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A guide to the Russian word order

[deactivated user]

    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.

    Compare:

    • 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.'

    March 1, 2016

    147 Comments


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/homka89

    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?


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/kbulygin

    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.)


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Dimidov

    I'm dropping a note here so I can find it again later. This definitely looks interesting. Thank you, Szeraja!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Dimidov

    You say

    --

    "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.

    Благодаю!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AnaPaulaLelis

    You don't need to do that, you can just click in ''following discussion'' on the top. Very simple.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/insomniaack

    "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.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/UsernameAK

    Used in poetry:

    Белый стол (white table) = стол белый (table white)

    So, adjectives (and something similar) and nouns can be swapped


    [deactivated user]

      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.)


      https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Aleksandro_RU

      If it is not a poetry, «стол белый» usually is "the table is white"


      https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Theron126

      I will definitely peruse this later. Thanks for putting it together!


      https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Theron126

      Having gone through it - I hope this gets stickied. This is great.


      https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shady_arc

      Now sticky.


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