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Free word order: What order?

Using morphological means to express relations between words in a sentence considerably frees the order the words must appear. It is true that some orders feel more natural for a sentence, and Subject-Verb-Object is predominant in neutral everyday sentences, but a sentence is perfectly understandable even if the word order is absolutely wrong. If grammatical relations are signalled by suffixes, the position of words in the sentence is not important, but if there are no case endings available, the only means of indicating these relations is word order. This is why English has a rigid word order, but Estonian a free one.

The canonical example used by teachers is a sentence, consisting of four words tihti [often] taevas [in the sky] tähti [stars] nähti [were seen], where all combinations are equally possible and there are several candidates for the 'most comfortable' word order.

Nähti taevas tihti tähti
Nähti taevas tähti tihti
Nähti tihti taevas tähti
Nähti tihti tähti taevas
Nähti tähti taevas tihti
Nähti tähti tihti taevas
Taevas nähti tihti tähti
Taevas nähti tähti tihti
Taevas tihti nähti tähti
Taevas tihti tähti nähti
Taevas tähti nähti tihti
Taevas tähti tihti nähti
Tihti nähti taevas tähti
Tihti nähti tähti taevas
Tihti taevas nähti tähti
Tihti taevas tähti nähti
Tihti tähti nähti taevas
Tihti tähti taevas nähti
Tähti nähti taevas tihti
Tähti nähti tihti taevas
Tähti taevas nähti tihti
Tähti taevas tihti nähti
Tähti tihti nähti taevas
Tähti tihti taevas nähti