• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all regular passive

This section discusses personal passive constructions, that is, passive constructions with a derived subject. Two cases of personal passives should be distinguished: regularworden-passives such as (60b), whichinvolve promotion to subject of the direct objects of the corresponding active constructions, and so-called krijgen-passives such as (60c), whichinvolve promotion to subject of the indirect objects. This section is concerned with the regular passive; the krijgen-passive will be discussed in Section

a. Marienom biedt hemdat het boekacc aan.
  Marie  offers  him  the book  prt.
b. Het boeknom wordt hemdat (door Marie) aangeboden.
regular passive
  the book  is  him   by Marie  prt.-offered
c. Hijnom krijgt het boekacc' aangeboden (door Marie).
  he  gets  the book  prt.-offered    by Marie
[+]  I.  Verbs entering the regular passive

This subsection discusses the types of verbs that may enter the regular passive. Since the core property of the passive is the demotion of the external argument, it does not really come as a surprise that the core cases of the regular passive involve verbs with an agentive or causer subject. There are, however, several special cases, which will also be discussed in this subsection.

[+]  A.  Verbs with an agentive subject

Since agents are typically +animate entities, the regular passive involves the demotion of an animate subject in the majority of cases, as in the (a)-examples in (61). However, Section, sub III, has shown that, if an inanimate entity is construed as agentive, passivization is possible as well. This is illustrated again by the (b)-examples.

a. Jan bestudeert het passief.
  Jan investigates  the passive
  'Jan is investigating the passive.'
a'. Het passief wordt door Jan bestudeerd.
  the passive  is  by Jan  investigated
  'The passive is investigated by Jan.'
b. Die machine sorteert het huisafval.
  that machine  sorts.out  the household.garbage
  'That machine sorts out the household garbage.'
b'. Het huisafval wordt door die machine gesorteerd.
  the  household.garbage  is  by that machines  sorted.out
[+]  B.  Verbs with a causer/cause subject

A causer can be considered a special kind of agent, and it is therefore not surprising that verbs with a causer subject can also be passivized. This is illustrated here by means of the transitive verb breken'to break' in the (a)-examples in (62). The demoted subject of the causative verb can also be inanimate as long as it is construed as the causer of the event; this is shown in the (b)-examples.

a. Jan breekt de vaas.
  Jan  breaks  the vase
a'. De vaas wordt (door Jan) gebroken.
  the vase  is   by Jan  broken
b. Die machine breekt het afgekeurde porselein.
  that machine  breaks  the disapproved china
  'That machine breaks the disapproved china.'
b'. Het afgekeurde porselein wordt door die machine gebroken.
  the disapproved china  is  by that machine  broken

The primed examples in (63) suggest that causative object experiencer psych-verbs like irriteren'to irritate' and overtuigen'to convince' (cf. Section, sub II) can also be passivized. This requires, however, that the met-PP referring to the cause (the means by which the causer brings about the mental state of the experiencer) is not overtly realized.

a. JanCauser irriteert haarExp met zijn gezeurCause.
  Jan  irritates  her  with his nagging
a'. Zij wordt door Jan geïrriteerd (*met zijn gezeur).
  she  is  by  Jan  irritated     with his nagging
b. JanCauser overtuigt haarExp met zijn verhaalCause.
  Jan  convinces  her  with his story
b'. Zij wordt door Jan overtuigd (*met zijn verhaal).
  she  is  by Jan  convinced     with his story

A typical property of the psych-verbs in (63) is that the cause can also be realized as the subject of the active construction, as in the primeless examples of (64). The primed examples again suggest that passivization of such causative psych-constructions is possible.

a. Zijn gezeurCause irriteert haarExp.
  his nagging  irritates  her
a'. Zij wordt door zijn gezeur geïrriteerd.
  she  is  by his nagging  irritated
b. Zijn verhaalCause overtuigde haarExp.
  his story  convinced  her
b'. Zij werd door zijn verhaal overtuigd.
  she  was  by his story  convinced

The claim that we are dealing with passives in the primed examples in (63) and (64) presupposes that the door-PPs are agentive phrases similar to the ones we find in unequivocal passive examples. This seems, however, to be at odds with the fact that the door-phrases in (64) contain an inanimate, non-agentive noun phrase. Furthermore there is an alternative analysis according to which the door-phrases function as causative adjuncts comparable to the ones we find in unaccusative constructions like De ruit brak door de harde wind'The window broke due to the hard wind'. A final reason for doubting the passive analysis of the primed examples in (63) and (64) is that the verb worden can be replaced by raken'to get', which is typically used with a copular-like function.

a. Zij raakte/werd door Jan/zijn gezeur geïrriteerd.
  she  got/became  by  Jan/his nagging  irritated
b. Zij raakte/werd door Jan/zijn verhaal overtuigd.
  she  got/became  by Jan/his story convinced

The examples in (65) strongly suggest that the verb worden in (63) and (64) is also used as a copular verb meaning "become". If so, we would expect that in embedded clauses the participle must precede the finite verb. The judgments on the primed examples in (66) show, however, that this expectation is not really borne out; for at least some speakers the order worden-participle is considerably better than the order raken-participle.

a. dat zij door Jan/zijn gezeur geïrriteerd raakte/werd.
  that  she  by Jan/his nagging  irritated  got/became
a'. dat zij door Jan/zijn gezeur *raakte/%werd geïrriteerd.
b. dat zij door Jan/zijn verhaal overtuigd raakte/werd.
  that  she  by Jan/his story  convinced  got/became
b'. dat zij door Jan/zijn verhaal *raakte/%werd overtuigd.

We therefore conclude that it is not entirely clear on the basis of the currently available evidence whether we are dealing with passive or copular (adjectival passive) constructions in the primed examples in (63) and (64); see Section, sub IID, for more relevant discussion.
      We conclude with a discussion of a set small set of causative non-experiencer verbs exhibiting behavior more or less similar to that of object experiencer psych-verbs like irriteren'to irritate', cf. Section, sub V. A typical example is the verb verduidelijken'to clarify' in (67), which, like irriteren, allows the subject of the active construction to be either a causer or a cause.

a. JanCauser verduidelijkte de stelling met een voorbeeldCause.
  Jan  clarified  the thesis  with an example
a'. De stelling werd (door Jan) met een voorbeeld verduidelijkt.
  the thesis  was   by Jan  with an example  clarified
b. Dit voorbeeldCause verduidelijkt de stelling aanzienlijk.
  this example  clarifies  the thesis  considerably
b'. De stelling wordt door dit voorbeeld aanzienlijk verduidelijkt.
  the thesis  is  by this example  considerably  clarified

It is again not clear whether the primed examples are passive counterparts of the primeless examples, given that the door-phrase is causative in nature. This is especially evident in this case given that some of these causative verbs may also take a causative door-phrase in the active voice. As a result there is no doubt that the door-phrase in (68c) can be construed as causative.

a. Jan redde de situatie door zijn doortastend optreden.
  Jan saved  the situation  by his vigorous action
b. Zijn doortastend optreden redde de situatie.
  his vigorous action  saved  the situation
c. De situatie werd gered door zijn doortastend optreden.
  the situation  was  saved  by his vigorous action

If (68c) were a passive construction and if the door-phrase in this example were the same type of phrase as the door-phrase in (68a), we would expect that we may add an additional agentive door-phrase in (68c). Our intuitions given in (69) are not entirely clear and depend on the precise positions of the two door-phrases.

a. ?? Door zijn doortastend optreden werd de situatienom door Jan gered.
  by his vigorous act  was  the situation  by Jan  saved
b. ?? De situatienom werd door Jan door zijn doortastend optreden gered.
c. ?? De situatienom werd door zijn doortastend optreden door Jan gered.
d. *? Door Jan werd de situatienom door zijn doortastend optreden gered.

It seems premature to us to draw any conclusions from the examples in (69); again it is not clear on the basis of the currently available evidence whether we are dealing with a passive or a copular (adjectival passive) construction in the primed examples in (67).

[+]  C.  Other verbs

There are various types of non-agentive/non-causative verbs with inanimate subjects that nevertheless do allow passivization. Some examples are given in (70). Other verbs of this type are begrenzen'to bound', omcirkelen'to encircle', omlijsten'to frame', omringen'to surround', overdekken'to cover', and overwoekeren'to overgrow'. Observe that the passive counterparts of the stative primeless examples in (70) require the door-phrase to be present; if it is absent the passive verbs receive an agentive, activity reading.

a. De snelwegen omringen dat huis aan alle kanten.
  the highways  surround  that house  at all sides
a'. Dat huis wordt aan alle kanten #(door snelwegen) omringd.
  that house  is  at all sides     by highways  surrounded
b. Tal van rivieren doorsnijden het land.
  many of rivers  crisscross  the land
  'A great number of rivers crisscross the land.'
b'. Het land wordt #(door tal van rivieren) doorsneden.
  the land  is     by many of rivers  crisscrossed
  'A great number of rivers crisscross the land.'

Other non-agentive verbs that can be found in the regular passive are verbs taking an object with propositional content like aantonen'to demonstrate', bewijzen'to prove', demonstreren'to show/demonstrate', bepalen'to determine', impliceren'to imply' as well as the verb vormen'to make up'. The examples in (71) show that in these cases too, the passive constructions must contain a door-PP.

a. Die maatregelen impliceren een grotere werkloosheid.
  these measures  imply  a greater unemployment
  'These measures imply greater unemployment.'
a'. Een grotere werkloosheidnom wordt *(door die maatregelen) geïmpliceerd.
  a greater unemployment  is      by these measures  implied
b. Twaalf dozijn vormt een grosacc.
  twelve dozen  makes.up  a gross
  'Twelve dozen make up a gross.'
b'. Een grosnom wordt gevormd *(door twaalf dozijn).
  a gross  is  made.up      by twelve dozen

The (a)-examples in (72) show that measure verbs like duren'to last', kosten'to cost', tellen'to count' and wegen'to weigh' with a non-agentive subject cannot be passivized. If the verb denotes an activity, as in the (b)-examples, passivization is possible.

a. Peter weegt 100 pond.
  Peter weighs  100 pound
a'. * 100 pond wordt/worden (door Peter) gewogen.
  100 pound  is/are   by Peter  weighed
b. Peter weegt de appels.
  Peter weighs  the apples
b'. De appels worden (door Peter) gewogen.
  the apples  are   by Peter  weighed
  'The apples are being weighed by Peter.'

The difference between the two sets of examples could in principle be attributed to the non-agentive nature of the subject in (72a), but it is sometimes also assumed that it is the nature of the nominal complement (here: 100 pond) that is relevant; it is not a direct object but a predicatively used phrase comparable to the adjective zwaar in Jan weegt zwaar'Jan weighs heavy'.

[+]  II.  The derived subject of the regular passive

This subsection discusses a number of properties of derived subjects in regular passive constructions.

[+]  A.  The thematic role of the derived subject

Since regular passivization results in promotion to subject of the theme argument of the active verb, it is sometimes claimed that an important function of regular passivization is "externalization" of the internal argument of the active verb. Section, sub IV, has already shown that this cannot be correct; the obligatoriness of the complementives van de tafel af'from the table' and kapot'broken' in the primeless examples in (73) shows that the accusative noun phrases are subjects (external arguments) of these phrases, and not internal arguments of the verb vegen.

a. Jan veegde de kruimels *(van de tafel af).
  Jan wiped  the crumbs     from the table af
a'. De kruimels werden (door Jan) van de tafel af geveegd.
  the crumbs  were   by Jan  from the table af  wiped
b. Jan veegde de bezem *(kapot).
  Jan  brushed  the broom    broken
b'. De bezem werd (door Jan) kapot geveegd.
  the broom  was   by Jan  broken  brushed

Section, sub IV, concluded from this that, in contrast to the active verb, the passive participle is unable to assign accusative case to the noun phrase de kruimels/de bezem, which must therefore be promoted to subject in order to receive nominative case. That we are not dealing with externalization of the internal argument is also clear from the fact that arguments that are not assigned accusative case but surface in the form of a PP cannot be promoted to subject; intransitive PO-verbs only give rise to impersonal passivization; see Subsection IVB.

a. Wij spraken lang over die jongen/hem.
  we  talked  a.long.time  about that boy/him
  'We talked about that boy/him for a long time.'
b. Er werd (door ons) lang over die jongen/hem gesproken.
  there  was   by us  long  about that boy/him  talked
b'. * Die jongen/Hij werd (door ons) lang over gesproken.
  that boy/he  was   by us  a.long.time  about  talked

The (a)-examples in (75) show the same thing for complement clauses. Note in passing that the expletiveer in (75a') does not have the syntactic function of subject, that is, it is not an anticipatory pronoun introducing the embedded clause. This function is restricted to the pronoun het in the (b)-examples. The passive examples in (75) thus differ in that the passive construction in (75a') is an impersonal passive, whereas the one in (75b') is a regular passive.

a. Jan zei dat het boek gestolen was.
  Jan  said  that  the book  stolen  was
  'Jan said that the book was stolen.'
a'. Er werd (door Jan) gezegd dat het boek gestolen was.
  there  was   by Jan  said  that  the book  stolen  was
b. Jan zei het dat het boek gestolen was.
  Jan  said  it  that  the book  stolen  was
  'Jan said it that the book was stolen.'
b'. Het werd (door Jan) gezegd dat het boek gestolen was.
  it  was   by Jan  said  that  the book  stolen  was
[+]  B.  Placement of the derived subject (nominative-dative inversion)

In English, the derived subject is not only assigned nominative case but also obligatorily placed in the regular subject position of the clause. The latter does not hold for Dutch: the derived subject may remain in its original position, that is, the position normally occupied by the direct object of the active verb. This can readily be demonstrated by means of the passive counterparts of the active ditransitive construction in (76a); the derived object may either follow or precede the indirect object, an option that is not available to the subject of active constructions (like Jan in (76a)).

a. dat Jan de kinderendat dat mooie boekacc aangeboden heeft.
  that  Jan the children  that beautiful book  prt.-offered  has
  'that Jan offered the children that beautiful book.'
b. dat de kinderendat dat mooie boeknom aangeboden werd.
  that  the children  that beautiful book  prt.-offered  was
b'. dat dat mooie boeknom de kinderendat aangeboden werd.
  that  that beautiful book  the children  prt.-offered  was

The difference between the two (b)-examples in (76) is related to the information structure of the clause: if the derived subject surfaces in its original position, as in (76b), it typically belongs to the focus ("new" information) of the clause, whereas it is presented as part of the presupposition("old" information) of the clause if it is placed in the canonical subject position, as in (76b'). That this is the case is supported by the distribution of (non-specific) indefinite noun phrases like een mooi boek'a beautiful book', which typically belong to the focus, and referential personal pronouns like het'it', which typically belong to the presupposition of the clause; the examples in (77) show that the former normally follow and the latter precede the indirect object.

a. dat de kinderen een mooi boek/*het aangeboden werd.
  that  the children  a beautiful book/it  prt.-offered  was
  'that a beautiful book was offered to the children.'
b. dat het/*een mooi boek de kinderen aangeboden werd.
  that  it/a beautiful book  the children  prt.-offered  was
  'that it was offered to the children.'

The examples in (76) and (77) show that the placement of the derived subject into the regular subject position is subject to conditions similar to scrambling of nominal objects; cf. Section N8.1.3. This is not really surprising given that the placement of subjects of active clauses is also subject to similar conditions. This is illustrated in example (78a), in which the position of the adverbial phrase gisteren'yesterday' shows that the subject does not have to occupy the canonical subject position right-adjacent to the complementizer. The (b)- and (c)-examples show that the information structure of the clause is also involved in this case. Note in passing that the presence of er in (78b) depends on whether gisteren'yesterday' is presented as part of the focus or the presupposition of the clause; cf. N8.1.4. Note further that we assume a more or less neutral intonation pattern; example (78b') becomes acceptable if the noun phrase een student is assigned contrastive focus.

a. dat <die student> gisteren <die student> weer belde.
  that  that student  yesterday  again  phoned
b. dat (er) gisteren een student belde.
  that  there  yesterday  a student  phoned
b'. ?? dat een student gisteren belde.
c. dat <hij> gisteren <*hij> belde.
  that    he  yesterday  phoned

For completeness' sake, it can further be observed that in some cases the derived subject can never be placed in the regular subject position. This holds for passive counterparts of idiomatic expressions like (79a&b), in which the obligatory presence of the expletive er'there' suggests that the derived subject is not in the canonical subject position. The reason for this is probably that the derived subject is not referential, and therefore cannot be part of the presupposition of the clause.

a. dat Jan een stokje voor dat plan stak.
  that  Jan  a stick  in.front.of that plan  put
  'Jan forestalled that plan.'
a'. dat ??(er) een stokje voor dat plan gestoken werd.
  that  there  a stick  in.front.of that plan  put  was
b. dat Peter de draakacc met Els stak.
  that  Peter  the dragon  with Els  stabbed
  'Peter always made fun of Els.'
b'. dat ?(er) de draaknom met Els werd gestoken.
  that  there  the dragon  with Els  was  stabbed
[+]  C.  Grammatical function of the promoted object in the active clause

The derived subject in regular passives normally corresponds to the accusative phrase in the corresponding active clause. In some cases, however, it seems that dative phrases can also be promoted to subject in the regular passive.

[+]  1.  Transitive, ditransitive and intransitive PO-verbs

English and Dutch differ with respect to the original grammatical function of the object that is promoted to subject in passive constructions. This does not, of course, hold for regular passives of transitive clauses, given that the direct object is the only available one in such cases.

a. Marienom slaat haaracc.
  Marie  beats  her
b. Zijnom wordt/is (door Marie) geslagen.
  she  is/have.been   by Marie  beaten
  'She is/has been beaten (by Marie).'

English and Dutch do differ, however, if the verb is ditransitive. In English, the derived subject may correspond to either the direct or the indirect object, depending on whether the indirect object is realized as a noun phrase or a PP. In Dutch, on the other hand, it is normally the direct object that is promoted to subject, as is shown in the examples in (81).

a. Ik bood de boeken aan Jan aan.