• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
1.1.1. Properties of adpositions
quickinfo

There are several features that distinguish the class of adpositions from the other three main categories of words: verbs, nouns and adjectives. These are discussed in Subsection I. It is nevertheless difficult to design syntactic tests that single out the full set of adpositional phrases, although there are several tests that can be used in order to recognize certain syntactic or semantic subtypes. These will be discussed in Subsection II.

readmore
[+]  I.  Differences from the other main categories of words

The following subsections discuss several respects in which adpositions differ from verbs, nouns and adjectives.

[+]  A.  The set of adpositions is “closed”

Unlike verbs, nouns and adjectives, adpositions constitute a relatively small and more or lesss closed class in the sense that the set of adpositions can be nearly exhaustively listed; cf. Section 1.2. Despite this, it should be noted that it is not entirely impossible to introduce new adpositions in the language; we refer the reader to Section 1.2.1, where we will discuss a number of relatively recent cases.

[+]  B.  The form of adpositions is invariant

Whereas verbs are inflected for tense and agree with the subject of the clause in person and number, nouns are inflected for number, and adjectives are inflected in attributive position, inflection of adpositions does not occur in Dutch. Adpositions like in'in' or onder'under' have the same form in all syntactic environments. The property of invariance, of course, only holds as far as inflection is concerned; derivation and compounding are possible.
      There are two exceptions to the general rule that the form of adpositions is invariant. The first involves the prepositions met'with' and tot'until', which change into mee and toe when R-extraction applies: er ... mee/toe; cf. Chapter 5. The second involves the preposition te, which can surface as ter or ten in certain fixed expressions (historical relics) like ter wereld brengen'to give birth to' and ten aanzien van iemand'toward someone'. The forms ter and ten must, however, be seen as conflated forms of the preposition te and the case-marked determiners der and den, just as present-day German zum is the conflated form of the preposition zu'to' and the dative determiner dem'the'.

[+]  C.  Adpositions assign case to their nominal complement

Adpositions typically take a noun phrase as their complement, to which they assign non-nominative case. In present-day German, adpositions differ in whether they assign genitive, dative or accusative case. In Dutch, on the other hand, the case assigned by the adposition cannot be determined due to the lack of morphological case; the form of noun phrases like de jongen and het meisje in the primeless examples in (2) remains the same in all imaginable syntactic positions (subject, object, or complement of adposition). That adpositions do assign non-nominative case is clear, however, from the fact, illustrated in the primed examples, that they cannot be followed by the nominative forms of the personal pronouns.

Example 2
a. Jan zit naast de jongen
  Jan sits  next.to  the boy
  'Jan is sitting next to the boy.'
a'. Jan zit naast hem/*hij.
  Jan sits  next.to  him/he
b. Jan zit voor het meisje
  Jan sits  in.front.of  the girl
  'Jan is sitting in front of the girl.'
b'. Jan zit voor haar/*zij.
  Jan sits  in.front.of  her/she
[+]  D.  Adpositions typically express a relation between two elements in the clause

Adpositions often express a relation between their complement and some other entity in the clause. In (2), for example, the adpositions naast and voor express a spatial relation between their nominal complement de jongen/het meisje and the subject of the clause Jan.

[+]  II.  Tests to distinguish adpositions

The following subsections briefly discuss certain processes that typically occur with adpositions as well as certain constructions that typically contain an adposition. The occurrence of these processes or constructions is generally sufficient to argue that we are dealing with an adpositional phrase.

[+]  A.  Pronominalization

Spatial and temporal adpositional phrases can be pronominalized. Example (3), for example, shows that the spatial adpositional phrase in Amsterdam can be replaced by the adpositional pro-form er'there'.

Example 3
a. Jan heeft jarenlang in Amsterdam gewoond.
  Jan has  for years  in Amsterdam  lived
  'Jan has lived in Amsterdam for years.'
b. Jan heeft er jarenlang gewoond.
  Jan has  there  for years  lived
  'Jan has lived there for years.'

The spatial pro-form er is referential in the sense that it refers to some place known to the speaker and the addressee. Table 2 provides an overview of the other spatial pro-forms, which are generally referred to as R-words because they all contain an r. Observe that this classification of spatial pro-forms is virtually identical to the classification of pronouns given in Section N5.2.

Table 2: Spatial adpositional pro-forms (R-words)
  R-pronoun example
referential er/daar'there' Jan heeft er jarenlang gewoond.
'Jan has lived there for years.'
demonstrative proximate hier'here' Jan heeft hier jarenlang gewoond.
'Jan has lived here for years.'
  distal daar'there' Jan heeft daar jarenlang gewoond.
'Jan has lived (over) there for years.'
interrogative waar'where' Waar woont Jan?
'Where does Jan live?'
quantificational
universal overal'everywhere' De boeken liggen overal.
'The books lie everywhere.'
  existential ergens'somewhere' Het boek moet toch ergens zijn.
'The book must be somewhere.'
  negative nergens'nowhere' Ik zie het boek nergens.
'I donʼt see the book anywhere.'
relative waar'where' het huis waar Jan woont
'the house where Jan lives'

The two referential pro-forms er and daar differ in the same way as the weak and strong referential pronouns: er is unstressed whereas daar is stressed. This is shown in the primed examples in (4) by means of topicalization, which is only possible with stressed phrases.

Example 4
a. Jan heeft mij/me gekust.
  Jan has  me/me  kissed
  'Jan has kissed me.'
a'. Mij/*Me heeft Jan gekust.
b. Jan heeft daar/er jarenlang gewoond.
  Jan has  there/there  for.years  lived
  'Jan has lived there for years.'
b'. Daar/*Er heeft Jan jarenlang gewoond.

Since Table 2 shows that daar can also be used as a demonstrative pro-form, example (4b) is actually ambiguous: daar can be interpreted referentially and thus refer to some place known to the speaker and the addressee or it can have demonstrative force.
      There are three temporal adpositional pro-forms, which differ in that they refer to different points on the time line: toen'then' in (5a) refers to a point of time before the actual speech time: dan'then' in (b) refers to a point following the speech time; nu'now' in (5c) refers to the speech time itself, and can be seen as the pro-form corresponding to an adpositional phrase like op dit moment'at this moment'.

Example 5
a. Jan waspast in de vakantie/toen in Frankrijk.
  Jan was  in the vacation/then  in France
  'Jan was in France during his vacation/then.'
b. Jan zalfuture in de vakantie/dan naar Frankrijk gaan.
  Jan goes  in the vacation/then  to France  go
  'Jan will go to France during his vacation/then.'
c. Jan ispresent op dit moment/nu in Frankrijk.
  Jan is  at this moment/now  in France
  'Jan is in France now.'
[+]  B.  R-pronominalization of the complement of the adposition

The complement of an adposition can often also be replaced by means of an R-word, a phenomenon to which we will refer as R-pronominalization. An example with the referential R-word er is given in (6b). The other R-words in Table 2 can also be used in this function; this is shown for the proximate demonstrative hier'here' in example (6b'). For an extensive discussion of R-pronominalization, see Chapter 5.

Example 6
a. Jan speelt graag met de pop.
  Jan plays  gladly  with the doll
  'Jan likes to play with the doll.'
a'. Jan speelt graag met deze pop.
  Jan plays  gladly  with this doll
  'Jan likes to play with this doll.'
b. Jan speelt er graag mee.
  Jan plays  there  gladly  with
  'Jan likes to play with it.'
b'. Jan speelt hier graag mee.
  Jan plays  here  gladly  with
  'Jan likes to play with this.'
[+]  C.  Placement within clauses and noun phrases

Just like clauses, but unlike nominal and adjectival phrases, adpositional phrases can often follow verbs in clause-final position without the need of a comma-intonation. This phenomenon, which is often referred to as PP-over-V, is illustrated in (7) by means of an adverbial manner phrase.

Example 7
a. dat Jan met grote nauwkeurigheid/nauwkeurig werkte.
  that Jan  with great accuracy/accurately  worked
  'that Jan worked with great accuracy.'
b. dat Jan werkte met grote nauwkeurigheid/*nauwkeurig.

Example (8a) further shows that attributively used PPs are normally placed in postnominal position. In this respect they differ from attributively used APs like aardige in (8b), which normally occur prenominally.

Example 8
a. het <*met het rode haar> meisje <met het rode haar>
  the      with the red hair  girl
b. het <aardige> meisje <*aardig(e)>
  the     nice  girl
[+]  D.  Modification

Modification by means of the adverbial phrases vlak or pal'just/right' seems to be restricted to (a subset of) spatial and temporal PPs only.

Example 9
a. Jan stond vlak/pal achter Marie.
  Jan stood  close  behind  Marie
  'Jan stood right behind Marie.'
b. Jan vertrok vlak/pal voor de wedstrijd.
  Jan left  just  before  the game
  'Jan left just before the game.'
[+]  E.  The XP met die NP! construction

In order to enter the XP met die NP! construction, XP must be directional in nature. Since directions are typically expressed by means of (a subclass of the) adpositional phrases, XP is an adpositional phrase in the prototypical case. Adjectival phrases like dood in (10c), for example, cannot enter the construction.

Example 10
a. [PP Naar buiten] met die man!
  to  outside  with  that man
  'Throw that man out!'
b. [PP De klas uit] met jou!
  the classroom  out.of  with you
  'Get out of the classroom!'
c. * [AP Dood] met die schoft!
  dead  with  that bastard
  Intended meaning: 'Kill that bastard!'
[+]  F.  Stress properties

Many adpositions may or may not be assigned stress depending on the complement they take. If they take a referential noun phrase or a strong pronoun, stress is generally assigned to the complement (although in contrastive contexts, accent may also be assigned to the adposition). If the complement is a weak pronoun, however, stress is assigned to the adposition itself. In the examples in (11), the stressed syllable/word is given in small capitals.

Example 11
a. met Peter 'with Peter'
b. naast Peter 'next to Peter'
a'. met mij 'with me'
b'. naast mij 'next to me'
a''. met me 'with me'
b''. naast me 'next to me'

Some non-spatial adpositions, however, require a stressed complement, and are thus not able to take a weak pronoun as their complement. Note that this has nothing to do with the stress properties of the adposition itself: both the spatial adposition tegen'against' and the non-spatial adposition namens'on behalf of' are assigned stress on the first syllable, but only the former is able to take a weak pronoun as its complement.

Example 12
a. tegen Peter 'against Peter'
b. namens Peter 'on behalf of Peter'
a'. tegen mij 'against me'
b'. namens mij 'on behalf of me'
a''. tegen me 'against me'
b''. *namens me 'on behalf of me'

Other adpositions behaving like namens are dankzij'thanks to', ondanks'despite', vanwege'because of', volgens'according to' and wegens'because of'. Some non-spatial adpositions that do allow a weak pronoun as their complement are met'with', van'of' and zonder'without'. See Sections 5.1 and 5.2 for a more extensive discussion of pronominal complements of adpositions.
      For completeness' sake, note that whether or not a weak pronoun complement is possible may, of course, depend on factors other than the choice of the adposition. The PP met me in (11a''), for instance, is possible if it is part of a sentence, as in (13a), but not if it is used as an independent utterance in response to the question Met wie heeft ze gisteren gedanst? in (13b).

Example 13
a. Ze heeft gisteren met Peter/mij/me gedanst.
  she  has  yesterday  with Peter/me/me  danced
  'She danced with Peter/me yesterday.'
b. Met wie heeft ze gisteren gedanst? Met Peter/mij/*me.
  with whom  has  she  yesterday  danced with Peter/me/me
  'With whom did she dance yesterday? With Peter/me.'

The fact that the answer to the question in (13b) requires the presence of a non-pronominal noun phrase or a strong pronoun is probably due to the fact that the complement of the preposition conveys the new/requested information, and must therefore be stressed. Support for this suggestion comes from the fact that the PP naast me in (11b'') can be used in the question-answer pair in (14a), in which the full PP counts as new information, but not in the question-answer pair in (14b), in which it is only the complement of the preposition naast that counts as new information.

Example 14
a. Waar wil zij zitten? Naast mij/naast me.
  where  want  she  sit next.to me
  'Where does she want to sit? Next to me.'
b. Naast wie wil zij zitten? Naast mij/*naast me.
  next.to whom  want  she  sit next.to me
  'Next to whom does she want to sit? Next to me.'
References:
    Suggestions for further reading ▼
    phonology
    • Dutch
    • Frisian
    • Afrikaans
    Show more ▼
    morphology
    • Dutch
    • Frisian
    • Afrikaans
    Show more ▼
    syntax
    • Dutch
    • Frisian
    • Afrikaans
    Show more ▼
    cite
    print
    This topic is the result of an automatic conversion from Word and may therefore contain errors.
    A free Open Access publication of the corresponding volumes of the Syntax of Dutch is available at OAPEN.org.