Sentences have three main parts: the subject of the sentence, the object of the sentence, and a verb that links the two together.

In English, sentences follow the SVO (subject-verb-object) order, for example in the sentence “She loves him”, “She” is the subject, “loves” is the verb and “him” is the object. Other languages that follow the SVO order include Chinese, French and Russian, but SVO is not the most common arrangement.

The most common arrangement is SOV (subject-object-verb), which is found in 45% of languages (as opposed to the 42% of languages which use SVO) and in this case, our example sentence becomes “She him loves”. This arrangement is found in Japanese, Korean and Pashto.

The remaining 13% of languages use the other four possible arrangements:

  • VSO (“Loves she him”) is found in 9% of languages, including Arabic, Hebrew and Gaelic. (i.e. it is found in the semitic and celtic languages.
  • VOS (“Loves him she”) is found in 3% of languages, including Malagasy, Tagalog and Fijian.
  • OVS (“Him loves she”) and OSV (“Him she loves”) make up the remaining 1% of languages, with OSV being present in only one known case: Warao, spoken by around 28 000 people in Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname.

Just because a sentence doesn’t follow the SOV arrangement doesn’t mean that it won’t be understandable to English speakers. One of the most famous sentences in the English language “With this ring, I thee wed.” follows the SOV arrangement.

2 thoughts on “Subject-Verb-Object

  1. My question is why. Why is SOV the most common? I think SVO is the most natural expression way. Could you explain that?

  2. I can’t I’m afraid. I expect it has to do with one language evolving from another – maybe more languages evolved from one that was SOV-based. And you thinking that SVO is the “most natural” is utterly irrelevant – that’s simply because SVO is what you’re used to.

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