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Infinitive complement clauses: construction forms

The infinitive complement clause in Afrikaans has three basic forms. The most widely used form is the full infinitive with complementiser om for/in order (to), infinitive particle te to and the main verb in the infinitive form, as illustrated in example (1) and (2).

Die hoofredaksie het besluit om so 'n fonds van stapel te stuur.
the chief.editorial.committee have.AUX decide.PST for.COMP such a fund from stack PTCL.INF send.INF
The chief editorial committee decided to launch such a fund.
Ons moet probeer om regverdig te wees.
we must.AUX.MOD try.INF for.COMP fair PTCL.INF be.INF
We must try to be fair.
PCSA, adjusted

The bare infinitive is the second variant, and has only a verb in the infinitive form, with no complementiser or infinitive particle. It is mainly used in a specific subset of constructions, where it serves as the complement clause of another verb that is intermediate between a main verb and an auxiliary verb, such as the combination with linking verbs (in the Afrikaans literature direkte and indirekte skakelwerkwoordedirect and indirect linking verbs’), as illustrated by example (3), or causative and aspectual verbs, as illustrated by example (4) and (5).

Ons kan maar daar sit en gesels.
we can.AUX.MOD but there sit.LINK and talk.INF
We can perhaps sit and talk there.
Hy het my laat belowe ek sal weer terugkom.
he have.PRS me let.LINK promise.INF I will.AUX.MOD again back.come.INF
He let me promose that I will come back again.
Wanneer sal jy weer kan begin werk?
when will.AUX.MOD you again can.AUX.MOD begin.LINK work.INF
When will you be able to begin working again?

The third variant, which combines the infinitive particle te to (labelled te-infinitive) and the main verb in infinitive form without the complementiser om, is mainly a remnant of Dutch constructions. It is used to form complementive clauses, as illustrated by example (6), or in a small number of fixed combinations, as illustrated in example (7).

Kaartjies is te koop by die boekwinkel.
Tickets be.PRS PTCL.INF buy.INF at the bookstore
Tickets are for sale at the bookstore.
Die wyn begin te praat.
the wine begin.LINK PTCL.INF talk.INF
The wine begins to talk.

The default option for an infinitive complement clause is to be used with no overt subject, which raises the question of how the implied subject is interpreted. Similar to other Germanic languages, the implied subject is usually recoverable from the subject of the main clause, as exemplified in (8), although it is also possible that the object of the main clause is the implicit subject of the infinitive clause, as exemplified in (9).

Hy het glo gevra om vroeg te loop.
He have.AUX apparently ask.PST for.COMP early PTCL.INF walk.INF
He has apparently asked to leave early.
Die kassier vra hom om agterop te teken.
the cashier ask.PRS him for.COMP behind.on PTCL.INF sign.INF
The cashier asks him to sign on the back.

The infinitive complement clause in Afrikaans usually takes the same word order as other dependent clauses, with the verb in final position, immediately preceded by the particle te to, when present, while the complementiser om for occurs in the initial position of the clause, with complements of the infinitive verb and phrasal adverbials between the complementiser and the particle te to, as illustrated by example (10).

Die departement kan voortgaan om die spuitnaaldmetode te gebruik.
the department can.AUX.MOD continue.INF for.COMP the injection.needle.method PTCL.INF use.INF
The department can continue to use the injection needle method.

When there are modal verbs, they are positioned between the particle te to and the infinitive, as illustrated by example (11).

Ek het my hele lewe gehunker om dit weer te kan skilder.
I have.AUX my whole life aspire.PST for.COMP it again PTCL.INF can.AUX.MOD paint.INF
I have aspired my whole life to be able to paint it again.
PCSA, adjusted

Below, more detail is presented about the basic infinitive construction forms, word order variation with multiple verbs, the word order options for verb complements and adverbials, and the accusative and infinitive construction. Further reading on the form of the infinitive complement clause include Ponelis (1979), Ponelis (1993) and Robbers (1997).

[+]Basic infinitive clause construction

All three infinitive constructions end with a main verb in the infinitive form. While Afrikaans generally does not inflect the verb form for the infinitive, there are two exceptions to this, the verbs wees be and have, which do have a separate infinitive form that differs from the finite present tense form, as illustrated by example (12) and (13). This is irrespective of which infinitive construction is used.

a. Die projekbestuurder het skole gemaan om nie skaam te wees nie.
the project.manager have.AUX schools urg.PST for.COMP not ashamed PTCL.INF be.INF PTCL.NEG
The project manager urged schools not to be ashamed.
TK, adjusted
b. Dit blyk baie belangrik te wees na aftrede.
it appear.PRS very important PTCL.INF be.INF after retirement
It appears to be very important after retirement.
TK, adjusted
c. Wanneer gaan jy terug wees?
when go.LINK you.SG back be.INF
When are you going to be back?
TK, adjusted
a. Dis moeilik om nie met haar simpatie te nie.
it=be.PRS difficult for.COMP not with her sympathy PTCL.INF have.INF PTCL.NEG
It's difficult not to have sympathy with her.
b. Wanneer gaan julle die nuwe onderdele ?
when go.LINK you.PL the new parts have.INF
When will you have the new parts?

The infinitive particle te to and the complementiser om for derive historically from prepositions with a purpose meaning (Ponelis 1993:291). Ponelis regards the te as a modal particle on distributional grounds, but it will be treated simply as a sui generis infinitive particle here. Modal verbs can follow the infinitive particle, like in Dutch, but unlike English, as shown by example (14); the presence of the particle te therefore does not rule out the possibility of the use of a modal verb.

a. …om te kan loop…
b. …(om) te kunnen lopen…
c. *...to can walk...

Where the om for complementiser is optional in many contexts in Dutch, it is obligatory in Afrikaans full infinitive clauses. Thus, contemporary Dutch allows variation between (15a) and (15b), but in Afrikaans, only the full infinitive form is allowed in (16a), while (16b) is ungrammatical.

a. Jan heeft beloofd om het boek naar Els te sturen.
Jan have.AUX promise.PST.PTCP for.COMP the book to Els PTCL.INF send.INF
Jan promised to send the book to Els.
b. Jan heeft beloofd het boek naar Els te sturen.
Jan have.AUX promise.PST.PTCP the book to Els PTCL.INF send.INF
Jan promised to send the book to Els.
a. Jan het belowe om die boek vir Elsie te stuur.
Jan have.AUX promise.PST for.COMP the book to Elsie PTCL.INF send.INF
Jan promised to send the book to Elsie.
b. *Jan het belowe die boek vir Elsie te stuur.
Jan have.AUX promise.PST the book to Elsie PTCL.INF send.INF
Jan promised to send the book to Elsie.

The data from the Kaapse Taalargief reveal that the use of obligatory om was already widespread in Eighteenth Century Cape Dutch, as shown in (17).

dese dint om UE bekend te maken als dat …
this serve.PRS for.COMP your excellency known PTCL.INF make.INF as that.COMP…
This serves to make known to Your Excellency that…
Kaapse Taalargief, 1716/11/26
[+]Word order of complex verb clusters in full infinitive clauses

The basic pattern of combinations within the final verb cluster of infinitive complement clauses is [te + MODAL(s) + OTHER VERBS + INFINITIVE MAIN VERB + het]. When a modal is part of the infinitive verb cluster, it follows immediately after the particle te, as illustrated by (18).

…om dit te kan finansier.
for.COMP it PTCL.INF can.AUX.MOD finance.INF
...to be able to finance it.

When other verbs – linking verbs, causative verbs, or aspectual verbs – combine with the main verb, these also precede the main verb, as shown in (19), but when there is a modal present as well, the other verbs follow the modal, as shown in (20).

…om buitekant te gaan werk.
for.COMP outside PTCL.INF go.LINK work.INF
...to go and work outside.
…om vir Randall Wicomb as gaskunstenaar te kan laat optree.
for.COMP for Randall Wicomb as guest.artist PTCL.INF can.AUX.MOD let.LINK perform.INF
...to be able to let Randall Wicomb perform as guest artist.

Afrikaans allows the past tense construction [ge·V het] HAVE V·en to occur in place of the infinitive verb, in which case the past tense form follows te with the auxiliary het have at the end, as in other (finite) dependent clauses. This is shown in (21) and (22), and occurs quite widely and without restriction in Afrikaans.

Ek is darem bly om hulle te gesien het.
I be.PRS nevertheless happy for.COMP them PTCL.INF see.PST have.AUX
I am nevertheless happy to have seen them.
Om só op ons baadjie te gekry het, was ongelooflik teleurstellend.
COMP so on our jacket PTCL.INf get.PST have.AUX be.PRT incredibly disappointing
To have got such a hiding was incredibly disappointing.
[+]Word order of complex verb clusters in bare infinitive clauses

Typically, the initial verb in Afrikaans and the continental West Germanic languages is simplex, containing a single main verb, or any auxiliary, while other verbs, if present, move to the final verb cluster. This is shown by (23) for an auxiliary plus other verbs, and by (24) for a linking verb plus other verbs.

Almal sal hom seker onthou.
everybody will.AUX.MOD him surely remember.INF
Everybody will surely remember him.
Hy laat hom toe staan.
he let.LINK him then stand.INF
He then lets him stand.

The linking verbs, both direct and indirect, as well as the subsets encoding aspectual and causative meanings, have the option in Afrikaans to form complex initial verb clusters, where the linking verb and the infinitive complement occur together in the verb-second position to form a cluster, rather than the infinitive verb moving to the final cluster. This is exemplified by (25) to (27), where the (a) example is the attested one, and the alternative formulation in the (b) example is an equally grammatical variant in Afrikaans.

a. Ek loop en dans hierso.
I walk.LINK and dance.INF here
I go dancing here.
b. Ek loop hierso en dans.
I walk.LINK here and dance.INF
I go dancing here.
a. Hulle kom haal my altyd hierso.
they come.LINK fetch.INF me always here
They always come and fetch me here.
b. Hulle kom my altyd hierso haal.
they come.LINK me always here fetch.INF
They always come and fetch me here.
a. Hy laat staan jou been mos só.
he let.LINK stand.INF your leg indeed so
He just leaves your leg like this.
b. Hy laat mos jou been só staan.
he let.LINK indeed your leg so stand.INF
He just leaves your leg like this.

Ponelis (1993:325-329) notes that this property is unique to Afrikaans among its closest sister languages. It mainly occurs where the construction only contains two verbs, and not when more than two verbs are combined. He adds that this phenomenon is to a degree idiomatic, in that certain combinations are particularly prone to form complex initials, where the split verb alternative is quite rare, for instance gaan haal go fetch to fetch, laat blyk let appear to indicate, laat geld let count to exercise (authority), laat kom let come to summon, laat spaander let run to get going, and laat staan let stand to leave. Furthermore, kom to come and gaan to go, the two basic direct linking verbs, that also occur with higher frequency than the others, are more prone to form complex initials, whereas other verbs from the aspectual and causative classes are less so.

[+]Word order of complements and adverbials in infinitive clauses

Complements, such as direct objects, or adverbials that are used in the infinitive clause construction, are usually positioned between the complementiser om and the infinitive particle te, as illustrated in (28) and (29). These options are similar to the word order options in finite dependent clauses.

Hy het nou egter besluit om sy pleit te verander.
he have.AUX now however decide.PST for.COMP his plea PTCL.INF change.INF
He has now decided, however, to change his plea.
My lyf weier vanaand om na my kop te luister.
my body refuse.PRS tonight for.COMP to my head PTCL.INF listen.INF
Tonight my body refuses to listen to my head.
[+]Accusative and infinitive construction

Like Dutch, Afrikaans also has an accusative and infinitive construction, where the main clause verb has a direct object (in accusative case, visible in the case of singular pronouns in Afrikaans), which simultaneously functions as the notional subject of the bare infinitive clause. There are two classes of verbs that often take this construction, a subset of perception verbs, as illustrated by (30), and causative verbs, as illustrated by (31).

Ek sien haar swyend gaan op steile pad.
I see.PRS her mutely go.INF on steep path
I see her go quietly on her steep path.
Jan F.E. Celliers
Hy laat hom deur die land loop.
he let.LINK him through the land walk.INF
He lets him walk through the land.

The perceptual verbs taking this construction are limited to those that belong to the class of direct involuntary perception, a constraint that also applies to Dutch(Broekhuis et al. 2015:899-918). This class consists mainly of sien to see, hoor to hear, voel to feel, and infrequently ruik to smell. Thus, while example (30) is acceptable, other perceptual verbs like kyk to watch, or luister to listen – where the perception is directed rather than involuntary, cannot take this construction, exemplified by the unacceptability of (32b).

a. Ek sien haar wen.
I see.PRS her win.INF
I see her conquer.
Jan F.E. Celliers
b. *Ek kyk haar wen.
I watch.PRS her win.INF
I watch her conquer.
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
  • Ponelis, F1993The development of Afrikaans.ReeksP. Lang
  • Ponelis, F1993The development of Afrikaans.ReeksP. Lang
  • Ponelis, F1993The development of Afrikaans.ReeksP. Lang
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
  • Robbers, K.B.M1997Non-finite verbal complements in Afrikaans: a comparative approach.Thesis
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