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6.3.1.Semi-aspectual verbs

This section discusses some properties of semi-aspectual constructions such as Zij staan daar te praten'They are talking over there'. We start with a discussion of the form and function of the semi-aspectual verb, which is followed by a discussion of a number of semantic and formal properties of the infinitival complement. We will also show that semi-aspectual constructions exhibit monoclausal behavior, and conclude by discussing the word order restrictions on the clause-final verb cluster.

[+]  I.  The non-main verb

Semi-aspectual verbs correspond to main verbs like zitten'to sit', liggen'to lie', and staan'to stand', which refer to a certain posture or position of the subject of the clause, as well as the verb of movement lopen'to walk'. The examples in (148) shows that the semi-aspectual verbs are normally interchangeable, but that the denotation of the main verb may sometimes affect the preferred option; for example, activities that are normally performed while standing, like afwassen'washing the dishes', will normally take the semi-aspectual staan'to stand'.

a. Jan ligt/zit/staat/loopt te lezen.
  Jan lies/sits/stands/walks  to read
  'Jan is reading.'
b. Jan staat/$zit/$ligt/$loopt af te wassen.
  Jan stands/sits/lies/walks  prt.  to wash
  'Jan is washing the dishes.'

The examples in (148) show that the lexical meaning of the main verbs corresponding to the semi-aspectual non-main verbs can but need not be present. This is also supported by the fact that examples like those in (149a&b) can be used without any problems when the speaker cannot observe the referent of the subject of the clause and is thus not able to tell whether this referent is actually sitting or walking at the moment of speech. Furthermore, semi-aspectual zitten can also co-occur with main verb zitten; this would be very surprising if the former had preserved the lexical meaning of the latter.

a. Jan zit momenteel te werken.
  Jan sits  at.present  to work
  'Jan is working at the moment.'
b. Els loopt momenteel over het probleem te piekeren.
  Els walks  at.present  on the problem  to worry
  'Els is worrying about the problem at the moment.'
c. De oude man zit daar maar te zitten.
  the old man  sits  there  prt   to sit
  'The old man is sitting there all the time.'

The primary function of the semi-aspectual verbs is to indicate that we are dealing with an ongoing event; they create a progressive construction comparable (but not identical) to the English progressive construction, which we have therefore used in our renderings of the examples in (148) and (149).

[+]  II.  Semantic restrictions on the infinitival complement

The lexical projection of the main verb normally denotes an activity, as in the primeless examples in (150); the primed examples show that telic events (that is, achievements and accomplishments) normally give rise to less felicitous results, although it is certainly not impossible to encounter cases such as (150b'). The relevance of telicity is highlighted by means of the numbers given in straight brackets, which provide the results of a Google search (7/13/2102) on the strings [ligt te rollen], [ligt van * af te rollen], [zit/ligt te slapen] and [zit/ligt in slaap te vallen].

a. De jongen ligt te rollen op de grond.
  the boy  lies  to roll  on the ground
  'The boy is rolling on the ground.'
a'. * De jongen ligt van de heuvel af te rollen.
  the boy  lies  from the hill  af  to roll
  'The boy is rolling from the hill.'
b. De baby zit/ligt te slapen.
  the baby  sits/lies  to sleep
  'The baby is sleeping.'
b'. % De baby zit/ligt in slaap te vallen.
  the baby  sits/lies  in sleep  to fall
  'The baby is falling asleep.'

Generally speaking, semi-aspectual verbs cannot be combined with verb phrases denoting states: examples such as (151) are only possible with a very special "pretense"-reading, which can be brought out by adding the adverbial phrase weer eens'once again'; probably this special reading makes the event dynamic.

a. Jan zit *(weer eens) aardig te zijn.
  Jan sits    again once  nice  to be
  Only reading: 'Heʼs acting being a nice person.'
b. Jan zit *(weer eens) alles beter te weten.
  Jan sits    again once  all  better to know
  Only reading: 'Heʼs pretending to know everything again.'

We also tend to think that the lexical projection of the main verb normally denotes an activity that can be controlled by the subject of the clause. As a result the subject is typically animate, as will be clear from comparing example (152) with example (150a).

? De bal ligt te rollen op de grond.
  the ball  lies  to roll  on the ground
'The ball is rolling on the ground.'

That the subject must be able to control the event can be brought to the fore by means of the examples in (153): whereas events denoted by the perception verbs kijken'to look' and luisteren'to listen' are typically controlled by the subject, events denoted by zien'to see' and horen'to hear' are not, and this may account for the contrast in acceptability between the two primed examples.

a. Jan luistert/kijkt naar de vogels.
  Jan listens/looks  to the bird
  'Jan is listening to/looking at the birds.'
a'. Jan zit naar de vogels te luisteren/kijken.
  Jan sits  to the birds  to listen/look
  'Jan is listening to/looking at the birds.'
b. Jan ziet/hoort de vogels.
  Jan sees/hears  the birds
  'Jan is seeing/hearing the birds.'
b'. * Jan zit de vogels te zien/horen.
  Jan sits  the birds  to see/hear

However, clear exceptions to this general rule are cases in which the event involves an involuntary bodily function or some natural process, as is clear from the fact that examples such as (154) are very frequent. Since control by the subject is not involved, it is not surprising that we frequently find inanimate subjects in such contexts.

a. Jan zit te rillen van de kou.
  Jan sits  to shiver  of the cold
  'Jan is shivering with cold.'
b. Het eten ligt te bederven in de ijskast.
  the food  lies  to decay  in the fridge
  'The food is decaying in the fridge.'
c. De zon/kachel/kaars staat te branden.
  the sun/stove/candle  stands  to burn
  'The sun/stove/candle is burning.'

Another potential exceptional case is (155a) with the reflexive psych-verb zich ergeren'to be annoyed' which at first sight seems to denote an involuntary mental state. It is, however, not so clear whether it is indeed the case that events denoted by such reflexive psych-verbs cannot be controlled by the referent of the subject of the clause; example (155b) strongly suggests that the mental state denoted by zich amuseren'to amuse oneself' is consciously brought about by Jan himself.

a. Jan loopt zich te ergeren aan Maries gedrag.
  Jan walk  refl  to annoyed  to Marieʼs behavior
  'Jan is annoyed at Marieʼs behavior.'
b. Jan zit zich te amuseren met zijn nieuwe computerspelletje.
  Jan sits  refl  to amuse  with his new computer game
  'Jan is amusing himself with his new computer game.'
[+]  III.  The form of the infinitival complement

The examples given in the previous subsections have already illustrated that semi-aspectual verbs take te-infinitives as their complement: the examples in (156) show that leaving out the infinitival marker te leads to ungrammaticality.

a. Jan zit/ligt/staat *(te) lezen.
  Jan sits/lies/stands     to  read
  'Jan is reading.'
b. Peter loopt de hele dag *(te) zeuren
  Peter walks  the whole day     to nag
  'Peter is nagging all day.'

However, in constructions such as (157), in which the semi-aspectual verbs appear as infinitives themselves, the infinitival marker te preceding the main verb can usually be left out; leaving te in even seems to lead to a marked result; cf. Haeseryn et al. (1997:970ff.)

a. Jan kan hier lekker zitten (??te) lezen.
  Jan may  here  comfortably  sit     to  read
  'Jan can read comfortably here.'
a'. Jan lijkt hier lekker te zitten (??te) werken.
  Jan appears  here  comfortably  to sit      to work
  'Jan appears to work comfortably here.'
b. Els zal wel de hele dag over het probleem lopen (??te) piekeren.
  Els will  prt  the whole day  on the problem  walk      to  worry
  'Els will probably be worrying all day about that problem.'
b'. Els schijnt de hele dag over het probleem te lopen (??te) piekeren.
  Els seems  the whole day  on the problem  to walk      to  worry
  'Els seems to be worrying all day about that problem.'

However, it does seem the case that the use of the marker te always give rise to a degraded result if the aspectual verb has the form of an infinitive. In perfect-tense constructions such as (158), in which the semi-aspectual verb surfaces as an infinitive as a result of the infinitivus-pro-participio (IPP) effect, the marker te seems optional; the construction without te often seems to be the preferred one, as is clear from the fact that it occurs much more frequently, but the corresponding construction with te is certainly acceptable to us.

a. Jan heeft de hele dag zitten (te) lezen.
  Jan has  the whole day  sit   to  read
  'Jan has been reading all day.'
b. Els heeft de hele dag over het probleem lopen (te) piekeren.
  Els has  the whole day  on the problem  walk   to  worry
  'Els has been worrying about that problem all day.'

Haeseryn et al. add to the observations above that the marker te is also optional if the semi-aspectual verb is a plural finite form. The contrast between the two examples in (159) show that this is only possible in embedded clauses, that is, if the aspectual verb is part of the clause-final verb cluster. However, since we consider omission of the marker te degraded in both cases, we marked the omission of te in (159) by means of a percentage sign.

a. Zij zitten (*te) lezen.
  they  sit     to  read
  'Theyʼre reading.'
b. dat zij zitten %(te) lezen.
  that  they  sit      to  read

The overview above suggests that the marker te can always be omitted if the semi-aspectual verb is non-finite, and that this is often even the preferred option. It is not entirely clear to us, however, whether the judgments provided above on the structures with the marker te are representative for the majority of Standard Dutch speakers, given that Barbiers et al. (2008: Section 2.3.4) found that speakers all over the Netherlands allow a great deal of variation in this respect. So, we leave it to future research to investigate more carefully the status of the examples given as marked above. For completeness' sake, we conclude by noting that the marker te cannot be easily used in nominalizations.

a. [Lopen (??te) piekeren] is niet gezond.
  walk     to  worry  is not healthy
  'Worrying isnʼt healthy.'
b. [Dat lopen (??te) piekeren] is niet gezond.
  that  walk     to  worry  is not healthy
  'All that worrying isnʼt healthy.'
[+]  IV.  Semi-aspectual constructions exhibit monoclausal behavior

That semi-aspectual constructions are monoclausal in nature is apparent from the fact that they exhibit the IPP-effect. We illustrate this again by means of the examples in (161).

a. Jan heeft de hele dag zitten/*gezeten (te) kletsen.
  Jan has  the whole day  sit/sat  to chat
  'Jan has been chatting all day.'
b. Jan heeft de hele dag lopen/*gelopen (te) zeuren
  Jan has the whole day walk/walked   to nag
  'Jan has been nagging all day.'

The monoclausal behavior of such constructions is also clear from the fact that they involve clause splitting/verb clustering, that is, that the main verb can be separated from its dependents by the semi-aspectual verb. The percentage sign indicates that some Flemish speaker do accept this order as a marked option.

a. dat Jan de hele dag <gedichten> zit <%gedichten> te lezen.
  that  Jan the whole day     poems  sits  to read
  'that Jan is reading poems all day.'
b. dat Els de hele dag <koekjes> loopt <%koekjes> te eten.
  that  Els the whole day    cookies  walks  to eat
  'that Els is eating cookies all day.'
[+]  V.  Word order in the clause-final verb cluster

It seems that the semi-aspectual verb obligatorily precedes the main verb in the clause-final sequence; since this will become an important issue in Section 6.3.2, we have added the results of a Google search (7/12/2012) to the examples in (163). The two numbers added between square brackets indicate the number of hits for, respectively the search string [V te piekeren] and [te piekeren V], in which V stands for the semi-aspectual verb in its third person, singular, simple present-tense form. Given the low number of hits for the string [te piekeren V], we checked all instances individually; this resulted in a very small number of cases, which were often from (older) literary texts. Checking all instances individually was, of course, not possible for the string [V te piekeren], but a cursory inspection showed that a substantial number of cases were of the intended type. The results seem to justify the conclusion that the string [te piekeren V] is not part of Dutch core grammar.

a. dat Jan de hele dag <*te piekeren> ligt <te piekeren>.
  that  Jan the whole day      to worry  lies
  'that Jan is worrying all day.'
b. dat Jan de hele dag <*te piekeren> zit <te piekeren>.
  that  Jan the whole day      to worry  sits
  'that Jan is worrying all day.'
c. dat Jan de hele dag <*te piekeren> loopt <te piekeren>.
  that  Jan the whole day      to worry  walks
  'that Jan is worrying the all day.'

In clusters of more than two verbs the main verb is always last in the clause-final cluster. The examples in (164) illustrate this both for main and embedded clauses and for constructions with and without the infinitival marker te.

a. Jan heeft de hele week <*piekeren> zitten <piekeren>.
  Jan has  the whole week      to worry  sit
  'Jan has been worrying the whole week.'
a'. Jan heeft de hele week <*te piekeren> zitten <te piekeren>.
b. dat Jan de hele week <*piekeren> heeft <*piekeren> zitten <piekeren>.
  that  Jan the whole week      worry  has  sit
  'that Jan has been worrying the whole week.'
b'. dat Jan de hele week <*te piekeren> heeft <*te piekeren> zitten <te piekeren>.

In (165) we show the same for imperfect-tense constructions with three verbs. We did not give examples with the infinitival marker te given that we consider such examples marked anyway.

a. Jan kan hier lekker <*lezen> zitten <lezen>.
  Jan may  here  comfortably      read  sit
  'Jan is able to work comfortably here.'
b. dat Jan hier lekker <*lezen> kan <*lezen> zitten <lezen>.
  that  Jan here  comfortably      read  may    sit
  'that Jan is able to work comfortably here.'
  • Barbiers, Sjef, Bennis, Hans, Vogelaer, Gunther de, Devos, Magda & Ham, Margreet van de2008Syntactic atlas of the Dutch dialectsAmsterdamAmsterdam University Press
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
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