So I was reading from this particular site on Japanese sentence structure and what dawn to me was, this particular structure seems to be OVS. (object/noun, verb, subject) There's not a whole lot of explanation behind this, can someone confirm if I am right?

Did you hear from her?


彼女 means “her,” so what you’re saying is “her from” rather than “from her.”

2 Answers 2


It's not OVS - this sentence is fully verb final.

彼女=から 聞き-まし-た=か


In fact, there's neither subject nor object in this sentence. All there is is an adverb-like phrase 'from her'. Yes, the Japanese equivalents of English prepositions come after, rather than before, the noun that they attach to, but this is a largely separate question. You may be mistaking 'from' (an adposition or case marker, depending on your analysis) for the verb (which here is 'hear').

As @keithmaxx answered, there are situations in which sentences look OVS, but as he's said, this is an information structure question - you can put any extremely deemphasised afterthought-like topic phrase after the verb, whether that topic is a subject, or an object, or some other thing. The most basic word order in Japanese is SOV, but more directly, Japanese's ordering is topic - focus - verb or focus - verb - afterthought-topic.

  • I would argue that "her" is an object of the ablative type here. Since the person being spoken to is understood to be the subject of the case, he is simply omitted from the sentence as is typical in Japanese. The full sentence would thus be something like, 君は彼女から聞きましたか?, giving an SOV sentence.
    – a20
    May 22, 2018 at 9:31
  • @bjorn Technically it's an oblique, rather than an object - it can't be passivised like a real object can, for example. Languages like Icelandic allow (require!) objects in cases other than the accusative, but Japanese doesn't do that.
    – Sjiveru
    May 22, 2018 at 13:42
  • true, it's an oblique object, with an ablative role... Nevertheless, I still think the sentence in question is of the form SOV. I think it is important to stress to OP that the normal sentence structure is still there, but that in Japanese topic, subject, and even object, are often omitted since they are understood from context.
    – a20
    May 22, 2018 at 14:10
  • Maybe I'm nitpicking, but "oblique object" is a contradiction in terms, technically - a noun phrase can either be an oblique or an object. Here, the oblique is the focus, so it goes right in front of the verb; the same place an object might be by default if there was one.
    – Sjiveru
    May 22, 2018 at 14:39
  • I'm in no way an expert on linguistics, but as I've learned it, an oblique is similar to an object (in fact, in some languages the term oblique doesn't exist, instead they are referred to as various types of object depending on their case). At least here it is called "oblique object": glossary.sil.org/term/oblique-object . Anyway, I think we are getting a bit off-topic :)
    – a20
    May 22, 2018 at 14:50

It's possible, it depends on how you sequence your conversation/statement. Not that it is a 'proper' sentence structure, anyway.


(My) classmate heard the topic from the teacher.

I wish to emphasize that Japanese sentence structure ends with the action/verb. Where the objects and subjects are may not matter as much so long as the idea is clearly conveyed. In the example above, the speaker explains that the topic/assignment was received/heard from the teacher. The subject at the end may be a clarification on the part of the speaker, even though the sentence may already be understood without it.

  • Does that mean, most languages can be of any sequence for as long as whichever feels natural depending on the situation? I get that there's a standard or average structure, but the above sentence is a proper sentence, right? While I do understand what you mean, about how you sequence it but can the structure be proper in a different sequence? Like the example you gave, the sentence feels a bit kind of off. Thanks. May 21, 2018 at 8:17
  • In written language, it may not seem natural at first. But in spoken terms, people can speak out the more important parts of the sentence first (e.g. a topic heard from the teacher) before other details (e.g. it was the classmate who heard/asked, not the speaker).
    – keithmaxx
    May 21, 2018 at 11:39
  • @keithmaxx I liken the OVS structure in Japanese to the English structure people speak in when in a hurry, that is, the statement or question first, then who or what it pertains to with "I mean" or "that is". For example, your example sentence above would be: She heard the topic from the teacher, that is, my classmate.
    – psosuna
    May 21, 2018 at 15:41
  • Languages vary on how free their word order is. English has extremely restrictive sentence structure, typically, and often uses other kinds of reordering and rephrasing devices (not just simple moving) to move things to topic / focus positions. Japanese typically requires overt marking of topic and focus positions, to some degree.
    – Sjiveru
    May 21, 2018 at 16:22

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