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2.1.1.Impersonal verbs

Impersonal verbs are verbs that can be assumed to not take any nominal argument at all, for which reason they are also known as avalent verbs. Weather verbs like regenen'to rain' and sneeuwen'to snow' in (8) are typical instantiations of this type.

Example 8
a. Het regent.
  it  rains
b. Het sneeuwt.
  it  snows

The subject pronoun het in these examples is not referential and should therefore not be considered an argument of the weather verb; it is only present to satisfy the syntactic requirement that the verb has a (nominative) subject. Section 2.2.3, sub IB, will support this view by showing that het is obligatorily suppressed if some other element in the clause introduces a nominal argument that can function as a subject. This is illustrated here by means of the resultative construction in (9), in which the noun phrase Jan is licensed by the complementive nat'wet'.

Example 9
a. * Het regent Jan nat.
  it  rains  Jan wet
b. Jan regent nat.
  Jan rains  wet
  'Jan is getting wet as a result of the rain.'

Given that impersonal verbs do not take any other nominal arguments, this section does not have much to say about them. Therefore, we will confine ourselves here to giving a small sample of these verbs in (10): the (a)-examples are "truly" impersonal in the sense that they are normally not used with an argument, whereas the (b)-examples are verbs that can also be used as monadic or dyadic verbs.

Example 10
a. Truly impersonal verbs: dooien'to thaw', hagelen'to hail', ijzelen'to be freezing over', miezeren'to drizzle', misten'to be foggy', motregenen'to drizzle', plenzen'to shower', ( pijpenstelen) regenen'to rain (cats and dogs)', sneeuwen'to snow', stormen'to storm', stortregenen'to rain cats and dogs', vriezen'to freeze', waaien'to blow'
b. Impersonal verbs with monadic/dyadic counterparts: gieten'to pour', hozen'to shower', stromen'to stream'

Before closing this section, we want to point out two things. First, the examples in (11) show that there are a number of exceptional, probably idiomatic, cases in which weather verbs of the type in (10a) do seem to take an internal argument.

Example 11
a. Het regent pijpenstelen.
  it  rains  pijpenstelen
  'It is raining cat and dogs.'
b. Het regent complimentjes.
  it  rains  compliments
  'A lot of compliments are being given.'

Second, we want to mention that Bennis (1986: Section 2.2) has argued against the claim above that weather het is non-referential by showing that it is able to control the implicit PRO-subject of an infinitival clause in examples such as (12a). A problem with this argument is, however, that the pronoun het in the main clause is not the subject of a weather verb but of a copular construction with a nominal predicate, similar to the one we find in examples such as (12b); the pronoun het in such constructions is clearly not referential.

Example 12
a. Het is [na PRO lang geregend te hebben] weer droog weer.
  it  is   after  long rained to  have  again  dry weather
  'After raining for a long time it is dry again.'
b. Het is een aardige jongen.
  it  is a nice boy
  'He is a nice boy.'

Of course, it is possible to construct examples such as (13a) in which PRO is controlled by weather het, but given that PRO can be controlled by the non-referential pronoun het in (12a), this can no longer be taken as evidence in favor of the referential status of weather het. Bennis is more successful in arguing that weather verbs can at least sometimes take a referential subject by referring to examples such as (13b), which show that waaien'to blow' can be predicated of the referential noun phrase de wind'the wind'.

Example 13
a. Het heeft [na PRO lang geregend te hebben] wekenlang gesneeuwd.
  it  has  after  long  rained  to have for.weeks  snowed
  'After raining for a long time it is has snowed for weeks.'
b. De wind/Het waait hard.
  the wind/it blows  hard

Example (13b) does not show, however, that the subject pronoun het is likewise referential. A serious problem for such a view is the earlier observation that it is not possible to realize the pronoun het in resultative constructions such as (9). This is unexpected if het is referential given that example (14a) shows that the referential noun phrase de wind must be realized in such resultative constructions. Example (14a) thus contrasts sharply with the (b)-examples in (14), which show again that het is obligatorily omitted in the resultative construction; see Section 2.2.3, sub I, for more detailed discussion.

Example 14
a. De wind waait de bladeren weg.
  the wind  blows  the leaves  away
b. # Het waait de bladeren weg.
  it  blows  the leaves  away
b'. De bladeren waaien weg.
  the leaves  blow  away
  • Bennis, Hans1986Gaps and dummiesDordrechtForis Publications