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6.6.PP subjects

Section 6.5, sub IVA, has discussed the differences between the het-construction in (274a) and the easy-to-please-construction in (274b). We concluded that these two constructions differ in that in the former the infinitival clause acts as the logical subject of the adjective moeilijk'difficult', whereas in the latter it is the noun phrase dit probleem'this problem' that acts as such.

a. Het is moeilijk [om dit probleem op te lossen].
  it  is difficult  comp  this problem  prt.  to solve
b. dit probleem is moeilijk [OPi om [PRO ti op te lossen]].
  this problem  is difficult  comp  prt.  to solve

Now consider the examples in (275), in which the square brackets indicate the boundaries of the infinitival clause. Bennis & Wehrmann (1987) have suggested that example (275b) may receive a analysis similar to example (274b); it is not the infinitival clause, but the locational PP that acts as the logical subject of the AP.

a. Het is erg gezellig [om PRO in de tuin te eten].
  it  is very nice  comp  in the garden  to eat
  'Itʼs very nice to eat in the garden.'
b. Het is in de tuin erg gezellig [om PRO te eten].
  it  is in the garden  erg nice  comp  to eat
[+]  I.  Two analyses

The suggestion that (275b) must be analyzed along the same lines as the easy-to-please-construction in (274b) implies that the infinitival clause in (275b) contains a moved empty operator OP which is interpreted as identical to the locational PP in de tuin, as in (276a).

Het is [in de tuin]i erg gezellig [OPi om [PRO ti te eten]].
  it  is   in the garden  very nice  comp  to eat

One reason to adopt this analysis is based on the set of examples in (277). Example (277a) shows that there are verbal predicates, like wonen'to live', which require the presence of a locational phrase (or, alternatively, a qualifying adverb; cf. (290a) in Section 6.7). Example (277b) shows that if the verb wonen functions as the main verb of an infinitival clause, the same restriction applies. Nevertheless, the locational PP need not (in fact: cannot) be expressed within the infinitival clause if the main clause contains one. By assuming that (277c) involves an empty operator OP that is coindexed with this locational PP, the apparent violation of the selection restrictions of the verb wonen is solved. The primed examples show that the two constructions occur not only in the copular but also the vinden-construction.

a. Jan woont *?(in Amsterdam).
  Jan lives     in Amsterdam
b. Het is gezellig [om PRO *(in Amsterdam) te wonen].
  it  is nice  comp    in Amsterdam  to live
b'. Ik vind het gezellig [om PRO *(in Amsterdam) te wonen].
  consider  it  nice  comp    in Amsterdam  to live
c. Het is *([in Amsterdam] i) gezellig [OPi om [PRO ti te wonen]].
  it   is      in Amsterdam  nice  comp  to live
c'. Ik vind het *([in Amsterdam]i) gezellig [OPi om [PRO ti te wonen]].
  consider  it      in Amsterdam  nice  comp  to live

      Of course, the analysis in the (c)-examples is surprising, as PPs generally do not occur as subjects. An alternative analysis would be to assume that the locational PP in the matrix clause originates from within the dependent clause, and that its surface position is the result of movement. In that case, the structure of (277c) is not as indicated there, but as in (278a).

Het is [in Amsterdam]i gezellig [om PRO ti te wonen].
  it  is  in Amsterdam  nice  comp  to live

A problem with this analysis is, however, that the movement depicted in (278a) crosses a clause boundary, which is generally excluded. This is illustrated in (279b), which involves movement of the PP from a complement clause.

a. Jan beloofde [om PRO in Amsterdam te gaan wonen].
  Jan promised  comp  in Amsterdam to go  live
  'Jan promised to live in Amsterdam in the future.'
b. * Jan beloofde [in Amsterdam]i [om PRO ti te gaan wonen].

Another problem for this alternative proposal is that the infinitival clause need not be present; a movement analysis along the line of (278) is not possible for (280a), whereas its acceptability is completely compatible with the analysis in (277c). The problem (280a) poses for the alternative analysis would of course be solved if it could be shown that the PP is actually an adverbial phrase in this example. A potential argument in favor of this assumption is that the PP seems to be optional, as shown in (280b). It should be noted, however, that the pronoun het is referential in (280b), but not in (280a). In (280b), the pronoun refers to something mentioned earlier in the discourse, e.g., watching television, which is also clear from the fact illustrated in (280b') that it can be replaced by the demonstrative pronoun dit'this'. If the PP is present, on the other hand, the pronoun het cannot be construed referentially: example (280a) just expresses that Amsterdam is a nice place and het cannot be replaced by a demonstrative, as is shown in (280a').

a. Het is in Amsterdam gezellig.
  it  is in Amsterdam  nice
a'. # Dit is in Amsterdam gezellig.
b. Het is gezellig.
  it  is nice
b'. Dit is gezellig.

This suggests that locational PPs may indeed act as logical subjects of an AP, although it is clear that more research is needed in order to establish this claim more firmly. It is interesting to note, however, that in all examples so far, the locational PP can be replaced by the locative proforms hier'here' and daar'there' (cf. (281a)), and that such proforms can actually occupy the subject position in Swedish (cf. (281b&c), taken from Holmberg (1986:68)).

a. Het is hier/daar gezellig.
  it  is here/there  cozy
b. Här är tråktigt.
  here  is  boring
  'Itʼs very boring here.'
c. Där var mycket vackert.
  there  was  very  pretty
  'It was very pretty there.'

      The PPs in the examples above all denote a location, but the same construction can be found with PPs denoting a path. If one were to discuss two alternatives routes from Amsterdam to Groningen, one could use either (282a) or (282b); cf. the examples in (275). The fact that the PP is the logical subject of the adjective is again supported by the facts that the infinitival clause in (282b) can be dropped, as in (282c), and that the pronoun het cannot be replaced by the demonstrative dit; cf. the discussion of the primed examples in (280).

a. Het is korter [om PRO door de polders naar Groningen te rijden].
  it  is shorter  comp  through the polders  to Groningen  to drive
  'Itʼs shorter to drive to Groningen through the polders.'
b. Het is door de polders korter [om PRO naar Groningen te rijden].
c. Het/*Dit is door de polders korter.

      For completeness’ sake, we conclude this subsection by noting that, besides the examples with om + te infinitives discussed above, we also find constructions such as (283) with bare infinitives. Given that the infinitive must precede the finite verb in clause-final position, we are probably dealing with a nominalization functioning as a complementive; if so, the PPs can probably be analyzed as logical subjects of the nominal predicate. To our knowledge, examples such as (283) have not been studied so far.

dat het *(in Amsterdam) gezellig wonen is.
  that  it      in Amsterdam  nice  live  is
[+]  II.  PP subjects and clausal subjects

The examples from Subsection I with a PP subject (if that is the correct analysis) differ in various respects from the cases involving a clausal subject. Section 6.5, sub IC, has shown that if a clausal subject occupies the sentence-initial position, the anticipatory pronoun het cannot be realized. In the constructions under discussion, however, the anticipatory pronoun het must be present if the PP is preposed. This is illustrated in (284).

a. In Amsterdam is *(het) gezellig om te wonen.
  in Amsterdam is    it  nice comp  to live
b. Door de polders is *(het) korter om naar Groningen te rijden.
  through the polders  is   it  shorter  comp  to Groningen  to drive

It should be noted, however, that the two examples in (284) exhibit divergent behavior if the infinitival clause is dropped, as in (285): examples without het are acceptable then if the PP denotes a path, but not if it denotes a location. It is not clear what this tells us, given that (285b) without the pronoun het could in principle be construed as a colloquial form of “telegraphic speech", as a shorthand for the more elaborate sentence in (285b'). Although Neeleman (1997) argues against this by pointing out that the presumed reduction process should be limited to PP-modifiers that denote a path, let us provisionally assume that the reduction analysis is correct, and put example (285b) aside as irrelevant.

a. In Amsterdam is *(het) gezellig.
  in Amsterdam is     it  nice
b. Door de polders is (het) korter.
  through the polders  is    it  shorter
b'. De route door de polders is (*het) korter.
  the route through the polders  is it shorter

      The fact that the pronoun het must be present if the PP is preposed may suggest that the anticipatory pronoun is not associated with the PP at all, but with the infinitival clause. The examples in (286) strongly suggest that this alternative proposal is not tenable. Recall that Section 6.5, sub I, has shown that it is possible to prepose the infinitival clause and a predicative adjective in isolation if the former functions as a clausal subject of the latter (cf, subsections C and D), but that preposing of the adjective and the infinitival clause as a whole is impossible in that case (cf. Subsection E). The examples in (286) show that the facts are just the reverse in the construction under discussion; although the (c)-examples are somewhat marked, the contrast with the (a)- and (b)-examples is quite sharp. These facts strongly suggest that the alternative analysis, according to which the infinitival clause acts as the logical subject of the adjective gezellig/korter, is incorrect.

a. * Om te wonen is het in Amsterdam gezellig.
  comp to live  is it  in Amsterdam nice
a'. * Om naar Groningen te rijden is het door de polders korter.
  comp to Groningen  is it  through the polders  shorter
b. * Gezellig is het in Amsterdam om te wonen.
b'. * Korter is het door de polders om naar Groningen te rijden.
c. ? Gezellig om te wonen is het in Amsterdam niet.
c'. ?? Korter om naar Groningen te rijden is het door de polders niet.
[+]  III.  PP subjects of weather adjectives

The primeless examples in (287) show that weather adjectives like warm'warm', heet'hot', kil'chilly', koud'cold' and nat'wet' typically occur with a PP subject that denotes a location. As in (280a), the pronoun het is non-referential in the sense that it cannot refer to some entity in the discourse, and therefore it cannot be replaced by a demonstrative pronoun. This contrasts sharply with examples without a locational phrase, where the pronoun het can have either a non-referential or a referential interpretation: in the former case, illustrated in the singly-primed examples, the PP subject has simply been left implicit, and in the latter case, illustrated in the doubly-primed examples, the pronoun acts as the subject of the adjective, which is also clear from the fact that it can be replaced by a demonstrative pronoun then.

a. Het/*Dit is hier warm.
  it/this  is here  warm
  'Itʼs warm in here.'
b. Het/*Dit is nat in Amsterdam.
  it/this  is wet  in Amsterdam
  'Itʼs raining in Amsterdam.'
a'. Het/*Dit is warm vandaag
  it/this is warm  today
  'Itʼs warm today.'
b'. Het/*Dit is nat vandaag.
  it/this  is wet  today
  'Itʼs raining today.'
a''. Het/Dit is warm.
  it/this  is warm
  'It/This is warm.'
b''. Het/Dit is nat.
  it/this  is wet
  'It/This is wet.'

PP subjects that denote a location occur not only in the copular construction but also in resultative and vinden-constructions. These are illustrated in (288a) and (288b), respectively. PP subjects that denote a path can also be found in the vinden-construction. This is shown in (288c).

a. De zon maakt het hier/in de kamer lekker warm.
  the sun  makes  it  here/in the room  comfortably warm
b. Ik vind het hier/in de kamer lekker warm.
  consider  it  here/in the room  comfortably warm
c. Ik vind het door de polders veel leuker.
  consider  it  through the polders  much nicer

      To conclude, it should be noted that adjectives such as gezellig and the weather adjectives may also occur in constructions of the type in (289). Again, the pronoun het is obligatorily present and cannot be replaced by a demonstrative. Nevertheless, the semantic relation seems to be somewhat different than in the earlier examples; instead of referring to a property of the place mentioned in the PP, the adjectives seem to refer to a sensation experienced by the persons denoted by the +animate subject of the clause.

a. We hebben het/*dit gezellig in Amsterdam.
  we  have  it/this  sociable in Amsterdam
  'Weʼre very sociable in Amsterdam.'
b. We kregen het/*dit erg koud in de tuin.
  we  got  it/this  very cold  in the garden
  'We were getting rather cold in the garden.'
  • Bennis, Hans & Wehrmann, Pim1987Adverbial argumentsBeukema, Frits & Coopmans, Peter (eds.)Linguistics in the Netherlands 1987Dordrecht1-11
  • Holmberg, Anders1986Word order and syntactic features in the Scandinavian languages and EnglishStockholmUniversity of Stockholm, Department of General LinguisticsThesis
  • Neeleman, Ad1997PP-complementsNatural Language & Linguistic Theory89-137
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