Among natural languages with a word order preference, SOV is the most common type (followed by subject–verb–object; the two types account for more than 75% of natural languages with a preferred order).
Standard Mandarin is generally SVO but common constructions with verbal complements require SOV or OSV. Some Romance languages are SVO, but when the object is an enclitic pronoun, word order allows for SOV (see the examples below). German and Dutch are considered SVO in conventional typology and SOV in generative grammar. They can be considered SOV but with V2 word order as an overriding rule for the finite verb in main clauses, which results in SVO in some cases and SOV in others. For example, in German, a basic sentence such as "Ich sage etwas über Karl" ("I say something about Karl") is in SVO word order. Non-finite verbs are placed at the end, however, since V2 only applies to the finite verb: "Ich will etwas über Karl sagen" ("I want to say something about Karl"). In a subordinate clause, the finite verb is not affected by V2, and also appears at the end of the sentence, resulting in full SOV order: "Ich sage, dass Karl einen Gürtel gekauft hat." (Word-for-word: "I say that Karl a belt bought has.")
A rare example of SOV word order in English is "I (subject) thee (object) wed (verb)" in the wedding vow "With this ring, I thee wed."
SOV languages have a strong tendency to use postpositions rather than prepositions, to place auxiliary verbs after the action verb, to place genitive noun phrases before the possessed noun, to place a name before a title or honorific ("James Uncle" and "Johnson Doctor" rather than "Uncle James" and "Doctor Johnson") and to have subordinators appear at the end of subordinate clauses. They have a weaker but significant tendency to place demonstrative adjectives before the nouns they modify. Relative clauses preceding the nouns to which they refer usually signals SOV word order, but the reverse does not hold: SOV languages feature prenominal and postnominal relative clauses roughly equally. SOV languages also seem to exhibit a tendency towards using a time–manner–place ordering of adpositional phrases.
In linguistic typology, one can usefully distinguish two types of SOV languages in terms of their type of marking:
dependent-marking has casemarkers to distinguish the subject and the object, which allows it to use the variant OSV word order without ambiguity. This type usually places adjectives and numerals before the nouns they modify, and is exclusively suffixing without prefixes. SOV languages of this first type include Japanese and Tamil.
head-marking distinguishes subject and object by affixes on the verb rather than markers on the nouns. It also differs from the dependent-marking SOV language in using prefixes as well as suffixes, usually for tense and possession. Adjectives in this type are much more verb-like than in dependent-marking SOV languages, and hence they usually follow the nouns. In most SOV languages with a significant level of head-marking or verb-like adjectives, numerals and related quantifiers (like "all", "every") also follow the nouns they modify. Languages of this type include Navajo and Seri.
In practice, of course, the distinction between these two types is far from sharp. Many SOV languages are substantially double-marking and tend to exhibit properties intermediate between the two idealised types above.
Many languages that have shifted to SVO word order from earlier SOV retain (at least to an extent) the properties: for example, the Finnish language (high usage of postpositions etc.)
SOV structure is also widely used in railway contact in order to clarify the objective of the order.
The following example that uses 把 is controversially labelled as SOV. 把 may be interpreted as a verb, meaning "to hold". However, it does not mean to hold something literally or physically. Rather, the object is held mentally, and then another verb is acted on the object.
Dutch is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (i.e. inflected) verb is moved to the second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, non-finite verbs (participles, infinitives) and compound verbs follow this pattern:
German is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (i.e. inflected) verb is moved to the second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, compound verbs follow this pattern:
Er hat einen Apfel gegessen.
He has eaten an apple.
The word order changes also depending on whether the phrase is a main clause or a dependent clause. In dependent clauses, the word order is always entirely SOV (cf. also Inversion):
The markers が (ga) and を ((w)o) are, respectively, subject and object markers for the words that precede them. Technically, the sentence could be translated a number of ways ("I open a box", "It is I who open the boxes", etc.), but this does not affect the SOV analysis.
Japanese has some flexibility in word order, so an OSV is also possible. (箱を私が開けます。)
Like German and Dutch, the Indo-Aryan language Kashmiri is SOV combined with V2 word order. The non-finite verb (infinitive or participle) remains in final position, but the finite (i.e. inflected) part of the verb appears in second position. Simple verbs look like SVO, whereas auxiliated verbs are discontinuous and adhere to this pattern:
کور چہے ثونٹہ کہیوان
The girl is eating apples.
Given that Kashmiri is a V2 language, if the word tsũũţh 'apple' comes first then the subject kuur 'girl' must follow the auxiliary chhi 'is': tsũũţh chhi kuur khyevaan [Lit. "Apples is girl eating."]
Russian, similar to most other Slavic languages, is an inflected language and thus is very flexible in word combinations. It is generally considered an SVO language; however, sentences in SOV word order are not incorrect.
The Spanish language usually uses a subject–verb–object structure, but when an enclitic pronoun is used, this comes before the verb and the auxiliary. Sometimes, in dual-verb constructions involving the infinitive and the gerund, the enclitic pronoun can be put before both verbs, or attached to the end of the second verb.
Tamil being a strongly head-final language, the basic word-order is SOV. However, since it is highly inflected, word order is flexible and is used for pragmatic purposes. That is, fronting a word in a sentence adds emphasis on it; for instance, a VSO order would indicate greater emphasis on the verb, the action, than on the subject or the object. However, such word-orders are highly marked, and the basic order remains SOV.
Like all other Turkic languages, Turkish has flexibility in word order, so any order is possible. For example, in addition to the SOV order above, this sentence could also be constructed as OSV (Elmayı Yusuf yedi.), OVS (Elmayı yedi Yusuf.), VSO (Yedi Yusuf elmayı.), VOS (Yedi elmayı Yusuf.), or SVO (Yusuf yedi elmayı.), but these other orders carry a connotation of emphasis of importance on either the subject, object, or the verb. The SOV order is the "default" one that does not connote particular emphasis on any part of the sentence.
The marker "ga" is a dative case marker for the object that precedes it.
Due to flexibility in word order in Uzbek, it is possible to transform the sentence into OSV as well ("Xivaga Anvar ketdi" / "It was Anvar who went to Khiva").
^Andreas Fischer, "'With this ring I thee wed': The verbs to wed and to marry in the history of English". Language History and Linguistic Modelling: A Festschrift for Jacek Fisiak on his 60th Birthday. Ed. Raymond Hickey and Stanislaw Puppel. Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 101 (Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1997), pp.467-81