What is the difference between a sentence structure and a word order?

(could you please explain that on a few examples?)

Thank you.

2 Answers 2


The difference between word order and sentence structure is in where you are focusing your analysis.

"Word order" is the linear order in which the words appear, no matter what the relations are between any two words. "Sentence structure" refers to the way in which each word relates to other words, and is a more complicated analysis which includes things like some words being grouped up together, and a complex hierarchy.

Some analyses use movement to say that a word starts in one place in the structure and moves to a different spot. These analyses might refer to a "deep structure" (structure before transformations like movement or deletion) and "surface structure" (structure with words in the final order). If you like thinking with "deep" and "surface" structures, the word order can be thought of as the surface structure made into a single linear string of words.

The difference between then helps explain structural ambiguity, where two structures lead to the same order. Like "the man saw the woman with a telescope," both the structure with the groups "the man [saw [the woman [with a telescope]]]" if the woman has a telescope with her, or with it outside that group of words with "the woman" - "the man [[saw the woman] [with a telescope]]," if the seeing uses the telescope as an instrument. The word order cannot distinguish these two, but they have different structures.


Just consider the sentence “Students read books”, whose structure in English is S:[NP VP:[V NP]] (the labels are a little old-fashioned, they’d be somewhat different in X’-theory, but the hierarchical structure remains unaltered). In Russian, it would be S:[NP V NP] as it’s a non-configurational language with free word order and you could also have something like “books students read”. So the same word order can be a projection of different structures.

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