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Er-nominalization involves the formation of deverbal person nouns by means of one of the allomorphs of -er/-ster, and a number of other, less productive affixes. In contrast to the nominalization processes discussed in the previous sections, er-nouns do not inherit the denotation of the verb they are derived from; they denote persons, not states of affairs. They do, however, inherit the argument structure of the verb, and in this sense they can be said not to be fully nominal. This following subsection will discuss the form of the derived noun, its relation to the base verb and the restrictions on the derivational process. In Section, a comprehensive discussion of complementation of er-nouns can be found.

[+]  I.  Form of the derived noun

Deverbal nouns denoting concrete objects can take a number of forms. The most productive form of noun formation is that by which so-called person nouns are derived. Normally, these deverbal nouns take the masculine ending -er (which is realized as -der if following an /r/), the feminine ending -ster, or one of their allomorphs (respectively, masculine -aar and feminine -eres and -aarster). Table 14 shows that other suffixes, both native and non-native, are also possible.

Table 14: Deverbal person nouns
suffix input verb derived form
lezen‘to read’ lezer/lezeres‘reader’
  schrijven‘to write’ schrijver/schrijfster‘writer’
  verraden‘to betray’ verrader/verraadster‘traitor’
  uitvoeren‘to perform’ uitvoerder/uitvoerster‘performer’
Masc: -aar
Fem: -aarster/-ares
bewonderen‘to admire’ bewonderaar(ster)‘admirer’
  knutselen‘to tinker’ knutselaar/—‘handyman’
  tekenen‘to draw’ tekenaar/ares‘artist’
  twijfelen‘to doubt’ twijfelaar/— ‘skeptic’
Masc: -(a)teur
Fem: -(a)trice
inspecteren‘to inspect’ inspecteur/inspectrice‘inspector’
  redigeren‘to edit’ redacteur/redactrice‘editor’
  repareren‘to repair’ reparateur/‘repairer’
Fem: -atrice
organiseren‘to organize’ organisator/organisatrice‘organizer’
  illustreren‘to illustrate’ illustrator/illustratrice‘illustrator’
‘to improvise’
Masc: -eur
Fem: -euse
%chaufferen‘to drive’ chauffeur/chauffeuse‘chauffeur’
‘to direct (a movie)
(film) director’
  masseren‘to massage’ masseur/masseuse‘masseur’

Derived nouns of the type givenin Table 14 are always -neuter, and are typically used to denote professions (like schrijver'writer' or leraar teacher) or persons that habitually perform the action denoted by the verb (like twijfelaar'skeptic'), that is, they often receive a kind of “generic” interpretation.
      Note that the use of the term masculine ending is slightly misleading in that the masculine forms are actually neutral forms, and can be used to denote both masculine and feminine individuals. For example, the referent set of the plural noun phrase de wandelaars in example (186a) may include female individuals. And the same thing is shown by the copular constructions in (186b&c), which were both taken from the internet.

a. De wandelaars vertrokken na het ontbijt.
  the hikers  left  after breakfast
b. Vier van de vijf lezers zijn vrouw.
  four out.of five readers  are  a.woman
c. Marie/Zij is een echte lezer.
  Marie/she  is a true reader

      The unmarked use of the deverbal nouns in Table 14 is that of denoting +human entities, and for that reason they are normally labeled person nouns. These nouns have also been called agent nouns (or nomina agentis) or subject nouns because, in most cases, the individuals denoted by the noun are the agent of the input verb. Generally speaking, these terms succeed in accurately describing the set of nouns belonging to this class. The examples in (187a&b) show, however, that the suffix -er is special in that it can also derive nouns that denote non-human agents or instruments; the deverbal er-nouns in (187c) even have abstract denotations, that is, misser'miss' refers to the result of the event denoted by the input verb and uitglijder'slip/blunder' refers to the event itself. For this reason, we will not use the traditional terms given earlier, but simply refer to this class of nominalizations as deverbal er-nouns.

a. non-human agents: wekker'alarm clock'; zoemer'buzzer'
b. instruments: opener'opener'; waaier'fan'
c. abstract: misser'miss'; uitglijder'slip/blunder'
[+]  II.  Relation to the base verb

Concrete deverbal er-nouns can be said to inherit the argument structure of the input verb. The external (agentive) argument of the verb apparently disappears, but is actually expressed by the affix: it is the deverbal noun itself that denotes the agent of the action denoted by the input verb. Consequently, er-nouns derived from intransitive verbs like wandelen'to walk' in (188a) do not take any arguments: the sole argument of the input verb is represented by the suffix -er. Example (188b) shows that the nominal theme argument of a transitive verb like maken'to make' must be realized by means of a van-PP in the corresponding nominal construction. Example (188c) shows that if the input verb selects a PP-complement the same PP will be selected by the er-noun; cf. jagen op'to hunt for'.

a. schrijverN
a'. de schrijver'the writer'
b. makerN (Theme)
b'. de maker van het beeld'the maker of the statue'
c. jagerN (Theme)
c'. een jager op groot wild'a hunter of big game'
[+]  III.  Restrictions on the derivational process

Although er-nominalization is a productive process with both intransitive and transitive verbs, there are a number of restrictions on its operation concerning the thematic role of the argument represented by the -er ending and the type of input verb. The discussion of these restrictions will follow Table 15, which presents a hierarchy of er-nominalizations in terms of the type of object denoted by the deverbal noun, the thematic role most likely to be represented by the er-noun and the type of input verb; the prototypical use of an er-nominalization is given at the top of the list, and the rare (often marginal) uses towards the bottom. Recall that the -human nouns can only be derived by affixation with -er.

Table 15: A hierarchy of the denotation of deverbal er-nominalizations
denotation thematic role ±human input verb example
concrete agent +human transitive
    -human transitive
wekker‘alarm clock’
  instrument -human transitive
  experiencer +human transitive
  theme ±human transitive
abstract (events) -human transitive

The discussion starts with the thematic roles of the argument that can be expressed by the suffix. This is followed by a discussion of the restrictions on the input verbs.

[+]  A.  Thematic role of the argument represented by the -er ending

This subsection discusses the implied thematic relationships between the argument represented by the -er ending and the input verb.

[+]  1.  Er-nouns denoting +human agents

The vast majority of deverbal er-nouns denote a +human object, which acts as the agent in the argument structure of the input verb. A representative set of examples has already been given in Table 14.

[+]  2.  Er-nouns denoting -human (impersonal) agents

Less common are examples such as (189) where the deverbal er-noun represents a -human agent of the input verb. Nevertheless, these -human objects still perform the action denoted by the input verb and will, therefore, be referred to as impersonal agents; cf., e.g., Van der Putten (1997) and De Caluwe (1995). As illustrated in (189a-d), the input verb is usually transitive, although the intransitive input verb zoemen'to buzz' in (189e) is also possible.

er-nominalization denoting -human (impersonal) agents
a. Deze tv-zender zendt popmuziek uit.
cf. uitzenden 'to broadcast’
  This TV station  broadcasts  pop.music  prt.
b. De wekker wekte hem om 7 uur.
cf. wekken 'to wake up’
  the alarm clock  woke  him  at 7 oʼclock
c. Deze versterker versterkt zonder vervorming.
cf. versterken 'to amplify’
  this amplifier  amplifies  without distortion
d. Deze meter meet het gasverbruik.
cf. meten 'to measure’
  this meter  measures  the gas.consumption
e. De zoemer zoemde erg luid.
cf. zoemen 'to buzz’
  the buzzer  buzzed  very loudly

er-nouns of this type do not allow complementation; although the input verbs may obligatorily contain a theme argument, this argument is not inherited by the er-nominalization. As a consequence, deverbal er-nouns denoting impersonal agents cannot be followed by a van-PP denoting the object of the base verb. This means that in the primeless examples of (190) the er-noun will receive its prototypical +human agentive interpretation; if this is not possible the result will be unacceptable. In (190a), for example, the noun een zender will be interpreted as denoting the person who sent the message; forcing a non-agentive interpretation, as in (190a'), leads to ungrammaticality. Similarly, een wekker in (190b) will be interpreted as a wake-up person, that is, a person who wakes up other people; alternatively, een wekker will be interpreted as an alarm clock belonging to lazy people, a reading that is more likely with a specific possessor like Jan in (190b').

a. de zender van het bericht
  the sender  of the message
a'. de pas in gebruik genomen zender (*van het bericht)
  the  recently  into use put  transmitter     of the message
b. een wekker van luie mensen
  a wake.up-er  of lazy people
b'. de wekker van Jan
  the alarm.clock  of Jan

If the er-noun cannot receive a +human interpretation, its use with a theme complement is infelicitous. This is illustrated in (191).

a. een geleider (*van elektriciteit)
  a conductor     of electricity
b. een versterker (*van geluid)
  an amplifier     of sounds

      Er-nouns denoting impersonal agents are quite common in compounds of the sort illustrated in (192). Given that the first member of the compound functions as an incorporated theme of the input verb (and keeping in mind the discussion of the examples in (190) and (191)), it will not come as a surprise that these nouns do not accept a van-PP expressing a theme. The er-nouns in (192) seem to be fully lexicalized in the sense that the “incorporated” theme is more or less fixed; the compound wasverzachter, for example, does not alternate with something like lakenverzachter, in which the theme (meaning “sheet”) is more specific. Furthermore, the second member often does not occur without the incorporated theme: * verzachter, * stiller, # koker.

er-nominalization denoting -human agents (with incorporated themes)
a. (?) Deze wasverzachter verzacht mijn lakens.
cf. verzachten 'to soften’
  this fabric.softener  softens  my sheets
a'. de wasverzachter (*van mijn lakens)
  the fabric.softener     of my sheets
b. (?) De pijnstiller stilt de pijn in mijn hoofd.
cf. stillen 'to quiet/ease’
  the painkiller  eases  the pain in my head
b'. de pijnstiller (*van mijn hoofdpijn)
  the painkiller     of my headache
c. ?? De eierkoker kookt de eieren.
cf. koken 'to cook’
  the egg.cooker  cooks  the eggs
c'. de eierkoker (*van mijn scharreleieren)
  the egg.cooker     of my free range eggs
[+]  3.  Er-nouns denoting instruments

There are also instances where it is not the external argument of the input verb that forms the denotation of the derived er-noun. In that case, it is usually the instrument used in performing the state of affairs that is denoted by the derived noun. Such nouns are especially common as the second member of compounds in which the first member functions as an incorporated theme of the input verb. Thus, the er-nouns in the primeless examples in (193) refer to instruments used for opening corked bottles, screwing screws, reporting a fire or playing a CD, respectively. That it is indeed an instrument that is referred to and not an impersonal agent becomes clear from the primed examples, which show that these er-nouns cannot themselves perform the action denoted by the input verb.

er-nominalization denoting instruments (with incorporated theme)
a. de kurkentrekker (*van deze kurk)
cf. trekken 'to pull’
  the corkscrew      of this cork
a'. * De kurkentrekker trekt de kurk uit de fles.
  the corkscrew  pulls  the cork  from the bottle
b. de schroevendraaier (*van deze schroeven)
cf. draaien 'to turn’
  the screwdriver      of these screws
b'. * Deze schroevendraaier draait de schroeven in de plank.
  this screwdriver  turns  the screws  into the board
c. de brandmelder (*van de brand)
cf. melden 'to report’
  the fire.reporter      of the fire
c'. ?? De brandmelder meldt een brand bij de alarmcentrale.
  the fire.reporter  reports  a fire  at the emergency.center
d. de CD-speler (*van mijn nieuwe CD)
cf. afspelen 'to play’
  the CD-player     of my new CD
d'. ?? De CD-speler speelt de CD af.
  the CD player  plays the CD  prt.

The unacceptability of the primed examples in (193) probably resides in the fact that the verbs in question select a +human agent. This selection restriction can be overridden by adding an adverbial phrase like automatisch'automatically', as in (194), as a result of which these examples are acceptable.

a. Deze kurkentrekker trekt de kurk automatisch uit de fles.
  this corkscrew  pulls  the cork  automatically  out.of the bottle
b. Deze brandmelder meldt een brand automatisch bij de centrale.
  this fire.detector  reports  a fire  automatically  with the center
  'This detector automatically alerts the emergency center in case of a fire.'
c. Deze CD-speler speelt de CD automatisch af.
  this CD-player  plays  the CD  automatically  prt.

The compound nouns in (193) exhibit more or less the same properties as those in (192); expressing the theme argument by means of a van-PP is impossible, the first member of the compound is more or less fixed, and the instrument er-noun often does not occur without the incorporated theme: # trekker, # draaier, # melder, # speler (note that all these nouns do have an agentive reading). The latter restriction is not absolute, however: (195) gives some instances of instrument nouns where incorporation need not take place. Note that here we are clearly not dealing with impersonal agents, given that the primed examples show that the instrument itself cannot perform the action denoted by the input verb. As with impersonal agents, explicit mention of the theme as argument of the derived noun yields an unacceptable result or forces an often improbable +human reading: the +human readings are marked by means of “#”.

er-nominalization denoting instruments (no incorporation)
a. de (flessen)opener (#van deze fles)
cf. openen 'to open’
  the bottle opener     of the bottle
a'. * De (flessen)opener opent de fles.
  the bottle opener  opens  the bottle
b. de (was)knijpers (#van mijn wasgoed)
cf. knijpen 'to pinch’
  the clothes.pegs     of my laundry
b'. * De (was)knijpers hangen het wasgoed op.
  the clothes.pegs  put  the laundry  up
c. de kijker (*van/#naar de vogels)
cf. kijken 'to look’
  the viewer      of/to the birds
c'. * De kijker kijkt naar de vogels.
  the viewer  looks  at the birds

Note that it is possible to have a PP introduced by voor in examples like (195a&b); cf. (196a). In that case, however, the modifier is an adjunct rather than the theme of the underlying predication. This becomes clear from the fact, illustrated by the examples in (196b), that placement of the PP in postcopular position is possible, which is a hallmark of adjunct status; cf. Section 2.2.1, sub III.

a. Die opener is alleen voor dit soort flessen.
  this opener is only  for this type of bottles
b. Deze knijpers zijn voor mijn wasgoed.
  these cloth.pegs  are  for my laundry

      Finally, note that there are circumstances under which the er-nouns kijker and knijper can be used as subjects. Like many er-nouns, kijker has more than one meaning. In (195c) it has a -human reading, in which case it cannot be used as a subject of the verb kijken. If it denotes persons, it can be used as the subject of the verb kijken, as in (197a). Further, er-nouns denoting instruments can occasionally be used with other, less active verbs, as in (197b).

a. Onze kijkers kijken graag naar informatieve programmaʼs.
  our viewers  look  gladly  at informative programs
  'Our viewers like to watch informative programs.'
b. Deze knijpers houden het wasgoed goed vast.
  these clothes.pegs  keep  the laundry  well fixed
  'These clothes pegs keep the laundry securely fixed.'

The constructions in (198) with the instrument er-noun in subject position are also acceptable. However, the instrument does not function as the agent of the action denoted by the verb: we are dealing here with so-called adjunct middle constructions, which involve some implicit or generic agent for which it is easy/pleasant to perform the action denoted by means of the instrument specified; see Section V3.2.2 for detailed discussion of these constructions.

a. Deze opener opent dat soort flessen heel gemakkelijk.
  this opener  opens  that sort [of] bottles  very easily
b. Deze kijker kijkt heel prettig.
  this viewer  looks  very pleasantly
[+]  4.  Er-nouns denoting experiencers

Certain subject-experiencer verbs can also form the input to er-nominalization. In that case, it is the experiencer argument that is represented by the -er ending. Once again, the input verb can be either intransitive, as in example (199a), or transitive, as in example (199b). In the transitive example the theme argument is inherited by the derived noun.

a. Jan tobt veel.
  Jan worries much
a'. Jan is een echte tobber
  Jan is a real worrier
b. Jan bewondert Picasso.
  Jan admires  Picasso
b'. Jan is een bewonderaar van Picasso.
  Jan is an admirer  of Picasso
[+]  5.  Er-nouns denoting themes

In addition to the cases discussed above, there are a number of rare and nonproductive occurrences like (200) in which the -er ending represents the theme argument. The noun martelaar in (200a) denotes the person undergoing the torture, while the noun aanrader in (200b) denotes the thing that is being recommended. The correct use of the noun gijzelaar in example (200c) is a subject of discussion: on its normative reading, it is used to refer to the hostages, that is, the theme of the action of kidnapping (for which Dutch also uses the deverbal noun gegijzelde); in colloquial speech, on the other hand, it is often used to refer to the kidnappers, that is, to the agent of the action (for which Dutch also uses the noun gijzelnemer).

a. martelaar 'martyr'
cf. martelen 'to torture’
b. aanrader 'something highly recommendable'
cf. aanraden 'to recommend’
c. gijzelaar 'hostage/kidnapper'
cf. gijzelen 'to kidnap’

The constructions in (201a&b) show that it is not possible to express the agent in these constructions by means of a van- or door-PP. Example (201a') suggests that the agent cannot be expressed by means of a possessive pronoun/genitive noun phrase either, although it seems difficult to determine whether Jan functions as the agent or as the possessor of the construction Jans aanrader in (201b'); if the latter, the unexpected acceptability of this construction is accounted for.

a. * de martelaar van/door de RomeinenAgent
  the martyr  of/by the barbarians
a'. * hunAgent martelaar
  their  martyr
b. * de aanrader van/door JanAgent
  the recommend-er  of/by JanAgent
b'. # JansAgent aanrader
  JanʼsAgent  recommend-er

The deverbal nouns in (200) exhibit behavior similar to deverbal nouns ending in -sel, which typically represent the theme argument: verzinsel'fabrication', baksel'baking', bouwsel'building/structure'; cf. Knopper (1984). For example, the construction with van in (202a) is only acceptable on a possessive reading; this becomes clear from the fact illustrated by (202b) that placement of the PP in postcopular position is possible, which is a hallmark of adjunct status; cf. Section 2.2.1, sub III.

a. *? het bouwsel van/door mijn broertjeAgent
  the building  of/by  my little brother
b. Dit bouwsel is van mijn broertjePoss.
  this building  is of  my little brother
  'This is my littler brotherʼs building.'
[+]  6.  Er-nouns denoting events

There are very rare cases in which er-nouns are used to refer to abstract entities. The actual denotation of these nouns may be either the result of the event denoted by the input verb or the event itself. Two examples are given in (203). The events involved are typically those involving actions over which the participants in the action have no control; cf. Van der Putten (1997: 147).

a. missen 'to miss'
a'. misser 'miss/failure'
b. uitglijden 'to slip/blunder'
b'. uitglijder 'slip/blunder'
[+]  B.  Type of input verb

Section, sub II, has established that er-nominalization is almost fully productive with intransitive and transitive input verbs. Among the verbs that do not allow er-nominalization are the nom-dat (object experiencer) verbs, the auxiliary/modal verbs, and the raising verbs, which do not allow any form of nominalization; cf. Section Apparent counterexamples are meevaller'piece of good luck' and tegenvaller'disappointment', which are derived from nom-dat verbs, but which denote -human entities; given that these nominalizations cannot occur with a complement (* een hem tegenvaller; * een haar meevaller) and have an idiomatic meaning only, we can safely assume that these er-nouns are fully lexicalized idiomatic expressions without an argument structure. In addition to the general restrictions mentioned above, the following subsections will discuss a number of restrictions that apply specifically to er-nouns.

[+]  1.  Monadic unaccusative verbs

Er-nouns prototypically denote +concrete+agent entities, so that, as a rule, a verb must have an external argument denoting the person or thing performing the action denoted by the verb in order to qualify for input to er-nominalization. After nominalization, this argument no longer forms part of the argument structure of the deverbal er-noun; by denoting the referent of this argument, the nominalizing affix -er “represents”, as it were, the external argument of the base verb.
      The unaccusative verbs behave differently in this respect: rather than denoting an action that is performed by the only argument, the verb denotes a process that the argument is subject to (which does not necessarily imply that the argument is not actively involved in bringing about the process). In other words, the argument of these verbs is a theme, and we therefore expect er-nominalization to be impossible. This expectation is indeed borne out in the case of unaccusative verbs indicating movement or a change of state. Some examples are given in (204), which all at least feel extremely marked, at least when considered in isolation; see the discussion below.

a. arriveren 'to arrive'
a'. *een arriveerder
b. vertrekken 'to leave'
b'. *een vertrekker
c. verschijnen 'to appear'
c'. *een verschijner
d. gaan 'to go'
d'. *een gaander
e. groeien 'to grow'
e'. *een groeier
f. vallen 'to fall'
f'. *een valler
g. stijgen 'to rise'
g'. *een stijger
h. verstrijken 'to pass by (of time)'
h'. *een verstrijker
i. zinken 'to sink'
i'. *een zinker

Other unaccusative verbs also yield questionable results: the er-nominalization of the unaccusative verbs in (205) yields odd results, although in Flemish Dutch, trouwer can be used with the intended reading, hence the “%” sign.

a. toenemen 'to increase'
a'. *een toenemer
b. sneuvelen 'to be killed (in action)'
b'. *een sneuvelaar
c. sterven 'to die'
c'. *een sterver
d. trouwen 'to marry'
d'. %een trouwer

      At the same time, it needs to be said that, given the proper context, even highly marked er-nouns can become acceptable. Example (205c'), for instance, could conceivably be used in an example such as (206a) to refer to an actor who excels in dying scenes, in which case we are dealing with a repeated and deliberately performed action. Observe that in this use verbs like sterven'to die' also allow a passive, as illustrated in (206b). This shows that these unaccusative verbs can behave like intransitive verbs in more than one respect (but not in all given that the auxiliary verb cannot be changed into hebben'to have').

a. Hij is een fantastische/overtuigende sterver.
  he  is a  fantastic/convincing  die-er
b. Er wordt overtuigend gestorven in die scène.
  there  is  convincingly  died  in that scene
  'There is some convincing dying in that scene.'

The nouns in (207) also exhibit unexpected behavior in the sense that incorporation of the theme argument may positively affect the acceptability of the derived noun. For example, although the movement verb komen'to come' does not allow the derivation of * komer, the compounds like laatkomer and nieuwkomer do exist. Cases like these involve a certain degree of lexicalization, as is clear from the fact that in the case of gaan, the er-noun has the irregular form - ganger.

Compound nouns with an er-noun derived from an unaccusative verb
verb simple er-noun compound
komen‘to come’ *komer laatkomer‘latecomer’
gaan‘to go’ *gaander vakantieganger‘holidaymaker’
vallen‘to fall’ *valler uitvaller‘drop-out’

In other cases, the derived noun exists as a lexicalized form, that is, with a specialized meaning. Thus the er-noun beginner denotes an inexperienced person, not just any person who begins. Likewise, the words stijger'climber/riser' and daler'faller/descender' can be used in the context of a listing or a competition (as in sports, charts or financial indexes); quite predictably, their reference is in that case to the person or item that climbs or falls. Two more examples are given in (206): the noun blijvertje in (206a) denotes entities that are of a more durable nature, not just to entities that stay in a certain place, and the noun binne n komer in (206b) refers to some funny introduction to a topic, not just to any entity that enters some place.

a. De CD-speler is een blijvertje.
  the CD-player  is a stay-er
  'The CD-player is here to stay.'
b. Die opmerking was een goede binnenkomer.
  that remark  was a nice inside-come-er
  'That remark was a nice preamble/warming-up spiel.'

All in all, it looks as though er-nouns derived from unaccusative verbs are either reinterpreted along the lines of a prototypical er-noun, that is, as denoting an agent as in the case of sterver'a person who repeatedly dies', or attains a specialized meaning as in beginner'debutant/novice'. This means that, although in many cases highly marked, every er-noun is in principle acceptable, provided that the right context is available. This is confirmed by the fact that many of the nouns in (205) and (206) can at least occasionally be found on the internet.
      There is another group of verbs that cannot be input to the process of er-nominalization, made up of monadic verbs such as those in (209). Although these verbs are generally regarded as intransitive, there are also reasons to regard them as unaccusative verbs; cf. Section V2.1.2. This view is supported by the fact that (on their monadic use) these verbs cannot easily undergo er-nominalization.

a. bloeden 'to bleed'
a'. #bloeder
b. drijven 'to float'
b'. #drijver
c. rotten 'to rot'
c'. *rotter
d. braden 'to fry'
d'. *brader
e. branden 'to burn'
e'. #brander
f. stinken 'to smell'
f'. ?stinker

Of course, a noun like brander is possible, but this noun does not denote burning entities (like a candle), but