In this Wikipedia article, French, Italian and Spanish are listed as SVO languages, along with English and Chinese. (However, Latin is listed as SOV.)

I am highly confused about such statement. In those languages, we say

Je te connais

(Yo) te conozco

(Io) ti conosco

(Eu) Ti-cunosc

In all above examples, the word order is SOV. It's the same for, say:

Tu l'aimerais

(Tú) me gustas

(Io) gli dicevo

And then I came up with the question in the title.

I have no problem agreeing that English has SVO order, say

Is lovev youo

  • 8
    Probably because when using explicit complements (rather than pronouns), the canonical word order is after the verb — that's the case at least for the Iberian languages but I imagine it holds for French. But canonical doesn't mean obligatory either. "A mi mejor amigo un regalo se lo compré yo" is perfectly fine Spanish and OVS but it'd only be used in very limited circumstances. The default is "(yo le) compré un regalo a mi amigo" which is basically SVO Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 13:26
  • 1
    btw your first example in French makes no sense. "Je te sais" isn't something any Frenchie would say. You mean "Je te connais" (which is I know you. "Savoir" is for empirical knoweldge, not for knowing someone).
    – Patrice
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 19:39
  • @Patrice also "carnal knowledge", if we really want to go there
    – costrom
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 21:07
  • 1
    @Patrice "Je te sais amateur de linguistique" is perfectly fine (if of a formal register), even thought that's not what the OP meant. Anyway, there's an argument to be made that all the sentences in the question are just SV, or even just V in the case of French Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 21:37
  • @Eauquidort 100%. but "te conozco" is I know you. "Je te sais" isn't exactly the same there. And my point was just that the sentence "Je te sais" isn't something a Frenchie would say. If you add on to the sentence, sure! I was looking at it in isolation though.
    – Patrice
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 21:50

4 Answers 4


French, Spanish and Italian use SVO in clauses with non-pronominal arguments. Many languages make use of more than one kind of word order; the "canonical" order used in simplistic categorizations of entire languages as "SVO" vs. "SOV" etc. has to be based on some particular subset of clauses in the language in cases like that. English isn't SVO in all circumstances either: "What do you want?" is either OSV or OVS, depending on whether "V" is interpreted as being the auxiliary or the lexical verb.

There are a few reasons for preferring to base categorizations on clauses with non-pronominal arguments:

a) pronominal arguments are often optional (in Romance, this is mainly the case with subjects, but I believe objects may be dropped in some other languages)

b) pronominal arguments are not uncommonly expressed as affixes (in fact, there are some arguments about whether French object, and even subject markers are more like prefixes than they are like separate words)

  • Ha, we had almost the same answer but I accidentally typed it in the comment on my mobile =\ Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 13:27
  • 1
    One could mention that positioning of pronouns in some Indoeuropean languages is subject to Wackernagel’s law, unrelated to their syntactic function. Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 18:22
  • "what do you want" <--> "Que veux-tu", same OVS
    – iBug
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 2:01

French has all three patterns SVO if O is a noun, SOV if O is a pronoun or even OVS if O is a relative pronoun. ex: les émissions que regardent les gens, dont parlent les gens

  • Does it count when there's a relative clause?
    – Quidam
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 0:16

French is the most strictly SVO language followed by Italian.

Spanish is extremely flexible in terms of word order - with VSO sentences being particularly common, possibly due to semitic influence. VSO sentences are totally forbidden in both Italian and French. Native Spanish speakers (such as myself) arguably use them more often than SVO.

  • VSO sentences are not totally forbidden in Italian "cucina la mamma la cena" is a perfectly valid sentence (albeit with a somewhat uncommon emphasis) Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 18:38
  • My statement is based on this study according to which VSO is absent in French and Italian. researchgate.net/publication/…
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 20:08
  • 1
    I'm not a professional linguist and I'm not qualified to discuss the merits of research papers. I can only offer my experience as a native speaker in which VSO is present (if uncommon) in Italian. Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 21:03

Sentences with pronominal arguments often behave differently from sentences with explicit arguments (in the Romance languages, these pronominal sentences follow the earlier default, SOV). Generally the form with explicit arguments is what's considered the basic order

As such, a sentence like "the horse is eating an apple" is a better one to use when testing for basic word order. In the same languages as in the question this is:

  • le cheval mange une pomme
  • el caballo come una manzana
  • il cavallo mangia una mela
  • calul mănâncă un măr

All of which are SVO (note though that Spanish allows most other word orders as well, and in particular VSO is pretty commonplace without much difference in nuance from SVO)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.