A guide to the Russian word order
There're lots of questions about the word order, so I've thought I'll write a guide about it.
This guide is work-in-progress, I'll edit it as more questions are asked, and as mistakes are found.
1. Common misconceptions
You might have heard that the Russian has a 'free word order'. However, this is a linguistic term that is often misunderstood. 'Free word order' means that subject, object and verb are not arranged in a certain order.
It does not mean that you can put words in any order. It just means that grammatic role (subject/object/verb) doesn't affect the word order.
2. Neutral/objective and inverted/emphatic/subjective word order
In Russian, sentences have a neutral/objective word order. It is the default word order that doesn't add any additional information. Duolingo usually accepts only sentences with the neutral word order.
You can break the neutral word order by moving words around. By doing this, you create an inverted/emphatic/subjective word order. This word order is used for emotional emphasis. With emphatic word order, you must mark the new information/focus with intonation (see more about it later). Usually, when you swap the place of two words, one of these words gets the emphasis (the intonation shows which one).
Emphatic word order is not usually accepted on Duolingo. For you as for learners, it's better to learn the neutral word order first. It's important to learn the rules before learning the ways to break them.
Note that in colloquial speech, emphatic word order is much more common than in formal language. This is partly due to the fact we don't have much time to construct our sentences, so we just put the words in any order. In careful, prepared speech, emphatic word order is rarer and serves some purpose.
3. Fixed position of certain words
Some words have a fixed position in the sentence.
Adjectives usually precede the noun they modify: большо́й дом 'big house', кра́сный цвето́к 'red flower'.
Other noun modifiers usually follow the noun: кни́га сестры́ 'sister's book', статья́ в журна́ле 'an article in the magazine'.
Objects usually follow the verb: я ви́жу соба́ку 'I see a dog', я понима́ю грамма́тику 'I understand the grammar'.
But when object is a pronoun, it usually precedes the verb: я его зна́ю 'I know him', я ничего́ не ви́жу 'I see nothing'.
4. Word order can show new information
All sentences have some new information, and some known information. Known information is called topic in some analyses, and theme in others. New information is called comment, rheme or focus.
Rheme/comment is something you want to tell. For example, in the sentence 'My sister is an architect', it's assumed that you know I have a sister, and new information is her occupation. When I say, 'My sister is the architect', you know that there's some architect mentioned before, and new information is that this architect is actually my sister.
So, in Russian we place new information towards the end of the sentence:
- Моя сестра — архитектор. 'My sister is an architect.'
- Архитектор — моя сестра́. 'My sister is the architect.'
In English, we use the article 'a' to show that 'architect' is a new piece of infomation, someone not introduced before. In Russian, we use the word order.
Russian usually places topic/theme (known information) at the beginning of the sentence, and comment/focus/rheme (new information) at the end.
The first part of the sentence is something known. It's a pivotal point that connects the sentence to listener's knowledge. And the end of the sentence is new information.
- На столе́ мои́ кни́ги. 'My books are on the table.' 'What is on the table is my books.' (This sentence tells us something about the table: the fact that my books are there. Table is a known information, books is new information.)
- Мои́ кни́ги на столе́. 'My books are on the table.' 'The place where my books are is the table.' (This sentence tells us something about my books: the fact that they are on the table.)
- В па́рке собрали́сь все. 'Everyone gathered in the park.' It's a sentence about what is going on in the park. New information: that everyone's there. Park is something we know about. We can use this sentence if we talked about the park before.
- Все собрали́сь в па́рке. 'Everyone gathered in the park.' It's a sentence about 'everyone', about the group of people. The new information is: that this group is in the park. We can use this sentence if we talked about 'everyone' before.
- Возле окна́ стои́т стол. 'There is a table standing near the window.' It's a sentence about the place near the window. New information is: there's a table standing there.
- Стол стои́т во́зле окна́. 'The table is standing near the window.' It's a sentence about the table. New information is: it's near the window.
5. Word order in questions
Basically, the word order is the same as in the answer to the question. Imagine a possible answer and use the same word order:
If answer is «Моя́ сестра́ — архите́ктор» 'My sister is an architect', then the question is «Моя́ сестра́ — архите́ктор» 'Is my sister is architect?':
— Моя́ сестра́ — архите́ктор? 'Is my sister an architect.'
— Твоя́ сестра́ — архите́ктор. 'Your sister is an architect.'
The question mark shows the rising intonation. Basically, just add a question mark (in writing) or a rising intonation (when speaking) to any sentence, and you have a question,
5.1. Word order with question words
However, there's an exception: question words normally come at the beginning of the sentence. So, if «кто?» 'who?' replaced «архите́ктор» in the question, it becomes «Кто моя́ сестра́?» 'Who/what is my sister?' (not «Моя́ сестра́ кто́?»):
— Кто моя́ сестра́? 'What's my sister?'
— Твоя́ сестра́ — архите́ктор. 'Your sister is an architect.'
This sometimes means you can break other rules about the word order. For example, «како́й» 'what' works like an adjective, but it is not placed before the noun. It's placed at the beginning:
— Како́й моя сестра́ архите́ктор? 'What architect is my sister?'
— Твоя сестра́ — изве́стный архите́ктор. 'Your sister is a famous architect.'
So, basically, the word order is the same as in the answer, but question words come first.
5.2. Word order with «ли»
There's another way to form generic questions: you put the rheme/focus/comment at the beginning of the sentence, add «ли», and leave all the other words as they are in the answer. This way, word + ли works like a question word:
— Архите́ктор ли моя́ сестра́? 'Is my sister an architect?'
— Твоя́ сестра́ — архите́ктор. 'Your sister is an architect.'
«Архите́ктор ли моя́ сестра́?» and «Моя́ сестра́ — архите́ктор?» mean the same thing.
When the new information is not one word, but several, then you place all the words in the beginning of the sentence, but add «ли» after the first one. Here's an example (here, the new information that is the rheme of the question is «известный архитектор»):
— Изве́стный ли архите́ктор моя́ сестра́? 'Is my sister a famous architect?'
— Твоя́ сестра́ — изве́стный архите́ктор. 'Your sister is a famous architect.'
"Objects usually follow the verb: я ви́жу соба́ку 'I see a dog', я понима́ю грамма́тику 'I understand the grammar'.
But when object is a pronoun, it usually precedes the verb: я его зна́ю 'I know him', я ничего́ не ви́жу 'I see nothing'."
'Nothing' is not a pronoun, I believe, so unless you were referring to "I/Я" - which seems doubtful given the construction of the previous sentence - this appears inconsistent. Unless 'ничего́' is special in Russian in that it counts (or can count) as a pronoun, maybe?
The rest seems pretty clear - though, not directly usable by me (I'll get there!) - except for the last part about ли. I'll have to reread it a few more times to see if I can grok it.
Hello! Thanks for your feedback.
'Nothing' is not a pronoun
Ничто/ничего is a negative pronoun in Russian (well, it's even declined like the pronoun что).
Actually, English dictionaries also say it's a pronoun: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nothing (although I agree that it's much less clear since it's not derived from a pronoun, like «ничто» is derived from «что»; it's derived from the word 'thing', which is why it's pretty confusing).
I'll need to rewrite the text to make it clearer.
The rest seems pretty clear - though, not directly usable by me (I'll get there!) - except for the last part about ли. I'll have to reread it a few more times to see if I can grok it.
I'll try to rewrite it in a simpler way later.
Let's see... You have many things you call pronouns, i.e. "variables" that replace the actual thing:
- Personal pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, they (also, their forms: me, you, him, her, it, us, them)
- Demonstrative pronouns: this, that (these, those)
- Possessive pronouns and adjectives: mine/my, yours/your, his/his, hers/her etc.
- Indefinite pronouns: something/anything, someone / anyone (anybody), all, everyone, several, little etc.
- Negative pronouns: no one, nobody, nothing, none
- Relative pronouns (introduce a noun clause): that, who, which, whoever etc.
Now, there are things that are not proNOUNS but still have some qualitites and/or can form a system in a language that extends the pronouns system nicely. Their classification might depend on the language. For example, in Japanese "here", "there", "where" and "whereever" will work the same as "this"/"that"/"what"/"whatever" and so on.
- Question words: what, why, which, how, who, where, when
- Adverbial "pronouns" like "always", "here", "never", "in no way", "in some way", "some time", "for some reason". English does not even have stuff like "nohow", "somewhen" or "somewhy".
Wherever it went, I do not know, but here it is again:
If you removed it for being irrelevant (hah, not so relative, these relative pronouns), I can make it disappear again as well, I suppose. :)
Well, I googled a number of different pages to see what is normally considered a pronoun in English and what isn't. I have no idea why this particular link ended up in the post. The terms I searched include "negative pronouns", "indefinite pronouns", "relative pronoun", "english pronouns", and, of course, I used Oxford Dictionaries, too.
I know it's a bit late but may be helpful for someone new. In Russian if you have sentence what has "no" information you have to put all words as "negative". я ничего́ не ви́жу 'I see nothing" - if translate exactly it will be - "I don't see nothing", using this principal you can build sentence as you will do it normal way. Pardon my English))
"Basically, just add [...] a rising intonation (when speaking) to any sentence, and you have a question," ...unless you're Canadian, then it's usually not a question ;) . I confused the hell out of my Russian fiancé for several weeks this summer, and she answered things that weren't questions as if they were due to the strong influence of Canadian raising on my accent. I just found it cute, but she found herself less embarrassed by pretending she didn't hear me just so I'd repeat myself and she could try to figure out if it was a question or not. She was trying to figure out how to understand my sentences, I was trying to figure out whether she could hear me, lol.
That's what I've covered in section 2. Poetry is often more emotional than prose, so it uses emphatic word order more often. (Sometimes it's indeed used just to make the word fit the rhyming scheme, without any emphasis, but this is generally considered bad style.)
It is not necessarily poetry : in the principal clause стол белый means the table is (a) white (one) : what comes after is a predicate rather than an attribute. When the clause or phrase is subordinate, as in столы белые мне нравятся It means the tables that are white please me, or more English-like the tables I like, when white : the long adjective posited after the noun it qualifies describes rather a condition or a necessary circumstance for the principal verb to apply. It is especially colloquial as well as poetical when used with an instrumental noun. Летом так жарким мы ждали осень чтобы пойти в отпуск. With the summer being so hot we waited for fall to go on vacation.
Hello, Theron126. I have just returned tp Duolingo after an illness, and I find so much that is different. For example, the skills are presented in English transliteration, and there is no "little slider" at the top of the screen (or anywhere else) to enable Cyrillic. I am used to reading Russian in Cyrillic, and I sometimes find it hard to understand the transliterations. I have searched for a soluion, but I don't seem to find any...But just now I went back and, yes, it's in Cyrillic. I don't know how it happened. There's still lots I don't understand (Sticky??), but at least I can read the exercises.
«Мои книги на столе» может переводиться и "My books are on the table", и "My books are on a table".
«Мои книги на столе» can be translated either as "My books are on the table", or "My books are on a table".
и если 'My books are on the table.' хотят
Я не понимаю этого предложения.
I don't understand this sentence.
почему нет "Мои́ кни́ги на столе́ лежат"
Что значит «почему нет»? Эта фраза может использоваться, когда слушатель знает, что книги на столе, но не знает, лежат они или стоят:
What does 'why not' mean? This phrase can be used, when the listener knows the books are on the table, but doesn't know if they are placed horizonally or vertically:
— Твои книги стоят или лежат? 'Are your books on the table placed horizontally or vertically?'
— Мои книги на столе лежат. 'My books are placed horizontally.'
(То есть «мои книги» и «на столе» — известная информация, «лежат» — новая информация.)
(That is, "my books" and "on the table" is known information, "lie" is the new information.)
Или же её можно использовать как шутливый ответ:
Or it can be used as a joke answer:
— Что делают твои книги на столе? 'Why are your books on the table?' (literally: 'What are your books doing on the table?')
— Мои книги на столе лежат. 'My books are placed there.' (i.e. it would mean there's no real reason to have the books on the table)
A fascinating answer! Что интересует меня в том, как объяснить использование статей на английском языке. Это кажется особенно трудным для русскоязычных. Ваше эссе "A guide to Russian word order" является первым шагом в этом направлении, но многие трудности остаются. Когда я исправить переводы с русского на английский самой большой проблемой является статья. Я хотел бы установить некоторые полезные рекомендации для обывателя. Так что мой вопрос остается: как же дифференцироваться в русском языке между "The books are on the table" и "The books are on a table (любой)". Я предполагаю, что вы будете говорить просто использовать слово "любой" во втором предложении.
Я хотел бы установить некоторые полезные рекомендации для обывателя.
Вряд ли существует волшебная рекоммендация, услышав которую люди сразу же начнут употреблять артикли правильно. Тут нужна практика.
I don't think that there's a silver-bullet recommendation that would make people use articles correctly immediately. It takes practice.
Так что мой вопрос остается: как же дифференцироваться в русском языке между "The books are on the table" и "The books are on a table (любой)".
В общем случае: никак.
Generally we don't make this difference.
Конечно, можно при объяснении добавлять местоимения, например «Книги на том столе» 'The books are on that table' и «Книги на каком-то столе» 'The books are on some table', но ведь that ≠ the, some ≠ a.
Of course, you can add pronouns when translating, for example «Книги на том столе» 'The books are on that table' и «Книги на каком-то столе» 'The books are on some table', but 'that' ≠ 'the', 'some' ≠ 'a'.
Russian as a language never takes "the". You can say that Russian is a language of beauty, or that Russian is a language full of beauty, or more commonly that Russian is a beautiful language, which three things mean about the same thing with different shades. A language of beauty is a language the artistic beauty of which is the most important factor both as regards its apparition in history and its use in the contemporary world, a title I would gladly give to Italian as it was created to enable the production of works of art first and foremost and is mostly learnt nowadays by opera amateurs ; a language full of beauty means the same thing as regards its beauty but that its main characteristic is something else, like its utility to discuss politics, for instance, and that not everything in it is beauty : Soviet Russian looks more like Klingon than the language of Pushkin, Chekhov, Dostoyevski : I would rather thus qualify German, a language that can go to unsurpassed artistic summits and is as good as Italian at opera, but is generally learnt for scientific or ideological purposes. A beautiful language means that most things in it are beautiful even though the language is not necessarily meant to convey beauty, that is the case of Brazilian Portuguese, a very charming language spoken by people that generally have no concern for beauty as such. But to say that Russian is a beauty language is also permissible, with a very different meaning intended : it could very well mean that Russian is a most important language as regards beauty products, beauty parlours, i.e. cosmetics and hairdressing, a title I would rather give to French. This remark I have just made proves that English is not an easy language at all : the price to pay for the very little number of variable verb and noun grammatical forms is the very unpredictable meaning sequences of even very ordinary words can have. In Russian each one of this shade has a different word, and each one of this word is formed in a very predictable way.
Огромное спасибо за объяснение! Теперь мне нонятно. Спасибо большое!
I also want to add that adjective can be succeed the noun in question when used in the predicate. "большой дом" 'a/the big house', "красивый цветок" 'a/the beautiful flower' turns into "дом -- большой/дом -- велик" 'the house is big' and "цветок -- красивый/цветок --красив" 'the flower is beautiful.'
Не совсем так, в данном случае возникает вопрос - велик по отношению к чему? велик для чего? велик-это сравнительное прилагательное, которое предполагает объяснение. I will say "большой дом" 'a/the big house', "красивый цветок" 'a/the beautiful flower' turns into "дом -- большой/дом -- велик" 'the house is "to" big' (I would expect - to big for what?) and "цветок -- красивый/цветок --красив" 'the flower is to beautiful.' (I would expect answer - to beautiful compere to what?)
Thank Shady_arc for correcting me here. Look down for changes.
http://school-assistant.ru/?predmet=russian&theme=stepeni_sravnenia_prilagatelnih This is from Russian resourse And this link how it does work in English https://www.native-english.ru/grammar/adjectives-degrees-of-comparison Not sure if I allowed to put links here, if not, i'm sorry, please moderate it.
OK. Now, if I say "Моё терпение не безгранично" should I add something else? Like, say that my patience is "not infinite" compared to something else? Should I continue the sentence? What about "Её терпение поистине безгранично"? Is "Моё терпение не безграничное" better? (reality check shows it is much worse).
I do not think the "rule" of comparison works. Then again, I would not use "Цветок красив" altogether and if I used it to sound bookish I would not need to add anything. We can, however, look at how native speakers used short adjectives when they were more common:
- Как-то особенно свеж и чист был воздух, или это казалось так, потому что сама я только что встала и была бодра и весела.
- Выдернешь на снег окуня и удивляешься: до чего он красив!
- Превосходная игра актеров, художнически написанный сценарий. Автор умен и талантлив.
- Угроза выкидыша может быть велика
- Довольно стандартно. Город очень красив, особенно, наверно, летом. Крещатик грандиозен.
I think the predicative use of велик for "big" object is uncommon due to its awkwardness from all points of view at once. It is bookish; in speech it is used in contexts of trying clothing on ("too big"); it is much more common for "vast, large" amounts but not physically large objects; finally, it can be interpreted as "great, very important" (since великий means that).
Огромное спасибо Вам за выражение сомнений. В споре рождается истина. Что собственно и толкнуло меня просмотреть школьную программу. Повторенье - мать учения)). Итак, в соответсвии со школьной программой.
Полная форма прилагательного - красивый, красивая, красивое, красивые - изменяется по падежам, родам и числам. В предложении выполняет роль определения. Туристы совершили трудный и долгий подъём.
Краткая форма прилагательного-красив, красива, красиво, красивы - по родам и числам (не изменяется по падежам, как полная форма) В предложении выполняет роль сказуемого. Подъём на вершину горы был долог и труден.
So, if to get it in to English, I will say
Full form will be - It is a beautiful flower
Short form will be - The flower is beautiful.
Не беспокойтесь, в школьной программе всё равно почти не изучается грамматика русского языка. ^_^ Вернее, так: изучаются только некоторые основные моменты и ряд приёмов, помогающих в правописании и в составлении текстов.
- например, в школе не проходятся глаголы движения и почти не проходится вид. Это потрясающе, потому что это одни из важнейших разделов.
- не указывается на то, что "твёрдые" к, г, х при добавлении окончаний всегда используют И, а не Ы (по аналогии с "мама"→"мамы" можно ожидать собака→собакы, но это не так).
- в школе лишь поверхностно проходят спряжение глаголов (оно нужно только для безударных окончаний).
- не думаю, что обращают внимание на образование повелительного наклонения (ждать→жди, поймать→поймай, стать→стань).
Носители языка не совершают в этих вещах ошибок — так зачем изучать? :)
Во всяком случае, так было лет 15-17 назад, когда я учился. Сомневаюсь, что это изменилось. Положа руку на сердце, нет смысла преподавать полновесную грамматику, которую и учителя русского (как родного) вряд ли знают. Из положительных моментов — насколько я знаю, сейчас в школе немножко учат, собственно, языку, а не только орфографии и пунктуации. В экзамен входит эссе, поэтому и в школе теперь есть эссе.
Позвольте немного поправить вот эту часть текста:
1) When I say, 'My sister is the architect', you know that there's some architect mentioned before, and new information is that this architect is actually my sister. So, in Russian we place new information towards the end of the sentence: Моя сестра — архитектор. 'My sister is an architect.'
в фразе " моя сестра - архитектор" нет никакой информации, что уже упоминали ранее о каком-то архитекторе. Тут другой смысл, имеется ввиду "моя сестра по специальности (работает) архитектором, что она и есть архитектор
2) — Како́й моя сестра́ архите́ктор? 'What architect is my sister?' не совсем корректно, (так обычно не говорят), What (какой) лучше ставить на 3 место в этой фразе - Моя сестра какой архитектор? и тогда слово известный (famous) логично ставить на третье место в ответе вместо вопросительного слова "какой" : - Твоя сестра - известный архитектор Или еще можно сказать - Какой архитектор моя сестра?
1) That's what the original text states: Моя сестра — архитектор. 'My sister is an architect.' The explanation of the is given for a contrast.
2) Моя сестра какой архитектор? is quite colloquial, Какой архитектор моя сестра? seems to be the most commonly used option. (Note that questions tend to have their focus at the beginning, not at the end.)
You said that when the object of the verb is a pronoun, it usually goes before the verb. In the Russian course, I've recently seen a couple of sentences where the object is a pronoun and it's placed after the verb. Under what circumstances should the pronoun be placed after the verb? I can't seem to find an explanation. Благодарю!
A pronoun as an object does not have to go before the verb. It is just that it can easily appear before or after. Pronouns are short and unstressed, so they are often used to keep the rhythm. These two are both OK:
- Я не знаю её. = I do not know her.
- Я её не знаю. = I do not know her.
They are pretty much the same in terms of stress, message or flow. For a full-fledged noun, the latter position emphasises it as the topic. In this course, we usually opt for a more neutral word order:
- Я не знаю ваших родителей. = I do not know your parents.
Which is not to say that placing ваших родителей before is a mistake (in real life). It just means that the course usually focuses on more common / unremarkable phrasings. In Russian, you are fairly free to juggle the larger blocks around:
- They have not read anything in a long while= Они давно ничего не читали. (the default option)
- but also Давно они ничего не читали (stressed "давно")
- Они не читали ничего давно (passable; "не читали" and "давно" must be stressed; probably works best in spoken speech)
- Давно ничего они не читали (maybe in poetry?)
- Не читали давно ничего они (odd)
- Они не читали давно ничего. (in speech. . . maybe)
None of these are incorrect in the same sense "In a long while, haven't read they anything" is ungrammatical in English. It is difficult to draw a line here.
I don't think of word order as putting new information at the end of a sentence, because that makes it seem like a grammatical rule and it is not. It also seems somehow too sequential. I think of it as referencing an object in the context by mentioning it first. For example, if there is a table in the context, but not your books, you might say "На столе́ мои́ кни́ги." If your books were in the context, but not the table, you would instead say "Мои́ кни́ги на столе́." This seems like a more natural explanation to me. [I'm bilingual English/Latvian (similar grammar to Russian) and have been using free word order my whole life. Russian does the same thing as Latvian, although a little bit differently.] Sometimes, there is little, if any, difference in meaning when you change the word order. Other times, there is a real difference. It depends on what you're saying within the context of your conversation. As others have pointed out, this is done mainly in speech. It's completely natural when you get used to it.
Hello! I'm planning to fix these problems and rewrite some parts completely, but I keep procrastinating this :D
Yes, it's true that you can make any sentence into a question by changing the intonation.
добрый and доброе are two forms of the same word (see Wiktionary). It means good in the sense of kind, gracious, benign. It is an adjective (as in, it describes something or someone, like "glad").
спокойной means calm (the base form is спокойный), it just so happens that you typically wish each other a calm night instead of a good night in Russian.
хороша is an adverb (as in, it describes how something is or is done, like "gladly"), and its base form is хорошо. It means well, fine, but can also be translated as good, for example when used as an exclamation.
You'll get used to when to use which as you go along! :-)
(Edit: Lots of little edits -- I've only had one cup of coffee yet...)
You are wrong, "хороша" is not an adverb, it's called "short form of adjective", so it is just a short form of "хорошая". It is often used as a predicate, like "она была хороша" – "she was nice"; "я хорош (masculine form) в настольных играх" – "I am good at board games". But if you want to say "I read a good book" you must use the normal form: "я прочитал хорошую книгу".
Wow! I learned more from you than all the books I've been reading. Your explanation made sense. I'm an author and working on a book with a Russian character. I took some Russian 30 years ago in high school, and forgot most of it. I want to learn so I can portray the character accurately and understand how he would "think" and speak to his co workers. Perhaps we should team up and write a book? I can do all the formatting, and definitely would enjoy learning as much as I can. Been taking the Duolingo for 232 days and some things click, and other things I can't seem to get no matter what. The cases are really doing me in.
Perhaps we should team up and write a book?
Sorry, I’m not pretty busy right now so I’ll have to decline. But thanks for the suggestion! I’m really honoured.
Aw, pity! You have a wonderful way of explaining things. I have yet to find a good book that breaks everything down into small parts for understanding. Most books launch you right into the middle of things without thinking that maybe this person has never dealt with cases and genders before (oh, they are in English, but few people think much about them--me included!). Well, if you get time, look me up, I'd be happy to help put everything together.
I would suggest learn the basics for Russian , then focus on reading mostly so that how grammar comes , speaking as a practice next ... never could survive grammar in school ... only reading gave fluency ... and try to see the route of every word , this will give you so many other meanings once you start recognising other parts ...
The information provided in this article is very useful. Great job! The topic is, retty complicated, "ли" can be very comfusing for russian learners. I have a youtube channel with some useful videos about Russian language - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVs3ofZZFeFGNjeEJnJFrJA?view_as=subscriber
If Duolingo uses the same word order in English and Russian, it is probably because they have found that this makes it easier for learners to translate from one language to the other. It does not mean that this is the way that Russians normally speak. You can see this if you take the English course in Russian.
As native Russian speaker I don't completely agree with this part.
"But when object is a pronoun, it usually precedes the verb: я его зна́ю 'I know him', я ничего́ не ви́жу 'I see nothing'."
Though 'я его зна́ю' is slightly more preferable the direct order 'я зна́ю его' is completely ok. Also direct order may be more preferable or even the only correct in longer sentences.
'I see nothing new in his idea.' will translate as 'Я не вижу ничего нового в его идее.' People don't say 'Я ничего нового не вижу в его идее.'
Though I agree that 'я ничего́ не ви́жу' is more expressive than 'я не вижу ничего'.
I would suggest using direct order with pronounces unless you absolutely know what you are doing. But I am not a linguist so may be wrong.
So if you're translating from English to Russian, how are you supposed to know which word is being emphasized?
For example "Here is my towel." Most likely, the people have already discussed the existence of the towel, and now the location of the towel is the NEW information.
So why is the translation "вот моё полотенце."?
This would mean my towel is the new information, when the location of the towel should have been the new information.
I guess you could also say, the people were discussing what's over here, and they went through everything that is over here, and finally "my towel" is discovered to be over here, which " вот моё полотенце."makes sense, because my towel is the new information.
But how are you supposed to be able to discern the difference translating it from English to Russian with only one sentence provided?
You chose a bad example. There is only one way to say "here is my towel", and that is "вот мое полотенце". It's the verbal equivalent of pointing to your towel. Вот always occurs at the beginning of a phrase (or by itself). If you wanted to say "my towel is here", then you would have to say something like "моё полотенце здесь". You are discussing Russian free word order, and that only means that you don't have to use a strict subject-verb-object order. There is no verb or object in your example. Моё полотенце is the subject and вот is a particle. You can't say it any other way. Other posts in this thread give good examples of where you can change the word order.
In answer to your last question, you cannot know what is being emphasized without knowing the context. You can just use the default subject-verb-object order.