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Ultimate Guide to Romanian Word Order

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You can think of language as being composed of LEGO blocks.

Imagine you’re building a skyscraper, for instance. Since you have the advantage of working with toys instead of real steel, one strategy would be to build each floor individually and then stick them all together.

It turns out you can do the same thing in language learning. 

Before you ever get into a situation in which you have to speak Romanian “in the wild,” you can piece together a lot of different patterns and chunks and learn them individually. Here enters Romanian word order and a host of other crucial Romanian grammar elements

When it’s time to speak or write, you can then draw on these stored memories to quickly and efficiently speak correct Romanian without a second thought.

Word order in Romanian can sometimes appear more flexible than English word order, but don’t be fooled. It has its own rules that lead to very odd-sounding Romanian if broken. Do you know them?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Romanian Table of Contents
  1. Word Order in Basic Sentences
  2. Adjectives and Nouns
  3. Making Questions in Romanian
  4. Dealing with Prepositions
  5. Giving Commands
  6. Conclusion

1. Word Order in Basic Sentences

A Woman Writing in a Notebook Late at Night

Ordinary declarative sentences in Romanian function just as they do in English, syntactically speaking.

We start with the subject, or the thing in the sentence that actually does something. Let’s use a name,

Elena.

Then we add the verb, or what the subject actually does. If Elena writes, then we simply say that.

  • Elena scrie.

“Elena writes.”

Suppose Elena isn’t just writing, but she’s writing a book. That’s an object, and we’d place that after the verb. Linguistically, this makes Romanian a Subject-Verb-Object language. Other languages from around the world order these three elements differently, but most European languages fit this SVO mold.

  • Elena scrie o carte.

“Elena is writing a book.”

Here’s where the word order can seem a little flexible compared to English. It’s perfectly reasonable for us to say scrie Elena and even O carte scrie Elena.

The meaning is clear from the context, instead of gibberish like it might be in English (“a book is writing Elena?”).

Let’s have a look at some other very basic sentences in Romanian.

  • Vremea este frumoasă.

“The weather is nice.”

  • Eu am două pisici.

“I have two cats.”

Remember that when we’re dealing with pronouns instead of people’s names, standard Romanian practice is to completely drop the pronoun and just use the conjugated verb instead. Keeping the pronoun intact is a mark of slightly more formal Romanian, but it can often feel unnecessary. 

Sometimes there’s an exception for the third person singular (he/she). To be more clear and to be sure that everyone knows who you’re talking about, you’ll keep the pronoun. This way, everyone can identify the gender of the person as well. 

  • Scrie o carte.

“(She) is writing a book.”

  • Ei vorbesc engleza.

“They speak English.”

  • Sunt din Londra.

“I am from London.”

That inverted word order from before comes up a lot in songs. However, since in real Romanian you won’t really come across simple two-word sentences very much, you don’t need to worry about the differences between one word order and the other.

One last thing to note is that Romanian makes heavy use of contractions. Glance at a Romanian text and you’ll see words with dashes all over the place.

This is just the standard way to show that a pronoun has combined with a certain verb partway, meaning it’s still there and hasn’t been dropped.

By far, the most common contraction is n-am, shortened from nu am and meaning “I don’t have” or “I haven’t.” There are many more, though, so check out a handy chart like this one!

2. Adjectives and Nouns 

Two Dogs Carrying a Stick together

The big difference in Romanian word order with adjectives compared to English is simply that adjectives come after the nouns they modify, instead of before them as in English.

This doesn’t happen when a verb is between the adjective and noun, as you can see in the example sentences above. It only applies to noun-adjective phrases.

  • Ești un om inteligent.

“You are a smart man.”

  • Ești un câine bun.

“You’re a good dog.”

One major difference to note in Romanian is how the article works with nouns. In most other European languages (the Scandinavian languages are an exception), the article comes before the noun.

In Romanian, it fixes onto the end of the noun.

There are various rules that you have to follow to know exactly which nouns take what kind of connected article, but it’s all consistent and just takes a bit of time to memorize.

  • Nu văd câinele.

“I can’t see the dog.”

  • Văd un câine.

“I see a dog.”

In these examples, you can contrast the word câinele with câine to see how “the dog” is different from “a dog.” If this is your first time seeing this happen, then definitely go through an article or two to learn the different ways this can show up in your reading. It’s very easy to overlook a grammatical article that’s barely there!

3. Making Questions in Romanian

a Question Mark on a Chalkboard

English is relatively unusual among European languages in that it uses the auxiliary verb “do” to act as a “dummy verb” at the beginning of question sentences.

Romanian has no such thing, and so there are two main additional ways to make questions in Romanian.

The first is to simply invert the order of the subject and the verb.

  • Scrie Elena o carte?

“Is Elena writing a book?”

  • Scrie Elena?

“Does Elena write?”

The second is to keep everything normal and simply change the intonation. A lot of people might describe Romanian question intonation as “rising,” but in reality, it’s only rising in the middle and at the end. It’s pretty much the same as English question intonation, so just go with your instincts at first and you’ll be most of the way there.

  • Ei vorbesc engleza?

“They speak English?”

  • El doarme?

“Is he sleeping?”

There is a third way, grammatically speaking. Instead of changing the word order, you can just add the word nu to the end of a sentence to act as a tag question. In this case, you’ll speak with the same question intonation discussed above.

Naturally, Romanian has the same question words as English does. Just as in English, these question words go at the beginning of the sentence.

  • Ce oră este?

“What time is it?”

  • Unde trăiţi?

“Where do you live?”

If you’re using a helping or auxiliary verb (like “can,” “should,” “may,” and so on) then it appears at the beginning as well (most of the time).

  • Poți vorbi engleza?

“Can you speak English?”

What’s the exception? When you’re not talking about the noun “English,” but instead a pronoun. When the object of the question is a pronoun, then you’ll move the pronoun to the front and shift everything over one place. The verb ends up last.

  • Îl poți ajuta?

“Can you help him?”

The answers to the questions will start with the answer word first, and then continue with the regular subject-predicate word order.

  • Nu, nu pot.

“No, no I can’t.”

4. Dealing with Prepositions

View of an Airplane Taking Off

Prepositions in Romanian look and feel like they do in English and other European languages.

  • Lucrez în oraș.

“I work in the city.”

In this example, oraș is the noun “city” and în is the preposition.

Anybody that’s learned even a little bit of another Romance language is likely to get tripped up by the preposition la. It’s not the feminine definite article like it is in French or Spanish. It means “to.”

  • mergem la hotel.

“Let’s go to the hotel.”

How about turning a sentence with a prepositional phrase into a question? There’s really nothing to it. Simply invert the word order as shown before.

  • Merge acest drum la aeroport?

“Does this road go to the airport?”

  • Nu, acest drum merge la oraș.

“No, this road goes to the city.”

5. Giving Commands

An Older Man Giving Someone an Order

Why include commands here? Simple: They’re the most common “difficult grammar” that you might encounter in Romanian. It’s actually much easier than you’d think.

First, the super-easy stuff is literally just a different verb form. That’s called the “imperative” and it’s made with the second person plural verb form. To negate it, add nu.

  • Cântați!

“Sing!”

  • Nu cântați!

“Don’t sing!”

What we’re talking about is something a little more in-depth, namely “I want you to…” It requires a compound verb.

  • Vreau să cânți.

“I want you to sing.”

  • Vreau să pleci.

“I want you to go.”

The pattern is immediately obvious. All you have to do is swap in the verb that you want somebody to do, and you’re all good to go!

6. Conclusion

Improve Pronunciation

It’s entirely possible for you to get so used to Romanian word order that you can spot grammatical errors a mile away. Don’t believe anyone who says you can’t learn a language that well.

Of course, it’s also possible for you to end up stuck in a rut and never know why exactly you keep making the same kinds of mistakes.

As long as you keep paying attention to word order and training with real, authentic Romanian (not just isolated words or example sentences from the dictionary), you’ll be able to notice the word order differences quite naturally and accurately.

That can happen with ease when you sign up for RomanianPod101, the best place to learn Romanian online. Follow along with transcripts in English and Romanian for dozens of episodes, and enjoy your journey to Romanian success!

Before you go, be sure to let us know if you learned anything new today. Also feel free to reach out with any questions you still have about Romanian word order. We look forward to hearing from you.

Happy Romanian learning!

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