If a 2-argument verb is like "to light", as in "I light the candle", a SOV might say it equivalent to "I the candle light", and a VSO might do "light I the candle". But how do languages with 3 or 4 work in the various other word order languages? Especially I am interested in SOV ones.

  • The man paints the wall red.
  • She(1) bet me(2) ten euros(3) that they won't show up(4)
  • SOV: The man the wall red paints...

It seems like you would have to start marking where each noun ends, or what part of speech (subject, obj1, or obj2) were where... Especially if you start adding a lot of adjectives in there.

  • The super tall man paints the huge black wall a bright yellow-red.
  • The super tall man X the huge black wall Y a bright yellow-red Z paints.

Wondering how this might be done in some exemplar languages.

  • Not all languages necessarily have verbs with that many arguments. For example, for Irish, a stereotypically VSO language, I can’t think of a single verb that licenses three arguments like that without resorting to adverbials (including PPs), which can be stacked more or less ad nauseam and aren’t necessarily arguments in the same way. Your betting example would be chuir sí deich n-euró liom nach dtiocfaidh siad, lit. ‘put she(1) ten euros(2) with-me(3?) that-not will come they(4?)’. Oct 22, 2022 at 11:35

1 Answer 1


SOV (head-final) means all the verb's arguments go before the verb. For example, Japanese is often called an archetypal SOV language. Pulling an example from Google:

Hanako=ga Tarou=ni shi=wo ataeta
Hanako=NOM Tarou=DAT death=ACC give
Hanako gives Tarou death

VSO (head-initial) means all the verb's arguments go after the verb. Again pulling examples from Google, this time for Irish Gaelic:

Labhraíonn Mícheál Gaeilge le Cáit go minic
speaks Michael Irish with Cait at often
Michael often speaks Irish to Cait

Separating adjacent noun phrases is an issue in every language. English, for example, tends to put direct objects and indirect objects next to each other: "I gave the man some money". So there are plenty of different ways to deal with it.

  • 1
    Oh, and there aren't any 4-argument verbs. 3 is as high as they go, and there's structures for all of them.
    – jlawler
    Oct 22, 2022 at 2:40

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