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1.3.2.Temporal adpositions

The vast majority of temporal adpositional phrases are prepositional in nature, although post- and circumpositions can sometimes also be used; verbal particles are not used to express temporal relations. The subsections below discuss the three types of adpositional phrases that do occur.

[+]  I.  Prepositions

This subsection discusses the semantics of temporal prepositions. After a more general discussion, we will consider the individual prepositions in more detail.

[+]  A.  General discussion

Table 25 gives the subset of prepositions that can be productively used temporally: they are characterized by the fact that they can take any complement, provided that the latter refers to an entity that occupies a fixed position/interval on the time line.

Table 25: Temporal prepositions
preposition example translation
gedurende gedurende de voorstelling during the performance
na na de les after the lesson
sinds sinds de laatste vergadering since the last meeting
tijdens tijdens de les during the lesson
tot (en met) tot (en met) mijn vakantie until my holiday
tussen tussen kerst en Nieuwjaar between Christmas and New Year
vanaf vanaf mijn vakantie from my holiday
voor voor mijn vakantie
(also: tien voor vijf)
before my holiday
ten (minutes) to five (4.50 h)

The preposition sinds'since' has the more formal counterpart sedert. The preposition vanaf`can be replaced by the Latinate preposition per if followed by a date: vanaf/per 23 februari'from February 23'.
      The prepositions in Table 26 differ from those in Table 25 in that they impose selection restrictions on their complement; they require a complement referring to a certain time, date or well-defined period of time (such as a certain part of the day, holidays such as Easter and Christmas, and so on). Although the list of possible complements in the fourth column of Table 26 is not exhaustive, it will probably give some feeling for the restrictions imposed on the complement. The prepositional phrases preceded by a number sign are possible but cannot be used with a temporal meaning, for which reason we refrain from providing a translation of the prepositions involved.

Table 26: Temporal prepositions imposing selection restrictions on their complement
  example translation possible complements
in in de ochtend during the morning parts of the day, months, seasons, years
  #in de voorstelling the performance  
met met kerstmis during Christmas holidays, seasons (except lente'spring')
  #met de les — the lesson  
om om tien over drie at ten past three times of the day
  #om de vakantie — the holiday  
omstreeks omstreeks kerstmis around Christmas holidays, dates, months, seasons, years
  *omstreeks de les — the lesson  
op op kerstavond at Christmas eve parts of holidays, dates
  #op de vergadering — the meeting  
rond rond kerstmis around Christmas holidays, dates
  #rond de voorstelling — the performance  
tegen tegen kerstmis towards Christmas holidays, times, dates, months, seasons
  #tegen de les — the lesson  
van van de week some moment during last/next week seasons, week 'week', weekend 'weekend'
  #van de les — the lesson  

Note in passing that, as an alternative to (347a), it is possible to use example (347b). In this use, the complement of the preposition bij must be a numeral followed by the affix - en. The preposition naar in (347c) is similar to bij in this respect. The examples in (347) all express that it is nearly 9 o'clock.

Example 347
a. Het loopt al tegen negen uur.
  it  walks  already  towards  nine o'clock
  'We are approaching the time of nine o'clock.'
b. Het is al bij negenen.
  it  runs/is  already  close.to  nine o'clock
  'It is almost nine o'clock.'
c. Het loopt al naar negenen.
  it  walks  already  towards  nine o'clock
  'We are gradually approaching the time of nine o'clock.'

This “approximation” meaning of tegen is even more salient in (348), where it is used as a kind of adverbial modifier: the phrase tegen de twee uur seems to be more or less synonymous with ongeveer twee uur. More discussion of the approximative use of prepositions can be found in Section N5.1.4.3.

Example 348
a. Het examen duurt tegen de twee uur.
b. Het examen duurt ongeveer twee uur.
  the exam  lasts  approximately two hours

Another special case that needs mention is given in (349a). The PP met de dag does not refer to a specific time on the time line but rather functions like a frequency adverb like elke dag'every day'. It differs from the regular frequency adverbs, however, in that it only occurs in accumulative constructions such as (349a).

Example 349
a. Het wordt met de dag/elke dag warmer.
  it  becomes  with the day/every day  hotter
  'It is getting hotter every day.'
b. Jan komt hier elke dag/*met de dag.
  Jan comes  here  every day/with the day

      From a semantic point of view temporal prepositions are two-place predicates that establish a temporal relation between their two arguments: the referents of these arguments are situated on the time line in positions relative to each other. In (350a), for example, the temporal PP voor de vakantie'before the holiday' situates the subject of the clause de vergadering'the meeting' on a position on the time line preceding the position of the complement of voor, de vakantie'the holiday'; this can be represented by means of the graph in (350b) or the logical formula in (350c).

Example 350
a. De vergadering is nog voor de vakantie.
  the meeting  is prt  before the holiday
c. voor (de vergadering, de vakantie)

If we consider the time line as a representation of “temporal space”, we can call de vergadering the located object, and de vakantie the reference object, just as in the case of spatial prepositions. However, since the interpretation of the temporal prepositions in is largely determined by the properties of the one-dimensional time line, it does not seem useful to make a distinction between inherent and absolute interpretations, as this distinction can only be made by appealing to at least two dimensions. This leaves us with the question as to whether there are temporal PPs with a deictic interpretation. Some potential cases of such deictic PPs are given in Table 27. We will show, however, that there are reasons for assuming that these PPs are not temporal in nature.

Table 27: Temporal prepositions?
preposition example translation
binnen binnen tien minuten within an hour
in in tien minuten (with)in ten minutes
over over tien minuten
(also: tien over vijf)
in ten minutes
ten (minutes) past five (5.10 h)
om om de week (lit.: around the week) once every second week

In the examples in (351), the PPs denote a span of time of ten minutes calculated from the speech time. This means that the complement of the preposition does not act as the reference point from which the position of the located object is calculated. In fact, the complements of the prepositions do not occupy a place on the time line at all, and are therefore not even suitable to act as the reference point.

Example 351
a. Ik ben binnen tien minuten bij je.
  am  within ten minutes  with you
  'Iʼll be with you within ten minutes (from now).'
b. Ik ben in tien minuten bij je.
  am  in ten minutes  with you
  'Iʼll be with you (with)in ten minutes (from now).'
c. Ik ben over tien minuten bij je.
  am  in ten minutes  with you
  'Iʼll be with you in ten minutes (from now).'

The fact that the complement of the preposition does not seem to play a role in the computation of the temporal location of the located object casts serious doubt on any claim that we are dealing with temporal prepositional phrases. Instead, the PPs in (351) seem to play a similar role as the manner adverb snel'soon' or the adverbial element zo in (352).

Example 352
Ik ben snel/zo bij je.
  am soon/in.a.moment  with you

Perhaps we can think of PPs like (351) as modifiers of the (implicit) reference time. For the PP binnen tien minuten, for example, it can be demonstrated that it can act as a modifier of a temporal adpositional phrase; in (353a), this PP has a function similar to that of the adjectival modifier kort'shortly' in (353b).

Example 353
a. Het slachtoffer overleed binnen tien minuten na het ongeluk.
  the victim  died  within ten minutes  after the accident
b. Het slachtoffer overleed kort na het ongeluk.
  the victim  died  shortly  after the accident

The PP headed by om in (a) does not seem to act as a truly temporal PP either. Instead, it seems to act as an adverbial phrase of frequency comparable to adjectives like regelmatig'regularly' or wekelijks'weekly' in (354b). This use is discussed more extensively in Section N5.1.4.3, sub IB.

Example 354
a. Jan komt hier om de week.
  Jan comes  here  om the week
  'Jan comes here every second week.'
b. Jan komt hier regelmatig/wekelijks.
  Jan comes  here  regularly/weekly
  'Jan comes here regularly/weekly.'

The discussion above therefore leads to the conclusion that the prepositions in Table 27 are not temporal in nature.

[+]  B.  The semantics of temporal prepositions

The discussion of (350) has shown that the semantics of temporal and spatial adpositional phrases is similar in the sense that they can both be considered two-place predicates. The temporal relations that can be expressed are simpler than the spatial relations, however, due to the fact that space is three-dimensional, whereas the time line is only one-dimensional. An exhaustive description of the spatial relations at least requires notions like in front of, at, behind, next to, above and below (see Figure 14), whereas the temporal relations can be exhaustively described by means of the three relations before, simultaneous, and after, as in (355); cf. Comrie (1985)

Example 355
Time line

Although spatial and the temporal prepositions can be described in similar ways, there is a conspicuous difference between the two. Spatial PPs are common both as complementive and adverbial phrases, whereas temporal PPs are mainly used as adverbial phrases; although the complementive use of temporal PPs does not seem impossible (example (350a) might be a case in hand), this use is certainly rare. This difference in use is probably related to the nature of the entities involved. Whereas spatial adpositional phrases locate objects or events in space, temporal adpositional phrases locate events on the time line. Since objects are typically denoted by noun phrases and events by verbal projections, spatial adpositional phrases can be predicated both of noun phrases and verbal projections, whereas temporal adpositional phrases are typically predicated of verbal projections. This being said, we can continue discussing the temporal relations depicted in (355) in more detail.

[+]  1.  Before

The anteriority relation before can be expressed by means of the prepositions voor'before' and tot (en met)'until' from Table 25. The two differ in that the former refers to some specific point(s) on the time line preceding the position of the reference object, whereas the latter refers to an interval that starts at some point preceding the position of the reference object and extends until the position of the reference point is reached. The difference between tot and tot en met is that the interval denoted by the former does not include the position of the reference object, whereas the one denoted by the latter does.

Example 356
Time line: voor'before' and tot (en met)'until'

The preposition tegen'towards' from Table 26 denotes a point or an interval preceding the reference object, but in addition it expresses some notion of proximity: the located object must be situated closely to the reference object.

Example 357
Time line: tegen'towards'
[+]  2.  Simultaneousness

The notion simultaneousness can be expressed by means of the prepositions tijdens'during' and gedurende'during' from Table 25. Although intuitions are not as clear as in the case of voor and tot (en met), the two prepositions seem to differ in the same way: tijdens preferably refers to some specific point(s) on the time line occupied by the reference object, whereas gedurende refers to an interval included in the interval occupied by the reference object.

Example 358
Time line: tijdens'during' and gedurende'during'

The prepositions in, met, and op from Table 26 also denote a point or an interval included in the interval occupied by the reference object. The preposition om is special in that it does not refer to some point(s) or an interval, but to one specific position; this is probably due to the fact that the reference object refers to a specific time, as in om tien over drie'at ten past three'.
      The prepositions omstreeks'around' and rond'around' from Table 26 differ from the prepositions discussed above in that the located object need not be placed within the time interval that is covered by the reference object; however, as in the case of tegen'towards', a notion of proximity is involved: the located object must at least be situated closely to the reference object, which itself may but need not be included.

Example 359
Time line: omstreeks'around' and rond'around'
[+]  3.  After

The posteriority relation after can be expressed by means of the prepositions na'after', sinds'since' and vanaf'(starting) from' in Table 25. The prepositions differ in the same way as voor and tot (en met): na refers to some specific point(s) on the time line following the position of the reference object; sinds and vanaf refer to an interval on the time line starting at or immediately after the position of the reference object.

Example 360
Time line: na'after', sinds'since' and vanaf'from'

The difference between sinds and vanaf seems to be related to the position of the speech time. In the case of sinds, the position of the reference object must precede the speech time, as in (361a), whereas in the case of vanaf the position of the reference object preferably follows the speech time, as in (361b).

Example 361
a. dat Jan sinds/??vanaf gisteren niet meer rookt.
  that  Jan since/ from  yesterday  no longer  smokes
b. dat Jan vanaf/*sinds morgen niet meer zal roken.
  that  Jan from/since  tomorrow  no longer  will  smoke

Occasionally, however, vanaf can also be used to refer to the situation depicted in (362b), but this requires a special syntactic context, such as the perfect tense in (362a), or an adverb like al'already' in (362a').

Example 362
a. dat Jan sinds/vanaf gisteren niet meer heeft gerookt.
  that  Jan since/since  yesterday  no longer  has  smoked
a'. dat Jan al sinds/vanaf gisteren niet meer rookt.
  that  Jan already  since/since  yesterday  no longer  smokes
[+]  4.  The preposition tussen'between'

Like its spatial counterpart, the temporal preposition tussen normally requires a plural complement (often in a coordinated structure). The location of the located object on the time line is computed on the basis of two reference objects, as in (363).

Example 363
a. tussen Kerstmis *(en Nieuwjaar)
  between  Christmas    and  New Year
[+]  II.  Postpositions

The set of temporal postpositions is even smaller than the set of spatial postpositions: it is restricted to in'into', uit'out of' and door'throughout'. The use of these postpositions is also rather restricted. The temporal postposition in indicates that the endpoint of the implied (temporal) path is situated within the interval on the time line occupied by the reference object. The reference object generally refers to a conventional time unit such as week'week', maand'month', jaar'year', etc., preceded by the attributive adjective nieuw'new', as in (364a). The temporal postposition uit probably indicates that the starting point is situated within the interval on the time line occupied by the reference object, but this is hard to tell as it is only used in the more or less fixed expression .... in .... uit, where the dots indicate a noun phrase like dag'day', week, maand'month', jaar'year', etc.

Example 364
a. We gaan volgende week het nieuwe jaar in.
  we  go  next week  the new year  into
  'Next week, the new year will begin.'
b. Jan doet dag in dag uit hetzelfde werk.
  Jan does day into  day out.of  the.same work
  'Jan is doing the same sort of work, day after day.'

The postposition door does not impose similar restrictions on its complement: any noun phrase that refers to an entity that occupies an interval on the time line is possible. It seems, however, that the quantifier heel is obligatory.

Example 365
a. Jan was zijn hele vakantie door ziek.
  Jan was his complete holiday  through  ill
  'Throughout his holiday, Jan was ill.'
b. Jan zeurde de hele vergadering door over zijn baas.
  Jan nagged  the complete meeting  through  about his boss
  'Throughout the meeting, Jan was nagging about his boss.'
[+]  III.  Circumpositions

Table 28 provides a list of temporal circumpositions classified according to their second part. Comparing this table to Table 19 will reveal that the number of temporal circumpositions is much smaller than the number of spatial ones.

Table 28: Temporal circumpositions
2nd part circumposition example translation
aan tegen ... aan ?tegen de avond aan towards the evening
af van ... af van dat moment af since that moment
door tussen ... door tussen de lessen door in between the lessons
heen door ... heen door de jaren heen throughout the years
in tussen ... in tussen kerst en Nieuwjaar in between Christmas and New Year
toe naar ... toe naar kerstmis toe towards Christmas
  tot ... (aan) toe tot de ochtend (aan) toe until the morning

As in the case of the temporal postpositions the complement of these temporal circumpositions is more or less restricted to noun phrases denoting a conventional time unit. The only exception seems to be tussen ... door/in. In (366), we give some examples of each case.

Example 366
a. Tegen de avond (?aan) kom ik naar huis.
  towards  the evening    aan  come  to home
  'Towards the evening Iʼll come home.'
b. Van dat moment *(af ) wilde hij schilder worden.
  from  that moment   af  wanted  he  painter  become
  'Since that moment he wanted to become a painter.'
c. Jan rookt tussen de lessen (door).
  Jan smokes  between  the lessons  door
  'Jan smokes in between the lessons.'
d. Door de jaren (heen) is het dorp steeds groter geworden.
  through  the years   heen  is the village  continuously  bigger  become
  'Throughout the years the village has become bigger and bigger.'
e. Tussen die twee lessen ?(in) werd Jan gearresteerd.
  between  those two lessons    IN  was  Jan arrested
  'Jan was arrested in between those two lessons.'
f. Het loopt al naar de dageraad *(toe).
  it  walks  already  towards  the dawn    toe
  'It is nearly dawning.'

The examples in (366) show that the second part of the circumposition can be dropped in many cases without a clear effect on the meaning of the examples; this may indicate that we are actually not dealing with circumpositions but with prepositional phrases that are somehow emphasized by some sort of particle; cf., sub XII, where we suggested the same thing for apparent circumpositional phrases with a locational interpretation.
      Example (367) shows that the circumposition van ... af in (366b) alternates with the complex preposition vanaf, again without a clear effect on the meaning of the example.

Example 367
Vanaf dat moment wilde hij schilder worden.
  from that moment  wanted  he  painter  become
'Since that moment he wanted to become a painter.'

Example (368) is also noteworthy, since the complement seems to involve a noun ( kind'child') or adjective ( jong'young') suffixed with -s; these circumpositional phrases are idiomatic in nature.

Example 368
Van kinds/jongs *(af) wilde hij schilder worden.
  from  childhood     af  wanted  he  painter  become
'Ever since he was a child he wanted to become a painter.'

      Note, finally, that example (369) probably does not involve a circumpositional phrase tot (aan) ... toe, but the preposition tot'until' followed by an adpositional complement. This is at least suggested by the fact that the latter can be replaced by the pro-form dan'then'; cf. Section 2.2.1.

Example 369
a. Het feest duurt tot (aan) de ochtend toe.
  the party  lasts  until   aan  the morning  toe
  'The party will last until the morning.'
b. Het feest duurt tot dan.
  the party  lasts  until  then
  • Comrie, Bernard1985TenseCambridgeCambridge University Press