I understand that Spanish sentences have an SVO sentence structure.
(S)(Yo) (V)compro (O)los zapatos.
What confuses me is the fact that when the subject is a pronoun, it is omitted so often that you have to figure it out from the ending of the verb.
(V)Compr(S)o (O) Los zapatos.
My question is why Spanish is not thought of as VSO.

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    You’re asking why Spanish is svo though it’s a pro-drop language. Less obvious why is also with Italian. But there’s no answer for such a question. Some languages fix SVO other fix VSO word order during acquisition.. some fix SVO and pro-drop (spanish/italian) some don’t (english).. even some VSO languages drop the pronoun (Arabic). Why they drop the pronoun? The answer is that they have rich verbal morphology. This is the only answer given in the literature. Spanish may become a VSo language one day. Who knows. – Tsutsu May 21 at 18:22
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    Spanish is a pro-drop language. Only overt pronouns are considered in analysing word order. Hence Spanish is predominantly SVO though “compro yo los zapatos” is also well-formed. – Atamiri May 21 at 20:36
  • And so is Guanabana quiero yo. But word order depends on lexical items, not inflections, and pronouns are part of grammar, not lexicon. – jlawler Oct 17 at 18:46

The simplest answer is that the classification into VSO, SVO etc. as "types" is based on the order of full-word elements, thus full verbs and noun phrases as subject and object. Subject or object marking within a verb isn't "counted". It is also true that subject or object marking on a verb "counts" for the requirement of having a subject or an object which could lead in some theory to saying that the agreement suffix is the subject. In such approaches, calling a language "SVO" has diminished utility: Arabic would have SVSO order, and many Bantu languages would have SSOVOSO order.

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  • Wow, do you have an example of such a construction in a Bantu language? – Ergative Man May 24 at 1:13
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    Matumbi: baandu aa-n-doleky-an-anga eela people they-me-take.make.for-reciproc-pl.subj money "The people will make me take the money for each other". Admittedly not normal conversation. – user6726 May 24 at 4:39

Spanish is not fully an SVO language - in fact medieval Spanish has been categorized by some linguists as a VSO language. It has argued this is due to Semitic (Arabic) influence but whether it is or not is not clear.

You will notice that native speakers will tend to use VSO sentence structures far more commonly than second language speakers or learners.

For example: Me dijo mi madre que tendra que ir tu hermano contigo al hospital.

Literally: Told me my mother that will have to go your brother with you to the hospital.

This is not how you guys are taught Spanish. But its how we speak.

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    As a non-native speaker, yes, this is exactly how we’re taught Spanish, at least some of us. The fact that Spanish employs VSO much more frequently than most SVO languages is a perfectly standard part of Spanish grammar as it is taught. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 17 at 12:32
  • "me dijo mi madre" is OVS, not VSO – Tristan Oct 19 at 9:06
  • or did you mean the "que ir tu hermano contigo al hospital"? That doesn't have an object but is still VS – Tristan Oct 19 at 11:21

Spanish is (partially) a pro-drop language, which means that the pronouns tend to be dropped when they play the role of subject. However, you should't mistake the verb ending with the pronoun. Also, you will see that if the subject of the sentence is NOT a pronoun, it will (almost) always come before the verb. In your example, it is indeed correct to say "(Yo) compro los zapatos", but you would also say "José compra los zapatos" (and absolutely never "Compra José los zapatos", although perhaps in a question). Interestingly, however, when you add the pronouns for emphasis (equivalent to english "I DO buy..."), sometimes the order can be inverted: "Compro yo los zapatos" is a very common construction, but it only happens in this special constructions to add emphasis, and still is not enough to classify spanish as a VSO language.

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  • More precisely, Spanish accented pronouns are dropped unless they’re in focus or contrasted. This is also true of direct and indirect objects. – Atamiri May 23 at 21:44

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