Urdu/Sentence Building

Word orderEdit

The neutral order of the words in a sentence is SOV (i.e., Subject Object Verb). However, if the postpositions are properly attached with the nouns, the word order in Hindustānī becomes freer than in English, but not as free as in Latin or Sanskrit. Altering the word order serves (in conjunction with tone of speaking) to shift the emphasis of the sentence elsewhere. If the subject is a noun, the adjective may come before the noun (in the attributive position) or between the noun and the verb (in the predicative position — but only if the main verb is होना /hoːnaː/ to be). If the subject is a pronoun, the adjective comes in the predicative position. The space between the subject and the verb may be filled by adverbs, instrumental phrase, dative phrase, locative phrase, etc. The interrogative particles normally come right before the word it is asking about. The word order, unlike in English, need not be reversed in a question. Yes/no questions can be formed by placing the interrogative pronoun क्या /kjaː/ at the very beginning of the sentence. Question tag can be formed by placing the negative particle न /nə/ at the end of the sentence. It often indicates making a polite request (without explicitly using please). The negative particle otherwise normally comes before the verb. Certain particles stress the word that follows them immediately. E.g., ही /hiː/ (only, as a particle of emphasis), भी /bʱiː/ (also), तक /t̪ək/, तो /t̪oː/, भर /bʱər/, etc. For meaningful sentences, the various units of the sentence must have proximity with each other; otherwise the sentence would become ludicrous. E.g., if the noun is a genitive phrase, the attributive adjective must come immediately before that component it wishes to quality, and not necessarily before the entire phrase.

Noun/adjective/adverb phrases are common in Hindustānī. The head of the phrase normally comes after the phrase’s compliment. In a noun phrase, the possessed item comes after the possessor. Embedded clauses are also common. For adjective clauses whether the clause is restrictive or non-restrictive, the embedded clause is joined with the main clause by j-beginning relative pronouns (E.g., jo, jahān, jaise, etc.) and never by the corresponding[interrogative pronouns (as it happens in English). Subordinate noun clauses are often linked by the conjunction कि /ki/ (lit., that, of Persian origin).

Compound sentences (those with two or more equally important simple clauses) are usually linked by conjunctions such as और /ɔːr/and, या /jaː/or, लेकिन /leːkin/but, इसलिये /islijeː/therefore, वरना /vərnaː/otherwise, etc. Sometimes double conjunctions are also used wherever needed. E.g., न … न /nə/ … /nə/neither…nor.


Tiwari ([1966] 2004) lists the following rules of agreement:

  • Between the subject and the verb:
  1. If the subject is not attached with a postposition (this condition is included in the ff. rules too), then the verb must agree in person, gender and number with the subject. Suffices to say that according to the condition, the verb is not affected even if the places of the subject and the object are reversed. E.g., मोर (peacock, masc. sing.) बाग़ में नाच रहा है । मोरनी (peahen, fem. sing.) उसे देख रही है ।
  2. If honor is to be expressed for the subject, then the verb is conjugated in the plural number even if the subject is singular. The same is the case for the honorific 2nd person pronoun आप. E.g., महात्मा गान्धी एक महान व्यक्ति थे
  3. If the subject of the sentence consists of several words in the same gender, number and person, linked with and, then the verb is in the plural form of the same gender as the subjects. But if such words point to a single idea, then the verb will be in singular. E.g., एक कुत्ता (dog, masc. sing.) और एक भेड़िया (wolf, masc. sing.) ग़ोश्त के लिये लड़ रहे थे । But, कुत्ता या भेड़िया ये ग़ोश्त खा सकता था
  4. If the subject consists of multiple words of different genders but all singular, then the verb will be in the masculine plural form. E.g., मोर और मोरनी बाग़ में रहते थे
  5. If the subject consists of multiple words of different genders and different numbers, then the verb will be in the plural form, but of the gender of the last subject. E.g., एक राजकुमार (prince) और कई राजकुमारियाँ (princesses) मैदान में खेलतीं थीं
  6. If the gender of the subject is unknown, the verb is in masculine. E.g., कोई (someone) आ रहा है ।
  • Between the object and the verb:
  1. If the subject is attached with any postposition (includes the accusative case for pronouns), then the verb does not agree with the subject. The verb rather agrees with the gender and the number of the object. This kind of phenomenon is called split ergativity. E.g., कुत्ते (dog, masc. sing.) ने रोटियाँ (breads, fem. pl.) खाईं थीं । मौसी (aunt) को अख़बार (newspaper, masc. sing.) पढ़ना होगा
  2. It is compulsory in prec. that the object must not have any postposition. If the object also has a postposition (includes the accusative case for pronouns), then the verb will not agree with anything, but simply come in the 3rd person masculine singular form. मोरनी ने उस रोटी (bread, fem. sing.) को खाया
  3. The postposition ne is used if and only if the verb is in one of the perfective forms.