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8.1.1.Syntactic functions of noun phrases

Noun phrases can occur in all argument functions. Some typical examples are given in (1) to (4). In (1) the noun phrase acts as the (nominative) subject of the clause, in (2) as the (accusative) direct object, in (3) as the (dative) indirect object, and in (4), finally, as the complement of a preposition: the primeless examples in (4) involve a prepositional indirect object and the primed ones involve PP-complements of the verb, but examples could also be given for PPs with, e.g., an adverbial function. The (a)- and (b)-examples of each set illustrate, respectively, non-neuter and neuter singulars, and the (c)-examples exemplify plurals. For each of these types a definite and an indefinite example are given. The definite noun phrases are headed by the definite article de/het'the', but they can be replaced by any other type of definite noun phrase: replacing the noun phrase de man'the man' by, e.g., noun phrases like die man'that man' or mijn vriend'my friend', a personal pronoun like hij/hem'he/him' or the universal quantifier iedereen'everyone' does not affect the grammaticality judgments. Neither will the grammaticality judgments change if we replace the indefinite singular noun phrase een man/kind by the existential quantifier iemand or the indefinite plural DP [ mensen]'persons' by some other plural indefinite noun phrase like verschillende/veel/vier mensen'several/many/four persons'.

a. De man was afwezig.
  the man  was absent
a'. Er was een man afwezig.
  there  was  a man  absent
b. Het kind was afwezig.
  the child  was absent
b'. Er was een kind afwezig.
  there  was  a child  absent
c. De mensen waren afwezig.
  the people  were  absent
c'. Er waren [DP mensen] afwezig.
  there  was  people  absent
Direct object
a. Hij genas de/een man.
  he  healed  the/a man
b. Hij genas het/een kind.
  he  healed  the/a child
c. Hij genas de/∅ mensen.
  he  healed  the/∅ people
Indirect object
a. Hij gaf de/een man nieuwe hoop.
  he  gave  the/a man  new hope
b. Hij gaf het/een kind nieuwe hoop.
  he  gave  the/a child  new hope
c. Hij gaf de/∅ mensen nieuwe hoop.
  he  gave  the/∅ people  new hope
Complement of PP
a. Hij gaf het boek aan de/een man.
  he  gave  the book  to the/a man
a'. Jan wacht op de/een man.
  Jan waits  for the/a man
b. Hij gaf het boek aan het/een kind.
  he  gave  the book  to the/a child
b'. Jan wacht op het/een kind.
  Jan waits  for the/a child
c. Hij gaf boeken aan de/?∅ mensen.
  he  gave  books  to the/∅ people
c'. Jan wacht op de/??∅ mensen.
  Jan waits  for the/∅ people

      In the examples above, two things leap to the eye. First, it can be observed that the plural indefinite noun phrases in the (c)-examples in (4) give rise to a marked result. This is related to the fact that the indefinite noun phrase has a nonspecific reading; if the plural noun phrase has a generic reading, as in (5), the result is fine.

a. Jan geeft graag aan goede doelen.
  Jan gives  gladly  to good causes
  'Jan likes to give to charity.'
b. Jan houdt van zebraʼs.
  Jan is fond  of zebras
  'Jan loves zebras.'

Second, it can be noted that the indefinite subjects in the primed examples in (1) normally occur in an expletive construction. This also has to do with the fact that the indefinite noun phrase is construed non-generically. We will come back to this in Section 8.1.4.

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