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Он нам показал свою машину.

Is that a natural way of saying it or would one only do so with a certain purpose which would be figured by the listener, because it does sound strange compared to Он показал нам свою..?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

It is OK and only slightly coloured. The most neutral way is indeed "Он показал нам свою машину" but the variant with "нам показал" is your next best choice.

In Russian, while the sentence roughly follows the subject-verb-object word order, it is typical to gather old information closer to the beginning and your statement closer to the end of the sentence. Not a "rule", just a generic explanation of some phrasings that look strange to a native speaker of a language with a more fixed word order (i.e. the order remains the same even if the message is significantly different).

You see, in most cases you sentence has the things you are going to talk about and then what you say about these things. Now, the pronouns ("нам", "тебе", "тут") most likely represent the old information, so as a rule they tend to be closer to the beginning of a sentence than the position a normal noun would feel comfortable in. A second peculiarity is that Russian does not heap up all possible adverbs by the end of the sentence — unlike English, which tends to do exactly that ("He worked very well indeed at the bar yesterday").

In your case I would use the following, in the order of decreasing neutrality:

  1. Он показал нам свою машину.
  2. Он нам показал свою машину.
  3. Он нам свою машину показал. → with a logical stress on "his car"
  4. Он свою машину нам показал. → with a logical emphasis on "his car"; not recommended
  5. Он показал свою машину нам. → with a logical stress on "to us", not recommended
  6. anything else sounds very emphatic ("His car, he have shown us indeed") or plain master-Yodaic.
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Just to add — for a personal pronoun it is usually OK to be just before the verb. For a noun this position is already borderline unnatural, and many factors can make it more or less so. Which means: it is occasionally used — but does sound OK for pronouns and doesn't for nouns (you sound very unnatural if you place noun objects there all the time without any reason). – Shady_arc Jul 6 '14 at 12:25

"Он нам показал свою машину" sounds a little bit emphatic because the pronoun normally goes after the verb. So, this example of yours would be translated as "He showed his car to us (only to us)". The sentence "Он показал свою машину нам" sounds more emphatic.

But sometimes when we speak we don't pay attention to the word order, so in this case when we say "Он нам показал свою машину", it also sounds natural. You have to pay attention to the context to see if it is emphatic of not.

"Он показал нам свою машину" sounds neutral. it is more natural and correct way to say it.

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One should also mention that when we speak, the intonation/emphasis can override the written word order and force a different coloring of a phrase, at least I can see it work for the sentence in question. The speaker may talk spontaneously and not pick the word order that is exactly appropriate for the intended emphasis, but then vocally force a particular emphasis that would be different from what one could infer if all they had was a written sentence. I can see that confusing a non-native speaker and causing over-analysis. – Leonid Jul 13 '14 at 4:51

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