Syntax: VSO, VOS, SVO, SOV, OVS, OSV

No, I didn’t just randomly press the V, S, and O keys. What these letters represent are the six possible arrangements of subject (S), object (O), and verb (V) within a clause. Several people have asked me, “How would I search for SVO versus VSO clauses in the Andersen-Forbes (A-F) database?” It’s pretty easy, actually.

First things first: You’ll want to download and install the 3.0 beta, and the 3.0 beta resources supplement. You’ll need both of these in order to use the Syntax Search dialog with the A-F database, which you’ll need in order to work through the following examples. Don’t install the beta unless you can live with beta functionality, though! Also, since this article is written about beta functionality, some or all of the features described below may change by the time we ship. It’s a beta, after all.

You may also want to review the Syntax Crash Course document.

Key Principles to Keep in Mind

When you make a syntax search query, keep the following in mind:

  • The structure of the query is the structure of the match. That means that you want to create an outline in the left-hand panel of the search dialog that looks as much as possible like the graph(s) you’re trying to find.
  • Order is significant. That means that if your query specifies the subject before the object, you will not find clauses where the object occurs before the subject. The order of the terms in your query will be the order of the terms in your match.
  • Indention means containment. In the Syntax Search dialog, when term B is indented beneath term A, what you are really saying is that term B must occur within the boundaries of term A, or, put another way, that term A contains term B. So, if you make a query where, say, a clause term is indented beneath a word term — well, you aren’t likely to get any hits, because words don’t contain clauses (hint: it’s the other way around).
  • Anything means “match stuff I don’t know about”. The search term Anything in a syntax search query means to match any stretch of anything at that point. So, if we want to search for a clause where there is a subject and an object, but with who-knows-what in between, we would use the Anything search term to let the match succeed.

Let’s Make a Query!

With that in mind, let’s make a query that will match all verb-subject-object (VSO) clauses within the Hebrew Bible according to the Andersen-Forbes (A-F) database.

  1. Open the Syntax Search database by choosing Search | Syntax Search… from the main applicaiton menu. Make sure that the Database drop-down list has The Andersen-Forbes Analyzed Text of the Hebrew Bible chosen. The Search Range should be set to “Entire Database”.
  2. Choose Clause (Predication) from the Add button to add a clause search term to the left-hand (query) panel.
  3. Under Structure in the right-hand (term options) panel, check Clause. For this example, we’re not considering predications that arise from nominal infinitive and nominal participle constructions.
  4. Add a Clause Immediate Constituent to the query panel. Make sure that it is indented beneath the Clause you added earlier.
  5. Choose Finite Verb under Constituent in the term options panel.
  6. Add an Anything to the query. This will allow any number (including zero) of unknown constituents to appear in our match at this point.
  7. Add another Clause Immediate Constituent to the query panel. Again, it should be indented beneath the clause, because we want this clause immediate constituent to be inside the clause.
  8. Choose Subject under Constituent in the term options panel. For now, we’ll only look for simple subjects; don’t worry too much about the other categories at this point.
  9. Add another Anything.
  10. Add another Clause Immediate Constituent to the query panel, again indented beneath the clause.
  11. Choose Direct Object in the term options panel on the right.

There you have it. When you are finished, your query should look something like this:

Because the order of terms is significant, we are finding only SVO clauses, not OVS, VSO, etc. To find the other combinations, we simply change the order of the constituents and search again.

Running all the possible combinations yields the following results:

Order Qty eg ESV Constituents
VSO 2,387 Gen2:3 So God blessed the seventh day and [V he_blessed] [S God] [O obj day_of the+seventh]
SVO 2,028 Gen3:13 the serpent deceived me [S the+snake] [V he_deceived] [O +me]
VOS 1,018 Gen1:28 and God blessed them and [V he_blessed] [O obj+them] [S God]
OVS 317 Gen30:40 and Jacob separated the lambs and [O the+lambs] [V he_separated] [S Jacob]
SOV 135 Lev19:8 and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity and [S eating+him] [O iniquity+him] [V he_will_bear]
OSV 58 Pr3:10 and your vats will be bursting with wine and [O wine] [S wine_vats+you] [V they_will_break_out]

We have allowed clauses that contain not only S, V, and O, but also other constituents, such Location or Time Point. If we want to limit our search to so-called “simple” clauses, that consist only of S, V, and O, how do we do that?

  1. Open the Syntax Search dialog under Search | Syntax Search… on the main menu. Make sure the A-F database and “Entire database” are chosen in the Database and Search Range drop-downs.
  2. Choose Clause (Predication) from the Add button to add a clause search term to the query panel and then check Clause under Structure in the term options panel.
  3. Add a Clause Immediate Constituent to the query panel, indented beneath the clause.
  4. Choose Finite Verb under the Constituent headline in the term options panel.
  5. Click the gray Occurrence headline in the term options panel to expose all of the term occurrence options. Chose the Must be first child of parent option. This will force our finite verb constituent to be the first constituent within its containing clause; no other constituents will be allowed to start off the clause.
  6. Add another Clause Immediate Constituent, and check Subject in the term options panel.
  7. Add a third and final Clause Immediate Constituent and check Direct Object.
  8. Click the gray Occurrence headline in the term options panel to expose those options, then choose Must be last child of parent. This will force the direct object to be the last constituent in any matching clause.

When you are finished, your query should look something like this:

Because we left out the Anything terms, no other constituents are allowed to occur between the constitutents that we have specified. Because we marked the first clause immediate constituent as “must be first” and the last as “must be last”, no other constituents are allowed to appear at the leading or trailing edges of the clause. Thus, we have constrained our search to those clauses that consist solely of a verb, a subject, and an object (441 occurrences).

To search for the other arrangements of constituents, you need only to rearrange the terms of the query, and then mark the first one as “must be first”, the last one as “must be last”, and the middle one as “can be anywhere within parent”. This I leave as an exercise to the reader (as well as drawing any conclusions!).