Lesson 14 – Making sentences (word order)

You will need to revise Lesson 6: ‘Making sentences (pronouns)’ and Lesson 11: ‘Making sentences (nouns & suffixes)’ in order to complete this lesson.

An important part of making sentences is understanding the order in which words are placed within the sentence. This is called Word Order.


Let’s look at the order of the Subject, Verb and Object in a sentence:

The Subject is doing, initiating or experiencing the action. This could be a Noun, Pronoun or a Noun Phrase.

The Verb is the action of the sentence.

The Object is directly receiving or otherwise involved in the action of the sentence and is a noun (or pronoun).


English word order is:

Subject + Verb + Object (the boy + hit + the dog).


Arabana preferred word order is:

 Subject + Object + Verb (the boy+ the dog + hit).


Unlike in English, Arabana word order can be flexible. The Word Order may be changed depending on the speaker’s intention, emphasis, language background or personal style. For example, although these is a preferred Word Order, it is also acceptable to use the following examples of Word Order in Arabana:

Object + Subject + Verb (the dog + the boy + hit)

Verb + Subject + Object (hit + the boy + the dog)


In English, we know who is doing the action, and who is receiving the action in the sentence due to the Word Order. The flexible word order in Arabana means we can’t always be sure which noun is the Subject and which noun is the Object of the sentence just by looking at the Word Order.

Instead, we need to use suffixes and pronouns to make a distinction between the Subject and the Object in the sentence.

Some sentences (Intransitive sentences) only have a one noun, a Subject, so no special suffixes or pronouns are used.

Some sentences (Transitive sentences) have two nouns, both a Subject and an Object. These sentences need special suffixes and pronouns to distinguish between the Subject and Object.

Sentences with one noun - Intransitive sentences

Sentences with only one noun are called Intransitive sentences. These have a Subject, a Verb and no Object.

Simply use any regular noun or the Nominative pronoun form as the Subject. 


Examples of Intransitive sentences:

Antha yukarnda.
I am going.
Madla ngawirnda.
The dog is listening.
Uka yanhika.
She spoke.

Sentences with more than one noun - Transitive sentences

Sentences with two nouns are called Transitive sentences. These sentences have a Subject, a Verb and an Object.

In transitive sentences you will need to mark the Subject of the sentence with one of the following:

If the Subject is a Pronoun, use the Ergative pronoun form.

If the Subject is a Noun, use the Ergative suffix -ru

With transitive sentences you may also need to mark the Object of the sentence with one of the following:

If the Object is a Pronoun use the Accusative pronoun form.

If the Object is a Noun, use the Accusative suffix -nha (optional)


Examples of Transitive sentences:

Kaku-ru warrukathi-nha nhanhika
Sister saw an emu.
Madla-ru ukanha purrtaka.
The dog bit her.
Athu apityi-aku yanhinha.
I will speak with father.
Kungarra-ru tyalpa tharnirnda.
The kangaroo is eating food.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Verbs have rules about which type of sentence they can be used in.

Some verbs are ‘Intransitive verbs’ and they can only be used in Intransitive sentences.

Example of an Intransitive verb:
yuka-                                                          come, go, walk (intransitive verb)
Antha yukarnda.                                     I am going. (correct, there is only a Subject with this verb)
Athu madla yukarnda.                           I am going dog. (incorrect, this verb cannot take an Object)


Some verbs are ‘Transitive verbs’, and they can only be used in Transitive sentences.

Example of a Transitive verb:

thawi-                                                                  throw (transitive verb)
Athu tyapu-tyapu thawirnda.                         I am throwing a ball. (correct, as there is an Object with the verb)
Antha thawirnda.                                              I am throwing. (incorrect, as there is no Object with the verb)


Some verbs in Arabana can be used both in Intransitive sentences, as well as in Transitive sentences, but we will explore that in future lessons.

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