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HandWiki. Verb–Subject–Object. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 18 June 2024).
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HandWiki. (2022, November 04). Verb–Subject–Object. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Verb–Subject–Object." Encyclopedia. Web. 04 November, 2022.

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, 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: Spanish resembles 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". Many languages, such as Greek, have relatively free word order, where VSO is one of many possible orders. Low level programming languages such as assembly tend to follow VSO order in how they assign bits in a memory word. Although the bit sizes vary between architectures, the general form consists of an opcode (verb) followed by a combination of memory or register addresses (subjects) and/or values (objects).

verb–subject–object programming languages typology

1. Languages

1.1. Semitic Languages

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

Sentence يقرأ المدرس الكتاب
Transliteration yaqraʼu l-mudarrisu l-kitāba
Gloss reads the teacher the book
Parts Verb Subject Object
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 * בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם
Romanization of Hebrew Bara Elohim et ha-shamayim...
Gloss created God the heavens
Parts verb subject object
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.

1.2. Romance Languages

VSO is one of six possible word orders in Latin.[1] It can appear in Old French[1] and Spanish,[1] but not Italian.[1]


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. To-me 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.”

1.3. 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 Siaradodd Aled y Gymraeg
Gloss spoke Aled DEF Welsh
Parts Verb Subject Object
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 Mae Aled yn siarad y Gymraeg
Gloss is Aled V-N.speak DEF Welsh
Parts Aux. Verb Subject Verb-Noun Object
Translation Aled speaks Welsh.

In Irish, phrases also use VSO:

Sentence Labhraíonn Seán Gaeilge.
Words Labhraíonn Seán Gaeilge
Gloss speaks Seán Irish
Parts Verb Subject Object
Translation John speaks Irish.

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

Sentence An labhraíonn tú Gaeilge?
Words An labhraíonn Gaeilge
Gloss Do ...speak you Irish
Parts Verb Subject Object
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.

2. Inversion to VSO Order

There some tendency in many languages to switch constructions for emphasis. Particularly, sentences in English poetry are sometimes written in VSO order, and Early Modern English explicitly reflects the tacit VSO order found in Modern English by suppressing 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. Sociolinguistic factors also influence sentence structure; especially colloquial varieties of Arabic generally prefer SVO, whereas VSO is more common in Standard Arabic.[2]

Non-VSO languages that use VSO in questions include English and many other Germanic languages such as German and Dutch, as well as French, Finnish, Maká, Emilian.

In languages with V2 word order, such as most of the Germanic languages (though not Modern English) as well as Ingush and Oʼodham, the verb is always the second element in a main clause; the subject precedes the verb by default, but if another word or phrase is put at the front of the clause, the subject is moved to the position immediately following the verb. For example, the German sentence Ich esse oft Rinderbraten (I often eat roast beef) is in standard SVO word order, with the adverb oft (often) immediately following the verb. However, if that adverb is moved to the beginning of the sentence for emphasis, the subject ich (I) is moved to the third position, placing the sentence in VSO order: Oft esse ich Rinderbraten.


  1. Lahousse, Karen; Lamiroy, Béatrice (January 2012). "Word order in French, Spanish and Italian:A grammaticalization account". Folia Linguistica 46 (2). doi:10.1515/flin.2012.014. ISSN 1614-7308. 
  2. Feature 81A: Order of Subject, Object and Verb
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