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Meaning of VPs and mapping of arguments

A semantic classification of verbs shows strong correlations with the syntactic behaviour of verb classes. In addition, the meaning of Verb Phrases (VPs) is closely related to the mapping of arguments of verbs.


Verbs having a modal meaning are referred to as modal auxiliaries. They form a coherent semantic group. When taking a verbal complement, they tend to select bare infinitives ending in the suffix marking ordinary infinitives (see predication and noun incorporation), as in the example below:

Example 1

Jouke sil nei Goutum ta fytse
Jouke shall to Goutum to cycle
Jouke is going to cycle to Goutum

Modal auxiliaries are realised in English as defective verbs, whereas they are full verbs in Frisian.

Verbs of perception are another semantically coherent class of verbs. They include verbs like sjen to see. When taking a verbal complement, they tend to select bare infinitives ending in the suffix marking gerundial infinitives. An example is given below:

Example 2

Hy sjocht it reinen
he sees it rain
He sees it raining

Furthermore, these infinitives are generally accompanied by a subject, as is also the case in the example above, where the gerundial infinitive reinen to rain is accompanied by its subject, weather it it.

Verbs of body posture form another coherent subclass, including verbs such as stean to stand. Such verbs can be used as copulas connecting a subject to an Adposition Phrase (PP):

Example 3

Der stiet 'ferve' op it boerd
there stands paint on the sign
The sign has the word 'paint' on it

They can also be used in an aspectual manner, in case their complement is an infinitival clause:

Example 4

In fanke, dat op in stik kaugom stie te wjerkôgjen
a girl that on a piece chewing.gum stood to chew
A girl that stood chewing a piece of gum

The verb classes mentioned so far involves small subclasses. However, all verbs can be subsivided as either unaccusative or unergative verbs. Unaccusative verbs are verbs of which the subject has the thematic role of theme, such as falle to fall. Unergative verbs are all other verbs. Unaccusative verbs are conjugated in the perfect tense with wêze to be, just as passive verbs are: both share the property that what is the direct object thematically is realised in the subject position, so agreeing with the tensed verb. In the same vein, more verb classes can be distinguished.

So, a semantic subdivision yields several subclasses, and each subclass exhibits its own characteristic syntactic behaviour.