V2 word order

In syntax, verb-second (V2) word order places the finite verb of a clause or sentence in second position with a single constituent preceding it, which functions as the clause topic.[1]

V2 word order is common in the Germanic languages and is also found in Northeast Caucasian Ingush, Uto-Aztecan O'odham, and fragmentarily in Rhaeto-Romansh Sursilvan. Of the Germanic family, English is exceptional in having predominantly SVO order instead of V2, although there are vestiges of the V2 phenomenon.

Most Germanic languages do not normally use V2 order in embedded clauses, with a few exceptions. In particular, German, Dutch, and Afrikaans revert to VF (verb final) word order after a complementizer; Yiddish and Icelandic do, though, allow V2 in all declarative clauses: main, embedded, and subordinate. Kashmiri has V2 in 'declarative content clauses' but VF order in relative clauses.


The following examples from German illustrate the V2 principle:

a.Die Kinderspieltenvor der Schuleim ParkFußball.
the kidsplayedbefore schoolin the parkfootball.
b.Fußballspieltendie Kindervor der Schuleim Park.
'Football played the kids before school in the park.'
c.Vor der Schulespieltendie Kinderim ParkFußball.
'Before school, played the kids in the park football.'
d.Im Parkspieltendie Kindervor der SchuleFußball.
'In the park, played the kids before school football.'
e.*Vor der SchuleFußballspieltendie Kinderim Park.
'Before school football played the kids in the park.'
f.*Fußballdie Kinderspieltenvor der Schuleim Park.
'Football the kids played before school in the park.'

(The asterisk * indicates that the example is grammatically unacceptable.) Sentences a–d have the finite verb spielten in second position, with varying constituents in first position. Sentences e and f are unacceptable because the finite verb no longer appears in second position. V2 word order allows any constituent to occupy the first position as long as the second position is occupied by the finite verb.

Non-finite verbs and embedded clauses

Non-finite verbs

The V2 principle regulates the position of finite verbs only; its influence on non-finite verbs (infinitives, participles, etc.) is indirect. Non-finite verbs in V2 languages appear in varying positions depending on the language. In German and Dutch, for instance, non-finite verbs appear after the object (if one is present) in clause final position in main clauses (OV order). Swedish and Icelandic, in contrast, position non-finite verbs after the finite verb but before the object (if one is present) (VO order). That is, V2 operates on only the finite verb.

Embedded clauses

(In the following examples, finite verb forms are in bold, non-finite verb forms are in italics and subjects are underlined.)

Germanic languages vary in the application of V2 order in embedded clauses. They fall into three groups.

Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Faroese

In these languages, the word order of clauses is generally fixed in two patterns of conventionally numbered positions.[2] Both end with positions for (5) non-finite verb forms, (6) objects, and (7), adverbials.

In main clauses, the V2 constraint holds. The finite verb must be in position (2) and sentence adverbs in position (4). The latter include words with meanings such as 'not' and 'always'. The subject may be position (1), but when a topical expression occupies the position, the subject is in position (3).

In embedded clauses, the V2 constraint is absent. After the conjunction, the subject must immediately follow; it cannot be replaced by a topical expression. Thus, the first four positions are in the fixed order (1) conjunction, (2) subject, (3) sentence adverb, (4) finite verb

The position of the sentence adverbs is important to those theorists who see them as marking the start of a large constituent within the clause. Thus the finite verb is seen as inside that constituent in embedded clauses, but outside that constituent in V2 main clauses.


main clause
embedded clause
Finite verb
Sentence adverb
Sentence adverb

Finite verb
Non-finite verb
Non-finite verb
main clausea.I dagvilleLotteinteläsatidningen
todaywantedLottenotreadthe newspaper...
'Lotte didn't want to read the paper today.'
embedded clauseb.attLotteintevillekokakaffei dag
'that Lotte didn't want to make coffee today'


main clause
embedded clause
Finite verb
Sentence adverb
Sentence adverb

Finite verb
Non-finite verb
Non-finite verb
main clausea.Klauserikkekommet
...'Klaus hasn't come.'
embedded clauseb.nårKlausikkeerkommet
...'when Klaus hasn't come'

So-called Perkerdansk is an example of a variety that does not follow the above.

(with multiple adverbials and multiple non-finite forms, in two varieties of the language)

Finite verb
Sentence adverb
Sentence adverb

Finite verb
Non-finite verb
Non-finite verb
main clausea.Den gangenhaddehandessverre ikkevillet sendesakspapirenefør møtet.(Bokmål variety)
that timehadheunfortunately notwanted to sendthe documentsbefore the meeting...
'This time he had unfortunately not wanted
to send the documents before the meeting.'
embedded clauseb.av dihandenne gongen diverre ikkjehaddevilla sendasakspapiraføre møtet.(Nynorsk variety)
becausehethis time unfortunately nothadwanted to sendthe documentsbefore the meeting...
'because this time he had unfortunately not wanted
to send the documents before the meeting.'

Unlike continental Scandinavian languages, the sentence adverb may either precede or follow the finite verb in embedded clauses. A (3a) slot is inserted here for the following sentence adverb alternative.

main clause
embedded clause
Finite verb
Sentence adverb
Sentence adverb

Finite verb

Sentence adverb
Non-finite verb
Non-finite verb
main clausea.Hermanfólkongantíðhava fingiðfiskfyrr
heremustpeopleneverhave caughtfishbefore...
'People have surely never caught fish here before.'
embedded clauseb.hóastfólkongantíðhevurfingiðfiskher
'although people have never caught fish here'


In main clauses, the V2 constraint holds. As with other Germanic languages, the finite verb must be in the second position. However, any non-finite forms must be in final position. The subject may be in the first position, but when a topical expression occupies the position, the subject follows the finite verb.

In embedded clauses, the V2 constraint does not hold. The finite verb form must be adjacent to any non-finite at the end of the clause.

German grammarians traditionally divide sentences into fields. Subordinate clauses preceding the main clause are said to be in the first field (Vorfeld), clauses following the main clause in the final field (Nachfeld).
The central field (Mittelfeld ) contains most or all of a clause, and is bounded by left bracket (Linke Satzklammer) and right bracket (Rechte Satzklammer) positions.

In main clauses, the initial element (subject or topical expression) is said to be located in the first field, the V2 finite verb form in the left bracket, and any non-finite verb forms in the right bracket.
In embedded clauses, the conjunction is said to be located in the left bracket, and the verb forms in the right bracket. In German embedded clauses, a finite verb form follows any non-finite forms.


First fieldLeft bracketCentral fieldRight bracketFinal field
Main clausea.Erhatdichgesternnichtangerufenweil er dich nicht stören wollte.
... 'He didn't ring you yesterday because he didn't want to disturb you.'
b.Sobald er Zeit hatwirderdichanrufen
As soon as he has timewillheyouring
...'When he has time he will ring you.'
Embedded clausec.dasserdichgesternnichtangerufen hat
thatheyouyesterdaynotrung has
...'that he didn't ring you yesterday'

Equivalent rules also exist in vernacular German, for example regarding the reduced pronunciation of du ("you"). Hence, this pronoun may be pronounced [də] or [ə] following verbs and conjunctions, but not otherwise.

Dutch and Afrikaans

V2 word order is used in main clauses, the finite verb must be in the second position. However, in subordinate clauses two word orders are possible for the verb clusters.

Main clauses:


First fieldLeft bracketCentral fieldRight bracketFinal field
Main clausea.TasmanheeftNieuw-Zeelandontdekt
TasmanhasNew Zealanddiscovered
...'Tasman discovered New Zealand.'
b.In 1642ontdekteTasmanNieuw-Zeeland
In 1642discoveredTasmanNew Zealand
...'In 1642 Tasman discovered New Zealand.'
c.Niemandhadgedachtdat ook maar iets zou gebeuren.
...'Nobody figured that anything would happen.'
Embedded claused.datTasmanNieuw-Zeelandheeft ontdekt
thatTasmanNew Zealandhas discovered
...'that Tasman discovered New Zealand'

This analysis suggests a close parallel between the V2 finite form in main clauses and the conjunctions in embedded clauses. Each is seen as an introduction to its clause-type, a function which some modern scholars have equated with the notion of specifier. The analysis is supported in spoken Dutch by the placement of clitic pronoun subjects. Forms such as ie cannot stand alone, unlike the full-form equivalent hij. The words to which they may be attached are those same introduction words: the V2 form in a main clause, or the conjunction in an embedded clause.[5]

First fieldLeft bracketCentral fieldRight bracketFinal field
Main clausee.In 1642ontdekte-n-ieNieuw-Zeeland
In 1642discovered-(euphonic n)-heNew Zealand
...'In 1642 he discovered New Zealand.'
Embedded clausef.dat-iein 1642Nieuw-Zeelandheeft ontdekt
that-hein 1642New Zealandhas discovered
...'that he discovered New Zealand in 1642'

Subordinate clauses:

In Dutch subordinate clauses two word orders are possible for the verb clusters and are referred to as the "red": omdat ik heb gewerkt, "because I have worked": like in English, where the auxiliary verb precedes the past particle, and the "green": omdat ik gewerkt heb, where the past particle precedes the auxiliary verb, "because I worked have": like in German.[6] In Dutch, the green word order is the most used in speech, and the red is the most used in writing, particularly in journalistic texts, but the green is also used in writing as is the red in speech. Unlike in English however adjectives and adverbs must precede the verb: ''dat het boek groen is'', "that the book green is".

First fieldLeft bracketCentral fieldRight bracketFinal field
Embedded clauseg.omdatikhetdangezien zou hebbenmost common in the Netherlands
becauseIitthenseen would have
h.omdatikhetdanzou gezien hebbenmost common in Belgium
becauseIitthenwould seen have
i.omdatikhetdanzou hebben gezienoften used in writing in both countries, but common in speech as well, most common in Limburg
becauseIitthenwould have seen
j.omdatikhetdangezien hebben zouused in Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe, least common but used as well
becauseIitthenseen have would
...'because then I would have seen it'

Icelandic and Yiddish

These languages freely allow V2 order in embedded clauses.

Two word-order patterns are largely similar to continental Scandinavian. However, in main clauses an extra slot is needed for when the front position is occupied by Það. In these clauses the subject follows any sentence adverbs. In embedded clauses, sentence adverbs follow the finite verb (an optional order in Faroese).[7]

main clause
embedded clause
Finite verb

Finite verb
Sentence adverb
Sentence adverb
Non-finite verb
Non-finite verb
main clausea.Margirhöfðualdreilokiðverkefninu.
Manyhadneverfinishedthe assignment...'Many had never finished the assignment.'
therehavenevermanyfinishedthe assignment...'There were never many people who had finished the assignment.'
the bookhasMarynotread...'Mary hasn't read the book.'
embedded claused.hvortMaríahefurekkilesiðbokina.
whetherMaryhasnotreadthe book...'whether Mary hasn't read the book'

In more radical contrast with other Germanic languages, a third pattern exists for embedded clauses with the conjunction followed by the V2 order: front-finite verb-subject.[8]

(Topic adverbial)
Finite verbSubject
e.Jónefastum aðá morgunfariMaríasnemmaá fætur.
JohndoubtsthattomorrowgetMaryearlyup...'John doubts that Mary will get up early tomorrow.'
Finite verbSubject
f.Jónharmarþessa bókskuliéghafalesið.
Johnregretsthatthis bookshallIhaveread...'John regrets that I have read this book.'

Unlike Standard German, Yiddish normally has verb forms before Objects (SVO order), and in embedded clauses has conjunction followed by V2 order.[9]

Finite verbConjunctionFront
Finite verb
IhaveseenWednesdaythatIwillnotcancomeThursday...'I saw on Wednesday that I wouldn't be able to come on Thursday.'
Finite verbSubjectConjunctionFront
Finite verbSubject
WednesdayhaveIseenthatThursdaywillInotcancome...On Wednesday I saw that on Thursday I wouldn't be able to come.'

Root clauses

One type of embedded clause with V2 following the conjunction is found throughout the Germanic languages, although it is more common in some than it is others. These are termed root clauses. They are declarative content clauses, the direct objects of so-called bridge verbs, which are understood to quote a statement. For that reason, they exhibit the V2 word order of the equivalent direct quotation.

Items other than the subject are allowed to appear in front position.

Finite verb
a.VivedatBoikkeharlæstdenne bog
WeknowthatBonothasreadthis book...'We know that Bo has not read this book.'
Finite verbSubject
b.Vivedatdenne bogharBoikkelæst
Weknowthatthis bookhasBonotread...'We know that Bo has not read this book.'

Items other than the subject are occasionally allowed to appear in front position. Generally, the statement must be one with which the speaker agrees.

Finite verbSubject
d.Jagtroratti det fallethardurätt
Ithinkthatin that respecthaveyouright...'I think that in that respect you are right.'

This order is not possible with a statement with which the speaker does not agree.

Finite verbSubject
e.*Jagtrorinteatti det fallethardurätt(The asterisk signals that the sentence is not grammatically acceptable.)
Ithinknotthatin that respecthaveyouright...'I don't think that in that respect you are right.'


Finite verbSubject
f.hunfortalteattil fødselsdagenhaddehunfåttkunstbok(Bokmål variety)
shetoldthatfor her birthdayhad'shereceivedart-book...'She said that for her birthday she had been given a book on art.'

Root clause V2 order is possible only when the conjunction dass is omitted.

Finite verb
g.*Erbehauptet,dasserhateszur Postgebracht(The asterisk signals that the sentence is not grammatically acceptable.)
h.Erbehauptet,erhateszur Postgebracht
heclaims(that)hehasitto the post officetaken...'He claims that he took it to the post office.'

Compare the normal embed-clause order after dass

Left bracket
Central fieldRight bracket
(Verb forms)
i.Erbehauptet,dasser es zur Postgebracht hat
heclaimsthathe it to the post officetaken has

V2 in English

Modern English differs greatly in word order from other modern Germanic languages, but earlier English shared many similarities. Some scholars therefore propose a description of Old English with V2 constraint as the norm. The history of English syntax is thus seen as a process of losing the constraint.[10]

Old English

In these examples, finite verb forms are in bold, non-finite verb forms are in italics and subjects are underlined.

Main clauses

Subject first

themasspriestmustpeoplepreachthetruefaith....'The mass priest must preach the true faith to the people.'

Question word first

WhywouldGodsosmallthinghimdeny....'Why would God deny him such a small thing?'

Topic phrase first

intwothingshadGodtheman'ssoulendowed....'With two things God had endowed man's soul.'

þa first

thenwasthepeopleof-thegreatprosperityexcessivelypartaking....'Then the people were partaking excessively of the great prosperity.'

Negative word first

notshallhenothingunlawfuldo....'He shall not do anything unlawful.'

Object first

thesethreethingsgivesGodhischosen....'These three things God gives to his chosen.'

Position of object

In examples b, c and d, the object of the clause precedes a non-finite verb form. Superficially, the structure is verb-subject-object- verb. To capture generalities, scholars of syntax and linguistic typology treat them as basically subject-object-verb (SOV) structure, modified by the V2 constraint. Thus Old English is classified, to some extent, as an SOV language. However, example a represents a number of Old English clauses with object following a non-finite verb form, with the superficial structure verb-subject-verb object. A more substantial number of clauses contain a single finite verb form followed by an object, superficially verb-subject-object. Again, a generalisation is captured by describing these as subject–verb–object (SVO) modified by V2. Thus Old English can be described as intermediate between SOV languages (like German and Dutch) and SVO languages (like Swedish and Icelandic).

Effect of subject pronouns

When the subject of a clause was a personal pronoun, V2 did not always operate.

thereforewemustwithallmindandpowertoGodturn....'Therefore, we must turn to God with all our mind and power.'

However, V2 verb-subject inversion occurred without exception after a question word or the negative ne, and with few exceptions after þa even with pronominal subjects.

g.forhwamnoldestþuðe sylfemegecgyðanþæt...
forwhatnot-wantedyouyourselfmemake-knownthat......'wherefore would you not want to make known to me yourself that...'
notshallhenothingunlawfuldo....'He shall not do anything unlawful.'
thensailedtheywiththreeshipsout....'Then they sailed out with three ships.'

Inversion of a subject pronoun also occurred regularly after a direct quotation.[11]

to meissaidsheyourcominginmuchthankfulness....'"Your coming," she said, " is very gratifying to me".'

Embedded clauses

Embedded clauses with pronoun subjects were not subject to V2. Even with noun subjects, V2 inversion did not occur.

k....þa ðahisleorningcnichtashineaxodonforhwæssynnumsemanwurdeswablindacenned
...whenhisdiscipleshimaskedforwhosesinsthemanbecamethusblind....'... when his disciples asked him for whose sins the man was thus born blind'

Yes-No questions

In a similar clause pattern, the finite verb form of a yes-no question occupied the first position

trustyounowyouselfandyourcompanionsbetterthantheapostles....'Do you now trust yourself and your companions better than the apostles...?'

Middle English


Early Middle English generally preserved V2 structure in clauses with nominal subjects.

Topic phrase first

inthisyearwantedthekingStephenseizeRobert....'During this year king Stephen wanted to seize Robert.'

Nu first

nowlookeverymantohimself....'Now it's for every man to look to himself.'

As in Old English, V2 inversion did not apply to clauses with pronoun subjects.

Topic phrase first


Object first



Late Middle English texts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries show increasing incidence of clauses without the inversion associated with V2.

Topic adverb first

e.sothelyseryghtwysesekysþeIoyeand ...

Topic phrase first


Negative clauses were no longer formed with ne (or na) as the first element. Inversion in negative clauses was attributable to other causes.

Wh- question word first

whyordainedGodnotsuch anorder....'Why did God not ordain such an order?'(not follows noun phrase subject)
h.whyshuldehenot ..
Whyshouldhenot...(not precedes pronoun subject)

There first

therenot-isnotonecanawarebyotherbe....'There is not a single person who learns from the mistakes of others'

Object first

h.Hewasdespeyred;no thyngdorsteheseye
Hewasin despair;nothingdaredhesay

Vestiges of V2 in Modern English

As in earlier periods, Modern English normally has subject-verb order in declarative clauses and inverted verb-subject order[12] in interrogative clauses. However these norms are observed irrespective of the number of clause elements preceding the verb.

Classes of verbs in Modern English: auxiliary and lexical

Inversion in Old English sentences with a combination of two verbs could be described in terms of their finite and non-finite forms. The word which participated in inversion was the finite verb; the verb which retained its position relative to the object was the non-finite verb. In most types of Modern English clause, there are two verb forms, but the verbs are considered to belong to different syntactic classes. The verbs which participated in inversion have evolved to form a class of auxiliary verbs which may mark tense, aspect and mood; the remaining majority of verbs with full semantic value are said to constitute the class of lexical verbs. The exceptional type of clause is that of declarative clause with a lexical verb in a present simple or past simple form.


Like Yes/No questions, interrogative Wh- questions are regularly formed with inversion of subject and auxiliary. Present Simple and Past Simple questions are formed with the auxiliary do, a process known as do-support.

a. Which game is Sam watching?
b. Where does she live?
(see subject-auxiliary inversion in questions)

With topic adverbs and adverbial phrases

In certain patterns similar to Old and Middle English, inversion is possible. However, this is a matter of stylistic choice, unlike the constraint on interrogative clauses.

negative or restrictive adverbial first

c. At no point will he drink Schnapps.
d. No sooner had she arrived than she started to make demands.
(see negative inversion)

comparative adverb or adjective first

e. So keenly did the children miss their parents, they cried themselves to sleep.
f. Such was their sadness, they could never enjoy going out.

After the preceding classes of adverbial, only auxiliary verbs, not lexical verbs, participate in inversion

locative or temporal adverb first

g. Here comes the bus.
h. Now is the hour when we must say goodbye.

prepositional phrase first

i. Behind the goal sat many photographers.
j. Down the road came the person we were waiting for.
(see locative inversion, directive inversion)

After the two latter types of adverbial, only one-word lexical verb forms (Present Simple or Past Simple), not auxiliary verbs, participate in inversion, and only with noun-phrase subjects, not pronominal subjects.

Direct quotations

When the object of a verb is a verbatim quotation, it may precede the verb, with a result similar to Old English V2. Such clauses are found in storytelling and in news reports.

k. "Wolf! Wolf!" cried the boy.
l. "The unrest is spreading throughout the country," writes our Jakarta correspondent.
(see quotative inversion)

Declarative clauses without inversion

Corresponding to the above examples, the following clauses show the normal Modern English subject-verb order.

Declarative equivalents

a′. Sam is watching the Cup games.
b′. She lives in the country.

Equivalents without topic fronting

c′. He will at no point drink Schnapps.
d′. She had no sooner arrived than she started to make demands.
e′. The children missed their parents so keenly that they cried themselves to sleep.
g′. The bus is coming here.
h′. The hour when we must say goodbye is now.
i′. Many photographers sat behind the goal.
j′. The person we were waiting for came down the road.
k′. The boy cried "Wolf! Wolf!"
l′. Our Jakarta correspondent writes, "The unrest is spreading throughout the country" .

V2 in French

Modern French is a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) language like other Romance languages (though Latin was a Subject-Object-Verb language). However, V2 constructions existed in Old French and were more common than in other early Romance language texts. It has been suggested that this may be due to influence from the Germanic Frankish language.[13] Modern French has vestiges of the V2 system similar to those found in modern English.

The following sentences have been identified as possible examples of V2 syntax in Old French:[14]

a.Old FrenchLongetempsfulyroysElinasenlamontaigne
Modern FrenchLongtempsfutleroiElinasdanslamontagne....'Pendant longtemps le roi Elinas a été dans les montagnes.'
EnglishFor a long timewasthekingElinasinthemountain...'King Elinas was in the mountains for a long time.'
b.Old FrenchIteusesparolesdistrentlifreredeLancelot
Modern FrenchTellesparolesdirentlesfrèresdeLancelot....'Les frères de Lancelot ont dit ces paroles'
EnglishSuchwordsutteredthebrothersofLancelot....'Lancelot's brothers spoke these words.'
c.Old FrenchAtantregardacontrevallamer
Modern FrenchAlorsregardaen baslamer....'Alors Il a regardé la mer plus bas.'
EnglishThenlooked atdownwardthesea....'Then he looked down at the sea.' (Elision of subject pronoun, contrary to the general rule in other Old French clause structures.)

Other V2 languages

Kotgarhi and Kochi

In his 1976 three-volume study of two languages of Himachal Pradesh, Hendriksen reports on two intermediate cases: Kotgarhi and Kochi. Although neither language shows a regular V-2 pattern, they have evolved to the point that main and subordinate clauses differ in word order and auxiliaries may separate from other parts of the verb:

  • hyunda-baassie jaa gõrmi hõ-i (Kotgarhi)
    winter-after GOES summer become-Gerund
    After winter comes summer. (Hendriksen III:186)

Hendriksen reports that relative clauses in Kochi show a greater tendency to have the finite verbal element in clause-final position than matrix clauses do (III:188).


In Ingush, "for main clauses, other than episode-initial and other all-new ones, verb-second order is most common. The verb, or the finite part of a compound verb or analytic tense form (i.e. the light verb or the auxiliary), follows the first word or phrase in the clause." [15]

muusaa vy hwuona telefon jettazh
Musa V.PROG 2sg.DAT telephone striking
'Musa is telephoning you.'


O'odham has relatively free word order within clauses; for example, all of the following sentences mean "the boy brands the pig":[16]

  • ceoj ʼo g ko:jĭ ceposid
  • ko:jĭ ʼo g ceoj ceposid
  • ceoj ʼo ceposid g ko:jĭ
  • ko:jĭ ʼo ceposid g ceoj
  • ceposid ʼo g ceoj g ko:jĭ
  • ceposid ʼo g ko:jĭ g ceoj

Despite the general freedom of sentence word order, O'odham is fairly strictly verb-second in its placement of the auxiliary verb (in the above sentences, it is ʼo; in the following it is ʼañ):

  • Affirmative: cipkan ʼañ = "I am working"
  • Negative: pi ʼañ cipkan = "I am not working" [not *pi cipkan ʼañ]


Among dialects of the Romansh, V2 word order is limited to Sursilvan, the insertion of entire phrases between auxiliary verbs and participles occurs, as in 'Cun Mariano Tschuor ha Augustin Beeli discurriu ' ('Mariano Tschuor has spoken with Augustin Beeli'), as compared to Engadinese 'Cun Rudolf Gasser ha discurrü Gion Peider Mischol' ('Rudolf Gasser has spoken with Gion Peider Mischol'.)[17]

The constituent that is bounded by the auxiliary, ha, and the participle, discurriu, is known as a Satzklammer or 'verbal bracket'.

Structural analysis of V2 in Dependency Grammar

Dependency grammar (DG) can accommodate the V2 phenomenon simply by stipulating that one and only one constituent can be a predependent of the finite verb (i.e. a dependent which precedes its head) in declarative (matrix) clauses (in this, Dependency Grammar assumes only one clausal level and one position of the verb, instead of a distinction between a VP-internal and a higher clausal position of the verb as in Generative Grammar, cf. the next section).[18] On this account, the V2 principle is violated if the finite verb has more than one predependent or no predependent at all. The following DG structures of the first four German sentences above illustrate the analysis (the sentence means 'The kids play soccer in the park before school'):

The finite verb spielen is the root of all clause structure. The V2 principle requires that this root have a single predependent, which it does in each of the four sentences.

The four English sentences above involving the V2 phenomenon receive the following analyses:

Structural analysis in Generative Grammar

In the theory of Generative Grammar, the verb second phenomenon has been described as an application of X-bar theory. The combination of a first position for a phrase and a second position for a single verb has been identified as the combination of specifier and head of a phrase. The part after the finite verb is then the complement. While the sentence structure of English is usually analysed in terms of three levels, CP, IP, and VP, in German linguistics the consensus has emerged that there is no IP in German.[19]

The VP (verb phrase) structure assigns position and functions to the arguments of the verb. Hence, this structure is shaped by the grammatical properties of the V (verb) which heads the structure. The CP (complementizer phrase) structure incorporates the grammatical information which identifies the clause as declarative or interrogative, main or embedded. The structure is shaped by the abstract C (complementiser) which is considered the head of the structure. In embedded clauses the C position accommodates subordinating conjunctions. In German declarative main clauses, C hosts the finite verb. Thus the V2 structure is analysed as

1 Topic element (specifier of CP)
2 Finite-verb form (C=head of CP) i.e. verb-second
3 Remainder of the clause

In embedded clauses, the C position is occupied by a conjunction. In most Germanic languages (but not in Icelandic or Yiddish), this generally prevents the finite verb from moving to C.

The structure is analysed as
1 Conjunction (C=head of CP)
2 Bulk of clause (VP), including, in German, the subject.
3 Finite verb (V position)

This analysis does not provide a structure for the instances in some language of root clauses after bridge verbs.

Example: Danish Vi ved at denne bog har Bo ikke læst with the object of the embedded clause fronted.
(Literally 'We know that this book has Bo not read')

The solution is to allow verbs such as ved to accept a clause with a second (recursive) CP.[20]

The conjunction occupies C position in the upper CP.
The finite verb moves to the C position in the lower CP.

See also


  1. For discussions of the V2 principle, see Borsley (1996:220f.), Ouhalla (1994:284ff.), Fromkin et al. (2000:341ff.), Adger (2003:329ff.), Carnie (2007:281f.).
  2. The examples are discussed in König and van der Auwera (1994) in the chapters devoted to each language.
  3. These and other examples are discussed in Fagan (2009)
  4. These and other examples are discussed in Zwart (2011)
  5. Zwart (2011) p. 35.
  6. http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_han001200701_01/_han001200701_01_0019.php
  7. See Thráinsson (2007) p.19.
  8. Examples from Fischer et al (2000) p.112
  9. see König & van der Auwera (1994) p.410
  10. See Fischer et al. (2000: 114ff.) for discussion of these and other examples from Old English and Middle English.
  11. Harbert (2007) p. 414
  12. Inversion is discussed in Peters (2013)
  13. see Rowlett (2007:4)
  14. see Posner (1996:248)
  15. Nichols, Johanna. (2011). Ingush Grammar. Berkeley: The University of California Press. Pp. 678ff.
  16. Zepeda, Ofelia. (1983). A Tohono O'odham Grammar. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press.
  17. Liver 2009, pp. 138
  18. For an example of a DG analysis of the V2 principle, see Osborne (2005:260). That DG denies the existence of a finite VP constituent is apparent with most any DG representation of sentence structure; finite VP is never shown as a complete subtree (=constituent). See for instance the trees in the essays on DG in Ágel et al. (2003/2006) in this regard. Concerning the strict denial of a finite VP constituent, see especially Tesnière (1959:103-105).
  19. See especially: Hubert Haider, The syntax of German, Cambridge University Press, 2010
  20. Sten Vikner: Sten Vikner: Verb movement and expletive subjects in the Germanic languages. Oxford University Press, 1995.


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