There is no well-defined concept of right or wrong in a language. Just like a living organism, it keeps evolving and changing. Some structures that are generally accepted nowadays were not in the past. The more an expression is used, the more likely it will find its way through and be acknowledged by both common people and scholars. This has always happened, it happens now, and it will happen in the future.
The Italian language makes no exception. In the first part of two articles that I will write about this topic, we will discuss other possibilities concerning word order in Italian sentences.
Word Order in the Italian Language
The basic structure of the Italian sentence is SVO, which is Subject-Verb-Object. Many languages share this structure, such as English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, etc.
- Luca mangia la pasta
Luca is the subject (who or what performs the action), mangia is the verb (the action), and la pasta is the object (what is acted upon by the subject). Other complements generally follow the object. A complement is a word, phrase or clause that completes the meaning of a given expression.
- Luca mangia la pasta con suo fratello
Luca is the subject (who or what performs the action), mangia is the verb (the action), la pasta is the object (what is acted upon by the subject), and con suo fratello is the complement. In the case that the object is absent, the complement directly follows the verb.
- Luca mangia con suo fratello
Luca is the subject (who or what performs the action), mangia is the verb (the action), and con suo fratello is the complement.
By the way, the language offers other possibilities for its speakers, especially concerning spoken language. Let’s see which ones.
Dislocazione a Sinistra (Left Dislocation)
- SVO: Io vendo la macchina
- Left Dislocation: La macchina la vendo
La macchina is the object, la is a direct object pronoun (which is used to substitute the object), and vendo is the verb.
The example above shows us a word order completely different from SVO. In the left dislocation the order is OPV, which is Object-Pronoun-Verb. What happened? An element (the object) is advanced at the beginning of the sentence and is recalled through the pronoun.
The function of this structure is to emphasize the object, advancing its position in the sentence.
- La macchina la vendo io
In the case that the subject is explicitly stated, it is generally placed after the verb at the end of the sentence and it is used in order to reinforce its role as the performer of the action.
- La macchina la vendo io (non tu, non lui, non voi, non loro)
Not only the object, but also complements can be left dislocated.
- Con te non ci esco* (SVO Non esco con te)
- A Mario non gli dico niente (SVO Non dico niente a Mario)
*Uscirci = uscire con qualcuno
This is one of many Italian pronominal verbs, which are verbs to which is attached a pronoun that confers a different meaning. For instance:
- Vederci = riuscire a vedere
- Provarci = provare a fare qualcosa
- Parlarci = parlare con qualcuno
Dislocazione a Destra (Right Dislocation)
- SVO: Io vendo la macchina
- Right Dislocation: La vendo la macchina
La is a direct object pronoun, vendo is the verb, and la macchina is the object.
As we can see, in the right dislocation the order is PVO, which is Pronoun-Verb-Object. What happened? The position of the object has not changed; it is still after the verb. By the way, it has been anticipated by the direct object pronoun, which precedes the verb as well.
The function of this structure is to explicitly state what the speaker is referring to through the pronoun.
- La vendo io la macchina
In the case that the subject is explicitly stated, it is generally placed after the verb but before the object (as in the left dislocation) in order to reinforce its role as the performer of the action.
- La vendo io la macchina (non tu, non lui, non voi, non loro)
Not only the object, but also complements can be right dislocated.
- Ci parlo io, con Luca (SVO Parlo con Luca)
- Ci andiamo, a Milano (SVO Andiamo a Milano)
Frasse Scissa (Cleft Sentence)
- SVO: Luca parte con Sara
- Cleft Sentence: E’ Luca che parte
E’ is the verb essere (to be), Luca is the subject, che can be considered as a relative pronoun, parte is the verb, and con Sara is a complement.
The example above shows us how the normal sentence Luca parte is divided in two different parts*. The first part carries the verb essere at the beginning and the subject. The second part, introduced by the pronoun che, has the verb and another element (in this example, a complement).
Again, the function of this structure is to emphasize the element of the sentence which is advanced and reinforced by the verb essere. The cleft sentence creates a strong contrast with anything or anyone which is not that element.
- E’ Luca che parte con Sara (non io, non tu, non voi, non loro, non Marco, non Luigi, non Daniele etc.)
Not only the subject, but also other elements can be advanced.
- E’ questo libro che voglio leggere (SVO Voglio leggere questo libro)
- E’ a Marta che telefono (SVO Telefono a Marta)
- E’ con Giulia che esco (SVO Esco con Giulia)
- E’ domani che torno (SVO Torno domani)
*Scissa in Italian is both an adjective and the past participle of the verb scindere, which means to divide, to separate.
What Have We Learned?
- The basic structure of the Italian sentence is SVO, which is Subject-Verb-Object.
- There are other possibilities, particularly in spoken language.
- Left dislocation is used to emphasize the object (or other elements), advancing its position in the sentence. Its structure is OPV, which is Object-Pronoun-Verb.
- Right dislocation is used to explicitly state what the speaker is referring to through the pronoun. Its structure is PVO, which is Pronoun-Verb-Object.
- Cleft sentences are used to emphasize the element of the sentence, which is advanced and reinforced by the verb essere.
Now you will no longer be puzzled by these structures that native Italian speakers use easily everyday. It is the proper time to speak like an italiano and to update your grammar books! In the second part of the article about these new phenomena, we will learn the way in which Italian speakers’ use of tenses and moods has been changing in the last few years. A presto!
Hero Image by Riccardo Nobile (CC BY-ND 2.0)