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Show full table of contents personal pronouns

This section discusses the referential personal pronouns. Subsection I will start by providing an overview of the different forms of these pronouns, followed in Subsection II by a brief discussion of the ways in which they are assigned an interpretation. Subsection III will discuss the role of the nominal features person, number and gender, followed in Subsection IV and V by a more extensive discussion of the subject and object forms, and the conditions on the use of the strong and weak forms. Subsection VI concludes with a brief discussion of modification of referential personal prounouns.

[+]  I.  The paradigm

Personal pronouns are sensitive to the nominal features number, person and gender, which were discussed in Section 1.1.1, but this does not suffice to give a complete classification of these pronouns; other criteria are also involved. A first division of the pronouns can be made by appealing to number and person: all pronouns have a singular and a plural form and are marked as either first, second or third person. The third person pronouns are further divided into three groups on the basis of gender: masculine, feminine and neuter. In order to come to a full classification we have to appeal to three additional distinctions. First, a distinction must be made between two case forms of the pronouns: the (nominative) subject and the (accusative/dative) object form. Second, a distinction must be made between the strong (phonetically non-reduced) and weak (phonetically reduced) form of the pronoun. Finally, a distinction must be made between the regular and the polite form of the second person pronouns. The full set of personal pronouns is given in Table 5.

Table 5: Referential Personal pronouns
  singular plural
  subject object subject object
  strong weak strong weak strong weak strong weak
1st person ik ’k mij me wij we ons
2nd person regular jij je jou je jullie jullie
  polite u u u u
3rd person masculine hij -ie hem ’m zij ze henacc
  feminine zij ze haar (d)’r        
  neuter ?het ’t *?het ’t        

The polite form u behaves syntactically as a third person singular pronoun. This will become clear from the examples in (281). The (a)-examples show that the singular second person pronoun jij/je may trigger a -t ending on the finite verb in the present tense, but only if it precedes it; if it follows it the ending is zero. The polite form u, on the other hand, patterns with the singular third person pronouns in that it always triggers the -t ending. Furthermore, it never combines with a plural verb: *U komen morgen toch ook? For more evidence, see Section, sub I.

Example 281
a. Jij/Je kom-t morgen toch ook?
  you  come  tomorrow  prt. too
  'You will come too tomorrow, wonʼt you?'
a'. Kom-Ø jij/je morgen ook?
  come  you  tomorrow  too
  'Will you come too, tomorrow?'
b. U/Hij kom-t morgen toch ook?
  you/he  come  tomorrow  prt. too
  'You/He will come too tomorrow, wonʼt you/he?'
b'. Kom-t u/hij morgen ook?
  come(s)  you/he  tomorrow  too
  'Will you/he come too, tomorrow?'

      In addition to the forms in Table 5, there is the +human pronoun men'one', which can only be used as the subject of a finite clause. The examples in (282) show that this pronoun is used if the speaker is not able (or willing) to properly identify the referent of the subject, or if he wants to give a general statement. The inflection on the finite verbs shows that men is formally a third person singular pronoun, and the fact that the possessive zijn'his' in (282b) can take men as its antecedent shows that the latter is formally masculine or neuter.

Example 282
a. Men zegt dat hij gestorven is.
  one  says  that  he  died  is
  'Rumors are saying that he has died.'
b. Meni is zijni leven niet zeker in deze stad.
  one  is  his life  not sure  in this city
  'One is jeopardizing oneʼs life in this city.'

The pronoun men is somewhat formal and mainly used in written language. In speech, there are two alternatives for (282a) that enable the speaker to conceal the identity of the source of information: either the weak plural subject pronoun ze'they' in (283a) is used, or the passive construction in (283b).

Example 283
a. Ze zeggen dat hij gestorven is.
  they  say  that  he  died  is
  'Rumors are saying that he has died.'
b. Er wordt gezegd dat hij gestorven is.
  there  is  said  that  he  died  is
  'Itʼs said that he is dead.'

The non-referential, “semi-existential” use of ze seems more or less restricted to (in)transitive verbs with agentive subjects, like inbreken'to burgle' and plagen'to tease' in (284a&b); examples such as (284c) with an unaccusative verb like arriveren'to arrive' seem to be compatible with a referential reading of the pronoun only. It should be noted, however, that judgments seem to be less clear-cut in the corresponding imperfect constructions; cf. Vanden Wyngaerd (1994: Section 4.2).

Example 284
a. Ze hebben gisteren bij hem ingebroken.
referential or non-referential
  they  have  yesterday  with him prt.-broken
  'They burgled his house yesterday.'
b. Ze hebben hem weer geplaagd.
referential or non-referential
  they  have  him  again  teased
  'They have teased him again today.'
c. Ze zijn gisteren te laat gearriveerd.
referential reading only
  they  are  yesterday  too late  arrived
  'They arrived too late yesterday.'

General statements like (282b) are normally expressed in speech by using the weak singular second person pronoun je'one', as in (285).

Example 285
Jei bent jei leven niet zeker in deze stad.
  you  are  your life  not sure  in this city
'One is jeopardizing oneʼs life in this city.'

Finally, it can be noted that although the feminine pronoun haar is normally singular it is sometimes also used as a plural pronoun it is sometimes also used as a plural pronoun in partitive construction of the type sommigen van haar'some of them'. This option is not available for the masculine pronoun hem.

[+]  II.  Interpretation

Referential personal pronouns are normally used if the speaker assumes that the addressee is able to identify the intended referent without the aid of a noun phrase with more descriptive content. In order to establish the referent, the addressee can use clues from both the linguistic and the non-linguistic context. At least the following three subcases can be distinguished. We will conclude with a brief remark on so-called impersonal het.

[+]  A.  Deictic pronouns

We can speak of deictic use of the referential pronoun if its referent set is determined by the non-linguistic situation in which the sentence is uttered. The first and second singular pronouns ik “I’ and jij'you' are typically used in this way as they refer to, respectively, the speaker and the addressee. The plural pronouns wij'we' and jullie'you' can also be used deictically, in which case they refer to a group of people present at the time of utterance: wij refers to a group of people including the speaker (and possibly the addressee) and jullie to a group of people including the addressee (but not speaker). The deictic use of third person pronouns is generally accompanied by some gesture, or more specific linguistic information that will enable the addressee to select the intended entity or individual.

Example 286
a. Zij is Marie.
pointing at the person in question
  she  is Marie
  'Sheʼs Marie.'
b. Zij daar bij die deur is Marie.
  she  over-there  near that door  is Marie
[+]  B.  Anaphoric pronouns

We can speak of anaphoric use of the referential personal pronoun when the situation in which the sentence is uttered does not enable the addressee to establish the intended referent, but more information is needed about the activated domain of discourse (domain D). This information may be part of the shared knowledge of the speaker and the addressee. So, the referent set of the plural pronoun wij'we' may vary with the activated domain of discourse: when domestic issues are being discussed, wij may refer to the speaker and his family, in a commercial setting it may refer to the speaker and the company he is affiliated to, and when discussing some incident in the pub, it may refer to the speaker and his friends. And, of course, something similar holds for the plural pronoun jullie'you'.
      Sometimes anaphoric pronouns are modified in order to enable the addressee to establish the intended referent set of the pronoun. Some typical examples, adapted from the internet, are given in (287). Note that the pronoun cannot appear in its reduced form in these cases.

Example 287
a. Wij thuis kijken enkel nog naar het nieuws.
  we home  look  only  prt.  at the news.bulletin
  'At home, weʼre only watching the news bulletin.'
b. Wij van Sollicitatieleed.nl zijn blij met deze aandacht.
  we from Sollicitatieleed.nl  are  happy with this attention
c. Wij Nederlanders hebben altijd te klagen.
  we Dutchmen  have  always  to complain
  'We, the Dutch, always complain about something.'

      The referent set of the plural pronouns wij and jullie may also be established by the preceding linguistic contexts. If the speaker is telling a story about Marie and himself, the speaker can refer to this discourse topic by means of the pronoun wij. And naturally, when the addressee takes over, he will use the pronoun jullie to refer to the same discourse topic. This is shown in (288a). Third person referential personal pronouns are often used in this anaphoric way; one typical example is given in (288b).

Example 288
a. Marie en ik waren gisteren in het theater en we hebben daar Op hoop van zegen van Heijermans gezien.
participant A
  'Marie and I were in the theater yesterday and we saw Op hoop van zegen by Heijermans there.'
a'. Vonden jullie het leuk?
participant B
  'Did youpl like it?'
b. Heb je mijn boek bij je? Ik heb het nodig.
  have  you  my book  with you.  have  it  need
  'Did you bring my book? I need it.'
[+]  C.  Bound pronouns

A referential personal pronoun is bound if it has a c-commanding antecedent in the same sentence. The pronouns typically occur in their weak (phonologically reduced) form in these cases. Consider the examples in (289), in which the available interpretations of the pronouns are indicated by indices.

Example 289
a. Jani kletste terwijl hij*i/j in de hal wachtte.
  Jan  chattered  while  he  in the hall  waited
  'Jan was chattering while he (= some other person) was waiting in the hall.'
a'. Jani kletste terwijl-iei/j in de hal wachtte.
  Jan  chattered  while-he  in the hall  waited
  'Jan was chattering while he (= Jan/some other person) was waiting in the hall.'
b. Jani zei dat ik dat boek aan hem*i/j moest geven.
  Jan  said  that  that book  to him  must  give
  'Jan said that I had to give the book to him (= some other person).'
b'. Jani zei dat ik dat boek aan ’mi/j moest geven.
  Jan  said  that  that book  to him  must  give
  'Jan said that I had to give the book to him (= Jan/some other person).'

In example (289a) the strong pronoun hij'he' can only be used to refer to some contextually determined person. This is also possible in (289a') with the reduced pronoun –ie, but in addition this example allows a reading in which the noun phrase Jan functions as the antecedent of the pronoun, which is indicated by co-indexing the two noun phrases. Something similar hold for the object pronouns in the (b)-examples: the strong pronoun hem is preferably construed as referring to some contextually determined person (although it seems possible to override this by assigning contrastive stress to the pronoun), whereas the weak pronoun m can readily be construed as coreferential with the subject of the matrix clause. In the examples in the remainder of the discussion we will no longer indicate whether the pronoun is weak or strong.
      Example (290a) shows that binding opens new interpretation possibilities for the pronoun when we are dealing with universally quantified antecedents. In this example, the universally quantified pronoun iedereen'everyone' and the referential personal pronoun are part of the same sentence. This sentence allows two readings: one in which the personal pronoun refers to some contextually determined person, and one in which it refers to the people chattering. The latter reading is often referred to as the bound variable reading since the pronoun behaves as a variable bound by the quantifier iedereen'everyone'. A more or less formal representation of this reading is given in (290b), in which the referential pronoun is represented by the second variable x.

Example 290
a. Iedereeni kletste, terwijl hiji/j wachtte in de hal.
  everyone  chattered  while  he  waited  in the hall
  'Everyone was chattering while he was waiting in the hall.'
b. ∀x [Person(x) → Chatter(x) & Wait in the hall(x)]

The bound variable reading does not arise if the universally quantified expression and the referential pronoun are in separate sentences; in examples such as (291a) the referential personal pronoun hij can only refer to some contextually determined person. We can refer to the people chattering by using the plural pronoun zij as in (291b), but this will not give rise to the bound variable reading; the plural pronoun will refer to the people chattering as a group.

Example 291
a. Iedereeni kletste. Ondertussen wachtte hij*i/j in de hal.
  everyone  chattered  in.the.meantime  waited  he  in the hall
  'Everyone was chattering. In the meantime he waited in the hall.'
b. Iedereeni kletste. Ondertussen wachtten zij*i/j in de hal.
  everyone  chattered  in.the.meantime  waited  they  in the hall
  'Everyone was chattering. In the meantime they waited in the hall.'

The bound variablereading in (290b) requires that the quantifier c-command the referential pronoun: this predicts not only that the two pronouns in (290a) cannot be swapped but also that the quantifier cannot be embedded in, e.g., the subject of the matrix clause. That these predictions are correct is shown by the fact that the two examples in (292) do not allow a bound variable reading, that is, the referential personal pronoun can only refer to some contextually determined person.

Example 292
a. Hij*i/j kletste, terwijl iedereeni wachtte in de hal.
  he  chattered  while  everyone  waited  in the hall
  'He was chattering while everyone was waiting in the hall.'
b. De wens van iedereeni was dat hij*i/j zou vertrekken.
  the wish of everyone  was that  he  would  leave
  'Everyoneʼs wish was that he would leave.'

The bound variable reading is also excluded if the quantifier and the referential pronoun are too close to each other: they are not allowed to be co-arguments, and as a result the referential pronoun in (293a) can only refer to some contextually determined person. This constraint need not surprise us given that referential pronouns can never be bound by a co-argument: binding of co-arguments is only possible if we replace the referential pronoun by a reflexive one; see Section, sub III for more discussion.

Example 293
a. Iedereeni bewondert hem*i/j.
  everyone  admires  him
b. Jani bewondert hem*i/j.
  Jan  admires  him
[+]  D.  Impersonal het

Whereas most pronouns are normally used with a clear referential function, the third person singular neuter pronoun may sometimes lack such reference. This is typically the case in “weather” contexts like (294).

Example 294
a. Het regent/is koud.
  it  rains/is  cold
b. Ik heb het koud.
  have  it  cold
  'Iʼm cold.'

Further, impersonal het occurs in numerous more or less fixed expressions. Two examples, adapted from Haeseryn et al. (1997: 259), are given in (295).

Example 295
a. Het botert niet tussen hen.
boteren 'to turn into butter’
  it  botert  not  between them
  'They donʼt hit it off.'
b. Mijn auto heeft het begeven.
  my  car  has  it  given.up
  'My car broke down.'

Another typical non-referential use is the use of het as an anticipatory pronoun, that is, in its syntactic function of “place-holder” of a clausal complement. Given that het triggers R-pronominalization if it functions as the complement of a preposition, it does not come as surprise that the pronominal part of the PP er ... P has a similar impersonal use.

Example 296
a. Jan ontkende het dat hij het boek had.
  Jan denied  it  that  he  the book  had
b. Jan zeurde er over dat hij niet uitgenodigd was.
  Jan nagged  there-about  that  he  not prt.-invited  was
  'Jan nagged about it that he wasnʼt invited.'

What the examples above have in common is that none of the occurrences of het can be replaced by a noun phrase or some other pronoun.

[+]  III.  Nominal features

This subsection focuses on the role of the nominal features person, number and gender.

[+]  A.  First and second person pronouns

As was already discussed in Subsection II, the singular first person pronoun is used to refer to the speaker, the plural one to refer to a referent set including the speaker (and possibly the addressee). The singular second person pronoun is used to refer to the addressee, the plural one is used if there is more than one addressee, or to refer to a referent set including the addressee (but not the speaker). Third person pronouns always exclude the speaker and addressee. Table 6 illustrates this for the subject pronoun; the elements between square brackets indicate whether the reference set indicate the speaker(s) [1], the addressee [2] or entities that are neither speaker nor addressee [3]. The plural first person pronoun wij is often called inclusive if it also refers to the addressee, and as exclusive if the addressee is not included.

Table 6: referential properties of subject pronouns
  singular   plural  
1st person ik'I' [1] wij'we' (exclusive)
wij'we' (inclusive)
wij'we' (exclusive)
2nd person jij'you' [2] jullie'you' [2] or [2,3]
3rd person hij/zij/het'he/she/it' [3] zij'they' [3]

The conventions regulating the regular and the polite forms of the second person pronouns are subjected to subjective, social and regional variation. Generally speaking, the use of the polite form reflects a difference in social status or age, but it may also reflect a lack of intimacy. In certain southern varieties of Dutch, the form gij/ge is used as the subject form of the second person (singular and plural) pronoun, and u as the regular object form; in other varieties of Dutch the form ge is felt as archaic; cf. Haeseryn et al. (1997: 243ff.).

[+]  B.  Third person pronouns

The traditional view is that singular third person pronouns are sensitive to the gender of their antecedent: normally, the masculine pronoun is used if the noun denoting the set containing the intended referent of the pronoun is also masculine, and the same thing holds for the feminine and neuter pronouns. It should be noted, however, that for many, especially northern speakers the distinction between masculine and feminine nouns is on the decline, so that masculine pronouns are often used where, according to the dictionary, only a feminine pronoun would be appropriate. This means that other factors are involved in determining the choice of the gender features of the pronoun.
      The examples in (297) show that considerations of sex may overrule considerations of syntactic gender. Although the noun meisje in (297a) takes the article het, and is therefore formally a neuter noun, most speakers would find it weird to use the neuter pronoun het to refer back to it; the feminine pronoun zij'she' is the one normally used. Similarly, despite the fact that the noun phrase de huisarts'the GP' in (297b) is headed by a masculine noun, the feminine pronoun zij can be felicitously used provided that the participants in the discourse know that the referent of the noun phrase is a woman.

Example 297
a. Het meisje was ernstig ziek, maar ze/*?het was gelukkig buiten levensgevaar.
  the girl  was seriously ill  but  she/it  was fortunately outside peril of death
  'The girl was seriously ill, but she was fortunately not in peril of death.'
b. Ik ben bij de huisarts geweest en hij/zij zei dat alles goed was.
  am  with the GP  been  and  he/she  said  that  everything  well  was
  'Iʼve been to the doctor and he/she said that everything was ok.'

Other factors may be relevant as well. For example, there seems to be a tendency, both in speech and in written language, to refer to institutional bodies by means of feminine pronouns, even if the noun is neuter; cf. Haeseryn (1997:162) and De Vos (2009). An example of this sort is found in (298).

Example 298
Gisteren is het bestuur[+neuter] samengekomen. Zij heeft besloten dat ...
  yesterday  is the board  prt.-assembled.  She  has  decided  that
'Yesterday, the board assembled. It decided that ...'

Furthermore, corpus research by Audring (2009) has shown that, at least in colloquial speech, pronouns are used as indicated in (299). This shows that the system in which pronoun and their antecedents must exhibit syntactic agreement is gradually replaced by a system, in which the gender of the pronoun is determined by certain semantic properties of the antecedent.

Example 299
Semantic restrictions on the use of singular pronouns in speech
a. Feminine pronouns: female persons and animals.
b. Masculine pronouns: male persons, all animals (including animals of female sex), countable, bounded objects and specific abstract entities.
c. Neuter pronouns: mass nouns and uncountable, unbounded object, unspecific abstract entities.

      The plural third person pronoun is normally used if it refers back to a plural noun phrase. However, if a singular noun phrase is headed by a collective noun referring to a set, as with mass nouns like politie or collective nouns like groep'group', it is also common to use the plural pronoun. This shows, again, that the syntactic agreement system is gradually replaced by a more semantically based system

Example 300
a. De politie is daar binnengevallen en ze hebben vijf mensen gearresteerd.
  the police  is there  prt.-entered  and  they  have  five people  arrested
  'The police have entered there and they arrested five people.'
b. Er komt een groep demonstranten aan. Ze scanderen leuzen.
  there  comes  a group [of] protesters  prt.  they  chant  slogans
  'A group of protesters is approaching. Theyʼre chanting slogans.'
[+]  IV.  Subject and object forms

In Standard Dutch, case distinctions are only visible on the referential personal and possessive pronouns: the subject and object forms can be considered to represent, respectively, the nominative and the accusative/dative form of the referential personal pronouns. The possessive pronouns in Table 10 in Section 5.2.2 represent the genitive forms.

Example 301
a. Ik kuste Peter.
  kissed  Peter
b. Peter kuste mij.
  Peter kissed  me
c. Peter gaf mij een kus.
  Peter gave  me  a kiss
d. mijn kus
  my kiss

The examples in (301b&c) show that accusative and dative forms are normally not distinguished in Dutch. The only exceptions are the strong third person plural pronouns, where an artificial distinction was introduced in the 17th century between a dative form hun'them' and an accusative form hen'them'. This distinction is still made by some, especially in written language, although most speakers use the two object forms as free alternants. According to the normative rule, hun can only be used as a nominal indirect/dative object (and as a possessive pronoun), whereas hen is used in all other cases. In (302), the forms that are excluded by this rule are marked with a number sign. For more discussion and examples, we refer the reader to onzetaal.nl/advies/hunhen.php.

Example 302
a. Ik ontmoet hen/#hun morgen.
  meet  them  tomorrow
b. Ik geef hun/#hen dat boek.
  give  them  that book
c. Ik geef het boek aan hen/#hun.
  give the book to them

Despite normative pressure, the use of the pronoun hun as subject pronoun is fairly common in order to refer to +human referents; cf. Van der Wal & Van Bree (2008:414). Thus, an example such as (303) can be used to refer to a number of friends of the speaker but not to a set of books that he has ordered. Since hun normally also refers to human (or animate) antecedents if used as an object pronoun or complement of a preposition, it has been suggested that it is developing into an omnipurpose third person, plural, +human pronoun; cf. Van Bergen et al. (2010).

Example 303
a. % Hun komen morgen.
  they[+human]  come  tomorrow
  'Theyʼll be here tomorow.'

      Given that the distinction betweenaccusative hen and dative hun is artificial and mainly restricted to writing, it will not come as a surprise that (formal) Dutch does not distinguish prepositions that require one of the two forms, which means that Dutch is unlike German, where prepositions can be divided into subclasses according to the case they assign. The only restriction that we find in this domain is that the singular neuter object pronoun ’t cannot occur as the complement of any preposition but triggers R-pronominalization. R-pronominalization is also possible with the other referential personal pronouns if the referent is not human (or at least inanimate given that the acceptable primeless examples can also be used to refer to, e.g., pets or pot plants).

Example 304
a. op hem/’m[+animate]
a'. er ... op
b. op haar/’r[+animate]
b'. er ... op
c. * op het
c'. er ... op
d. op hen/ze[+animate]
d'. er ... op
[+]  V.  Weak and strong forms

This subsection discusses some conditions on the use of the weak and strong forms of the referential personal pronouns.

[+]  A.  Emphasis

Despite the fact that using the weak forms is preferred in speech, it is generally the strong form that is used in written text (a convention that we follow in our examples when the distinction between the weak and strong form does not play a role). In speech, the strong form is more or less restricted to contrastive contexts, unless, of course, a weak form is not available: in Standard Dutch, this holds for all forms of the polite second person pronoun u'you', the subject and object form of the second person plural pronoun jullie'you', and the object form of the first person plural pronoun ons'us'; cf. Table 5.

[+]  B.  Pronouns in clause-initial position

Topicalized phrases are normally stressed. As a result of this, topicalized object pronouns must have the strong form; topicalization of a weak object pronoun results in a degraded result. Some examples are given in (305).

Example 305
a. Mij/*Me heeft hij gisteren uitstekend geholpen.
  me  has  he  yesterday  excellently  helped
  'He helped me very well yesterday.'
b. Jou/*Je heeft hij toch ook gezien.
  you  has  he  prt  also  seen
  'He saw you as well, didnʼt he?'
c. Hem/*’m heeft hij niet bezocht.
  him  has  he  not  visited
  'He didnʼt visit him.'
d. Hen/*ze heeft hij niet bezocht.
  them  has  he  not  visited

The third person neuter object pronoun het is special in that it is normally pronounced in its reduced form ’t and therefore resists accent. The only exceptions are cases such as Ze hebben ’t/het gedaan'They had sex', where the strong pronoun het receives contrastive accent and refers to a sexual activity, especially the act of copulating; the weak pronoun can also refer as a regular deictic pronoun. Example (306) shows that, due to this special property, the third person neuter object pronoun never occurs in clause-initial position.

Example 306
* Het/’t heb ik op de tafel gelegd.
  it  have  on the table  put
Intended meaning: 'Iʼve put it on the table.'

      The requirement that the clause-initial constituent be stressed does not hold for subjects. As a result, both the weak and the strong pronouns can be used in clause-initial position. As a result of this, the neuter subject pronoun het in (307c') differs from the object pronoun het in that it is possible in clause-initial position.

Example 307
a. Ik/’k heb een boek gekocht.
  have  a book  bought
b. Jij/je bent een lieverd.
  you  are  a darling
c. Zij/ze is naar school.
  she  is  to school
c'. Het/’t ligt op de tafel.
  it  lies  on the table

A special case is the weak third person masculine subject pronoun -ie'he', which cannot appear in clause-initial position. This is probably due to the fact that it forms a phonologically unit with its preceding element: note that if the preceding element ends in a vowel, as in (308c), an intervocalic -d- appears.

Example 308
a. Toen heeft-ie gezegd dat hij ziek was.
  then  has-he  said  that  he  ill  was
b. dat-ie toen gezegd heeft dat hij ziek was.
  that-he  then  said  has  that  he  ill  was
c. Toen zei-d-ie dat hij ziek was.
  then said-he  that  he  ill  was

      The weak feminine form of third person singular pronoun has two allomorphs: ’r and dʼr. The alternation is mainly phonologically conditioned: ’r is used after non-nasal consonants; dʼr is used after schwa; after nasal consonants, tensed vowels and diphthongs the two forms seem to freely alternate. Note that lax vowels mainly occur in closed syllables and are therefore not relevant here.

Example 309
a. Ik heb ʼr gisteren ontmoet.
  have  her  yesterday  met
  'I met her yesterday.'
b. Ik ontmoette dʼr gisteren nog.
  met  her  yesterday  only
  'I met her only yesterday.'
c. Ik kan ʼr/dʼr morgen halen.
  can  her  tomorrow  get
  'I can pick her up tomorrow.'
d. Ik zie ’r/dʼr morgen.
  see  her  tomorrow
  'Iʼll see her tomorrow.'
[+]  C.  Semantic restrictions

The use of the strong form is also semantically restricted: whereas the (a)-examples in (310) show that the strong third person plural pronouns can refer to +animate referents, the (b)-examples show they cannot refer to -animate referents; in order to refer to an inanimate referent, the weak form ze must be used. This holds both for the subject and the object pronouns, although the effect is weaker with the former.

Example 310
a. Ze/Zij zijn ziek.
  they  are  ill
  'They (the girls) are ill.'
a'. Ik heb ze/hen gisteren gesproken.
  have  them  yesterday  spoken
  'I spoke with them (the girls) yesterday.'
b. Ze/??Zij zijn verscheurd.
  they  are  torn.up
  'They (the papers) are torn up.'