April 20, 2012

Syntax

“Syntax” refers to the structure of a sentence.

Word Order

The word order is somewhat flexible in Hindi. However, the typical word order of most sentences is:

<subject> <object> <verb>

For this reason, Hindi is sometimes called an “SOV” language (subject, object, verb).

This is different that the typical word order of English sentences, which is SVO – subject, verb, object.

For instance, consider the English sentence “I am eating rice”. The subject “I” is followed by the verb “am eating”, which is followed by the object “rice”.

An equivalent Hindi sentence is मैं चावल खा रहा हूँ – note that the subject मैं is followed by the object चावल which is followed by the verb खा रहा हूँ.

In colloquial Hindi, it is common to place the subject of a verb at the end of the sentence. More generally, it is common in colloquial Hindi to place a word or phrase that qualifies the preceding words at the end of the sentence.

मेरा मन कर रहा है चावल खाने का – “I feel like eating rice” – The phrase चावल खाने का (“of eating rice”) qualifies what kind of feeling the speaker has, and was placed at the end of the sentence. The sentence easily could have been मेरा चावल खाने का मन कर रहा है. However, stylistically, many Hindi speakers defer qualifying phrases until the end of the sentence.

Another example is काश की कुछ बोल दिया होता मैंने – “I wish that I had said something” – note that मैंने qualifies the subject (who said something), and was placed at the end of the sentence. As another example, खाना खा लिया मैंने.

Because Hindi adjectival participles precede the words they modify, the resulting word order can be exactly the reverse of the word order in English. Also, in Hindi, postpositional phrases typically precede the word they modify, whereas in English, prepositional phrases typically succeed the word they modify. Likewise, because Hindi employs postpositions, whereas English employs prepositions, the resulting word order of postpositional phrases can be the reverse of prepositional phrases in English.

दरवाजे के पास कुर्सी पर बैठी हुई लड़की – “The girl sitting on the chair near the door”

The word order of the Hindi sentence is “door near chair on sitting girl” – the exact reverse of the English sentence.

  • Yongkoo Josh Park

    This is amazing that Hindi has SOV syntanx. I am Korean and I thought only monglian langauge families such as Monglian, Korean, Japanese, and Turkish are SOV syntax. For Korean, actually a negative such as not, don’t comes last after a verb. For example, I didn’t see him standing there ==> I there standing him see didn’t(Korean syntax). This is why asians don’t speak English as much as Europeans. And It is amazing that only Chinese has SVO syntanx among the Far East.

    • Thanks for your comment! In colloquial Hindi, speakers occasionally add a negative particle after the verb, e.g. मैंने कुछ किया ही नहीं – “I didn’t do anything”. However, this position is emphatic, and it is not the typical word order. I don’t know anything about comparative linguistics, but it is certainly interesting.

    • आदित्य

      A lot of languages have SOV word order, like the Dravidian languages and many Indo-European languages, like Latin and Sanskrit and Ancient Greek. SOV word order is the most common type of word order among all languages in the world.