In linguistic typology, a verb–subject–object (VSO) language is one in which the most typical sentences arrange their elements in that order, as in Ate Sam oranges (Sam ate oranges). VSO is the third-most common word order among the world's languages,[3] after SOV (as in Hindi and Japanese) and SVO (as in English and Mandarin).

Families where all or many of the languages are VSO include the following:

Both Spanish and Greek resemble Semitic languages such as Arabic in allowing for both VSO and SVO structures: "Jesús vino el jueves"/"Vino Jesús el jueves, "Tu madre dice que no vayas"/"Dice tu madre que no vayas".

Semitic languages

Formal Arabic is an example of a language that uses VSO:

Sentence يقرأ المدرس الكتاب
Transliteration yaqraʼu l-mudarrisu l-kitāba
Gloss readsthe teacherthe book
Parts VerbSubjectObject
Translation The teacher reads the book

^* Arabic script is written right-to-left

Another Semitic language, Biblical Hebrew, uses VSO, as in Genesis 1:1, seen here, and many other places in the Tanakh:

Sentence ... בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם
Words * בָּרָאאֱלֹהִיםאֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם
Romanization of Hebrew Bara Elohim et ha-shamayim...
Gloss createdGodthe heavens
Parts verbsubjectobject
Translation God created the heavens...

^* et is a particle marking the direct object of the verb.

^* The Hebrew script is written from right to left.


Word order is rather flexible in Spanish and VSO word order is allowed in practically all situations, but it is particularly common where some element other than the subject or direct object functions as the subject of predication. Some resemble V2 word order, with an adverb or oblique argument at the front:

  • Todos los días compra Juan el diario. Every day buys Juan the newspaper, “Juan buys the newspaper every day”
  • Ayer presentó María su renuncia. Yesterday handed-in Maria her resignation, Maria handed in her resignation yesterday.
  • A María le regaló su abuelo un caballo de pura raza. To María gave her grandfather a horse of pure breed, María's grandfather gave her a purebred horse.

Other examples of VSO in Spanish:

  • Me devolvió María el libro que le presté. Returned María the book that to-her (I) lent, “María returned to me the book that I lent her.”
  • Se comieron los niños todo el pastel. Ate up the boys all the cake, “The boys ate up all the cake.”

Celtic languages

In Welsh, some tenses use simple verbs, which are found at the beginning of the sentence followed by the subject and any objects. An example of this is the preterite:

Sentence Siaradodd Aled y Gymraeg.
Words SiaradoddAledy Gymraeg
Gloss spokeAledDEF Welsh
Parts VerbSubjectObject
Translation Aled spoke Welsh.

Other tenses may use compound verbs, where the conjugated form of, usually, bod (to be) precedes the subject and other verb-nouns come after the subject. Any objects then follow the final verb-noun. This is the usual method of forming the present tense:

Sentence Mae Aled yn siarad y Gymraeg.
Words MaeAledyn siarady Gymraeg
Gloss isAledV-N.speakDEF Welsh
Parts Aux. VerbSubjectVerb-NounObject
Translation Aled speaks Welsh.

In Irish, phrases also use VSO:

Sentence Labhraíonn Seán Gaeilge.
Words LabhraíonnSeánGaeilge
Gloss speaksSeánIrish
Parts VerbSubjectObject
Translation John speaks Irish.

In Irish, when forming a question the following would be true:

Sentence An labhraíonn tú Gaeilge?
Words An labhraíonnGaeilge
Gloss Do ...speakyouIrish
Parts VerbSubjectObject
Translation Do you speak Irish?

The typological classification of Breton syntax is problematic. It has been claimed that Breton has an underlying VSO character, but it appears at first sight that V2 is the most frequent pattern, which arises as a result of a process which usually involving the subject noun phrase being fronted. It has been suggested that this fronting has arisen from a development in which clefting and fronting, very common in Celtic languages, became completely pervasive. A very similar development is seen in literary Middle Welsh but this did not continue into Modern Welsh.

Inversion to VSO order

There are many SVO languages that switch to VSO with different constructions, usually for emphasis. For example, sentences in English poetry can sometimes be found to have a VSO order, and Early Modern English explicitly reflects the VSO order that is now implicit in Modern English by the suppression of the imperative's now-understood subject. For example, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" contrasts with modern "Gather rosebuds while you may".

Arabic sentences use either SVO or VSO, depending on whether the subject or the verb is more important. If VOS is used, the form of a word changes, depending on whether it is a subject or an object. Arabic also uses VOS in optional cases, and in some cases it is mandatory. [4]

Biblical Hebrew sentences can be in SVO order if they are the past perfect tense since Biblical Hebrew has no helper verbs.

Non-VSO languages that use VSO in questions include English and many other Germanic languages (f.e. German and Dutch) as well as French, Finnish, Maká, Emilian and often Spanish.

The North Germanic languages invert their word order to VSO in questions as well (Norwegian: Spiste du maten? "Ate you the food?"). However, there are also many cases of VSO being V2 word order, with the verb coming second, such as in expressions that are before both the subject and the verb. Another case is subclauses (Norwegian: I går leste jeg boka "Yesterday read I the book").

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. WALS Chapter 81
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