Primero, mi pregunta en español:

¿Hay algunas reglas que rijan sea o no una frase verbal se puede dividir por su sujeto?

As mentioned in a previous question, I came upon a couple of sentences in a textbook (Spanish Grammar in Context,) that left me with some questions about word order in Spanish. It was in an exercise where students were asked to rewrite a sentence beginning with the underlined word. One of the sentences was:

Muchos inmigrantes v̲i̲e̲n̲e̲n̲ a trabajar en los campos freseros.* (p. 225)
Many immigrants come to work in strawberry fields.†

*The underlined word was “vienen.”
†My translation.

Below, I will give the answer provided, then my answer, and my translations for each. I believe this particular sentence involves one or both of the following rules from the book:

Although the verb usually follows the subject, as it does in English, for emphasis or focus[,] different elements within the sentence can be placed in initial position. (p. 223)

If the subject is much longer than the verb … the tendency is to have the verb in initial position. (p. 223)

ANSWER KEY: Vienen muchos inmigrantes a trabajar en los campos freseros.
TRANSLATION: Many come to work in strawberry fields.*

*This is exactly the same translation as used for the original sentence, but anything else just sounds really unnatural to me in English.

MY ANSWER: Vienen a trabajar muchos inmigrantes en los campos freseros.
TRANSLATION: Many immigrants come to work in strawberry fields.*

*Again, this is exactly the same translation as used for the original sentence, and the one for the answer provided, but anything else just sounds really unnatural to me in English.

After discovering that my answer differed from the one found in the book, I began to wonder, Well, is my version incorrect then?

According to some Google searches, maybe not correct, but not all that common either:

In an attempt to find out, I decided to come up with similar phrasing using different word combinations and run them through Google to see what I might find. Discoveries can be seen in the image below:

Then I got to thinking that maybe I was too focused on the prepositional aspect and not focused enough on the type or meaning of the words used in the book’s example, namely, the characteristics of the verb “venir”. The verb “venir” sometimes serves as a verb of motion and there are other ones like it, such as: ir, volver, salir, and llegar. So, I did a few more experiments and it certainly does appear that there are more instances of the construct:

CONJUGATED VERB – SUBJECT – PREPOSITION + INFINITIVE

when “llegar” and “ir” are the conjugated verbs. The verb “salir” seems to fit this mold but perhaps moreso when used with verbs more seemingly linked to physical motion, but truth be told, no strong, clear patterns emerged for me with this verb. The image below shows each of these five verbs of motion and some random combinations using the three constructs referenced:

SUBJECT — CONJUGATED VERB — PREPOSITION — + INFINITIVE
CONJUGATED VERB — SUBJECT — PREPOSITION + INFINITIVE
CONJUGATED VERB — PREPOSITION + INFINITIVE — SUBJECT

In the rows highlighted in the darker shade of green (grass green, perhaps?), I readily concede that the word “muchos” may, in fact be, a direct object and not the subject. Still, it would seem to me that the answer provided by the book:

is a rather rare construction for most verbs and should be used with caution. Does anyone have any good advice or rules of thumb on when deviations from the normal word order

SUBJECT — VERB — OBJECT

are acceptable apart from the usual such as:

  1. to emphasize a word or element
  2. with short sentences
  3. if the subject is much longer than the verb
  4. within a clause
  5. in questions

For example, are there any known verbs or types of verbs that are more commonly used in a construct that deviates from

SUBJECT — VERB — OBJECT

?

If you have a broader understanding than what my example covers, please don't limit yourself to that question.

Lastly, since I saw some evidence that my answer:

Vienen a trabajar muchos …

appears to be in usage to some degree, is it something that could at least be considered grammatically correct? What about the sound of it? Does it sound natural? What about any of the examples in the verbs of motion chart? Especially with regard to those that yielded few or no results, would any be considered grammatically correct? Do any sound natural to you?

Detalles en español:

Como mencioné en una pregunta anterior, me encontré con un par de frases en un libro de texto que me dejó con algunas preguntas sobre el orden de las palabras en español. Estaba haciendo un ejercicio donde se pide a los estudiantes que reescriban una oración comenzando con la palabra subrayada. Una de las oraciones fue:

Muchos inmigrantes v̲i̲e̲n̲e̲n̲ a trabajar en los campos freseros.* (p. 225)
Many immigrants come to work in strawberry fields.†

*La palabra subrayada fue “vienen.”
†Mi traducción.

Abajo, daré la respuesta proporcionada, después mi respuesta y mis traducciones para cada una. Creo que esta oración en particular involucra una o ambas de las siguientes reglas del libro:

Aunque el verbo suele seguir el sujeto, como lo hace en inglés, para dar énfasis o foco, elementos diferentes en la oración se pueden colocar en la posición inicial. (p. 223)

Si el sujeto es mucho más largo que el verbo … la tendencia es tener el verbo en posición inicial. (p. 223)

HOJA DE RESPUESTAS: Vienen muchos inmigrantes a trabajar en los campos freseros.
TRADUCCIÓN: Many come to work in strawberry fields.*

*Ésta es exactamente la misma traducción utilizada para la oración original, pero cualquier otra cosa simplemente me suena muy poco natural.

MI RESPUESTA: Vienen a trabajar muchos inmigrantes en los campos freseros.
TRADUCCIÓN: Many immigrants come to work in strawberry fields.*

*Otra vez, ésta es exactamente la misma traducción utilizada para la oración original, y la de la respuesta proporcionada, pero cualquier otra cosa me suena muy poco natural a mí en inglés.

Después de descubrir que mi respuesta difiere de la que está en el libro, comencé a preguntarme, Pues, es mi versión incorrecta entonces?

Según una búsqueda de Google, quizás no incorrecto, pero poco común:

[Véanse arriba.]

En un intento de averiguar, decidí crear frases similares utilizando combinaciones diferentes de palabras y pasarlas por Google para ver lo que podría encontrar. Mis descubrimientos pueden verse en la siguiente imagen:

[Véanse arriba.]

Entonces me puse a pensar que quizás estaba demasiado centrada en el aspecto preposicional y no lo suficiente en el tipo o sentido de las palabras utilizadas en el ejemplo del libro, es decir, las características del verbo “venir”. El verbo “venir” a veces sirve como un verbo de movimiento y hay verbos similares como sí como: “ir”, “volver”, “salir”, y “llegar”. Entonces, hice unos pocos experimentos más y ciertamente parece que hay más casos de la construcción:

VERBO CONJUGADO — SUJETO — PREPOSICIÓN + INFINITIVO

cuando “llegar”, o “ir”, son los verbos conjugados. El verbo “salir” parece encajar en esta matriz, pero quizás más cuando es utilizado con verbos que son más aparentemente vinculados a movimiento físico, pero la verdad sea dicha ningunas pautas fuertes o claras aparecieron para mí con este verbo. La siguiente imagen muestra cada uno de estos cinco verbos de movimiento y algunas combinaciones al azar de las tres formas referenciadas:

SUJETO — VERBO CONJUGADO — PREPOSICIÓN + INFINITIVO
VERBO CONJUGADO — SUJETO — PREPOSICIÓN + INFINITIVO
VERBO CONJUGADO — PREPOSICIÓN + INFINITIVO — SUJETO

[Véanse arriba.]

En las filas resaltadas en el tono de verde más oscuro (verde hierba, quizás), reconozco abiertamente que la palabra “muchos” de hecho, puede ser, un objeto directo y no el sujeto. Todavía, a mí me parece que la respuesta proporcionada por el libro:

es una construcción bastante rara para la mayoría de verbos y debería utilizarse con prudencia. ¿Alguien tiene algún buen consejo o reglas prácticas para cuando desviaciones del orden normal de las palabras

SUJETO — VERBO — OBJETO

son aceptables aparte de lo normal como:

  1. dar énfasis a una palabra o elemento
  2. con frases cortas
  3. si el sujeto es mucho más largo que el verbo
  4. dentro de una cláusula
  5. en preguntas

Por ejemplo, ¿hay verbos conocidos o tipos de verbos que son más comúnmente usado s en un constructo que se desvía de

SUJETO — VERBO — OBJETO

?

Si tienes una comprensión más amplia que lo que mi ejemplo cubre, por favor, no te limites a esa pregunta.

Por último, desde que vi pruebas que mi respuesta

Vienen a trabajar muchos …

parece ser en uso en cierta medida, ¿es algo que podría al menos considerarse gramaticalmente correcto? Y, ¿cómo le suenan a ustedes? ¿Suena natural? ¿Qué hay de los otros ejemplos en el gráfico con los verbos de movimiento? Especialmente con respecto a aquellos que dieron pocos o sin resultados, ¿podrían ser considerados gramaticalmente correctos? ¿Algunos les suenan natural a ustedes?

  • 1
    Note that if you say "muchos vienen a trabajar", the word "muchos" acts as a pronoun as the word it modifies is omitted. You could say "llegaron muchos inmigrantes, muchos [de los cuales] vienen a trabajar en el campo". If you are introducing the subject along with "vienen a trabajar", you should say "muchos inmigrantes vienen a trabajar", and then the position of the subject may vary: "vienen muchos inmigrantes a trabajar" or "vienen a trabajar muchos inmigrantes". But if you omit the subject ("inmigrantes") you should place "muchos" first to sound good. Hence your results in Google. – Charlie Mar 21 at 6:46
  • Lisa, this is waay too long for me to read, but I did want to mention that what you've done with "gobernante" doesn't work at all. "Gobernante" is an elected official. I think maybe you were thinking of a gerund from gobernar, which would be gobernando. But "gobernar" only corresponds to the meaning of "to govern" that has to do with actual governments. In other words, you landed on a false cognate accidentally for the meaning you had in mind. // Here are some options: ¿Existen reglas acerca de que si A o B? ¿Cómo se sabe si se puede hacer C o D? – aparente001 Mar 22 at 2:42
  • By the way, if you really want to try to come up with a sentence that parallels closely your English question, "Are there any rules governing whether or not a verbal phrase can be split by its subject?", you would get to use the subjunctive, e.g. "¿Existen reglas que rijan etc.?" A very fun subjunctive from regir because you get to make a spelling change. However, it would be rather unusual to frame a question this way. (Sounds a bit pompous; also a bit repetitive since regla and regir are related.) – aparente001 Mar 22 at 2:45
  • Note about your translation of "Muchos inmigrantes vienen a trabajar en los campos freseros." You wrote, "Many immigrants come to work in strawberry fields." That's fine, but I take the meaning of the Spanish just the tiniest bit differently. Here's how I would interpret the idea behind the Spanish sentence: Many of the immigrants come here in order to work in the strawberry harvest. This isn't a grammar or syntax thing -- I'm taking this meaning mainly from the cultural context. – aparente001 Mar 24 at 2:34
  • @aparente001 Noted (RE: your comment about gobernante). Thank you for pointing it out. – Lisa Beck Mar 25 at 0:45
up vote 2 down vote accepted

First, some pointers taken from an article about verb-first sentences in Spanish.

  • The verbs of existence haber and existir go before their subject more often than not.
  • Verbs often come before the subject in questions.

The kind of example you gave (Vienen muchos...) is a bit tricky, but I think what's happening there is that the situation is similar to that of a predicate of existence.

If you said Muchos vienen..., then those muchos would be the topic of the sentence, i.e. what you want to talk about.

If instead you choose to say Vienen muchos..., then the implication is that you just want to describe the situation as a whole, as a matter of fact, without introducing a new topic. In English you would do this by using an expression of existence or event. That is, you'd present the situation

Vienen muchos inmigrantes a trabajar…

as one of

  • "There are many immigrants coming to work…"
  • "It so happens that many immigrants are coming to work…"

This same principle marks the difference between

  1. Los inmigrantes comenzaron a llegar ayer.
  2. Comenzaron a llegar ayer los inmigrantes.

No. 1 is a statement about the immigrants; no. 2 is a statement about the fact that the immigrants have begun to arrive.

I could give many more examples. Checking newspapers' headlines right now, I'm finding things such as

  • Asumió Vizcarra como presidente de Perú. (Some guy called Martín Vizcarra has just assumed the presidency of Perú; the verb goes first because the headline highlights the fact of the assumption itself, rather than what Vizcarra has done or said.)
  • Tras el calor, llegó la tormenta. (It's been unseasonably hot but a storm has just come over Buenos Aires; the arrival of the storm is the news, not "what the storm did".)
  • I think I’m going to go ahead and give you the green checkmark even though aparente001 very directly and succintly addresses a major aspect of this verbal split that I had been wondering about. But that link you sent me, especially its section on haber and existir was something I had not known about before and as I was writing the bit about "venir" being a verb of motion, part of me didn't really feel that the phrase vienen a trabajar was referring to the act of motion .... – Lisa Beck Mar 25 at 1:42
  • ... It didn't really seem like an act of physically coming to work but more of something like (they) wind up working/end up working, similar to how acabar or terminar are used w/a gerund to indicate a result. So, for any verbal phrase conveying existence/result, regardless of which combo of verbs are used, this construct -- CONJ. VERB - SUBJ. - PREP. +INF. -- can be used. If, on the other hand, I want to convey something less existential and something more physical or literal, such as an act of movement, then I would be wise to stick with regular SUBJ. - VERB - PREP. +INF. order. Right? – Lisa Beck Mar 25 at 1:47

YOUR ANSWER: Vienen a trabajar muchos inmigrantes en los campos freseros.

I think you're asking whether there's a rule that tells us whether, or when, it's okay to interrupt trabajar en los campos freseros by putting something smack dab in the middle of that phrase, between the verb and the prepositional phrase related to that verb.

I would say that it is permissible to do so, but it chops up the meaning uncomfortably. It doesn't sound natural or comfortable to my ear.

  • You are exactly right, aparente001. That is precisely what I had been wondering about. So even in those examples in the green-shaded chart where it appears there is some evidence of it -- van muchos a ver, vienen muchos a vivir -- that sounds really unnatural to you? – Lisa Beck Mar 25 at 1:18
  • @LisaBeck - I think that "ir a ver" and "venir a vivir" are different from "trabajar en los campos freseros." "A vivir" and "a ver" aren't prepositional phrases. I'm sorry, I don't know what the construction "ir/venir a (verbo)" is called. – aparente001 Mar 25 at 1:41
  • (1) A: Where are you going? B: I'm going to work/the office. Here, "work" is a noun. (2) A: What are you going to do now? B: I'm going to work on my project. Here, "work" is a verb. Sorry I don't have the technical terminology to talk about this. I hope you can see the distinction nevertheless. – aparente001 Mar 25 at 2:09
  • The phrase in question was "vienen a trabajar (en los campos freseros)" and what rules might exist regarding word order, specifically related to placing the subject in the middle of such a construct (rather than at the front or at the end). I wasn't asking about the construct involved in "trabajar en los campos freseros." – Lisa Beck Mar 25 at 21:10
  • @LisaBeck - Oh shoot, I think I was looking at the wrong green chart. – aparente001 Mar 25 at 21:12

Never thought I'd have much reason to return to this complicated question, but I've recently begun reading about Spanish grammar using materials written in Spanish and am beginning to discover details to the Spanish language that I never knew existed. In an attempt to close a knowledge gap that I identified earlier today, I stumbled upon this grammatical concept known as the verbal periphrasis and after reading through a few pages I found on it — some in English and some in Spanish — I was reminded of this post I made here.

To provide a quick recap, my post above started off with the question, "Are there any rules governing whether or not a verbal phrase can be split by its subject?" It was a question I had after reading an answer in a grammar book I happened to be reading at the time. My post above indicates that I was curious about whether or not the type of preposition somehow influenced the splitting of a verbal phrase and then this led to wondering if, instead, it was the type of verb itself. Then, when pablodf76 mentioned "verbs of existence," I automatically assumed that was the missing link to understanding my question. While pablodf76's answer was very good and the one I gave the green check mark to, I realize that such an answer (the one found in the grammar book's answer key, not pablodf76's answer) may have led me down a bit of a rabbit hole that I wasn't sure was all that worthwhile pursuing after all was said and done (although what I posted above may help some rule out certain notions should they ever ponder about something similar). I also realize that what I had been trying to do is find a rule that would help me make sense of the answer I found in the aforementioned grammar book whereas the research I did earlier today was in pursuit of a more general rule that just happens to apply to this question I posted here.

What I add here isn't so much an answer, but an opportunity to share a few links with Spanish StackExchange users that address this topic. Since some of the material I found came from sources written in Spanish, these links may be particularly useful to those who don't typically go beyond pages written in English when looking for an answer to their question about Spanish.

Before I get to the material/links I found while trying to better understand "verbal periphrasis," I'm going to add a Reddit link that included a post from someone whose answer was quite thorough. The person who wrote it doesn't cite any sources, but claims to be bilingual. He/she is actually addressing adverb placement, but some of what expremierepage wrote definitely seems to apply to my question. You can access that post here.

As for "verbal periphrasis" which I believe my example — vienen a trabajar — really is, I'm not going to regurgitate what I found elsewhere. Instead, I'm simply going to leave a screenshot from one site and then provide links to some of the pages I found useful.

As you can see, there are three types of verbal periphrasis listed and while the chart puts "venir" with "ir" as the gerund type, my example in this post clearly doesn't use a gerund. Nevertheless, I feel that it is possible that "venir a trabajar" falls under the infinitive category in that its meaning may be a close approximation of constructs formed with "llegar a + infinitive."

And don't think the list above is a complete list. I have yet to read that there is such a thing and at least one site I came upon flat out stated that it would be impossible to create one due to the fact that the combinations of words that could be considered verbal periphrasis would be too many to enumerate.

Perhaps the single best thing I've read thus far about "verbal periphrasis" is this:

Verbal periphrases are a combination of two verbs that behave as one ...

Source: "Perífrasis Verbal", ESPAÑOL EN EL RUBINO

So, my takeaway from all of this (or your TL;DR, if you will) is that verbal phrases typically should not be split by adverbial phrases or anything else, especially if the verbal phrase is a verbal periphrasis. With your garden variety verbal phrase or those that are not verbal periphrases, some exceptions with certain adverbs (e.g., hasta, también, ya, ... see the Reddit post referred to earlier for others) do exist. I would further posit that it is possible that when a verbal phrasis is split that perhaps it is no longer a verbal phrasis. For example, in the sentence:

"Muchos inmigrantes vienen a trabajar en los campos freseros",

it is possible that "vienen a trabajar" (come to work) is a verbal periphrasis in which the conjugated form of "venir" (vienen) is not used in a literal sense, but instead means "to reach a particular state or point" existentially (as pablodf76 has already mentioned), or perhaps a meaning closer to "they wind up/end up working ..." Without more context, the "vienen" in "vienen a trabajar" could be serving as an auxiliary verb to "trabajar" rather than an action verb meaning, literally, "to come." (This is explained rather well on this page here.) If instead, I saw the following written:

"Vienen muchos inmigrantes a trabajar en los campos freseros",

I might now make the assumption that the author intended to convey a more literal meaning of "vienen" and that "muchos inmigrantes" come to work, literally, (e.g., by foot/bus/train).* I believe I made some sort of comment similar to this previously in this thread, but what I read here, especially the section titled, "Qué son y qué no son perífrasis," might further support anything I may have mentioned earlier.


*Disregard this point here. If you go to Slide 3 of this presentation here and click on "EXPRESIONES INTERCAL.," you will see the following:

En las perífrasis verbales puede ocurrir que entre el verbo auxiliar y la forma no personal aparezca un adverbio o locución adverbial, sin que por eso se rompa la unidad de la perífrasis.


Sources I hyperlink you to in this answer:

Reddit post in the discussion thread titled, 'question on adverb placement in Spanish'

"Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish", Span¡shD!ct

"Las perífrasis verbales" (Los Simpsons te ayudarán a aprenderlas)

"Perífrasis Verbal", ESPAÑOL EN EL RUBINO

"Las perífrasis verbales", Fernando Liroz (profesor de lengua española)

Note: The first two sources listed after the Reddit post also have a quiz you can take at the end to test yourself on whether or not you've understood the material.

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