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Word Order

The term word order refers, strictly speaking, to the relative order of subject and verbal, but in this unit we will also look at other aspects of the order of clause elements.
Pieces with letters forming words on a table. Photo.
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Declarative sentences

In declarative sentences the normal order is Subject + Verbal. If the verbal consists of two verbs and is split, e.g. by sometimes, as in the third example, we still have the normal S + v order. After an adverbial at the beginning, we still have the S+V, cf. example four.

The police officer (S) accepted (V) my apology.
Nobody (S) has heard (V) anything from him since Monday.
I (S) have (v) sometimes (Adv) wondered (V) why he sold the property.
From time to time, Ralph (S) wondered (V) why he had accepted the job.

Interrogative sentences

In interrogative sentences, some part of the verbal comes before the subject. This is called inverted word order (‘omvendt ordstilling’).

Did (v) the police officer (S) accept (V) your apology?
Has (v) anybody (S) heard (V) anything from him?
Do (v) you (S) sometimes wonder why he sold the property?

Exceptions

When a declarative begins with a negative element that makes the sentence negative, we use inverted word order. When the question word is subject, we get normal word order even in interrogatives.

Under no circumstances (ADV) must (V) you (S) pull the plug.
Only under special conditions (ADV) do (V) we (S) agree to extend the deadline.
Who (S) went (V) in first?
Which song (S) won the song contest?


Inverted order occurs even with non-negative openers. These examples with adverbials at the beginning followed by the V+S order have a literary flavour.

At the end of the long corridor (Adv) was (V) a door leading out to the back garden (S).
From behind the bushes (Adv) came (V) a very strange noise that he couldn’t identify (S)

Norwegian and English Compared

If we place an element which is not the subject in first position in Norwegian, the verb has to go right after it, cf. Av og til lurte Ralph på…. English keeps its normal word order in such cases, unless the first element is an extra insertion that does not belong to the pattern of the clause.

examples: word order

English

Norwegian

From time to time, Ralph (S) wondered (V) why he had accepted the job.Av og til lurte (V) Ralph (S) på hvorfor han hadde akseptert jobben.
Of course I’ll be able to complete it. Selvfølgelig skal jeg klare å bli ferdig

Fronted Elements

It is rare for English to place an object or a verb first in the sentence. In Norwegian it is far more common. There is often a kind of contrast between what has been said before and the information in the fronted element.

examples: Fronted elements

English

Norwegian

Honestly, you will have to learn this quickly.Ærlig talt, dette må du lære deg fort.
He even left the radio behind.Til og med radioen lot han ligge igjen.
He couldn’t be bothered about his neighbours.Naboene brydde han seg lite om.
He’d certainly do some fishing.Fiske skulle han i alle fall gjøre.

This type of fronting does occur, most often in spoken English, but is best avoided in more formal writing. That is why the translations on the right are best.

Hypothetical Situations

In hypothetical situations like those below, English must include would. Norwegian can do without it.

examples: hypothetical situations

English

Norwegian

If you had listened to me, you would not
have ended up with this problem.
Hadde du hørt på meg, hadde du ikke fått dette problemet.
If Marie had applied, she would no doubt have been admitted.Hvis Marie hadde søkt, hadde hun sikkert kommet inn.

Reported Speech

When we report what other people have said, there are certain principles governing the reporting clause. The final she below is unacceptable because we need a heavier element in end-focus position. But when the subject is a noun, we can choose normal or inverted word order.

”That’s not fair”, shouted Ida/Ida shouted/ /she shouted/*shouted she.

CC BY-SASkrive av Karin Dwyer Løken og Per Lysvåg. Rettshavar: Karin Dwyer Løken
Sist fagleg oppdatert 31.01.2019

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