Sentence Structure in Russian

In the Russian language, the word order is rather flexible. Though the Russian sentence is generally arranged SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT, the grammar rules allow to use virtually any combination of subject, verb and object within the sentence.

For example, the sentence "A cat caught a mouse" can be translated into Russian in the following ways:

1) Кошка поймала мышь.
2) Мышь поймала кошка.
3) Поймала кошка мышь.
4) Кошка мышь поймала.
5) Мышь кошка поймала.
6) Поймала мышь кошка.

Does the meaning change?

The word order does not change the meaning IF the sentence is taken out of context, as you could see in the example above.

BUT if the sentence is a part of particular setting, the rearrangement of words changes the meaning.

It is known that every complete sentence has a theme and a rheme. The theme is one or more words which express already known or understood information, i.e. information that is being taken for granted. The rheme is new information that a speaker wants to communicate, for example:

                theme                
В прошлом году мой друг
             rheme             
построил дом.
(Last year my friend built a house.)

The rheme is always logically stressed in Russian. So, the change of word order within the sentence causes this logical stress and, finally, the meaning to alter.

Look at the following example illustrating how the meaning of the sentence is changed depending on the word order. The rheme (new information) is in bold.

В прошлом году мой друг построил дом возле озера.
(the stress is on the fact that he built a house near a lake)

Дом возле озера мой друг построил в прошлом году.
(the stress is on the fact he built a house last year, not this year)

В прошлом году мой друг построил дом возле озера.
(the stress is on the fact he built a house near a lake, not near a road)

В прошлом году построил дом возле озера мой друг.
(the stress is on the fact my friend, not an enemy built a house near a lake)

Does the style change?

Yes. The word order has an impact on the style of what is being said. Usually, the sentence starts from the VERB if a speaker wants to communicate past events, as in a narrative.

Было это в январе. Шёл я по улице. Вдруг вижу - ты идёшь навстречу...
(It was in January. I was walking down a street. Suddenly I saw you going towards me...)

The VERB put in the end of the sentence is characteristic for some questions like

Как тебя зовут?
(What is your name?)
Где ты был?
(Where have you been?)

as well as for emphasizing an action:

Они всё ещё гуляют.
(They are still walking.)
Где живёшь я так и не знаю.
(I still don't know where you live.)

The VERB put in the middle of the sentence is the most common case in Russian.





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