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Show all verbal predicates

This section discusses a number of cases involving more or less fixed combinations of noun phrases and verbs, which often come close to forming complex verbal predicates.

[+]  I.  Een boek lezen'to read a book'

Section has shown that an indefinite noun phrase like een boek'a book' in (131a) can have at least two interpretations: it can be nonspecific, in which case it refers to some book unknown to the speaker and the addressee, or it can be specific, in which case it refers to a book known to the speaker but not to the addressee. There is, however, a third, non-referential reading of this example, which expresses that the speaker wants to be engaged in a “book-reading event”. On this reading, the interpretation of the example comes very close that of a sentence like (131b) where the direct object is not expressed: in other words, on the reading in question een boek lezen'to read a book' comes very close to acting like a complex verbal predicate.

a. Ik wil vanavond een boek lezen.
  want  tonight  a book  read
  'I want to read a book tonight.'
b. Ik wil vanavond lezen.

It seems that the direct object must be sufficiently “general” in order for it to be construed as part of a “complex” verbal predicate. The examples in (132), for instance, do not readily allow the intended non-referential readings; the direct object must be construed either specifically or non-specifically.

a. # Ik wil vanavond een roman lezen.
  want  tonight  a book  read
b. # Ik wil vanavond een gedicht lezen.
  want  tonight  a poem  read
c. # Ik wil vanavond een krant lezen.
  want  tonight  a newspaper  read
[+]  II.  De krant lezen'to read the paper'

The examples in (133) show that definite noun phrases can also be construed as being part of a complex verbal predicate. Example (133a), for example, normally does not imply that the speaker has a certain movie or cinema in mind, but that he wants to see some movie in some cinema. Similarly, (133b) does not focus on a certain newspaper: when the reader has a subscription to three newspapers he may intend to read all three issues of that day, and perhaps also some issues of the previous days.

a. Ik ga vanavond naar de film/bioscoop.
  go  tonight  to the movie/cinema
b. Ik wil een uurtje de krant lezen.
  want  an hour  the newspaper  read
  'I want to read the newspaper for an hour.'

In these cases, we are also dealing with more or less fixed combinations. This will become clear from the constructions in (134), where we compare the acceptability judgments on noun phrases taken from more or less the same semantic domain (“art” in a broad sense). In (134), we see that noun phrases like het toneel'the play/theater' and het concert'the concert' cannot be used in constructions such as (133a).


Something similar can be observed from the examples in (135), which are quite common ways of expressing that one wants to make a career in the world of the movies, theater, etc, but it is not the case that there is a form for all artistic careers. For example, whereas it is possible to use Ik wil bij de opera to express that one aspires a job as an opera singer, one cannot express that one wants to become a member of an orchestra by saying Ik wil bij het orkest; this example can only be used with a referential reading of the noun phrase “I want to join the orchestra”.


In order to express that one wants to make a career as a musician (e.g., as a member of an orchestra), one would instead use the construction in (136a). This construction is a very restricted, idiomatic construction that does not allow any of the other definite noun phrases; (136b) is only acceptable under a literal meaning where het theater and, more marginally, de opera refer to buildings where performances take place (an option lacking for de film).

a. Hij wil de muziek in.
  he  wants  the music  into
  'He wants to make a career in music.'
b. Ik wil *de film/#het theater/#de opera in.

Note that example (136a) involves a postpositional and, hence, directional PP. If we want to express that someone is a professional musician, the postpositional PP would be replaced by a prepositional (locational) one, as in (137a). The (b)-examples show that this construction does not allow any of the other definite noun phrases either: only the literal meanings are available.

a. Hij zit in de muziek.
  he  sits  in the music
  'Heʼs a professional musician.'
b. # Hij zit in de film/het theater/de opera.
[+]  III.  Light verb constructions

Complex verbal predicates are very common with indefinite objects in so-called light verb constructions, which are exemplified in (138). Light verb constructions feature verbs like maken'to make' or geven'to give' that are semantically “bleached”; the main semantic contribution in these examples comes from the noun phrase functioning as the object of the verb, which is clear from the fact that the primeless examples are more or less equivalent to the primed examples.

a. Jan maakt een buiging voor de koning.
  Jan  makes  a bow  for the king 
a'. Jan buigt voor de koning.
  Jan bows  for the king
b. Jan geeft Peter een kus.
  Jan gives  Peter  a kiss
b'. Jan kust Peter.
  Jan kisses  Peter
c. Ik geef Jan een schop onder zʼn kont.
  give  Jan  a kick  under his ass
c'. Ik schop Jan onder zʼn kont.
  kick  Jan under his ass

The difference between the primeless and primed examples is mainly aspectual in nature: the former involve singular, instantaneous events, whereas the latter may involve multiple events or events that stretch over a certain time interval. For example, when Jan and Peter are making love, durative kussen in (138b') would probably be a more appropriate description of the event than the instantaneous expression een kussen geven.
      Plural indefinite noun phrases can also be used in these light verb constructions. In that case, it is expressed that the action denoted by the complex predicate is performed several times. This is clearest if the indefinite noun phrase is modified by means of a numeral; example (139a) can be paraphrased by means of (139b). Note that due to the durative meaning of verb buigen, the repetitive meaning can also be present if the adverbial phrases are not used.

a. Jan maakt (verscheidene/drie) buigingen voor de koning.
  Jan makes  several three  bows  for the king
b. Jan buigt (verschillende malen/drie keer) voor de koning.
  Jan bows  several times/three times  for the king

The presence of restrictive modifiers, as in the primed examples in (140), often seem to favor a referential interpretation of the noun phrase, although it should be noted that these adjectives can often also be used as manner adverbs modifying the event. This is illustrated by the primed examples.

a. Jan maakte een elegante buiging voor de koning.
  Jan made  an elegant bow  for the king
a'. Jan boog elegant voor de koning.
  Jan bowed  elegantly  for the king
b. Jan gaf Peter een adembenemende kus.
  Jan gave  Peter  a breathtaking kiss
b'. ? Jan kuste Peter adembenemend.
  Jan kissed  Peter breathtakingly
c. Ik gaf Jan een harde schop onder zijn kont.
  gave  Jan  a hard kick  under his ass
c'. Ik schopte Jan hard onder zʼn kont.
  kicked  Jan hard  under his ass

      Occasionally, we also come across light verb constructions with definite objects, The examples in (141) show that the verb doen'to do' is very productive in forming such complex verbal predicates, especially for denominating regular domestic activities. Some of these combinations are developing in the direction of idioms: although the noun phrase de vaat'the washing' is no longer commonly used in normal argument positions in the Western part of the Netherlands, the complex verbal expression in (141c) is still quite common.

a. Ik doe de ramen morgen.
  do  the windows  tomorrow
  'I wash the windows tomorrow.'
b. Ik doe de afwas/was.
  do  the dishes/washing
c. Jan doet de vaat.
  Jan does  the dishes
[+]  IV.  Idioms

Example (141c) naturally leads to a discussion of noun phrases in idiomatic expressions. In (142) we give some examples involving an indefinite, and in (143) some examples involving a definite article. There is no sense in which the articles in these examples evoke a referential reading; the (in)definite noun phrases are simply part of idiomatic clusters of verb plus (prepositional) object. Some of the nouns also occur as referential nouns in (present-day) Dutch with the meaning given in the glosses; those nouns repeated in small caps in the glosses do not.

a. het op een lopen zetten
  it  on  a runinfinitive  put
  'to start running away'
c. iemand een poets bakken
  somebody  poets  bake
  'to play a trick on somebody'
b. iemand een loer draaien
  somebody  loer  turn
  'to deceive somebody'
d. ∅ spoken zien
  ∅ ghosts  see
  'to be mistaken'
a. op de tocht staan
  on the draught  stand
  'to be in a draughty spot'
b. in de clinch liggen met iemand
  in the clinch  lie  with somebody
  'to quarrel with somebody'
c. iets onder de loep nemen
  something  under the magnifying glass  take
  'to investigate something'
d. iets op de korrel nemen
  something  on the pellet  take
  'to criticize something'
e. ergens de balen van hebben
  something  the balen  of  have
  'to be fed up with something'
f. iets/iemand aan de praat krijgen
  someone/thing  on the talk  get
  'to get someone to talk/something to work'
[+]  V.  Noun phrases denoting a mental/physical condition

When we restrict ourselves to the syntactic frame [ NP heeft/krijgt __] in (144), we can observe that disease denoting nouns come in three groups: the first group in (144a) requires the presence of a definite article; the second group in (144b) optionally combines with a definite article; the third group in (144c) cannot combine with an article. The fact that none of the noun phrases in (144) are interpreted specifically suggests that the article de is semantically vacuous in constructions of this type.

a. Jan heeft/krijgt *(de) pest/bof/tering
  Jan has/gets    the pestilence/mumps/consumption
b. Jan heeft/krijgt (de) griep/mazelen/pokken.
  Jan has/gets   the  flu/measles/smallpox
c. Jan heeft/krijgt (*de) kanker/aids/tuberculose.
  Jan has/gets   the  cancer/AIDS/tuberculosis

      Some names of diseases can also be used in figurative speech, as part of the idiomatic register. This is illustrated in (145) for the noun pest'pestilence/plague': both examples refer to a mental state of the speaker. Note that, just as in (144a), the definite article is obligatory in these examples, despite the fact that it does not seem to make any semantic contribution.

a. Ik heb/krijg (er) de pest in.
  have/get  there  the plague  in
  'Iʼm very annoyed.'
b. Ik heb/krijg de pest aan die vent!
  have  the plague  on that guy
  'I canʼt stand that guy!'

      Names of diseases are also common in curses. An interesting feature of this use is that the disease denoting noun is always preceded by the definite article, regardless of the category of nouns it belongs to. In (146), we have shown this for each of the three types in (144).

Krijg *(de) pest/kanker/pokken!
  get    the  pestilence/cancer/smallpox
'Go to hell!'
[+]  VI.  Noun phrases denoting means of transportation and communication

Definite noun phrases are not necessarily interpreted specifically or generically in examples of the type in (147a): such examples are ambiguous and can mean either that the speaker takes a specific bus (for instance, the one that is coming around the corner just now), or that he takes the bus qua means of transportation (any bus). In many cases, such as (147b&c), the latter reading is clearly the favored one.

a. Ik neem de bus.
  take  the bus
  'Iʼll take a specific busor 'Iʼll go by bus.'
b. Ik doe alles met de bus.
  do  everything  with the bus
  'I only travel by bus.'
c. Ik heb een hekel aan de bus.
  have  a dislike  for the bus
  'I hate travelling by bus.'

On the second reading in (147a), de bus'the bus' is not a referential noun phrase, but interpreted as a subpart of the idiomatic verbal predicate de bus nemen'take the bus, that is, engage oneself in bus-riding'. Non-referential interpretations of this type are available for noun phrases with definite determiners with a variety of “means of transportation” as their head. To give an impression of the range of possibilities, some acceptable examples are given in (148a-c).

a. Ik neem de bus/trein/tram/metro.
  take  the bus/train/“tram”/subway
c. Ik neem de auto/fiets.
  take  the car/bike
b. Ik neem het vliegtuig/de boot.
  take  the airplane/the boat
d. Ik neem een/*?de taxi.
  take  a/the taxi

Note that the noun taxi in (148d) is special in that it requires an indefinite article. The fact that we apparently cannot predict which article will be used may simply be a reflex of the idiomatic character of this construction with the verb nemen (and its more colloquial near-equivalent pakken'take, fetch, catch'). That we are dealing with idioms may be supported by the fact that there are clear idiomatic cases involving this verb, which are given in (149b). Although (149a) seems a direct instantiation of the general pattern in (148), this example is also special given that the noun benenwagen can only be used in “means of transportation” contexts.

a. Ik neem de benenwagen.
  take  the leg-car
  'I go on foot.'
b. Ik neem de benen.
  take  the legs
  'Iʼm running away.'

      The examples in (150) show that the non-referential “means of transportation” interpretation of noun phrases with a definite article is also found in (complement-)PPs in clauses featuring motion and positional verbs.

a. Ik ga wel met de bus/trein/fiets/auto/taxi/benenwagen.
  go  prt  with the bus/train/bike/car/taxi/leg-car
b. Ik stap wel op de bus/trein/boot.
  step  prt  on the bus/train/boat
c. Ik spring voor de trein.
  jump  before the train
d. Ik zit vaak in de trein.
  sit  often  in the train

The PP in (150a), which features a non-referential definite noun phrase, sometimes alternates with a per-PP, featuring the Latinate preposition per, which systematically takes determiner-less complement noun phrases. The fact that some of the cases in (150a) alternate with determiner-less (151) supports the claim that the definite article de in (150a) has no indispensable semantic contribution to make.

Ik ga wel per ∅ bus/trein/??fiets/?auto/taxi/*benenwagen.
  go  prt  by ∅ bus/train/bike/car/taxi/leg-car
'Iʼll go by bus/train/...'

      Just like noun phrases denoting a means of transportation, noun phrases denoting a means of communication may contain a definite article that does not necessarily contribute the notion of definiteness. This is very clear in (152b) where the article de can be dropped without a noticeable change in meaning.

a. Pak de telefoon en vertel het hem!
  take  the telephone  and  tell  it  him
  'Phone him up and tell him!'
b. Ik zag het op (de) televisie.
  saw  it  on the television
  'I saw it on television.'
c. Ik hoorde het op *(de) radio.
  heard  it  on the radio
  'I heard it on the radio.'
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