• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all
3.3.2.Accusative/PP alternations
quickinfo

This section discusses alternations between accusative objects and PPs with various functions, subsection I starts with a brief discussion of the alternation between accusative phrases and complement PPs of the type in (443), in which the form of the verb remains constant.

443
a. Jan schopte zijn hond.
  Jan kicked  his dog.
a'. Jan schopte naar zijn hond.
  Jan kicked  at his dog
b. Jan bouwde een schip.
  Jan built  a ship
b'. Jan bouwde aan een schip.
  Jan built  at a ship
c. Jan at de cake.
  Jan ate  the cake
  'Jan ate the cake.'
c'. Jan at van de cake.
  Jan ate  from the cake
  'Jan ate of the cake.'

Standard Dutch accusative/PP alternations often go hand in hand with prefixation of the verb by be-, ver- and ont-, as is illustrated in (444).

444
a. Jan kijkt naar Marie.
  Jan looks at Marie
  'Jan is looking at Marie.'
a'. Jan bekijkt Marie.
  Jan be-looks  Marie
  'Jan is looking at Marie.'
b. Peter zorgt voor de paarden.
  Peter looks  after the horses
  'Peter takes care of the horses.'
b'. Peter verzorgt de paarden.
  Peter ver-looks.after  the horses
  'Peter takes care of the horses.'
c. Jan vlucht uit zijn vaderland.
  Jan flees  from his native country
  'Jan is fleeing his native country.'
c'. Jan ontvlucht zijn vaderland.
  Jan ont-flees  his native country
  'Jan is fleeing his native country.'

Unfortunately, a systematic syntactic investigation of the alternations in (444) seems to be lacking so far, but there is one specific (and more complex) accusative/PP alternation that has been studied more intensively, the so-called locative alternation illustrated in (445), in which a locative PP alternates with a direct object. The discussion in Subsection II will therefore take this alternation as its point of departure; information on accusative/PP alternations of the types in (444) will be given as we go along.

445
a. Jan laadde het hooi op de wagen.
  Jan loaded  the hay  on the wagon
b. Jan belaadde de wagen met hooi.
  Jan be-loaded  the wagon  with hay
readmore
[+]  I.  Transitive-oblique alternation

Some transitive verbs alternate with intransitive PO-verbs. Typical examples are schieten (op)'to shoot (at)', schrijven (aan)'to write (at)' and drinken (van)'to drink (from)' in (446); the accusative objects of the transitive verbs correspond to the nominal parts of the PP-complements.

446
a. Peter schiet een vogel.
  Peter shoots  a bird
a'. Peter schiet op een vogel.
  Peter shoots  at a bird
b. Marie schrijft een artikel.
  Marie writes  an article
  'Marie is writing an article.'
b'. Marie schrijft aan een artikel.
  Marie writes  at an article
  'Marie is writing at an article.'
c. Jan dronk een glas wijn.
  Jan drank  a glass [of] wine
c'. Jan dronk van een glas wijn.
  Jan drank  from a glass [of] wine

Alternations of the type in the (a)-examples in (446) exhibit a systematic meaning difference: while the transitive verb in the primeless example takes an affected object, the theme of the intransitive PO-verb in the primed examples is not necessarily affected by the activity denoted by the verb, as is clear from the fact that (447a), but not (447b), is semantically incoherent. For this reason the intransitive PO-verbs are sometimes referred to as conative; such verbs describe "an attempted action without specifying whether the action was actually carried out" (Levin 1993:42).

447
a. $ Jan schoot een vogel maar miste.
  Jan shot  a bird  but  missed
b. Jan schoot op een vogel maar miste.
  Jan shot  at a bird  but  missed

      The transitive verb in example (446b) takes a so-called incremental theme, that is, a theme that comes into existence step-by-step as the result of the action denoted by the verb. Example (446b) is telic and thus implies that, after completion, Marie's activity will have resulted in the writing of an article, as is clear from the fact that the use of the perfect tense in (448a) implies the existence of an article written by Marie. This implication is entirely lacking in the perfect-tense counterpart of example (446b') given in (448b). This difference may perhaps also account for the fact that the direct but not the prepositional object may occur as the complement of an inherently telic predicate like voltooien'to complete' in the primed examples.

448
a. Marie heeft gisteren het artikel geschreven.
  Marie has  yesterday  the article  written
  'Marie wrote the article yesterday.'
a'. Marie heeft gisteren het artikel voltooid.
  Marie has  yesterday  the article  completed
  'Marie completed the article yesterday.'
b. Marie heeft gisteren aan het artikel geschreven.
  Marie has  yesterday  at the article  written
  'Marie wrote at the article yesterday.'
b'. * Marie heeft gisteren aan het artikel voltooid.
  Marie has  yesterday  at an article  completed

The verb in example (446c) is similar to the verb in (446b) in that the theme changes over time, but now it does not come into existence, but it disappears step-by-step as result of the action denoted by the verb, for which reason we may speak of a decremental theme; the perfect-tense counterpart of (446c) in (449a) implies that Jan's glass is now empty. Such an implication is entirely lacking in the perfect-tense counterpart of example (446b') given in (449b).

449
a. Jan heeft daarnet een glas wijn gedronken.
  Jan has  just.now  a glass [of] wine  drank
  'Jan drank a glass of wine just now.'
b. Jan heeft daarnet van een glas wijn gedronken.
  Jan has  just.now  from a glass [of] wine  drank
  'Jan drank from a glass of wine just now.'

The number of simple verbs taking a decremental theme is quite small, given that such verbs tend to take a verbal particle like op in (450); if we include such particle verbs the number greatly increases. Note in passing that the verbal particle cannot appear in the corresponding constructions with intransitive PO-verbs, which is probably due to the fact that verbal particles function as complementives, and thus need a nominal phrase as their logical subject; cf. Section 2.2.1.

450
a. Jan snoepte de kaas *(op).
  Jan nibbled  the cheese     up
  'Jan nibbled the cheese up.'
b. Jan snoepte van de kaas (*op).
  Jan nibbled  the cheese     up
  'Jan nibbled/has been nibbling at the cheese.'

In cases such as (451), the transitive-oblique alternation involves prefixation. De Haas & Trommelen (1993:67-8) describe the meaning of the derived verbs as "directing the action denoted by the input verb to a certain object", subsection II will briefly return to this kind of alternation.

451
a. Jan keek naar het schilderij.
  Jan looked  at the painting
  'Jan looked at the painting.'
a'. Jan bekeek het schilderij.
  Jan looked.at  the painting
  'Jan examined the painting.'
b. Petrarca zong over Laura.
  Petrarch  sung  about Laura
  'Petrarch sung about Laura.'
b'. Petrarca bezong Laura.
  Petrarch sung.about  Laura
  'Petrarch sung (his praise) of Laura.'
c. Jan reed op het paard.
  Jan rode  on the horse
c'. Jan bereed het paard.
  Jan rode.on  the horse

Example (452) provides a small sample of the verb types discussed in this section which are mainly taken from Van Hout (1996:52-3).

452
Transitive-oblique alternations
a. Affected theme verbs: bijten (naar)'to bite (at)', duwen (tegen)'push (against)'schieten (op)'to shoot (at)', schoppen (naar)'to kick (at)', slaan (naar)'to hit (at)', trappen (naar)'to kick (at)', trekken (aan)'pull (on)'Affected theme verbs: bijten (naar)'to bite (at)', duwen (tegen)'push (against)' schieten (op)'to shoot (at)', schoppen (naar)'to kick (at)', slaan (naar)'to hit (at)', trappen (naar)'to kick (at)', trekken (aan)'pull (on)'
b. Incremental theme verbs: bouwen (aan)'to build (on)', breien (aan)'to knit (on)', draaien (aan)'to turn', naaien (aan)'to sew (on)', schilderen (aan)'to paint (at)', schrijven (aan)'to write (on)'Incremental theme verbs: bouwen (aan)'to build (on)', breien (aan)'to knit (on)', draaien (aan)'to turn', naaien (aan)'to sew (on)', schilderen (aan)'to paint (at)', schrijven (aan)'to write (on)'
c. Decremental theme verbs: eten (van)'to eat of', drinken (van)'to drink (from)', nemen (van)'to take (of)'Decremental theme verbs: eten (van)'to eat of', drinken (van)'to drink (from)', nemen (van)'to take (of)'
d. be-verbs: denken aan/bedenken'to think of/up', luisteren naar/beluisteren'to listen to/to listen carefully', liegen tegen/beliegen'to lie to/to belie', rijden op/berijden'to ride on', spotten met/bespotten'to mock at/to mock', spreken over/bespreken'to talk about/to discuss', voelen aan/bevoelen'to feel at/to palpate'be-verbs: denken aan/ bedenken'to think of/up', luisteren naar/ beluisteren'to listen to/to listen carefully', liegen tegen/ beliegen'to lie to/to belie', rijden op/ berijden'to ride on', spotten met/ bespotten'to mock at/to mock', spreken over/bespreken'to talk about/to discuss', voelen aan/ bevoelen'to feel at/to palpate'
[+]  II.  Locative alternation (type I)

A well-known verb frame alternation in English is the so-called locative alternation shown in (453). The two alternants both contain a located and a reference (= location denoting) object, but the ways in which these are syntactically realized are different. Example (453a) is a resultative construction in which the reference object is expressed by means of the complementive PP on his face that is predicated of the located object mud, which, in turn, is realized as the accusative object of the clause. In example (453b), on the other hand, the reference object is realized as the accusative object, whereas the located object is realized by means of a with-PP; see Levin (1993) for more English data.

453
a. John smeared mud on his face.
b. John smeared his face with mud.

The examples in (454) show that Dutch has a similar verb frame alternation. The Dutch alternation differs from its English counterpart, however, in that it goes hand in hand with a morphological change; the verb in (454b) seems to be derived from the verb in (454a) by means of prefixing by be-; cf. Hoekstra et al. (1987).

454
a. Jan smeerde modder op zijn gezicht.
  Jan smeared  mud  on his face
b. Jan be-smeerde zijn gezicht met modder.
  Jan be-smeared  his face  with mud

The prefix be- is part of a small set of prefixes with a number of remarkable properties, subsection A starts with a discussion of these affixes in derived verbs denoting a change of location or a path. After that Subsection B shows that constructions containing such verbs are quite similar to resultative constructions, that is, constructions that contain a complementive.

[+]  A.  The prefixes be-, ver- and ont-

The prefix be- in example (454b) belongs to a small set of prefixes that are special in that they have the ability to change the category of the stem. Normally this property is restricted to suffixes, as is expressed by Williams' (1981) right-hand head rule, according to which the rightmost member in a morphologically complex word determines the category (as well as other properties) of the complex word. This is what we find in Table (455), in which the suffixes -el, -er, and -ig determine the category of the derived form; they are verb creating suffixes.

455
Regular complex verbs
suffix stem complex verb
-el brokN'piece' brokkelen'to crumble'
  hinkV'to limp' hinkelen'to play hopscotch'
-er snotN'snot' snotteren'to snivel'
  kiepV'to dump' kieperen'to dump/tumble'
-ig steenN'stone' stenigen'to stone'
  reinA'clean' reinigen'to clean'

Table (456) shows that the prefixes be-, ver- and ont- may also turn nouns and adjectives into verbs. The only other Dutch prefix that has a similar category changing ability is the nominalizing prefix ge-, which was discussed in Section N1.3.1.4; cf. zeurenV 'to nag' - gezeurN 'nagging'.

456
Verbs derived by the prefixes be-, ver- and ont-
suffix stem complex verb
be- dijkN'dike' bedijken'to dike in'
  zatA'drunk' bezatten 'to get/make drunk'
  smerenV'smear' besmeren'to smear on'
ver- zoolN'sole' verzolen'to sole'
  dunA'thin' verdunnen'to dilute'
  zwijgenV'to be silent' verzwijgen'to keep silent about'
ont- bosN'forest' ontbossen'to deforest'
  nuchterA'sober' ontnuchteren'to sober up'
  bindenV'to bind' ontbinden'to dissolve'

Table (456) just provides a couple of typical examples without doing justice to the fact that the nine types of derived verbs can be further divided into several subclasses with special semantic properties; see De Haas & Trommelen (1993) for extensive discussion. Since this section is concerned with the locative alternation, we will focus especially on those derived verbs denoting a change of location or a path; see Section P1.3.1.1 for these notions.

[+]  1.  Deverbal verbs prefixed with be- denoting a change of location

Deverbal verbs prefixed with be- come in various types, subsection I, for example, has shown that in many cases the accusative object of the derived verb corresponds to the nominal part of a prepositional phrase in constructions with the corresponding simple verb; cf. (457).

457
a. Jan spreekt over het probleem.
  Jan talks  about the problem
a'. Jan bespreekt het probleem.
  Jan discusses  the problem
b. De doktor voelde aan zijn arm.
  the doctor  felt  at his arm
b'. De dokter bevoelde zijn arm.
  the doctor  palpated his arm

The present discussion focuses on the locative alternation in (458), in which the prepositional reference object in (458a) surfaces as the direct object of the derived verb in (458b); that the noun phrase has the grammatical function of direct object in this example will be clear from the fact that it is promoted to subject in the corresponding passive construction in (458c). The accusative located object from (458a) surfaces as an optional met-PP in (458b&c); when omitted, the located object is semantically implied in the sense that we can still infer that the reference object is covered with "pastable" objects.

458
a. Jan plakt posters op de muur.
  Jan pastes  posters  on the wall
b. Jan be-plakt de muur (met posters).
  Jan be-pastes  the wall  with posters
c. De muur wordt be-plakt (met posters).
  the wall  is  be-pasted  with posters

There is a marked meaning difference between the two examples in (458a&b): whereas (458a) is compatible with a reading in which the located object covers only part of the reference object, (458b) implies that the reference object is fully (or at least to a very large extent) covered by the located object. This can be brought to the fore by replacing the plural noun phrase de posters in (458) by a singular one; while (459a) is easily possible, example (459b) is only acceptable in the less probable case that the poster covers the wall completely.

459
a. Jan plakt een poster op de muur.
  Jan pastes  a poster  on the wall
  'Jan is pasting a poster on the wall.'
b. $ Jan be-plakt de muur met een poster.
  Jan be-pastes  the wall  with a poster

This contrast suggests that deverbal be-verbs express that their objects are affected as a whole. This might be further supported by the fact that example (458a) also alternates with the construction in (460a), in which the notion of total affectedness is expressed by means of the adjective vol'full'. The crucial observation is that this adjective is not compatible with deverbal be-verbs, which could be accounted for by claiming that (460b) is tautologous: vol and the prefix be- in a sense perform the same semantic function. We will return to a more formal account of this point in Subsection B.

460
a. Jan plakt de muur vol (met posters).
  Jan pastes  the wall  full with posters
b. * Jan be-plakt de muur vol (met posters).
  Jan be-pastes  the wall  full   with posters

Note in passing that the notion of total affectedness should not be taken too literally given that the extent to which the reference object is affected can be further specified by means of attributive modifiers like heel/half'whole/half' or degree modifiers like helemaal/gedeeltelijk'completely/partly'; cf. (461). This suggests that the relevant meaning aspect is simply "affectedness" with the interpretation of "total affectedness" as a default value, which can be overridden by the addition of the modifiers mentioned above.

461
a. Jan be-plakt de hele/halve muur (met posters).
  Jan be-pastes  the whole/half wall   with posters
a'. Jan be-plakt de muur helemaal/gedeeltelijk (met posters).
  Jan be-pastes  the wall  completely/partly   with posters
b. Jan plakt de hele/halve muur vol (met posters).
  Jan pastes  the whole/half wall  full   with posters
b'. Jan plakt de muur helemaal/gedeeltelijk vol (met posters).
  Jan pastes  the wall  completely/partly full   with posters

Table 3 provides a small sample of verbs of the type in (458). Note that not all verbs in this table can also be combined with vol'full'; this is possible with the first five, but not with the latter three. This suggests that the prefix be- and the adjective vol are not fully equivalent semantically; see Van Hout (1996:48) for a first attempt to describe this meaning difference.

Table 3: Deverbal verbs prefixed with be- expressing a change of location
stem verb translation
hangen'to hang' behangen met to paper with
laden 'to load' beladen met to load with
leggen 'to put' beleggen met to fill (a sandwich) with
plakken 'to paste' beplakken met to paste with
smeren 'to smear' besmeren met to smear with
sproeien'to spray' besproeien met to spray with
spuiten'to spray' bespuiten met to spray with
strooien'to strew' bestrooien met to strew with

Note in passing that the verbs in Table 3 do not constitute a uniform set and may exhibit diverging behavior in other respects. For example, whereas the verb plakken must be prefixed with be- in order for the reference object to surface as an accusative object, this does not hold for the verbs laden'to load', (een boterham) smeren'to spread (a sandwich)', (het gazon) sproeien'to water (the lawn)', and (de auto) spuiten'to spray (the car)'; the examples in (462) show for two of these verbs that they alternate not only with the (b)- but also with the (c)-examples.

462
a. Jan smeert boter op zijn brood.
  Jan smears  butter  on his bread
a'. Jan laadt het hooi op de wagen.
  Jan loads  the hay  on the truck
b. Jan be-smeert zijn brood (met boter).
  Jan be-smears  his bread   with butter
b'. Jan be-laadt de wagen (met hooi).
  Jan be-loads the truck  with hay
c. Jan smeert zijn brood (??met boter).
  Jan smears  his bread  with butter
c'. Jan laadt de wagen (?met hooi).
  Jan loads  the truck    with hay

Our judgments in (462) suggest that the met-PP gives rise to a somewhat better result in the (b)- than in the (c)-examples, but this has not been seriously investigated so far. It is also interesting to note that Dutch deverbal be-verbs crucially differ from their English counterparts in that they always allow omission of the met-PP. Hoekstra et al. (1987) note that the English deverbal be-verbs fall into two subgroups in this respect: verbs corresponding to Dutch verbs allowing the (c)-alternant in (462), like to load and to spray in (463a&b), tend to take an optional with-phrase; verbs corresponding to Dutch verbs not allowing this alternant, like to hang and to pack in (463c&d), take an obligatory with-phrase. See Hoekstra & Mulder (1990:20) for more discussion of this contrast between Dutch and English.

463
a. John was loading the hay (on the wagon).
a'. Jan was spraying his car (with paint).
b. John was hanging the wall *(with posters).
b'. John was packing the donkey *(with trunks).
[+]  2.  Denominal verbs prefixed with be-denoting a change of location

De Haas & Trommelen (1993:68-9) show that denominal verbs prefixed with be- can be of various types; here we are interested in cases such as such as (464b). Example (464b) has a meaning similar to (464a), but in addition expresses that the reference object is totally affected; after completion of the activity the bread will be fully covered with butter. Example (464b) further shows that, in a sense, the located object boter'butter' has been incorporated into the verb, that is, has become an inherent part of the be-verb. The prepositional reference object op het brood'on the bread', on the other hand, surfaces as the accusative object of the denominal verb, as is clear from the fact that it is promoted to subject of the clause in the regular passive construction in (464c).

464
a. Jan smeert boter op het brood.
  Jan smears  butter  on the bread
b. Jan be-botert het brood.
  Jan be-butters  the bread
c. Het brood wordt (door Jan) beboterd.
  the bread  is   by Jan  buttered

The examples in (465) show that there is a conspicuous syntactic difference between the two examples in (464a&b); whereas the assertion in (464b) can be made more specific by adding a substance denoting met-PP, the addition of such a PP leads to an incoherent reading in the case of (464a). In order to express the more specific assertion, we should substitute the noun phrase margarine for the direct object boter, as in (465a'). This shows that the denotation of the nominal part of the be-verb has become less prominent as the result of incorporation.

465
a. * Jan smeert boter op het brood met margarine.
  Jan smears  butter  on the bread  with margarine
a'. Jan smeert margarine op het brood.
  Jan smears  margarine  on the bread
b. Jan be-botert het brood met margarine.
  Jan be-butters  the bread  with margarine

The examples in (466) further show that the formation of be-verbs is not fully productive; a noun like jam in (466) cannot be used as the stem of a be-verb. This suggests that the attested denominal be-verbs are listed in the lexicon.

466
a. Jan smeert jam op zijn brood.
  Jan smears  jam  on  his bread
b. * Jan be-jamt zijn brood.

      A small sample of be-verbs of the type in (464) is given in Table 4. The first column provides the nominal stem of the verb and its English translation, the second column gives the derived verb, and the third column gives a translation or paraphrase in English.

Table 4: Denominal verbs prefixed with be- expressing a change of location
stem verb translation
bos'wood' bebossen to afforest
dijk'dike' bedijken to put dikes around/next to
mest 'manure' bemesten to manure
modder 'mud' bemodderen to put mud on
schaduw'shadow' beschaduwen to cast shadow on
vracht'load' bevrachten to put a load on
water'water' bewateren to water

Observe that it is sometimes hard to tell whether we are dealing with a denominal or a deverbal be-verb. The examples in (467), for instance, suggest that beplanten'to plant with' may be deverbal or denominal.

467
a. Jan plantV rozen in zijn tuin.
  Jan plants  roses  in his garden
b. Jan zet plantenN in zijn tuin.
  Jan puts  plants  in his garden
c. Jan be-plant zijn tuin (met rozen).
  Jan be-plants  his garden  with roses
[+]  3.  Deverbal verbs prefixed with be- denoting a direction

The examples discussed in the previous subsections involve some change of location; some entity is relocated with respect to some reference object. The examples in (468) are different in that they involve a path: example (468a) expresses that Jan covers a path that has its endpoint within the hall, and (468b) that Jan covers a path that goes to the top of the mountain.

468
a. Jan treedt de zaal binnen.
  Jan steps  the hall  inside
  'Jan steps into the hall.'
a'. Jan be-treedt de zaal.
  Jan be-steps  the hall
  'Jan enters the hall.'
b. Peter klimt de berg op.
  Peter climbs  the mountain  onto
  'Peter climbs onto the mountain.'
b'. Peter be-klimt de berg.
  Peter be-climbs  the mountain
  'Peter climbs onto the mountain.'

Levin (1993:43) discusses this alternation as a special case but it seems that we are dealing with basically the same phenomenon; the verb is prefixed with be-, and the postpositional phrase de zaal binnen and de berg op are replaced by noun phrases that function as direct objects. The fact that the noun phrases in the primeless and primed examples have different syntactic functions is clear from the fact that they behave differently under passivization; the complement of the postpositional phrase in the primeless examples cannot be promoted to subject, whereas the complement of the be-verb in the primed examples can. This is illustrated in (469) for the (b)-examples in (468).

469
a. * De berg werd vaak op geklommen.
  the mountain  was  often  onto  climbed
b. De berg werd vaak beklommen.
  the mountain  was  often  be-climbed

There is also, however, an essential difference between the change of location and the directional cases; the stem of the directional be-verbs typically belongs to the class of unaccusative verbs. The examples in (470) illustrate the inability of verbs of transitive resultative constructions (that is, constructions in which the complementive is predicated of an accusative noun phrase) to act as the stem of a directional be-verb.

470
a. Jan duwt de autoʼs de berg op.
  Jan pushes  the cars  the mountain  onto
  'Jan pushes the cars onto the mountain.'
a'. * Jan be-duwt de berg (met de autoʼs).
b. De politie slaat de demonstranten het ziekenhuis in.
  the police  hits  the demonstrators  the hospital  into
  'The police are hitting the demonstrators into the hospital.'
b'. * De politie be-slaat het ziekenhuis (met demonstranten).

be-verbs denoting a change of location are not restricted in this way, as will be clear from the difference between the (b)-examples in (470) and the examples in (471).

471
a. Jan slaat de platen op de muur.
  Jan hits  the slabs  onto the wall
b. Jan be-slaat de muur met platen.

In fact, stems of the deverbal be-verbs denoting a change of location are typically transitive. Unaccusative verbs of change of location verbs like vallen'to fall' cannot be used as the input to be-verbs; the examples in (472b&c) show that the reference object can appear neither as an accusative nor as a nominative noun phrase and that the located object cannot be realized as a met-PP.

472
a.