Subject Verb Object

When creating sentences, different languages follow particular word orders. This refers to the order of the subject, verb, and object in a sentence. The six main word orders (from most to least common) are as follows:

Subject Verb Object Subject Verb Object

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Table of contents
    • SOV - subject, object, verb
    • SVO - subject, verb, object
    • VSO - verb, subject, object
    • VOS - verb, object, subject
    • OVS - object, verb, subject
    • OSV - object, subject, verb

    The focus of this article is the second most commonly used word order, which is subject, verb, object. This is often shortened to SVO. We'll be taking a look at the definition and grammar of subject, verb, object, along with some examples and the languages that use it as their dominant word order (including the English language!)

    Subject Verb Object Definition

    Check out the definition of subject verb object below:

    Subject verb object is one of six main word orders across all languages.

    In sentences that follow the subject verb object structure, the subject comes first. This is then followed by the verb and, lastly, the object.

    Subject Verb Object Grammar

    Before taking a look at some examples, it is important to focus on grammar and understand the purpose of the subject, verb, and object in a sentence. Let's take a look at each element in more detail:

    Subject

    The subject in a sentence refers to the person or thing carrying out an action. For example:

    "We watched a scary movie."

    In this sentence, the subject is "we."

    Verb

    The main verb in a sentence is the action itself. You may have heard it being referred to as a "doing word" in school; that is essentially its purpose! For example:

    "She writes a book."

    In this sentence, the verb is "writes."

    Object

    The object in a sentence refers to the person or thing that receives the action of the verb. For example:

    "James and Mark are painting a picture."

    In this sentence, the object is "a picture."

    It is worth noting that an object is not always needed in a sentence for it to make grammatical sense. The subject and verb, however, are necessary to create a meaningful sentence. For example:

    "James and Mark are painting."

    This sentence does not include an object, but still makes grammatical sense.

    If the sentence did not have either the subject or the main verb, it would not make sense. For example:

    No subject: "are painting." Who are painting?

    No main verb: "James and Mark are." James and Mark are doing what?

    Subject Verb Object Painting StudySmarterFig. 1 - The object in a sentence is not always needed, but the subject and verb are.

    English Subject Verb Object

    The English language uses subject verb object as the natural word order. A natural word order (also known as an unmarked word order) refers to the dominant, basic word order a language uses without having to change or add anything for emphasis. In English, the word order is fairly strict, meaning most sentences follow the same SVO structure.

    However, there are exceptions, which are due to the different grammatical voices we can use to create sentences. Grammatical voice refers to the relationship between the action of a verb and the subject and object.

    In English grammar, there are two grammatical voices:

    1. Active voice

    2. Passive voice

    The most commonly used voice is the active voice, which occurs in sentences where the subject actively performs the action. Sentences in the active voice follow the subject-verb object word order. For example:

    SubjectVerbObject
    John built a treehouse.

    In this example, it is clear that the subject, John, is the person carrying out the action of building.

    On the other hand, the passive voice is less commonly used. In sentences that use the passive voice, the subject is being acted upon, and the object assumes the position of the subject. The passive voice does not follow the SVO word order; instead, the structure is as follows:

    Subject → Auxiliary verb 'to be' → Past participle verb → Prepositional phrase. For example:

    "The treehouse was built by John."

    In this sentence, the focus has been shifted from the person/thing carrying out the action to the person/thing affected by the action.

    Subject Verb Object Treehouse StudySmarterFig. 2 - The passive voice places focus on the object instead of the subject.

    Subject Verb Object Examples

    Check out some examples of sentences written in the subject verb object word order below. The SVO word order is used with any tense, so let's begin by looking at some examples written in the simple past tense:

    SubjectVerbObject
    Marieatepasta.
    Iopened the box.
    Weattendedthe party.
    Liamdrankbeer.
    Grace and Marthasanga duet.
    They closedthe door.
    Shecleanedthe floor.
    Hedrovehis car.

    Now here are some examples written in the simple present tense:

    Subject VerbObject
    I kickthe ball.
    Webakea cake.
    Youbrushyour hair.
    Theygrowplants.
    Sheholdsthe kitten.
    Hereadshis essay.
    Pollydecoratesher bedroom.
    Tommakesa smoothie.

    Finally, here are some examples written in the simple future tense:

    SubjectVerbObject
    Shewill writea poem.
    He will winthe competition.
    Theywill playthe cello.
    You will finishyou exams.
    Katiewill walkher dog.
    Samwill openthe window.
    Wewill pickflowers.
    Iwill drinkhot chocolate.

    Subject Verb Object Languages

    We know that the English language uses subject verb object as the natural word order, but what about the other languages that use it too? It is the second most common word order, after all!

    Below is a list of languages that use SVO as their natural word order:

    • Chinese
    • English
    • French
    • Hausa
    • Italian
    • Malay
    • Portuguese
    • Spanish
    • Thai
    • Vietnamese

    Some languages are more flexible in terms of word order, so don't stick to just one "natural" order. For example, Finnish, Hungarian, Ukranian and Russian use both the subject verb object and subject object verb word orders equally.

    Below are some example sentences of the SVO word order in different languages, along with the English translations:

    Example sentencesEnglish translation
    Chinese: 他 足球He plays football.
    Spanish: Hugo come espaguetis.Hugo eats spaghetti.
    French: Nous mangeons des pommes.We eat apples.
    Italian: Maria beve caffè.Maria drinks coffee.
    Hausa: Na rufe kofar.I closed the door.
    Portuguese: Ela lavou a roupa.She washed her clothes.

    Subject Verb Object - Key takeaways

    • Subject verb object is one of six main word orders across all languages. It is the second most common word order (behind subject object verb).
    • In sentences that follow the subject verb object structure, the subject comes first. This is then followed by the verb and, lastly, the object.
    • The subject and verb are needed to create a meaningful sentence, but the object is not always necessary.
    • The English language uses subject verb object as the natural (dominant) word order.
    • In English, sentences in the active voice use the subject object verb word order. Sentences in the passive voice do not.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Subject Verb Object

    What is a subject object verb example?

    An example of a sentence that uses subject object verb is:


    "The horse drank the water."

    How do you identify subject verb object?

    The subject is the person/thing carrying out an action, the verb is the action itself, and the object is the person/thing that receives the action of the verb.

    Does English use subject verb object?

    Yes, the natural word order of English is subject, verb, object.

    How common is subject verb object?

    Subject verb object is the second most common word order (out of six).

    What is the difference between the subject and object of a verb?

    The subject of a verb is the person/thing carrying out the action of the verb, whereas the object is the person/thing that receives the action.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false?Subject verb object is the second most commonly used word order.

    How many word orders are there across all languages?

    Does the English language use subject verb object as its natural word order?

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