• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all
7.2.The hierarchical order of verbs in verb clusters
quickinfo

Verbs in a verb cluster are in a selectional relationship, and thus also in a certain hierarchical (structural) relation. In order to clarify the notion of hierarchy in verb clusters, consider (37a): since we know that the modal verb must selects a bare infinitival and that the perfect auxiliary to have selects a participle phrase, the base-generated hierarchical structure of this example must be as indicated by the bracketing. This bracketing shows that the modal verb is superior to the auxiliary (as well as the participle), and that the auxiliary is superior to the participle. Example (37b) also shows that in English the superiority relation between verbs is straightforwardly reflected by their linear order: superior verbs precede the structurally lower ones.

37
a. John [must [have [seen that film]]].
b. John must have seen that film.

This is not the case in languages like Dutch, however: the processes involved in the creation of verb clusters may disrupt the one-to-one correspondence between hierarchical and linear order. For example, verb clustering may linearize the hierarchical structure in (38a) in various ways, as indicated in the (b)-examples.

38
a. Jan [moet [hebben [de film gezien]]].
b. dat Jan die film moet hebben gezien.
b'. dat Jan die film moet gezien hebben.
b''. dat Jan die film gezien moet hebben.

Subsection II will therefore propose a procedure for mechanically determining the underlying hierarchical order of verbs in verb clusters. This procedure will show, for instance, that in (39a) the modal verb willen'to want' is superior to the perfect auxiliary hebben, whereas in (39b) the auxiliary is superior to the modal.

39
a. dat Jan dat boek morgen <gelezen> wil <gelezen> hebben <gelezen>.
  that  Jan that book  tomorrow    read  wants  have
  'that Jan wants to have read that book by tomorrow.'
b. dat Jan dat boek altijd al heeft willen lezen.
  that  Jan that book  always  already  has  wanted  read
  'that Jan has always wanted to read that book.'

Subsection III will show that the investigation of superiority relations reveals certain systematic hierarchical restrictions between verbs entering a single verb cluster; the contrast between the two examples in (40), for instance, will be argued to show that perfect auxiliaries may select verbal projections with an aspectual verb as their head, but that aspectual verbs are not able to select verbal projections with a perfect auxiliary as their head.

40
a. dat Jan dat boek is gaan lezen.
  that  Jan that book  is go  read
  'that Jan has started to read that book.'
b. * dat Jan dat boek gaat hebben gelezen.
  that  Jan that book  goes  have  read
readmore
[+]  I.  Notational conventions

Before we start our investigation, we want to introduce a number of notational conventions that may facilitate the discussion. If possible, we will distinguish the verbs in our schematic representations of verb clusters by means of denominators like Aux(iliary) for auxiliary verbs, Asp(ectual) for aspectual verbs, Modal for modal verbs, and Main for the most deeply embedded main verb. By using en-dashes to indicate linear order, we can schematically represent the verb clusters in (39) as in (41).

41
a. Modal–Aux–Main
wil hebben gelezen
a'. Modal– Main–Aux
wil gelezen hebben
a''. Main–Modal–Aux
gelezen wil hebben
b. Aux–Modal–Main
heeft willen lezen

Furthermore, we will use numeral indices to indicate the hierarchical order; Vi+1–Vi expresses that Vi+1 is superior to Vi, due to the fact that the former verb selects the projection of the latter verb as its complement. This means that we can now simultaneously express the linear and the hierarchical order of the verbs in the verb clusters in (39) by means of the representations in (42).

42
a. Modal3–Aux2–Main1
wil hebben gelezen
a'. Modal3–Main1–Aux2
wil gelezen hebben
a''. Main1–Modal3–Aux2
gelezen wil hebben
b. Aux3–Modal2–Main1
heeft willen lezen

Observe that the use of shorthand "Main" in (41) and (42) is somewhat misleading because we have argued that modal verbs like willen'to want' are also main verbs. By restricting the use of the most deeply embedded main verb (that is, by not using "Main2", "Main3", etc), this will probably not lead to any misinterpretations.
      In order to avoid confusion, it is also important to note that the numbering convention is not used consistently in the linguistic literature: in many studies on verb clusters, counting does not start with the most deeply embedded verb, but with the most superior one, e.g., the finite verb in main clauses. We opt for the former option for practical reasons, more specifically because it will enable us to compare examples like (43a) and (43b) while keeping the numeral indices constant.

43
a. dat Jan dat boek heeft willen lezen.
Aux3-Modal2-Main1
  that  Jan that book  has  wanted  read
  'that Jan has wanted to read that book.'
b. dat Jan dat boek wil lezen.
Modal2-Main1
  that  Jan that book  wants  read
  'that Jan wants to read that book.'
c. dat Jan dat boek leest.
Main1
  that  Jan that book  reads
  'that Jan is reading that book.'
[+]  II.  A procedure for determining hierarchical order

Detecting the hierarchical relations between verbs is easy in English as they can be read off the linear order of the verbs. Things are different, however, in the Germanic OV-languages, as these seem to allow the verbs in verb clusters to be linearized in various language-specific orders. For example, the cluster formed by the verbs in examples such as dat Jan dat liedje heeft moeten zingen'that Jan has had to sing that song', with the hierarchical order indicated in the header of (44) surfaces in various linear orders depending on the language in question:

44
[...Aux3 [...Modal2 [... Main1 ...]]]
a. Aux3Modal2Main1: Dutch
b. Aux3Main1Modal2: German
c. Modal2Aux3Main1: —
d. Modal2Main1 Aux3: Afrikaans
e. Main1Aux3Modal2: —
f. Main1Modal2Aux3: Frisian

Example (44) shows that four out of the six logically possible linear orders occur as a neutral order in some major Germanic OV-language. There are only two linear orders that do not occur as such: the orders in (44c&e) are rare and occur in stylistically/intonationally marked contexts only; see Schmid & Vogel (2004) for a selection of German dialects, and Barbiers et al. (2008:ch.1) for Dutch dialects.
      The variation we find shows that the linear order of verbs in verb clusters does not necessarily reflect their underlying hierarchical order. Fortunately, there is a simple procedure to establish the latter order, which is based on the assumption that the most superior (structurally highest) verb in the cluster shows up as the finite verb in finite clauses: by omitting this verb, the next most superior verb will surface as the finite verb, etc. By applying this procedure to example (45a), we can provide syntactic evidence for the hierarchical structure proposed in the header of (44); omission of the finite auxiliary forces the modal verb to surface as the finite verb in (45b), and by also omitting this modal, the verb zingen will surface as the finite verb in (45c).

45
a. dat Jan dat liedje heeftfinite moeteninf zingeninf.
Aux3–Modal2–Main1
  that  Jan  that song has  must  sing
  'that Jan has had to sing that song.'
b. dat Jan dat liedje moetfinite zingeninf.
Modal2–Main1
  that  Jan  that song  must  sing
  'that Jan has to sing that song.'
c. dat Jan dat liedje zingtfinite.
Main1
  that  Jan  that song  sings
  'that Jan is singing that song.'

As it happens, the linear order of the verbs in (45) reflects their hierarchical order in a one-to-one fashion. We will therefore apply the same procedure to example (46a), in which the linear order does not correspond in a one-to-one fashion to the underlying hierarchical order [... Modal [... Aux [... Main ...]]].

46
a. dat Jan dat liedje zoufinite gezongenpart hebbeninf.
Modal3–Main1–Aux2
  that  Jan that song  would  sung  have
  'that Jan would have sung that song.'
b. dat Jan dat liedje gezongenpart hadfinite.
Main1–Aux2
  that  Jan that song  sung  had
  'that Jan had sung that song.'
c. dat Jan dat liedje zongfinite.
Main1
  that  Jan that song  sang
  'that Jan sang that song.'

Although the hierarchical order of the verbs in a given verb cluster will normally also be clear from the selection restrictions imposed by the verbs involved, it is certainly useful to be able to support analyses proposed on the basis of such restrictions independently by means of the simple omission test proposed here.

[+]  III.  Restrictions on hierarchical order

This section discusses a number of restrictions on the hierarchical order of verbs in verb clusters. The main issue is: What types of verbal projections can be selected by what types of verbs? Subsection A starts with a discussion of the basic cluster types of two verbs that can be created by embedding a main verb under a non-main verb or some other main verb that triggers verb clustering. The investigation in the later subsections in a sense inverts the procedure for determining the hierarchical organization of verb clusters proposed in Subsection II by considering the question of how the basic cluster types discussed in Subsection A can be extended by embedding them under some non-main verb, or an additional main verb that triggers verb clustering. The discussion will show that it is not the case that anything goes: there are certain restrictions on what counts as acceptable verb combinations. The existence of such restrictions is clearest in clusters of three or more verbs with just one single main verb, and Subsection B will therefore discuss these first, subsequently, Subsection C and D will address verb clusters of three or more verbs with, respectively, two and three main verbs. It is possible to construct clusters with four or more main verbs, but such clusters are rarely attested in actual language use and resist syntactic investigation due to the fact that the meanings expressed by such clusters are normally quite far-fetched; for this reason, we will not attempt to discuss such cases in a systematic way.

[+]  A.  Verb clusters of two verbs

An absolute restriction on verb clusters is that the most deeply embedded verb must be a main verb. In our examples we will generally use the transitive verb lezen'to read' for practical reasons instead of an intransitive or an unaccusative verb: (i) some of the superior verbs may impose an animateness restriction on the subject of their verbal complement; (ii) the placement of the direct object of lezen provides a clue for the analysis of the construction—verb clustering requires that it precede the superior verb; (iii) infinitival transitive verbs like lezen can be passivized whereas intransitive and unaccusative verbs cannot.
      Sections 5.2 and Chapter 6 have shown that main verbs can be selected by various types of main and non-main verbs. In what follows, we will discuss a small, representative sample of such verbs triggering verb clustering. We will take the subject control verb proberen'to try' and the subject raising (SR) verb schijnen'to seem' in (47) as representatives of the class of main verbs selecting te-infinitivals, and the modal verb moeten'must/be obliged', the perception verb zien'to see', and the causative/permissive verb laten'to make/let' in (48) as representatives of the class of main verbs selecting bare infinitivals. The verb clusters in these examples are in italics, and the superior main verbs are underlined.

47
a. dat Jan dat boek probeert te lezen.
Control2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  tries  to readinf
  'that Jan is trying to read that book.'
b. dat Jan dat boek schijnt te lezen.
SR2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  seems  to readinf
  'that Jan seems to be reading that book.'
48
a. dat Jan dat boek moet lezen.
Modal2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  must  readinf
  'that Jan must/is obliged to read that book.'
b. dat Jan haar dat boek ziet lezen.
Perc2–Main1
  that  Jan her  that book  sees  readinf
  'that Jan sees her read that book.'
c. dat Jan haar dat boek laat lezen.
Caus2–Main1
  that  Jan her  that book  makes  readinf
  'that Jan makes/lets her read that book.'

Non-main verbs can also be divided into several classes. First, the examples in (49) show that perfect and passive auxiliaries select verbs in the form of a participle. Example (49c) contains the ditransitive particle verb voorlezen'to read aloud', since krijgen-passivization requires that an indirect object be promoted to subject. Note that the participles may also follow the auxiliaries; we will ignore this here but return to it in Section 7.3, where we will discuss the linearization of verb clusters. The verb clusters in (49) are again in italics, and the non-main verbs are underlined.

49
a. dat Jan dat boek gelezen heeft.
Main1–Perf2
  that  Jan that book  readpart  has
  'that Jan has read that book.'
b. dat dat boek gelezen wordt.
Main1–Pass2
  that  that book  readpart  is
  'that that book is being read.'
c. dat het kind dat boek voorgelezen krijgt.
Main1–Pass2
  that  the child  that book  prt-readpart  gets
  'that the child is being read that book aloud.'

Second, the examples in (50) show that there are also non-main verbs selecting infinitival complements: aspectual verbs like gaan'to go' select bare infinitivals, whereas semi-aspectual verbs like zitten'to sit' select te-infinitivals (if they are finite).

50
a. dat Jan dat boek gaat lezen.
Asp2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  goes  readinf
  'that Jan is going to read that book.'
b. dat Jan dat boek zit te lezen.
Semi-asp2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  sits  to readinf
  'that Jan is reading that book.'
[+]  B.  Larger verb clusters with one main verb

The verb clusters in the examples discussed in Subsection A can be extended by adding one or more verbs that triggers verb clustering. That it is not a random affair can readily be observed in larger verb clusters with a single main verb, that is, extensions of the verb clusters in (49) and (50) with a non-main verb. We start our discussion with extensions of the (semi-)aspectual examples in (50), after which we will proceed to the perfect/passive examples in (49). The examples in (51) first show that aspectual verbs like gaan'to go' and semi-aspectual verbs like zitten'to zit' may co-occur, but that the former must then be superior to the latter–cases like (51b), in which a semi-aspectual verb is superior to an aspectual verb, are unacceptable.

51
a. dat Jan dat boek gaat zitten lezen.
Asp3–Semi-asp2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  goes  sit  readinf
  'that Jan is going to read that book.'
b. * dat Jan dat boek zit (te) gaan lezen.
Semi-asp3–Asp2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  sits  to go  readinf

The primeless examples in (52) show that (semi-)aspectual verbs can also co-occur with the perfect auxiliaries; aspectual verbs take the auxiliary zijn, whereas semi-aspectual verbs take the auxiliary hebben (just like their main verb counterparts). The primed examples show, however, that the perfect auxiliary must be superior to the (semi-)aspectual verb; they do not seem to be able to take a perfect phrase, that is, a phrase containing a perfect auxiliary as their complement (although examples such as (52a') do occasionally occur on the internet). Example (52c) shows that examples such as (51a), which contain both an aspectual and a semi-aspectual verb, can also occur in the perfect tense; the auxiliary must then again be the most superior one in the cluster.

52
a. dat Jan dat boek isgaan lezen.
Perf3–Asp2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  is go  readinf
  'that Jan has been going to read that book.'
a'. * dat Jan dat boek gelezen gaat hebben.
Asp3–Perf2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  readpart  goes  have
b. dat Jan dat boek heeft zitten (te) lezen.
Perf3–Semi-asp2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  has  sit  to readinf
  'that Jan has been reading that book.'
b'. * dat Jan dat boek gelezen zit (te) hebben.
Semi-asp3–Perf2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  readpart  sits  to have
c. dat Jan dat boek is gaan zitten lezen.
Perf4–Asp3–Semi-asp2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  is go  sit  readinf
  'that Jan has started to read that book.'

Although it is not possible to have more than one perfect or more than one passive auxiliary in a single clause, the examples in (53) show that it is possible for perfect and passive auxiliaries to co-occur. Example (53a) is marked with a percentage sign given that it is restricted to certain southern varieties of Dutch, but example (53b) is generally accepted.

53
a. % dat dat boek gelezen is geworden.
Main1–Perf3–Pass2
  that  that book  readpart  is been
  'that that book has been read.'
b. dat het kind dat boek voorgelezen heeft gekregen.
Main1–Perf3–Pass2
  that  the child  that book  prt-readpart  has  got
  'that the child has been read that book aloud.'

The hierarchical order of the two auxiliaries is very strict: the perfect auxiliary is always superior to the passive auxiliary. In fact, it seems that passive auxiliaries are always very low in the structure, as is clear from (54a) in which the passive auxiliary is embedded under the aspectual verb gaan'to go'. Similar examples with semi-aspectual verbs like zitten'to sit' seem rare though, and mainly restricted to main verbs and verbal expressions denoting acts of deception like bedriegen/belazeren'to deceive' and om de tuin leiden'to lead down the garden path' in the (b)-examples; in such cases, the semi-aspectual verb is again clearly superior to the passive auxiliary.

54
a. dat Jan per maand betaald gaat worden.
Main1–Asp3–Pass2
  that Jan  per month  paid  goes  be
  'that Jan is going to be paid per month.'
b. dat ik hier bedrogen/belazerd zit te worden.
Main1–Semi-asp3–Pass2
  that  here  deceived/deceived  sit  to be
  'that Iʼm being deceived here.'
b'. dat ik om de tuin geleid zit te worden.
Main1–Semi-asp3–Pass2
  that  around the garden  led  sit to be
  'that Iʼm being led down the garden path.'

The discussion in this section has shown that there is a strict hierarchical order between the non-main verbs in verb clusters. This order is as given in (55), in which the connective ">" stands for "is superior to".

55
Hierarchical order in verb clusters with one main verb: perfect auxiliary > aspectual > semi-aspectual > passive auxiliary > main verbHierarchical order in verb clusters with one main verb: perfect auxiliary > aspectual > semi-aspectual > passive auxiliary > main verb
[+]  C.  Larger Verb clusters with two main verbs

This section discusses larger verb clusters with two main verbs, As our point of departure we will take examples in (47) and (48) from Subsection A, which are repeated here as (56) and (57) for convenience.

56
a. dat Jan dat boek probeert te lezen.
Control2-Main1
  that  Jan that book  tries  to readinf
  'that Jan is trying to read that book.'
b. dat Jan dat boek schijnt te lezen.
SR2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  seems  to readinf
  'that Jan seems to be reading that book.'
57
a. dat Jan dat boek moet lezen.
Modal2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  must  readinf
  'that Jan must/is obliged to read that book.'
b. dat Jan haar dat boek ziet lezen.
Perc2–Main1
  that  Jan her  that book  sees  readinf
  'that Jan sees her read that book.'
c. dat Jan haar dat boek laat lezen.
Caus2–Main1
  that  Jan her  that book  makes  readinf
  'that Jan makes/lets her read that book.'

We will extend these constructions by an additional non-main verb. In principle, this can be done in two different ways: we can add the non-main verb to the superior main verb, but we can also add it to the structurally lower one. The discussion in the following subsections will show that there are various restrictions. These are, however, normally not of a syntactic, but rather of a semantic or a pragmatic nature.

[+]  1.  Perfect auxiliaries I: Perf3-Main2-Main1

It seems easily possible to add a perfect auxiliary to the superior main verbs in (56) and (57) with the exception of the subject raising verb schijnen: most people consider examples such as (58b) at least marked. Observe that all examples exhibit the infinitivus-pro-participio (IPP) effect, which is of course not surprising given that we have seen that this is a hallmark of verb clustering; cf. Section 7.1.1. For convenience, we will underline the added non-main verbs in the examples to come.

58
a. dat Jan dat boek heeft proberen te lezen.
Perf3–Control2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  has  try  to readinf
  'that Jan has tried to read that book.'
b. ? dat Jan dat boek heeft schijnen te lezen.
Perf3–SR2–Main1
  that  Jan that book  has  seems  to readinf
  'that Jan has seemed to read that book.'
59
a. dat Jan dat boek heeft moeten lezen.
Perf3–Modal2-Main1
  that  Jan that book  has  must  readinf
  'that Jan has had to read that book.'
b. dat Jan haar dat boek heeft zien lezen.
Perf3–Perc2-Main1
  that  Jan her  that book  has  see  readinf
  'that Jan has seen her read that book.'
c. dat Jan haar dat boek heeft laten lezen<