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Classification of PPs: Intransitive adpositions

Adpositions can sometimes be used without a complement, in which case they are often called intransitive adpositions or (verbal) particles. The example below illustrates this type of adposition.

Jan sit sy hoed op.
Jan sit his hat on.INTRP
Jan puts on his hat.

Two types of intransitive adpositions can then be distinguished: particles with an external argument (as illustrated in the first example below) and particles without an external argument, also referred to as verbal particles (as illustrated in the second example).

Die tyd vir kanse waag is heeltemal verby.
the tims for risks take be.PRS completely up.INTRP
The time to take risks is over.
Ek loop om en kry haar agter die huis.
I walk around.INTRP and find her behind.PREP the house
I walk around and find her behind the house

The following examples illustrate the difference between a preposition (taking the NP complement die huis the house), and an intransitive adposition. An intransitive adposition without an external argument can, as will be shown later, be regarded as a verbal particle and can therefore be used in conjunction with the verb. A preposition, on the other hand,does not have this feature.

a. Ek loop om en kry haar daar.
I walk around.INTRP and find her there
I walk around and find her there
b. Ek het omgeloop en haar daar gekry.
I have.AUX around.walk.PST and here there find.PST
I walked around and found her there.
a. Ek loop om die huis en kry haar agter.
I walk around.PREP the house and find her behind
I walk around the house and find her at the back.
b. Ek het om die huis geloop en haar agter gekry.
I have.AUX around.PREP the house walk.PST and her behind find.PST
I walked around the house and found her at the back.
c. *Ek het omgeloop die huis en haar agter gekry.
I have.AUX around.walk.PST the house and her behind find.PST
I walkad around the house and found her at the back.

Intransitive adpositions is highly grammaticalised, to the effect that they can in fact be regarded as adjectives or adverbials, depending on the context in which they are used. In the first sentence below, for example, the intransitive adposition, om up, forms part of the copula predicate, and can be regarded as an adjective with the meaning 'depleted'. On the other hand, in the second example below, the same adposition can be regarded as an adverb, since it functions as an adjunct, providing information regarding "the extent to which" the subject Jannie is drinking.

Die tyd is om.
the time be.PRS over.INTRP
The time is up.
Jannie drink sy lewe om.
Jannie drink his live over.INTRP
Jannie is always drinking.

Three aspects of intransitive adpositions are discussed, namely i) their meaning, ii) the mapping of the arguments of intransitive adpositions onto syntactic structure and iii) the combinatorial properties of intransitive adpositions.


Often, there is no apparent semantic relation between the use of intransitive adpositions and their prepositional counterparts. It is in cases such as these, that we use the term (verbal) particle. These particles normally form a more or less fixed semantic unit with their associated main verb and they cannot be replaced by a full PP without affecting the core meaning of the construction. Intransitive adpositions are therefore also distinguishable from prepositional verb phrases (see the section on Particle verbs for more information).

[+]Meaning of intransitive adpositions

Particles with an external argument have a meaning of their own. The meaning of particles without an external argument is to some extent determined by the verb which selects them. For instance, particles with an external argument can be the predicate of a predication mediated by a copula or a stative verb, as in example below.

Jan sit doer agter in die klas.
Jan sit far behind.INTRP in the class
Jan sits in the very back of the class.

Particles without an external argument have their meaning to some extent determined by the verb, as illustrated by the following examples:

Hy bring die hout in voor dit reën.
he bring the wood in.INTRP before it rain
Hy brings in the wood before it starts raining.

In such cases, the particle may still contribute to the verbal aspect. The following contrast shows that the particle is incompatible with atelic or continuative (durative) aspect:

Die voorraad hou lank.
the stock keep long
The stock goes a long way.
*Die gesprek hou ure lank op.
the conversation hold hours long up.INTRP
*The conversation stops hours long.
[+]Mapping of arguments of intransitive adpositions onto syntactic structure

The arguments of intransitive adpositions are mapped onto syntactic structure in a straightforward manner, involving the grammatical functions of subject, object and prepositional complement.

The external argument of an intransitive adposition, if any, is mapped onto the subject or object position external to the adposition phrase, bracketed in the examples below:

Safaripakke is vanjaar [in].
safari.suits be.PRS this.ear in.INTRP
Safari suits are in fashion this year.

Particles without an external argument are generally found in the company of the verb, never in the company of an adjective or a noun. Such particles may have an effect on the verb's argument structure. In many cases, the particle forms an idiomatic unit with the verb. In the following example, the particle cannot be left out without causing a radical shift in meaning:

Ezette het op+geskop.
Ezette have.AUX up.INTRP+kick.PST
Ezette dropped out.
Ezette het geskop.
Ezette have.AUX kick.pst
Ezette (has) kicked.

However, as illustrated by the examples below, the particle does not render the direct object obligatory in all cases. In the examples below, the verb af+skryf off+write to copy may also be used with and without a direct object, or even with or without an indirect object:

a. Danie skryf af.
Danie write off.INTRP
Danie is copying.
b. Danie skryf die antwoorde af.
Danie write the answers off.INTRP
Danie is copying the answers.
c. Danie skryf by Wilmarie af.
Danie write by Wilmarie off.INTRP.
Danie is copying from Wilmarie.
d. Danie skryf die antwoorde by Wilmarie af.
Danie write the answers by Wilmarie off.INTRP
Danie is copying the answers from Wilmarie.
[+]Combinatorial properties of intransitive adpositions

Intransitive adpositions mostly combine with an external argument, which is generally an NP (indicated in brackets in the example below).

[Die krag] is af.
[the power] be.PRS off.INTRP
The power is off.

The external argument can be the anticipatory pronoun dit it, which is linked to a following infinitival clause:

Dit was in.INTRP om safaripakke te dra.
it be.PST in for.COMP safari.suits PTCL.INF wear.INF
It was fashionable to wear safari suits.

It does seem, however, that the anticipatory pronoun cannot be linked to a that -clause, in case it functions as the external argument to a particle:

?Dit was in dat safaripakke gedra word.
it be.PST in.INTRP that.COMP safari.suits wear.PASS be.AUX.PASS.PRS
It was fashionable that safari suits were worn.

Intransitive adpositions are generally locational in nature (also compare Pretorius 2017), and are mostly used with verbs denoting activities involving dressing and personal hygiene, as in the first and second examples below), or refer to pragmatically determinable locations (for example the third sentence below).

Marnus trek sy jas aan.
Marnus pull his jacket on.INTRP
Marnus puts on his jacket.
Melissa smeer sonblok aan.
Melissa smear sun.block on.INTRP
Melissa smears on sunblock lotion on her face.
Die paskantoor is naby aan my huis.
The post.office be.PRS close.INTRP to my house.
The post office is close to my house.

Despite the fact Afrikaans orthography requires the particle and the verb to be written as a single word if they are adjacent, the combination probably cannot be considered a morphological compound since the finite form of the verb can be placed in the second position of main clauses while stranding the particle in clause-final position. A pair of sentence examples are given below to illustrate this split pattern.

a. Annelien wil bietjie agterstallige werk inhaal.
Annelien want.to.AUX.MOD little overdue work in.INTRP.get
Annelien wants to catch up on some overdue work.
b. Annelien haal bietjie agterstallige werk in.
Annelien get little overdue work in.INTRP.
Annelien is catching up on some overdue work.

Ponelis (1979:233) provides an example list of common verbal particles (i.e. intransitive adpositions without external argument) in Afrikaans:

Common verbal particles in Afrikaans
Table 1: Common verbal particles in Afrikaans
Particle Verb phrase English gloss and translation
aan aandurf on.dare to tackle
aangluur on.glare to glare at at
af afbaken off.marcate to demarcate
afdroog off.dry to wipe
agter agterlaat behind.leave to leave behind
agterstaan behind.stand to stand behind
by bydam with.tackle to hit
bydrae with.carry to contribute
deur deurhaal through.carry to carry through
deurslaap through.sleep to sleep through
heen heengaan away.go to leave
in inval in.fall to invade
invoer in.port to import
mee meedeel with.share to inform
meegee with.give to give in
na naboots After.mimic to mimic
nalaat After.let to leave behind
om omkoop over.buy to bribe
omspit over.dig to dig
onder onderdoen under.do to submit
oor oorleun over.lean to lean over
oorsein over.sign to signal
op oppomp up.pump to inflate
opsmuk up.make to make-up
saam saambring with.bring to bring with
saamvat with.take to take with
teen, teë teenstaan against.stand to oppose
teenwerk against.work to counteract
toe toelê close.lay to cover
toeneem close.take to increase
uit uitleef out.live to live by
uitput out.deplete to exhaust
verby verbygaan Pass.go to go passed
verbykom pass.come to get passed

To summarise: an easy way to recognise a verbal particle, is the fact that, when compounded with the verb, the particle will be emphasised. In a verb such as aandurf on.dare tackle, aan is a verbal particle of the verb durf dare (aan+durf), aan will be pronounced with the emphasise. By contrast, aan in the verb aanvaar accept, will not be emphasized, as aan is not a verbal particle to vaar sail.

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