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Scrambling is a cover term for a specific kind of word order variation.

In the study of Germanic SOV-languages the term is used to refer to word order variation of argument NPs with respect to each other and/or with respect to adverbial phrases.


in German an object may follow or precede an adverb (object and adverb may be scrambled):

(i)    a  Er hat ihr vielleicht dieses Buch gegeben
	  he has her maybe      this   book given
       b  Er hat ihr dieses Buch vielleicht gegeben

Two objects may be scrambled as well:

(ii)	  Er hat dieses Buch vielleicht ihr gegeben

And sometimes an object - den Max in (iii) - may even scramble over the subject, as in (iii)b:

(iii)  a  ... dass jeder den Max kennt
	      that everyone (the) Max knows
       b  ... dass den Max jeder kennt

It seems that definiteness is a factor interfering with scrambling. Nonspecific indefinite NPs cannot be scrambled and neither can particles or small clause predicates. One point of controversy is whether scrambling is a case of movement (of NP) and if so whether it is A-bar movement or not.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Grewendorf , G & W. Sternefeld (eds.) 1990. Scrambling and Barriers, John Benjamins,Amsterdam/Philadelphia.
  • Neeleman, A. 1994. Complex Predicates, diss., Utrecht University
  • Ross, J.R. 1967. Constraints on variables in syntax, doctoral dissertation, MIT (published as 'Infinite syntax!' Ablex, Norwood (1986)).
  • Webelhuth, G. 1989. Syntactic Saturation Phenomena and the Modern Germanic Languages, Diss, UMass.
  • Webelhuth, G. & H. Den Besten 1987. Adjunction and Remnant Topicalization in the Germanic SOV-languages, GLOW conference Venice, .

Other languages

German Scrambling (de)

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