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Show full table of contents properties of middle constructions

This section briefly characterizes the four main types of middle constructions (regular, adjunct, impersonal and complex reflexive middles) and will then discuss a number of properties that they all share.

[+]  I.  The regular middle construction

The most common type of middle formation is illustrated in (146). The regular middle construction in (146b) has the following syntactic properties: the middle verb corresponds to a transitive verb; the subject of the middle construction corresponds to the direct object of the corresponding transitive construction; the middle construction normally requires an adverbial phrase like gemakkelijk.

Example 146
a. Els leest dit boek.
transitive verb
  Els reads  this book
b. Dit boek leest *(gemakkelijk).
regular middle
  this book  reads     easily

In contrast to the other subtypes discussed in the subsections below, the regular middle construction can also be found in English.

[+]  II.  The adjunct middle construction

The adjunct middle construction differs from the regular middle construction in two respects: the middle verb corresponds to an intransitive verb, and the subject of the middle construction corresponds to the nominal complement of an adverbial PP in the intransitive construction. Like the regular middle construction, the adjunct middle construction normally contains an adverbial phrase like gemakkelijk.

Example 147
a. Peter zit op deze stoel.
intransitive verb
  Peter sits  on this chair
b. Deze stoel zit *(gemakkelijk).
adjunct middle
  this chair  sits     easily
[+]  III.  The impersonal middle construction

The impersonal middle construction resembles the adjunct middle construction but differs from it in that it does not contain a subject corresponding to the nominal complement of an adverbial PP. Instead, the middle construction has an impersonal subject, the expletive het'it', and an obligatory adjunct PP. In this case an adverbial phrase like gemakkelijk is normally present as well.

Example 148
a. Peter zit op deze stoel.
intransitive verb
  Peter sits  on this chair
b. Het zit *(gemakkelijk) op deze stoel.
impersonal middle
  it  sits     easily  on this chair
[+]  IV.  The reflexive middle construction

The last subtype is the reflexive middle construction in (149b). It differs from the other middle constructions in that it is syntactically more complex. It involves a form of the permissive verb laten'to let' followed by an embedded infinitival clause that is headed by a transitive verb. The subject of the clause corresponds to the accusative object of the embedded verb. Further, the construction contains the simplex reflexive pronoun zich which seems to replace the object of the embedded verb and is interpreted as coreferential with the subject of the sentence. This reflexive pronoun cannot be replaced by a referential expression and in this sense we are dealing with inherently reflexive constructions; cf. Section 2.5.2. Reflexive middles normally contain an adverbial phrase like gemakkelijk, although it can be omitted more easily than in other types of middle constructions.

Example 149
a. Jan raadt de oplossing.
transitive verb
  Jan  guesses  the solution
  'Jan guesses the solution.'
b. De oplossing laat zich gemakkelijk raden.
reflexive middle
  the solution  lets  refl  easily  guess
  'It is easy to guess the solution.'
[+]  V.  General properties of middles

Middle verbs correspond to verbs denoting activities and accomplishments, but middle constructions themselves are stative in nature. This is clear from the fact that a middle construction such as (150b) cannot be used to refer to a specific eventuality, as is clear from the fact that it cannot be used as an answer to a question such as (150a).

Example 150
a. Wat gebeurt er?
  'What is happening?'
b. # Dit boek leest gemakkelijk.
  this book  reads  easily

Instead of referring to some event, middles refer to an individual-level property of the subject of the construction: (150b) expresses that the book under discussion has the inherent property that it can be read. Middle constructions normally contain an adverbially used adjective that can be seen as an evaluative modifier of this property: the adverb gemakkelijk'easily' in (150b) expresses that the book has a high degree of readability. Such evaluative modifiers belong to a set of adjectives that optionally take an experiencer voor-PP, which is taken as the norm for the assessment expressed by the adjective; cf. gemakkelijk voor Jan'easy for Jan'. The middle construction normally provides a generic statement, and the experiencer phrase is therefore generally left implicit: a middle construction such as Dit boek leest gemakkelijk'This book reads easily' expresses the quasi-universal reading that the book is easy for anyone in the given domain of discourse, as is shown by the validity of the reasoning in (151a). This quasi-universal reading of middles may also be held accountable for the fact that example (151b) is felt as a contradiction in neutral contexts (although the example seems to improve considerably for some speakers if the subject is stressed, which then emphasizes Peters lack of skill). Note that the quasi-universal reading is also clear from the fact that middles allow exception clauses headed by the generic pronoun je'one'.

Example 151
a. Dit boek leest gemakkelijk en dus kan Peter het ook lezen.
  this book  reads  easily  and  therefore  can  Peter  it  also  read
  'This book reads easily, and therefore Peter can read it too.'
b. $ Dit boek leest gemakkelijk, maar Peter kan het niet.
  this book  reads  easily  but  Peter  can  it  not
  'This book reads easily, but Peter canʼt (read it).'
c. Dit boek leest gemakkelijk, behalve als je moe bent.
  this book  reads  easily  except  when  one  tired  are
  'This book reads easily, except when one is tired.'

Note, finally, that the implied experiencer of the evaluative modifier is also construed as the (potential) agent of the event denoted by the verb lezen'to read' on its activity reading.