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Show full table of contents (Infinitival nominals)

Infinitival nominals (from now on: inf-nominalizations) are characterized by the fact that they inherit the denotation (namely, state of affairs) and the argument structure of the verb they are derived from. In this sense, they are not fully nominal, which is also reflected in that, unlike most nouns, they can in principle assign case to a theme and/or recipient argument. The following subsections will discuss the form of the derived noun, its relation to the base verb and the restrictions on the derivational process; a comprehensive discussion of complementation of inf-nominalizations can be found in Section

[+]  I.  Form of the derived noun

Inf-nominalizations constitute the most productive type of nominalization in Dutch: virtually any infinitive, regardless of the type of verb, can be nominalized and thus be given the external distribution of a noun. The examples in (111) and (112) show that this type of category change is achieved by conversion (zero-derivation): it is not morphologically marked. The two sets of examples present two different types of nominalization: in (111) we find bare nominalizations (from now on: bare-inf), and in(112) nominalizations preceded by a determiner (from now on: det-inf).

Example 111
bare-inf nominalizations
a. Zeilen is leuk.
  sail  is nice
b. Jan houdt van zeilen.
  Jan likes  prt.  sail
c. Fruit eten is gezond.
  fruit eat  is healthy
  'To eat fruit is healthy.'
Example 112
Det-inf nominalizations
a. Het eten van fruit is erg gezond.
  the eat of fruit  is very healthy
  'The eating of fruit is very healthy.'
b. Jan vermaakte zich met het tekenen van poppetjes.
  Jan amused  himself  with  the draw of dollsdim
  'Jan amused himself by drawing human figures.'
c. Het bonken van de machines was goed te horen.
  the pound  of the engines  was well  to hear
  'The pounding of the machines could be heard very clearly.'
[+]  II.  Nominal properties

Apart from the fact that they have the distribution of noun phrases, inf-nominalizations do not exhibit many nominal properties; they rather retain a number of verbal properties. We illustrate this in the following subsections by means of article selection, pluralization and modification.

[+]  A.  Determiners

The examples in (113) show that the determiner of det-inf nominalizations can be realized by the definite article, a demonstrative, or a possessive pronoun; a genitive form of a proper noun is also possible. These examples further show that det-inf nominalizations have the feature +neuter: they take the definite article het and the demonstrative determiners dat'that' and dit'this'; cf. Table 1.

Example 113
a. Het zeilen verveelde hem nooit.
  the sail  bored  him  never
b. Dat/?Dit zeilen begint me aardig te vervelen.
  that/this sail  begins  me  considerably  to bore
  'Iʼm beginning to get fed up with this sailing.'
c. Peters/?Zijn zeilen kost hem veel geld.
  Peterʼs/his sail  costs  him  much  money

Although det-infs can be preceded by a definite determiner, they do not normally co-occur with an indefinite article, as is shown by (114a). Still, there are some cases in which an indefinite article can be used. These concern noun phrases like (114b&b'), which are headed by a nominalization derived from an input verb that denotes an emission of sounds, and in which the infinitive is usually pre- or postmodified.

Example 114
a. * Een zeilen verveelde hem nooit.
  a sail  bored  him  never
b. Een luid ruisen van water werd hoorbaar.
  a loud rustle of water  became  audible
b'. We hoorden een eigenaardig tikken op zolder.
  we  heard  strange  tick  on attic
  'We heard a strange ticking in the attic.'

In addition, there are occasional inf-nominalizations that obligatorily combine with the indefinite article. This particular use of the infinitive is either entirely nonproductive, as in the idiomatic constructions in (115a), or very restricted, as in the more or less fixed template het op een Vinfinitive zetten (115b), in which the position Vinfinitive can be filled only by a limited number of verbs.

Example 115
a. Het was er een (voortdurend) komen en gaan van belangrijke mensen.
  it  was  there   constant  come and go  of important people
  'There was a (constant) coming and going of important people.'
b. Hij zette het op een lopen/huilen/schreeuwen.
  he  set  it  on a walk/cry/scream
  'He took to his heels/he turned on the waterworks.'
[+]  B.  Pluralization, quantification and questioning

Another difference with most nouns is that inf-nominalizations cannot be pluralized. They also differ from true nouns in that they cannot be quantified or questioned. These characteristics are illustrated in (116).

Example 116
a. * Peter houdt erg van zeilens.
  Peter loves  very much  of sailpl
b. * De zeilens van Peter kosten hem veel geld.
  the sailpl of Peter  cost  him  much money
c. * Elk zeilen is weer een nieuw avontuur.
  every sail  is again  a new adventure
d. * Welk zeilen vind jij nu het prettigst (hier of op het IJsselmeer)?
  which sail  consider  you  prt  most pleasant  here or on the IJsselmeer
[+]  C.  Modification

All inf-nominalizations denote abstract entities, more specifically states of affairs: they refer to the event or situation denoted by the verb from which they derive. As such, they exhibit a number of properties characteristic of verbs. First, (117) shows that inf-nominalizations may be modified for manner, frequency or duration. Second, example (117b) shows that in the det-inf pattern, the adverbial (= bare) form of the adjective can be used alongside the adjectival form, ending in -e. Note that it cannot be established which of the two forms is used in the bare-inf pattern in (117a), since the -e ending only surfaces if the adjective is preceded by a definite determiner.

Example 117
a. Uitgebreid/regelmatig/lang vergaderen over triviale zaken is nutteloos.
  extensively/frequently/long  meet  over trivial matters  is pointless
  'Meeting extensively/frequently/long over trivial matters is pointless.'
b. het uitgebreid(e)/regelmatig(e)/lang(e) vergaderen over triviale zaken is nutteloos.
  the  extensive(ly)/frequent(ly)/lengthy  meet  over trivial matters is pointless
[+]  D.  The form of the complement

Unlike what is the case with the deverbal ing-, ge- and er-nouns, the theme argument of the bare-inf nominalizations may appear as a noun phrase in prenominal position, as shown in (118a); realizing the theme as a postnominal van-PP, as in (118b), is also possible, but this is a less preferred option. Again this is a property typical for verbs, not nouns.

Example 118
bare-inf nominalizations
a. Postzegels verzamelen is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  stamps  collect  is an innocent pastime
  'Collecting stamps is an innocent pastime.'
b. ? Verzamelen van postzegels is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  collecting  of stamps  is an innocent pastime

The preferred pattern for realizing the theme in det-inf nominalizations like those in (119) is the opposite of that in bare-inf nominalizations: the theme can appear as a prenominal noun phrase, as in (119a), but it is preferred to have it as a postnominal van-PP, as in (119b); see Section for more discussion.

Example 119
det-inf nominalizations
a. ? Het postzegels verzamelen is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  the  stamps  collect  is an innocent pastime
  'The collecting of stamps is an innocent pastime.'
b. Het verzamelen van postzegels is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  the  collect  of stamps  is an innocent pastime
  'The collecting of stamps is an innocent pastime.'
[+]  III.  Relation to the base verb

Inf-nominalizations can be said to inherit the argument structure of the input verb. Apart from the change in syntactic category (from v to inf-n), the argument structure of the verb remains unaffected by the derivational process: both the number of arguments and their thematic functions remain essentially the same. The only difference is that while the arguments of a verb normally are obligatorily present, those of the derived noun are not. We will illustrate this in the following subsections for a number of verb types.

[+]  A.  Intransitive verbs

An inf-nominalization of an intransitive verb always has one argument (typically the agent), although, unlike what is the case with the verbal construction, the realization of the agent is not compulsory. If the agent is realized, it may appear either postnominally in the form of a van-PP, or prenominally in the form of a genitive noun phrase or a possessive pronoun. This is illustrated in (120b&b') for the nominal infinitive derived from the intransitive verb lachen'to laugh'. Observe that, although we are dealing with a case of nominalization, the deverbal noun is given the category INF-N, rather than N, in order to signal the special nature of the nominal infinitive, with its combination of nominal and verbal features.

Example 120
Nominal infinitive derived from an intransitive verb
a. lachenINF-N (Agent)
  to laugh/laughing
b. (Het) lachen (van kinderen) vrolijkt hem op.
  the  laugh   of children  cheers  him  up
b'. Jans (harde) lachen is irritant.
  Janʼs   loud  laugh  is irritating
[+]  B.  Transitive verbs

An inf-nominalization of a transitive verb inherits both arguments of the input verb. This is illustrated in (121a) for the inf-nominalizations derived from the verb verzamelen'to collect'. Example (121b) shows that, just as in the case of the agent, realization of the theme is optional.

Example 121
Nominal infinitive derived from a monotransitive verb
a. verzamelenINF-N (Agent, Theme)
  to collect/collecting
b. (Postzegels) verzamelen is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  stamps  collect  is an innocent pastime
  'Collecting stamps is an innocent pastime.'

However, if the agent is realized, the theme is normally obligatorily expressed by means of a prenominal noun phrase or a postnominal van-PP. This is illustrated in (122) for cases in which the agent is expressed by means of a prenominal genitive noun phrase or possessive pronoun.

Example 122
a. ? Peters/Zijn postzegels verzamelen is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  Peterʼs/his  stamps  collect  is an innocent pastime
  'Peterʼs/His collecting of stamps is an innocent pastime.'
b. ? Peters/Zijn verzamelen van postzegels is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  Peterʼs/his  collect  of stamps  is an innocent pastime
  'Peterʼs/His collecting of stamps is an innocent pastime.'

If the agent is expressed as a postnominal PP. its form depends on the realization of the theme: if the theme argument occurs prenominally as a noun phrase, the agent will be expressed by means of a van-PP, as shown in (123b); if the theme is realized postnominally as a van-PP, the agent will normally be realized by means of a door-PP, as shown in (123b). Since (123b) is probably the most unmarked way of expressing the intended proposition, we marked the other examples with a question mark.

Example 123
a. ? Het postzegels verzamelen (van Peter) is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  the  stamps  collect   of Peter  is an innocent pastime
  'Peterʼs collecting of stamps is an innocent pastime.'
b. Het verzamelen van postzegels (door Peter) is een onschuldig tijdverdrijf.
  the  collect  of stamps    by Peter  is an innocent pastime
  'The collecting of stamps by Peter is an innocent pastime.'

It should be noted, however, that in construction with a postnominal theme PP introduced by van, it is sometimes possible to add an agent PP also introduced by van. Example (124a) shows that such constructions are fully acceptable only if the determiner takes the form of a demonstrative. The contrast between (124a) and (124b) furthermore suggests that the theme PP must contain an indefinite noun phrase. This restriction may be due to the fact that in the case of a definite noun phrase, the second van-PP is likely to be interpreted as modifying the noun postzegels, i.e., with Peter as the possessor of the stamps; see Section, sub I, for more details.

Example 124
a. Dat/??Het verzamelen van postzegels van Peter is een ware obsessie.
  that/the  collect  of stamps  of Peter  is a true obsession
  'This collecting of stamps by Peter is a true obsession.'
b. ?* Dat/Het verzamelen van de postzegels van Peter is een ware obsessie.
[+]  C.  Ditransitive verbs

Deverbal nouns derived from ditransitive verbs also inherit the argument structure of the input verb, but instances where all three arguments are explicitly mentioned are not very common: realization of the recipient (and the agent) is typically optional, whereas the theme argument is normally present. Like the theme argument, the recipient may appear in prenominal position, in which case it may take the form of a noun phrase as in (125b). As in clauses, the recipient can also be realized as an aan-PP, in which case it may occur either in pre- or postnominal position, as shown by (125b'). If the theme argument is realized as van-PP, the recipient must also appear in postnominal position, as shown by (125b'').

Example 125
Nominal infinitive derived from a ditransitive verb
a. schenkenINF-N (Agent, Theme, Recipient)
  to donate/donating
b. De kerk geld schenken is een goede zaak.
  the church  money  donate  is a good thing
b'. Geld <aan de kerk> schenken <aan de kerk> is een goede zaak.
  money    to the church  donate  is a good thing
b''. Het schenken van geld aan de kerk is een goede zaak.
  the  donate  of money  to the church  is a good thing
[+]  D.  Unaccusative verbs

Unaccusative verbs can also be the input for infinitival nominalization. The theme argument is inherited from the input verb, but is normally optionally expressed. The theme argument cannot occur as a prenominal noun phrase, but must be realized as a postnominal van-PP, as is shown by (126b'&b''). Since bare-inf nominalizations prefer the realization of their argument as a prenominal noun phrase, they only occur if the theme argument is left implicit, as in the generic example in (126b).

Example 126
Nominal infinitive derived from an unaccusative verb
a. vallenINF-N (Theme)
  to fall/falling
b'. * (het) bladeren vallen
  the  leaves  fall
b. Vallen is pijnlijk.
  fall  is painful
b''. het vallen van bladeren
  the  fall  of leaves
[+]  E.  Verbs with a PP-complement

Verbs such as jagen op'to hunt', which select a PP-theme, can also be nominalized. Again the nominalized structure may take the form of a bare-inf or a det-inf. In either case the preposition selected by the input verb is inherited by the nominalization. In the bare-inf nominalization in (127b), the PP-themes are acceptable both in pre- and in postnominal position, whereas in the det-inf nominalization in (127b') there is a clear preference for placing the PP-theme in postnominal position.

Example 127
Nominal infinitive derived from a verb selecting a PP-theme
a. jagen opINF-N (Agent, Theme)
  to hunt/hunting
b. <Op groot wild> jagen <op groot wild> is een populair tijdverdrijf.
  on big game  hunt  is a popular pastime
  'Hunting big game is a popular pastime.'
b'. Het <?op groot wild> jagen <op groot wild> is een populair tijdverdrijf.
  the     on big game  hunt  is a popular pastime
  'Hunting big game is a popular pastime.'
[+]  IV.  Restrictions on the derivational process

Inf-nominalization is an almost fully productive process in the sense that it is possible with most verbs. As is shown in (128), repeated from (102), it can even take the perfect auxiliaries and the modal verbs as its input.

Example 128
a. [Het gelezen hebben van zoʼn boek ] is niet voldoende om je taalkundige te noemen.
  the  read have  of such a book  is not enough  to  yourself  linguist  to call
  'Having read such a book isnʼt enough to call yourself a linguist.'
b. [Het kunnen rijden met een auto] is een voorwaarde voor deze baan.
  the  be.able  drive  with a car  is a requirement  for this job
  'Being able to drive a car is a condition for this job.'

Inf-nominalization is also possible with inherently reflexive verbs like zich bedrinken'to get drunk'. If an antecedent for the pronoun is present, the antecedent determines the form of the reflexive; in (129a&b), for example, the reflexive is realized as zich, due to the presence of the third person antecedent Jan. If no antecedent is present, the generic reflexive je is used, as in (129c).

Example 129
a. (?) Jans zich voortdurend bedrinken is ziekelijk.
  Janʼs  refl  continuously  get.drunk  is morbid
b. (?) Het zich voortdurend bedrinken van/door Jan is ziekelijk.
  the  refl  continuously  get.drunk  of/by Jan  is morbid
c. Het je voortdurend bedrinken is ongezond.
  the  refl  continuously  get.drunk  is unhealthy

Note that the reflexive pronoun must be in prenominal position; the examples in (130), in which the reflexive is realized in a postnominal van-PP, are ungrammatical. It is not clear whether this is a syntactic property of the construction, given that the reflexive zich normally only occurs as the complement of an adposition if the latter is stressed. The fact that the examples become somewhat better if we make the weak form zich heavier by adding the emphatic morpheme zelf'himself', suggests that we are dealing with a phonological restriction.

Example 130
a. Jans voortdurend bedrinken van zich *(zelf) is ziekelijk.
b. Het voortdurend bedrinken van zich *(?zelf) van/door Jan is ziekelijk.
c. Het voortdurend bedrinken van je *(?zelf) is ongezond.

The fact that (unlike what is the case with the other types of nominalizations) the deverbal nouns in (128) and (129) are grammatical shows that the process of inf-nominalization is extremely productive. However, remember that as is the case for the other types of nominalization, an infinitival nominal cannot take a raising verb or an object-experiencer verb as its input; cf. Section

[+]  V.  The degree of verbalness/nominalness

Both types of inf-nominalization retain all the verbal properties listed in Table 9. Thus, inf-nominalizations have arguments, and these arguments can be realized as nominal objects in prenominal position. The fact illustrated in (117) that inf-nominalizations can be modified by means of an adverbial phrase also points in the direction of verbal status.
      While retaining their verbal properties, inf-nominalizations acquire few exclusively nominal ones: the two subtypes cannot co-occur with indefinite determiners or quantifiers, and both lack the ability to undergo pluralization. Still, det-inf (but not bare-inf) nominalizations do exhibit some of the nominal characteristics in Table 9: they can be modified by an adjective, can be preceded by the definite article het or a demonstrative/possessive pronoun, and are compatible with a theme-PP in postnominal position.

Table 9: The degree of verbalness/nominalness of inf-nominalizations
properties bare-inf det-inf
verbal presence of arguments yes yes
  prenominal theme/recipient with objective case yes yes
  prenominal recipient-PP yes yes
  adverbial modification yes yes
nominal adjectival modification ? yes
  theme with genitive case no no?
  theme/recipient realized as postnominal PP no yes
  definiteness yes
  indefiniteness no
  quantification no no
  pluralization no no

On the basis of these data, we may conclude that although both bare-inf and det-inf have the external distribution of nouns, they are to a considerable degree still verbal. Table 9 also shows that there is a difference between bare-inf and det-inf in the sense that bare-inf nominalizations are more verbal than det-inf nominalizations. For a comparison of the inf-nominalizations with other types of nominalization, see Table 17 in Section