13.2 Word Order

Word order in Spanish is much more flexible than in English. It is possible to find the subject at the end of a sentence for stylistic or emphatic reasons; likewise the direct object may be found at the beginning of a sentence. Verbs can occur at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence. As in English, there exists the same flexibility for the placement of prepositional phrases almost anywhere within the sentence.

Regardless of the word order in Spanish, the essential meaning does not change except, occasionally, for subtle shifts in emphasis. Study the following, which are all renditions of the English, “The Aztecs practiced these sacrifices before the arrival of the Spaniards.”

  1. Los aztecas practicaban estos sacrificios antes de la llegada de los españoles.
  2. Estos sacrificios los practicaban los aztecas antes de la llegada de los españoles.
  3. Practicaban los aztecas estos sacrificios antes de la llegada de los españoles.
  4. Antes de la llegada de los españoles practicaban los aztecas estos sacrificios.
  5. Antes de la llegada de los españoles los aztecas practicaban estos sacrificios.
  6. Antes de la llegada de los españoles estos sacrificios los practicaban los aztecas.*

*In Spanish, whenever a direct object precedes the subject and verb (e.g., sacrificios in numbers 2 and 6), a redundant direct object pronoun (los in the same two sentences) must be placed before the verb and is not translated.

Keep in mind that normal word order is often changed in the following cases:

  • The subject usually follows the verb, and sometimes its noun objects, when the subject has lengthy modifiers:
Cruzan esta región cincuenta y dos ríos que descienden de los Andes y forman oasis en sus valles. Fifty-two rivers, which descend the Andes and form oases in its valleys, cross this region.
  • Words desired to emphasize are often placed at the beginning of the sentence:
A mi padre le pareció justa la opinión del comité, pero a mi hermano no. To my father the committee’s opinion seemed fair, but not to my brother.
  • In adverbial clauses at the beginning of a sentence, the subject often follows the verb:
Cuando vengan los médicos, necesitaremos su ayuda. When the doctors come, we will need your help.

Vocabulario básico 

Verbos:

arrebatar- to carry away, to snatch, to seize
ejercer- to exercise (influence; profession)
regir(i)- to rule

Sustantivos:

el desarrollo- development
la fuente- source, fountain

Last revised on June 24, 2021.