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of languages
SOV "She him loves." 45% 45
Ancient Greek, Bengali, Hindi, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Latin, Malayalam, Persian, Sanskrit, Urdu, etc
SVO "She loves him." 42% 42
Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Hausa, Hungarian, Italian, Malay, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese, etc
VSO "Loves she him." 9% 9
Biblical Hebrew, Classical 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]

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. An example of this would be "Oranges Sam ate."

Unmarked word order

Natural languages

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] An exception to this is Mizo and its sister languages, of Kuki-Chin-Mizo languages in the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. 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.

Marked word order

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


Arabic also allows OSV in marked sentences:

? .
Iyy?ka na?budu wa-iyy?ka nastan
You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help.


Passive constructions in Chinese follow an OSV (OAV) pattern through the use of the particle ?:

? ? ? ? ?
this orange by SUBJ 1SG eat PERF
The orange experienced me eating it.

English and German

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."[]

In English, OSV appears in the future tense or as a contrast with the conjunction but.[]

  • Note: The inclusion of the word "But" may be optional.


In Modern Hebrew, OSV is often used instead of the normal SVO to emphasise the object: while ? ? would mean "I love her", "? ?" would mean "It is she whom I love".[4] Possibly an influence of Germanic (via Yiddish), as Jewish English uses a similar construction ("You, I like, kid")--see above --much more than many other varieties of English, and often with the "but" left implicit.


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

Korean and Japanese have SOV by default, but since they are topic-prominent languages they often seem as if they were OSV when the object is topicalized.

Sentence ? ? ?? ?.
Words ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Romanization geu sagwa neun je ga meok eoss eo yo.
Gloss the/that apple (topic marker) I (polite) (sub. marker) eat (past) (declarative) (polite)
Parts Object Subject Verb
Translation It is I who ate that apple. (or) As for the apple, I ate it. (or) The apple was eaten by me.

An almost identical syntax is possible in Japanese:

Sentence ????
Words ? ? ?
Romanization sono ringo wa watashi ga tabe mashi ta.
Gloss the/that apple (topic marker) I (polite) (sub. marker) eat (polite) (past/perfect)
Parts Object Subject Verb
Translation It is I who ate that apple.


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 possible in Brazilian Portuguese to emphasize the object.

Sentence De maçã eu não gosto
Word De maçã eu não gosto
Gloss (of) apple I Do not like
Parts Object Subject Verb
Translation I do not like apple


OSV is used in Turkish to emphasise the subject:

Yeme?i ben pi?irdim = The meal/I/cooked (It was I, not somebody else, who cooked the meal).

See also


  1. ^ Meyer, Charles F. (2010). Introducing English Linguistics International (Student ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Tomlin, Russell S. (1986). Basic Word Order: Functional Principles. London: Croom Helm. p. 22. ISBN 9780709924999. OCLC 13423631.
  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 (2): 288-97. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2003/023). PMC 3392331. PMID 14700372.
  5. ^ Introduction to Classical Nahuatl[vague]

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