Word Order

223. The order of words in the OE sentence was relatively free. The position of words in the sentence was often determined by logical and stylistic factors rather than by grammatical constraints. In the following sentences the word order depends on the order of presentation and emphasis laid by the author on different parts of the communication: pā Finnas, him pūhte, and pā Beormas sprǣcon neah ān ʒepēode 'the Finns, it seemed to him, and the Permians spoke almost the same language' direct word order

Fela spella him sǣdon pā Beormas ǣʒper ʒe of hiera āʒnum landeʒe of pǣm landum pe ymb hie ūtan wǣron 'many stories told him (lit. "him told") the Permians either about their own land or about the lands that were around them' the objects spella, him are placed at the beginning; the order of the subject and predicate is inverted and the attention is focussed on the part of the sentence which describes the content of the stories,

224. Nevertheless the freedom of word order and its seeming independence of grammar should not be overestimated. The order of words could depend on the communicative type of the sentence question versus statement, on the type of clause, on the presence and place of some secondary parts of the sentence.

Inversion was used for grammatical purposes in questions; full inversion with simple predicates and partial with compound predicates, containing link-verbs and modal verbs:

Hwanon feriʒeap ʒē fǣtte scyldas? 'From where do you bring (lit. "bring you") ornamented shields?'

Eart pū Ēsau, min sunu? 'Are you Esau, my son?'

Hwæt sceal ic sinʒan? 'What shall I sing?'

If the sentence began with an adverbial modifier, the word order was usually inverted; cf. some common beginnings of yearly entries in the ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLES:

Hēr cuōm sē here tō Rēadinʒum... 'In this year came that army to Reading'.

Hēr on pyssum ʒēare fōr sē micla here... 'in this year went that big army'

with a relatively rare instance of direct word order after hēr:

hēr Cynewulf benam Siʒebryht his rices ond Westseaxna wiotan for unryhtum dǣdum, būton Hāmtūnscire 'In this year Cynewulf and the councillors of Wessex deprived Sigebryht of his kingdom for his wicked deeds, except Hampshire (note also the separation of the two coordinate subjects Cynewulf and wiotan).

225. A peculiar type of word order is found in many subordinate and in some coordinate clauses: the clause begins with the subject following the connective, and ends with the predicate or its finite part, all the secondary parts being enclosed between them. Recall the quotation:

Ohthere sǣde hishlāforde, Ælfrēde cyninʒe pæt ealra Norðmonna norpmest būde (see the translation in 113.) But the very next sentence in the text shows that in a similar clause the predicate could be placed next to the subject:

Hē cwæp pæt hē būde on pǣm lande, norpweardum wip pā Westsǣ 'He said that he lived on the land to the North of the Atlantic ocean'.

In the following passage the predicate is placed in final position both in the subordinate and coordinate clauses:

Æfter pǣm pe hē hie oferwunnen hæfde, hē fōr on Bretanie pæt iʒlond, and wið pā Brettas ʒefeaht, and ʒefliemed wearð 'After he had overcome them, he went to Britain, that island, and against those Britons fought and was put to flight'. (Note also the place of the object hie objects were often placed before the predicate or between two parts of the predicate.)

226. Those were the main tendencies in OE word order. They cannot be regarded as rigid rules, for there was much variability in syntactic patterns. The quotations given above show that different types of word order could be used in similar syntactical conditions. It appears that in many respects OE syntax was characterised by a wide range of variation and by the co-existence of various, sometimes even opposing, tendencies.


  1. D. Put these sentences in the order in which they happened, taking your information from the text As You Sow You Shall Mow.
  2. Der Videorekorder,
  3. Doctor's Orders
  4. G. Put the parts of a sentence in the correct order and describe the graph below.
  5. How is your day different to Lisas? Using sequencers (after that, finally, first, then, next) in the correct order report to the group about your daily routine.
  6. II Put the words in the right order
  7. Ordering a Meal
  8. Put the questions in order to make the plan of the text. Answer the questions.
  9. The composition exercises ask you to manipulate data. They also expect you to make inferences in order to come to conclusions about the data.
  10. The Order of the Hatchet
  12. The relationship between plot and time order

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Compound and Complex Sentences. Connectives | QUESTIONS AND ASSIGNMENTS

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