20.5 - Word order

The default word order in typical Ukrainian sentences is roughly similar to that in English. However, as discussed on page 5.2, in this respect Ukrainian is more flexible than English and some other languages, since the information about the relationship between words in a sentence is contained in the endings of nouns, adjectives etc., rather than in the order of the words in a sentence.

Take, for example, the sentence: "The changes in the legislation should give the opportunity to citizens quickly, simply and without unnecessary expense to set up various types of community organisations". You can hazard a guess that it could be a translation from Ukrainian. While the words themselves have been adequately translated, the sentence does not sound natural in English since the word order of the original has been retained.

In Ukrainian a sentence can have a number of subordinate or modifying layers tightly built into it, without losing any grammatical information. In the sentence quoted above, for example, the string of adverbs "quickly, simply and without unnecessary expense" appears before the verb "to set up" because this is the order of the words in the original. To provide a translation which sounds natural in English it is necessary to unravel the sentence structure and re-arrange the word order.

In spite of the grammatical flexibility of basic sentences, however, word order does have a rôle to play in conveying stylistic content, including emphasis and approximation.

Emphasis

In speech, intonation may be used to emphasise a part of a sentence. In written language this may be done by the use of emphasising words such as particles, but also by means of word order.

At one level, all the sentences below contain the same information, but changing the word order alters the emphasis, with the element being emphasised coming at the end of the sentence:

Леся закінчила домашнє завдання. Lesia has finished her homework.
(stating a fact)
Леся закінчила домашнє завдання. Lesia has finished her homework.
(as opposed to other tasks she needs to finish)
Домашнє завдання закінчила Леся. Lesia (as opposed to anyone else) has finished her homework.
Домашнє завдання Леся закінчила. Lesia has finished her homework (as opposed to still doing it).

Adjectives and adverbs usually precede the noun or verb they refer to, but can come after if they need to be emphasised:

Орест – кмітливий студент. Orest is an intelligent student. (a neutral statement, no particular emphasis)
Орест – студент кмітливий. Orest is an intelligent (as opposed to a not very intelligent) student.

Approximation

To express an approximate number, as opposed to a precise one, one can either use an approximating preposition like близько, біля or коло, or one can invert the word order (with the optional addition of the particle зо) as in:

двадцять хвилин 20 minutes (exactly)
близько двадцяти хвилин about 20 minutes
хвилин двадцять / хвилин зо двадцять about 20 minutes
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Part of the collection of resources at UkrainianLanguage.org.uk
© 2007 Marta Jenkala