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Word Order

539. In ME and Early NE the order of words in the sentence underwent noticeable changes: it has become fixed and direct: subject plus predicate plus object (S+P+O) or subject plus the notional part of the predicate (the latter type was used mainly in questions).

Stabilisation of the word order was a slow process, which took many hundreds of years: from Early ME until the 16th or 17th c. The fixation of the word order proceeded together with reduction and loss of inflectional endings, the two developments being intertwined; though syntactic changes were less intensive and less rapid. They may have been delayed by the break in the written tradition after the Norman conquest and by the general unsettling of the grammatical system during the Early ME dialectal divergence, whereas morphological changes may have been intensified for these very reasons.

Though the word order in Late ME may appear relatively free, several facts testify to its growing stability. The practice of placing the

verb-predicate at the end of a subordinate clause had been abandoned, so was the type of word order with the object placed between the Subject and the Predicate (see OE examples in 224). The place before the Predicate belonged to the Subject, which is confirmed by the prevalence of this word order in prosaic texts and also, indirectly, by the transition of the impersonal constructions into personal: as shown above, in the pattern the mann(e) liketh the noun was understood as the Subject, though originally it was an Object in the Dat. case (cf. him liketh, see 533).

540. In the 17th and 18th c. the order of words in the sentence was generally determined by the same rules as operate in English today. The fixed, direct word order prevailed in statements, unless inversion was required for communicative purposes or for emphasis, e. g.:

Now comes in the sweetest morsel in the night... These numbers will I tear and write in prose. (Shakespeare)

The order of the Subject and Predicate remained direct in sentences beginning with an adverbial modifier:

then the two bears will not bite one another when they meet. (In OE an initial adverbial modifier required an inverted word order P+S see 225.)

In questions the word order was partially inverted unless the question referred to the subject group. The analytical forms of the verb and the use of the do-periphrasis instead of simple forms made it possible to place the notional part of the Predicate after the Subject even with simple Predicate. Cf.:

Are they good?... Can you make no use of your discontent? ... Who comes here? ... Lady, will you walk about with your friend? ... Did he never make you laugh? (Shakespeare)

Occasionally we find simple verb forms in questions placed before the Subject: Which way looks he? ... How came you to this? Full inversion in questions is more common with Shakespeare than with later authors (see also 508 for the history of forms with do).


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  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
  11. THE ORDER OF WORDS IN THE SENTENCE
  12. The relationship between plot and time order




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The Simple Sentence | Predicative Constructions

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