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In Esperanto word order doesn't affect the meaning of the sentence. For example, the following 6 sentences mean the same thing (I like you):

Mi ŝatas vin

Mi vin ŝatas

Vin ŝatas mi

Vin mi ŝatas

Ŝatas vin mi

Ŝatas mi vin

Coming from an English background, I find the first sentence the easiest to understand and use. But are there any cases where it is preferred to use any of the other forms?

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    Besides all of these being correct, I believe Zamenhof did this on purpose to make it more easy to learn by people of all languages who don't have the word order rules of English. It also makes Esperanto poetry fun to write because there are plenty of rhymes. – Karlomanio Jul 7 '17 at 14:11
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As well as being easier for English speakers, the first form is generally considered the “normal” form. However, it’s not uncommon to swap the order around for emphasis. For example, you could imagine your sentence being used in a dialogue with a jealous partner:

Kara, ĉu vi ŝatas la najbaron?

Ne! Nur vin mi ŝatas!

With that it mind, I don’t think it’s quite correct to say the order doesn’t affect the meaning at all, because it does add a slightly different nuance.

A very common case where it is normal to swap the order around is when asking a question. In that case you usually want the question word to be at the front, even if that word is the object of the sentence. For example:

Kion vi manĝis?

In English the word order is of course swapped too making it “what did you eat?”. The “did” is mysteriously added to distinguish it from “what ate you?”. In Esperanto this contortion is not necessary because the -n makes it clear what is the object and what is the subject.

Here are some more examples of unusual word orders which I found on the Tekstaro:

Tiam ŝajnis al mi, ke jes. Sed ne estis tiel. Ne lin mi amis, sed mian revon pri liberiĝo.

 

Karulino, ĉu vin mi amoris sur la sofo en la malluma salono?

 

Tio signifas, ke la frazo estas aparte malfacila, kaj ke nur min li opinias kapabla traduki ĝin.

 

“Hej!.. Maksim! Kaj ni jam pensis, ke vi ĝuas la liberecon ... Kaj nun vi estas denove ĉi tie ... Kie oni kaptis vin?” surŝutis ni lin per demandoj.

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2

Word order is in fact very important in Esperanto. Many people new to learning the language are surprised to hear this, perhaps due to the way it's presented in some text books and other learning materials. It's true that there is some additional flexibility in Esperanto word order that English doesn't have, but in nearly every case, changing the order of words can change the meaning - in some cases quite drastic.

If we limit the question to the placement of subject, verb, and object, then the meaning change is subtle and can usually be described as a case of emphasis. I always recommend reading lots of good Esperanto as a way of getting a handle on what we mean by "emphasis".

Another thing to look out for is when the subject comes after the verb. This is common in a few cases like:

  • Necesas tempo.
  • Venos la tago kiam...

Changing the SVO word order to OVS can also allow you to use active language rather than passive. It's also used frequently in subordinate clauses.

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