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Word order 1


ENGLISH TEACHER (showing a student a picture of a restaurant): What is Mr. Redford eating?

BOLEK: The sausage is eating Mr. Redford.


The student’s line is not from a very bad horror movie, but is a typical response from beginners in the English language.


They are shown a picture of a man called Mr. Redford, who is eating food in a restaurant. The student is then asked to describe the scene.


This is a wonderful demonstration of subject-verb-object order. Mr. Redford should be the subject of the question, and what he is doing to/with something is the object. By changing these nouns around, the sausage has become the subject and Mr. Redford has become the object of the attention of the sausage, with the result being that we have this wonderful and amusing picture in our minds, such as the cartoon!


The word order of many European languages – particularly Slavic and those from the same family (including Latin) – is based on the grammar of cases, or inflections. It is quite a complex subject so I will not be going into the details, but I will say that this does allow some flexibility of the order of word structure in a sentence. But when it comes to direct translations, these can come up with some strange results, such as the picture example that introduces this section.

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