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7.2.3.The adjectival part

This section discusses the adjectival part of the partitive genitive construction. We will focus especially on the question of what adjective types can be used in this construction. Anticipating what follows, we can say that the correct generalization seems to be that the adjectives that occur in the partitive genitive construction constitute a proper subset of the adjectives that can be used as complementives: in other words, adjectives that can be used attributively only are excluded from this construction.

Adjectival part of the partitive genitive construction: the set of partitive genitive adjectives is a proper subset of the adjectives that can be used as complementives.

Section 1.3 has distinguished four semantic classes of adjectives: (i) the set-denoting, (ii) the relational, and (iii) the evaluative adjectives, and what we have called (iv) the residue. It has been shown there that all adjectives in class (i), a restricted set of adjectives from class (ii), and virtually none of the adjectives in classes (iii) and (iv) can be used as complementives. This section will show that these findings correspond nicely with what we find in the partitive genitive construction.

[+]  I.  Set-denoting adjectives

Generally speaking, set-denoting adjectives can be readily used both in prenominal attributive position and as complementives; cf. Section 1.3.2. The doubly-primed examples in (55) show that these adjectives also occur as partitive genitives.

Partitive genitive
a. een handige doek
  a handy towel
a'. Deze doek is handig.
  this towel is handy
a''. iets handigs
  something handy
b. een klein doosje
  a small box
b'. Het doosje is klein.
  the box is small
b''. iets kleins
  something small
c. een speciale kleur
  a special color
c'. Die kleur is speciaal.
  that color is special
c''. iets speciaals
  something special

This does not mean, however, that all set-denoting adjectives can be used in the partitive genitive construction; the subsections below will show that the six subclasses of set-denoting adjectives in (56) cannot.

Predicative adjectives that cannot occur as partitive genitives
a. adjectives that can only be predicated of +animate noun phrases;
b. adjectives that take a proposition as their logical subject;
c. adjectives that take weather het as their subject;
d. adjectives that take a nominal complement;
e. superlatives;
f. adjectives that end in /a/, /o/, /i/, /e/, /y/ or schwa.
[+]  A.  Adjectives predicated of +animate entities

The first subclass consists of adjectives that, at least in their predicative use, express properties that can only be attributed to a +animate entity. Some examples are given in (57) to (59); see Section 1.3.4 for a discussion of the examples in (57b) and (58b).

a. een dronken man
  a drunk man
a'. Die man is dronken.
  that men is drunk
a''. * iets dronkens
  something drunk
b. een dronken bui
  a drunken fit
b'. * Die bui is dronken.
   that fit is drunk
a. een verlegen jongen
  a shy boy
a'. De jongen is verlegen.
   the boy is shy
a''. * iets verlegens
   something shy
b. een verlegen glimlach
  a shy smile
b'. * Die glimlach is verlegen.
  that smile is shy
a. een zwangere vrouw
  a pregnant woman
a'. De vrouw is zwanger.
  the woman is pregnant
a''. * iets zwangers
   something pregnant
b. een loopse teef
  an in.season bitch
b'. Deze teef is loops.
   this bitch is in.season
b''. * iets loops
   something in.season

Subsection F will show that adjectives that end in a schwa, such as beige'beige' or frêle'delicate', give rise to a marked result in the partitive genitive construction: ?iets beiges/frêles. One might therefore want to claim that the doubly-primed examples in (57) and (58) are excluded because the adjectives dronken and verlegen are normally pronounced with a final schwa. However, other cases of adjectives ending in en do occasionally occur in this construction, in which case the /n/ seems to be phonetically realized; cf. (68b) below. In fact, the relevant examples are judged acceptable by some (but not all) speakers in contexts like (60a&b), which show that they are not blocked for phonological reasons. The cases in (60) are special in that the adjectives do not attribute a property to an animate being: iets dronkens in (60a) refers to some aspect of Janʼs appearance, iets verlegens/loops in (60b&c) refers to some aspect of the behavior of Peter/the dog, and iets zwangers in (60d) refers to Marieʼs way of walking.

a. Jan heeft iets dronkens over zich.
  Jan has  something drunk  about him
b. Er zit iets verlegens in Peters gedrag.
  there  is  something shy  in Peterʼs behavior
c. Er zit iets loops in het gedrag van de hond.
  there  is  something  in.season  in the behavior  of the dog
d. ? Er zit iets zwangers in Maries manier van lopen.
  there  is  something pregnant  in Marieʼs way of walking

Note that the constructions with the verb zitten in (60b-d) alternate with the construction with the verb hebben'to have' in (61), in which the entity to which the partitive genitive construction attributes the relevant property appears as the subject of the clause. The examples in (60 ) and (61) clearly deserve more attention in the future; see Schoorlemmer (2005) for some discussion.

a. Peters gedrag heeft iets verlegens.
  Peterʼs behavior  has  something shy
b. Het gedrag van de hond heeft iets loops.
  the behavior of the dog  has  something  in.season
c. ? Maries manier van lopen heeft iets zwangers.
  Marieʼs way of walking  has  something pregnant

      The exclusion of adjectives that modify +animate nouns only is probably related to the fact that the quantifiers iemand'someone' and niemand'no one' cannot be used as the nominal part of a partitive genitive construction. Moreover, the partitive genitive construction as a whole never refers to a +animate entity: iets slims'something smart' denotes a thing, e.g., a plan, not an animate being. The examples in (62) illustrate this again by showing that the predicatively used partitive genitive construction iets leuks can be predicated of a -animate noun phrase such as een feest'a party' but not over a +animate noun phrase like die man'that man'. This can be accounted for if we assume that the features of the nominal predicate and its subject must match, from which it follows that the partitive genitive construction has the feature -animate.

a. Dat feest wordt iets leuks.
  that party  becomes  something nice
b. * Die man is iets leuks.
  the man  is something nice

Constructions like those in (63) can of course be found, but these assertions are offensive given that they represent the +human subject as an object. The primed examples show that replacement of the indefinite noun phrase by a proper noun or a referential pronoun renders the examples unacceptable.

a. Een slaaf is iets onmisbaars.
  a slave  is something indispensable
a'. * Jan/Hij is iets onmisbaars.
  Jan/he  is something indispensable
b. Een vrouw is iets ongrijpbaars.
  a woman  is something impalpable
b'. * Marie/Zij is iets ongrijpbaars.
   Marie/she  is something impalpable

      Finally, it can be noted that adjectives that take a PP-complement can only be used as a partitive genitive if the PP can precede the adjective; cf. the discussion of (8) and (9) in Section 7.1. Since Section 2.1, sub I, has shown that adjectives like these generally select a +animatesubject, it does not come as a surprise that they hardly ever occur in the partitive genitive construction.

[+]  B.  Adjectives predicated of a proposition

The examples in (64) give examples from the second subset of set-denoting adjective that cannot be used in the partitive genitive construction. These involve adjectives like jammer'a pity', mogelijk'possible' and zeker'certain', which normally take a proposition as their logical subject; Section 6.5 has shown that the proposition is normally expressed by a clausal subject preceded by the anticipatory non-referential pronoun het'it', or referred to by the anaphoric neuter demonstrative dit/dat'this/that'.

a. [Dat Anke ziek wordt] is mogelijk.
  that Anke ill becomes  is possible
  'Itʼs possible that Anke will be ill.'
a'. *? iets mogelijks
   something possible
b. [Dat Jan er morgen niet is] is jammer.
  that Jan there tomorrow not is  is a pity
  'Itʼs a pity that Jan wonʼt be there tomorrow.'
b'. * iets jammers
  something pitiful

In contrast to the adjective mogelijk in (64a), the adjective onmogelijk may take a noun phrase as its subject, and, as expected, it can also appear in the partitive genitive construction.

a. Jans gedrag is (volstrekt) onmogelijk/*mogelijk.
  Janʼs behavior  is   completely  impossible/possible
  'Janʼs behavior work is completely unacceptable.'
b. iets (volstrekt) onmogelijks
[+]  C.  Weather adjectives

The third subclass consists of adjectives like bewolkt'cloudy', regenachtig'rainy' and benauwd'hard to breathe' that take so-called weather het as their subject in predicative structures. Some examples are given in (66).

a. een bewolkte dag
  cloudy  day
a'. Het is bewolkt.
  it  is cloudy
a''. * iets bewolkts
   something cloudy
b. regenachtig weer
  rainy  weather
b'. Het is regenachtig.
  it  is rainy
b''. * iets regenachtigs
   something rainy
[+]  D.  Adjectives that take a nominal complement

The fourth subclass consists of adjectives that take a nominal complement. Section 2.2 has shown that we should distinguish between adjectives that take a genitive and adjectives that take a dative complement; we will discuss these in separate subsections. A third subsection is devoted to adjectives with a nominal complement that cannot be used attributively.

[+]  1.  Adjectives with a genitive complement

Adjectives that take a genitive nominal complement, such as bewust'conscious', moe/zat/beu'tired', machtig'in command of', are always predicated of a +animate noun phrase. Consequently, these adjectives cannot occur as partitive genitives for the same reasons as those indicated in Subsection A above.

a. Hij is deze opera zat.
  he  is this opera  weary
  'Heʼs weary of this opera.'
a'. * iets deze opera zats
b. Hij is het Frans machtig.
  he  is the French  in.command.of
  'Heʼs able to speak French.'
b'. * iets het Frans machtigs
[+]  2.  Adjectives with a dative complement

Adjectives that take a dative nominal complement, such as aangeboren'innate', bespaard'spared', duidelijk'clear', (on)bekend'(un)known', vreemd'foreign' and vertrouwd'familiar', may be predicated of a -animate noun phrase.

a. Deze omgeving is Peter erg vertrouwd.
  this area  is Peter very familiar
  'This area is very familiar to Peter.'
b. De Universele Grammatica is de mens aangeboren.
  the Universal Grammar  is the man  innate
  'Universal Grammar is innate to man.'
c. Deze oplossing is Peter onduidelijk.
  this solution  is Peter  unclear
  'This solution is unclear to Peter.'

Nevertheless, the primeless examples in (69) show that the partitive genitive use of these adjectives often leads to a degraded result. It should be noted, however, that the result improves somewhat if the noun phrase is replaced by a pronoun. The primed examples show that, if the dative noun phrase is optional, the partitive genitive constructions become fully acceptable if the noun phrase is dropped.

a. iets *Peter/?mij vertrouwds
  something    Peter/me  familiar
a'. iets vertrouwds
b. iets *de mens/?ons aangeborens
  something    the man/us  innate
b'. iets aangeborens
c. iets *Peter/?mij onduidelijks
  something    Peter/me  unclear
c'. iets onduidelijks

Most gradable adjectives can also be combined with a dative nominal complement if the intensifierte'too' is added.

a. Dat boek is Peter te moeilijk.
  that book  is Peter too difficult
  'That book is too difficult for Peter.'
b. Het water is Marie te koud.
  the water  is Marie  too cold
  'The water is too cold for Marie.'

Again, the partitive genitive use of the adjective is excluded if the noun phrase is present, although the same distinction between full noun phrases and pronouns arises as in the primeless examples in (69).

a. iets *Peter/?mij te moeilijks
  something    Peter/me  too difficult
a'. iets te moeilijks
b. iets *Marie/?mij te kouds
  something    Marie/me  too cold
b'. iets te kouds
[+]  3.  Adjectives that can only be used a predicative complement

Some adjectives that take a nominal complement can be used as a complementive only; cf. Section 6.2.3, sub V. As expected, the partitive genitive use of these adjectives is not possible.

a. Hij is zijn trui kwijt.
  he  is his sweater  lost
  'He has lost his sweater.'
a'. * iets kwijts
   something  lost
b. Hij is het spoor bijster.
  he  is the track  lost
  'He lost his way.'
b'. * iets bijsters
   something  lost

It is not clear, however, whether this must be attributed to the fact that the adjectives select a nominal argument or to the fact that they cannot be used attributively. The latter is suggested by the fact that adjectives like braak'fallow' and gelegen'convenient' in (73), which are like the adjectives in (72) in that they can be used predicatively only but unlike them in that they do not select a nominal complement, cannot be used in the partitive genitive construction either. Other examples are afhandig maken'deprive of' and gewaar worden'to become aware'. Note that the examples in this subsection are all more or less fixed expressions.

a. Dit weiland ligt braak.
  this meadow  lies fallow
a'. * iets braaks
   something  fallow
b. dit boek komt gelegen
  this book  comes  convenient
b'. * iets gelegens
   something  convenient
[+]  E.  Superlatives

The final subclass consists of the (absolute) superlatives. Example (74c'') shows that superlatives are excluded from the partitive genitive construction, whereas their corresponding positive and comparative forms are fully acceptable. The examples in (74d&e) show that periphrastic comparatives and superlatives behave just like the morphological comparatives in the doubly-primed examples in (74b&c).

a. een leuk boek
  a nice book
a'. Dit boek is leuk.
  this book is nice
a''. iets leuks
   something nice
b. een leuker boek
  a nicer book
b'. Dit boek is leuker.
  this book is nicer
b''. iets leukers
   something nicer
c. het leukste boek
  the nicest book
c'. Dit boek is het leukst.
  this book the nicest
c''. * iets (het)leuksts
   something nicest
d. een minder leuk boek
  a less nice book
d'. Dit boek is minder leuk.
  this book is less nice
d''. iets minder leuks
   something less nice
e. het minst leuke boek
  the least nice book  
e'. Dit boek is het minst leuk.
  this book is the least nice
e''. * iets (het) minst leuks
   someth. the least nice

We will see below, however, that we cannot immediately conclude from the unacceptability of (74c''&e'') that superlatives cannot occur as partitive genitives. First, observe that the predicatively used adjectives in (74c'&e') are preceded by the determiner(-like) element het. We have seen in Section 4.3.2, however, that there are superlative forms preceded by aller- that can be used as a predicate without het, the so-called pseudo-superlative. The English renderings in (75) show that the presence or absence of het corresponds to a semantic difference: alleraardigst in (75a) is preceded by het and the copular construction expresses that Jan has the property of being kind to the highest degree; alleraardigst in (75b), on the other hand, is not preceded by het, and the copular construction expresses that Jan has the property of being kind to a very high degree.