Russian has free word order. So the the syntactic role of a noun is usually determined by morphology. Yet there are some indeclinable nouns and nouns for which say Accusative and Nominative forms do not differ.

Let's consider a sentence about two football clubs, "Lokomotiv" and "Dinamo":

"Динамо" побеждает "Локомотив".

To me it is unclear from this sentence who really wins - the "Динамо" or the "Локомотив". Even the intonation does not help here to resolve the ambiguity.

When I was in first grade I asked a teacher about such sentences (Another example being "Добро побеждает зло"), and she said it is the SVO (subject-verb-object) word order that should be assumed by default. I still wonder whether there is such real rule?

  • Not immediately related to the question, but why do you think Локомотив is indeclinable?
    – Quassnoi
    Sep 23, 2013 at 9:12
  • 1
    @Quassnoi in this case nominative and accusative do not differ for "Локомотив". So it behaves as indeclinable.
    – Anixx
    Sep 23, 2013 at 10:28
  • The thing that confuses you is wrong understanding of Russian "free" order. Oct 12, 2013 at 5:44

3 Answers 3


Russian has free word order indeed. However, word order must be reasonable. For example, you need to say "I defeated you". If there is no context, "Я победил тебя" would be the correct translation. "Тебя победил я" has slightly different meaning depending on the content (e.g. contrasting implied: "Тебя победил я, а его победил кто-то другой"). So, if we have an ambiguity and do not have a context, we should assume the SVO word order. It's hard to believe that the author implied "Динамо is defeated by the Локомотив" and used inversed word order without an obvious reason. Even if there is a reason to do this, you should avoid the reversed order in such cases because your goal is that your readers understand you correctly.

If the usual word order provides meaningless sentense and the reversed order does not, you can assume that the reversed order is used even without a context. However, it would still sound odd. The classical example is "Солнце закрыло облако". The meaning is clear, but this sentense sounds ridiculous nevertheless.

There are many other cases where an ambiguity can occur. Generally, if the meaning is not obvious, such ambiguity is considered as an error.

  • +1 for "Солнце закрыло облако" :-)
    – Anixx
    Sep 24, 2013 at 2:42

Rosenthal, 180.2:

Лексико-грамматическое значение главного слова предопределяет необходимость управляемого слова (одного или нескольких) и их форму.

Например, глагол резать обозначает действие, которое должно быть на что-то направлено (объект действия) и чем-то производиться (орудие действия). Объект, на который распространяется действие, имеет форму винительного падежа, а орудие действия – творительного. Причем обязательность объекта и инструмента при этом глаголе неодинакова: объект обязателен (класс переходных глаголов), поэтому управление между глаголом и существительным здесь сильное; орудие действия менее обязательно, поэтому управление слабое.

Если у главного слова несколько зависимых, как в вышеприведенном примере, то, естественно, что сначала идет слово более обязательное (сильное управление), а затем менее обязательное (слабое управление), поэтому предполагается следующий порядок слов: резать (что?) бумагу (чем?) ножницами; приезд (кого?) сына (к кому?) к родителям.

In your example, Dynamo should be assumed the winner, because this way your sentence could produce complex sentences more readily. Compare:

Динамо побеждает Анжи и выходит в финал.

Динамо побеждает Анжи, которая находится в лучшей форме.

The second phrase is grammatical but would be fit as a continuation of some previous discourse, not just by itself.

  • In this case we have object and subject rather than object and instrument. As such I hardly see how the quoted text is relevant.
    – Anixx
    Sep 23, 2013 at 10:26

That is the reason why Russian has developed whole new anymacy category.

Yes, there is SVO default for this case, but you will still be unsure, because Russian has free word order. And OVS is not an error. So, you better rely on context. And in case Добро побеждает зло there is no doubt just because you knew who's the winner.

In real life Russians try to make it clear even from text, saying, for example: Гугл покупает Моторолу instead of Google покупает Motorola.

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