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This section provides a semantic classification of nouns on the basis of the kind of entity they denote. Typically, the semantic differences between the noun classes that we will distinguish are also reflected in their syntactic and morphological properties. Although there seem to be as many different typologies of Dutch nouns as there are grammatical descriptions, there nevertheless are a number of distinctions that are more or less generally accepted. In traditional grammar, the distinctions in (19a-c) have generally been used for classifying nouns; cf. Haeseryn et al. (1997: 140ff). More recently, theory-specific approaches like Dikʼs (1997) Functional Grammar and Lexical Functional Grammar have added the distinctions in (19d-e). Unfortunately, the relation(s) between these various distinctions is not always clear: some are complementary, some overlap, whereas others operate independently. In what follows, we will describe the distinctions in (19) in some detail in an attempt to clarify the relations between them. In addition, examples will be given of non-prototypical uses of the various noun types, that is, of the ways in which nouns belonging to one category can be used, semantically as well as syntactically, as though they belonged to another category.

a. Proper and common (or descriptive) nouns
b. Concrete and abstract nouns
c. Mass, count and collective nouns
d. Nouns denoting states of affairs, propositions, speech acts and properties
e. Relational and non-relational nouns

This section presents a classification that includes all five distinctions in (19) but reduces them to three partly overlapping, but nevertheless independent, main categories. The discussion is structured as follows. Section 1.2.1 starts with a discussion of the differences between proper nouns, such as Jan and De Alpen'The Alps', and common nouns, such as jongen'boy' and berg'mountain'. In Section 1.2.2, common nouns will be divided into concrete and abstract nouns, which will each in their turn be divided into several other subclasses, as shown in Table 4. The table also shows that some of the resulting subclasses will be further divided into subcategories.

Table 4: Classification of common nouns
Concrete nouns substance nouns water‘water’
  individual nouns auto‘car’
  mass nouns vee‘cattle’
  collective nouns kudde‘flock’
Abstract nouns state-of-affairs nouns actions verwoesting‘destruction’
    processes val‘fall’
    positions (het) wonen‘living’
    states verblijf‘stay’
  proposition nouns geloof‘belief’
  speech-act nouns vraag‘question’
  property nouns physical hoogte‘height’
    mental geduld‘patience’
  emotion nouns haat‘hatred’

Section 1.2.3, finally, discusses the differences between relational nouns like vader'father' versus non-relational nouns like jongen'boy'. Chapter 2 will discuss in more detail the differences between the classes distinguished above with regard to complementation within the NP.

  • Dik, Simon C. & Hengeveld, Kees1997The theory of functional grammar, Part 1: the structure of the clauseMouton de Gruyter
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
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