PST-eat-3sg Gloss
Object Subject Verb Parts
The teacher read the lesson Translation

VOS form:

المعلم الدرس قرأ Sentence
Al-muallimu Ad-darsa Qar-a Romanization
Def-Teacher Def-Lesson PST-eat-3sg Gloss
Subject Object Verb Parts
The teacher read the lesson Translation

The first table is meant to give a basic understanding of the general form of sentences in the language of Arabic.

The second table displays a VSO sentence, where the verb appears at the beginning of the sentence, and is proceeded by the subject then object. This form of sentence is produced by moving the verb to the empty CP which is the sister of the IP. This results in the production from SVO, to VOS. The subject (the teacher) receives a nominative case, and the object (the lesson) receives an accusative case.

The third table displays a VOS sentence. At first glance, this process seems very similar to the VSO word order, but the reality is that it is rather different. Rather than the V moving forward, the S actually moves from the beginning position of SVO, to the end position being VOS. This is due to a process known as subject adjunction: an environment where the subject doesn't need to be mentioned. An example of subject adjunction would be as follows:

Context: *The teacher has taught a class and read a specific lesson. The 2 speakers are wary that either a male or female teacher read a specific lesson.

Question: "Who read the lesson?

Response: He read the lesson/The teacher read the lesson

Based on the context provided, the 2 speakers are wary of a specific lesson taking place, and referred to a set of entities being a male and female teacher. In order to differentiate between the 2 entities, the usage of an anaphoric expression matching in gender results in the capability to differentiate between the two. One of the qualities of verbal morphology in Arabic is the immediate integration of gender and plurality in the verb. As a result, the subject no longer needs to be mentioned since there is an anaphor attached to the verb. Since the subject has been moved to the end of the sentence, the property of EPP needs to be fulfilled due to there being no specifier. So, the specifier of the infectional phrase is PRO. The subject (the teacher) receives a nominal case, and the object (the lesson) receives an accusative case.[13]


Baure is an Arawakan language that also follows the verb-initial word order. One of the primary features of Baure is the importance in agreement of phi features. The example below illustrates not just the verb-object-subject order, but also the affixes for each verb.[14]

Sentence Pi-am-ri wapoeri-ye pi=kowyo-čo ti monči
Gloss 2SG = take = 3SG.F river-LOC 2SG=bath-APPL dem1.F child
Parts V-transitive Object V-transitive Subject
Translation Take her to the river and bathe the child.

The sentence above displays a transitive verb having markers indicating agreement in phi features for subject and object. The analysis of each affix is as follows:

  1. Pi (1): The "Pi" refers to the person being talked to in 2nd person singular, indicating that the sentence involves direct conversation. One may assume that the person being identified is "you."
  2. Ri: The "Ri" refers to an entity in the third person that is feminine. The sentence states "take her to the..." so the "Ri," acts as a pronoun being "her."
  3. Pi (2): The "Pi" of the second word refers to the same person that is being directly conversed with, being "you."
  4. Čo: The "čo" refers to the applied form, being that it matches the suffix of the first verb, which refers to "her." However, in the sentence written down it does not contribute any semantic meaning.

Cantonese (special cases)

Despite being a SVO language, there is evidence to suggest that Cantonese obtain VOS word order in some cases, such as in casual speech or relative clauses.

Relative Clause

Unlike English (which places relative clauses after the head noun that it modifies), Cantonese is very unusual among SVO languages in placing relative clauses before the head nouns, or having prenominal RCs, which yields a VOS word order, as seen in most subject-gapped RCs.[15] Object-gapped RCs do not follow a VOS word order.

Subject-gapped RCs vs Object-gapped RCs in English:

Subject-gapped RC:

Sentence The mouse that's kissing the chicken
Parts Subject Verb Object
Head Noun and RC Gap Head noun Relative Clause

The head noun, mouse, is placed before the relative clause (postnominal RC) in a subject-gapped RC in English. This is not the case in Cantonese and or Mandarin, as the head nouns are always placed after the RC (prenominal RC).

Object-gapped RC:

Sentence The chicken that the mouse's kissing
Parts Object Subject Verb
Head Noun and RC Gap Head noun Relative Clause

For object-gapped RC, the object is placed before the relative clause in English.

Example of Subject-gapped RC in Cantonese:[15]
Sentence 公雞 老鼠
Romanization sek3 gung1 gai1 go2 zek3 lou5 syu2
Gloss kiss chicken that classifier mouse
Parts Verb Object Subject
Head Noun and RC Gap Relative Clause Head Noun
Translation The mouse that kisses the chicken.

Subject-gapped RC behaves differently in Cantonese than English, as the relative clause is placed after the head noun (prenominal RC), which always yield a VOS order. It is considered extremely rare that a SVO language can adopt such pre-nominal RC structure. In a sample of 756 languages, only 5 languages have this VOS combination (which is less than 0.01%). Cantonese belong in such subset.[16]

Casual Speech

In casual speech, Cantonese speakers often produce a VOS sentence when answering a question.


Below is a typical response for a question such as "你食左飯未呀?" which translates to "did you eat yet?" in English.

Romanization sik6 zo2 faan6 laa1 ngo5
Gloss ate rice sentence-final particle me
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation I ate rice.


Ch'ol is another ergative Mayan language under the branch of Ch'olan-Tseltalan with the basic word order of VOS. Subjects, objects, and possessors (nominal arguments) can be pro-dropped.[17]

Sentence Tyi i-kuch-u si` aj-Maria
Gloss PRFV (perfective) 3-sg.ERG-carry-TV wood DET-Maria
Parts Verb (transitive) Object Subject
Translation Maria carried wood.

Clemens and Coon proposes within this specific language, there are three paths that motivate three types of VOS clauses:[18]

  1. Subject is contained in the high topic position to the right of the verb
  2. Phonologically heavy subjects are NP-shifted
  3. Bare NP objects undergo prosodic reordering

Generally in Ch'ol, objects in a VOS order cannot be a full DPs or else the sentence is ungrammatical. The order will be derived as VSO if the object is a full DP, as shown in the table below:

Sentence Tyi i-kuch-u aj-Maria ilisi`
Gloss PFV 3-sg.ERG-carry-ss CLF-Maria DEM wood
Parts V S O
Translation Maria carried this wood.

If the postverbal argument in the example above was a bare NP (determinerless) instead of a proper name, there would be a natural interpretation of VOS order.

Coeur d'Alene

Coeur d’Alene is a Salishan language that has VOS as its dominant word order, however this language does not make use of word order to distinguish subject nouns from object nouns, or agent nouns to patient nouns.[19]

Verb-transitive Indirect object Direct object (Agent-)Subject
tšiɫts xʷää ban xʷaa mimš xʷa 'aa djən
he gave it to him the Ben the box by John
“John gave the box to Ben”
Verb-passive Direct Object Subject Agent (non-subject)
itši᷄ɫtəm xʷamimš xʷä bän xʷa ˀa djən
he is being given the box the Ben by John
“Ben is being given the box by John”

European Portuguese

Portuguese is a Western Romance language spoken in many places around the globe, including Portugal, Brazil, Macau, etc. The language is split into European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. European Portuguese is said to have a very flexible word order, and that VOS is one of the grammatical possibilities in the language.[20]

Sentence Comeu a sopa o Paul
Gloss ate the soup Paul
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation Paul ate the soup


Halkomelem, an aboriginal language in British Columbia, has the same basic characteristics of all Salish languages in that it is inherently VSO. However, VOS is also sometimes possible. While some speakers do not accept VOS as grammatical, others do permit the order depending on the context. VOS can occur if there are two direct noun phrases present in a clause and the object is inanimate.[21] Also, VOS is used is if the content of the phrase disambiguates the agent from the patient.[22] An example of this would be:

Sentence niʔ pən-ət-əs ɫə q́emiʔ θə sqewθ
Gloss AUX plant-TR-3SUB DET girl DET potato
Parts Verb Subject Object
Translation The girl planted the potatoes
Sentence niʔ pən-ət-əs kʷθə sqewθ ɫə q́emiʔ
Gloss AUX plant-TR-3SUB DET potato DET girl
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation The girl planted the potatoes

The sentences below indicate that the object in a VOS sentence in Halkomelem is interpreted in its base position (VSO) for the purposes of binding theory.[23]

Sentence hélpex-es [te sthóq’i-s]ₒ [te Strang]s
Gloss eat-3S DET fish-3POSS DET Strang
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation Strang is eating his fish
Sentence *hélpex-es [te sthóq’i-s tú-tl’òᵢ]ₒ [te Strangᵢ]s
Gloss eat-3S DET fish-3POSS DET-3INDEP DET Strang
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation Strang is eating his fish

Italian (special case)

Italian is most commonly a SVO language. However, inversion can occur.[24] If the subject can appear before the verb, it can also appear after the verb. VSO and VOS order, however, are notably rare, especially the latter.[3]

Sentence Esamineranno il caso molti esperti.
Gloss will.examine the case many experts
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation Many experts will examine the case


Kaqchikel is an ergative and head-marking Mayan language used in Guatemala. There is no case-marking on the subjects or objects. Instead, the verb classifies the person and numeric (plural or singular) agreement of the subjects and objects.[25] Although Kaqchikel's basic structure is VOS, the language allows for grammatical word orders such as SVO. Since the language is head-marking, a sentence will have focus on the subject if it is positioned before the verb. A sentence can be represented as either VOS or VSO if switching the subject and object semantically disrupts the meaning, but VOS is favoured more. An example is shown in the table below:

Sentence X-∅-u-chöy ri chäj / ajanel ri ajanel / chäj
Gloss CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-cut DET pine.tree / carpenter DET carpenter / pine.tree
Parts Verb Object / Subject Subject / Object
Translation The carpenter cut the pine tree.


Malagasy is in the Austronesian language family and is the national language of Madagascar.[26] It is a classic example of a language that has fixed-VOS structure:[3][27]

Sentence Namonjy azy aho
Gloss help.out him I
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation I helped him out

The following sentence shows the consistency in VOS order in Malagasy with transitive verbs:[3]

Sentence Manolotra ny vary ny vahiny aho
Gloss offer.AT the rice the guests I
Parts Verb (Indirect) Object (Direct) Object Subject
Translation 'I offered the rice to the guests.'

The extraction pattern in Malagasy, in which subjects can be relativized but non-subjects within the VP lead to ungrammaticality, is consistent with a VP-raising hypothesis.[3] This sentence show the possibility of relativizing surface subjects:

Sentence ny zazavavy [CP izay [VP manasa ny lamba] < ___ > ]
Gloss the girl C wash.AT the clothes
Parts Subject Verb Object <Subject>
Translation 'the girl that washed the clothes …'

The following sentence shows how extraction from within the VP is ungrammatical (*):

Sentence *ny lamba [CP izay [VP manasa < ___ > ] ny zazavavy ]
Gloss the clothes C wash.AT the girl
Parts Object Verb <Object> Subject
Translation Intended: 'the clothes that the girl washed …'

The empty spaces (___) are the extraction sites and the square brackets indicate the VP phrase.

Mandarin (special cases)

Unlike English, which places head nouns before relative clauses, Chinese Mandarin places head nouns after relative clauses. As a result, subject-gapped relative clauses in Mandarin, just like Cantonese, result in a VOS order.

Example of Subject-gapped RC in Mandarin:[15]

Sentence 公雞 老鼠
Romanization qīn gōng jī de lǎo shǔ
Gloss kiss chicken Chinese particle mouse
Parts Verb Object Subject
Head Noun and RC Gap Relative Clause Head Noun
Translation The mouse that kisses the chicken.

It is considered extremely rare that a SVO language can adopt such pre-nominal RC structure. In a sample of 756 languages, only 5 languages have this VOS combination (which is less than 0.01%). Mandarin belong in such subset.[16]

Modern Greek (special cases)

Greek is a relatively flexible word order language.[28] However, there is an ongoing discussion of how the VOS order is rendered. The table below shows an example of a VOS sentence in Greek:[29]

Sentence efaje tin turta o janis
Gloss ate-3sg the cake-Acc the Janis-Nom
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation John ate the cake.

Georgiafentis and Sfakianaki provide claims of four different researchers who focus on how prosody affects the generated VOS order in the Greek language:[29]

Alexiadou suggests that the prominent constituent in VOS is the DP-subject.[29] The DP-object moves over the DP-subject into a specifier position of VoiceP to derive the VOS order. The object movement to the specifier position is a result of scrambled objects and manner adverbs wanting to both move to VoiceP.[30] Thus, the main stress is given to the DP-subject.

Philippakki-Warburton's claim is that there are two intonation patterns which render the VOS order in Greek:[29]

  1. The prominent constituent is something other than the DP-subject, such as the verb or DP-object. Therefore, the DP-subject is unstressed.
  2. VOS order produced by p-movement (prosodic movement),[31] either from the DP-subject being emphatically stressed or stressed via Chomsky and Halle's Nuclear Stress Rule (NSR)[32]

Haidou proposes the VOS order has two possible intonations: whether a pause or not precedes the DP-subject will change the focus of the sentence. If there is a preceding pause (indicated with a comma intonation), the DP-subject does not possess the main focus. The focus is on the object instead, as demonstrated in the table below.[29]

Sentence efaje ti supa, o janis
Gloss ate-3sg the soup-Acc the Janis-Nom
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation He at the soup, John.

Georgiafentis argues that subject focusing in VOS is derived from three intonational situations.

  1. The main stress is acquired by a constituent other than the DP-subject (same discussion as Philippaki-Warbuton)
  2. DP-subject acquires main stress through NSR
  3. DP-subject is contrastively focused

Below is an example of contrastively focused DP-subject in Greek (capitalized words indicate contrastive focus):[29]

Sentence efaje tin turta O JANIS (oxi o θanasis)
Gloss ate-3sg the cake-Acc the Janis-Nom (not the Thanissis-Nom)
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation JOHN ate the cake (not Thanassis).

Georgiafentis states that the second and third situations given above are both derived from p-movement.[31]


Seediq is an Atayalic language with a fixed VOS order, spoken by Taiwanese indigenous people in Northern Taiwan and the Taroko. Only the subject, which is always fixed in its clause-final position, can correspond to an argument with an absolutive case. No other clause-internal constituents can have an absolutive DP in Seediq.[7]

Sentence Wada big-un hulama na Ape ka laqi
Gloss Past give-TR treat ERG Ape ABS child
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation Ape gave the child a treat


This Coast Salishan language has VOS as a basic word order. This word order distinguishes subject noun phrases from object noun phrases in sentences with active transitive verbs. There is an absence of VSO word-orders in Twana, at least given the evidence provided by the last proficient speaker.[19]

V-transitive Object Subject
bikʷɪdkʷə᷄dad tibə᷄dəs təstibˀa᷄t
he is grabbing the-son-his the-man
‘The man is grabbing his son’


Tzotzil, like almost all other Mayan languages except Ch'orti', is a verb-initial word order language. It is predominantly VOS but has been shown to permit SVO readily.[33] In Tzotzil, the subject is not assumed to raise (in overt syntax) to the specifier of the clausal head, unlike Italian, which is a special case.[3] A sample Tzotzil sentence is in the table below. The "ʔ" represent a glottal stop.[34]

Sentence ʔi- s- pet lok'el ʔantz ti t'ul -e
Gloss cp A3 carry away woman the rabbit cl
Parts Verb Object Subject
Translation The rabbit carried away the woman

Simply put, VP-raising, as expressed in the previous section, cannot account for Tzotzil's normal word order. If VP-raising had occurred, any further movement of direct objects or prepositional phrases would have been made inaccessible.[3] Aissen, however, showed that Tzotzil allows direct objects to be extracted, as wh-movement occurs:[35]

Sentence Buch'u s- pas mantal ___?
Gloss who? A3- do order
Parts Subjects Verb Objects
Translation Who's giving the orders?

Tzotzil also allows propositional phrases that surface to the left of the subject and all within a verb phrases to undergo wh-movement. Also, an interrogative phrase of a transitive verb must entirely be pied-piped to be grammatical .[35]

Sentence [Buch'u ta s- na] av- ik'ta komel l- -a- -bolsa -e ___?
Gloss who? P A3- house A2- leave Dir the- -A2- -bag- -cl
Parts Subject Verb Object
Translation In whose house did you leave your bag?
Sentence *Buch'u av- ik'ta komel a- -bolsa [ta s- na ___?]
Gloss who? A2- leave Dir A2- bag P A3- house
Parts Subject Verb Object
Translation Whose house did you leave your bag? at

VOS clauses found in Tzotzil cannot thus be derived by VP-raising. Chung proposes that languages without VP-raising can be assumed to have their basic order to be VOS, instead of SVO.[3]

See also


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