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2.1. Nominal complements
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Complements of adpositions are normally noun phrases. A distinction must be made between noun phrases with a determiner and (singular) bare noun phrases, that is, noun phrases without a determiner. As is to be expected, the first are normally referential in nature; the noun phrase het kantoor'the office' in (1a) just refers to a building, and it is claimed that Jan is working there. The bare noun phrase kantoor in (1a'), on the other hand, does not refer to a specific building, and the PP does not refer to a specific location; instead, it is claimed that Jan has an occupation that in some way is related to the noun: he may be an office or administrative worker. Similarly, (1b) expresses that Jan is located at the office, while (1b') simply expresses that Jan is at work.

Example 1
a. Jan werkt op het kantoor.
  Jan works  at the office
  'Jan is employed at the office.'
b. Jan zit op dit moment op het kantoor.
  Jan  sits  at this moment  at the office
  'Jan is at the office at this moment.'
a'. Jan werkt op kantoor.
  Jan works  at office
  'Jan is an office employee.'
b'. Jan zit op dit moment op kantoor.
  Jan  sits  at this moment  at office
  'Jan is at work at this moment.'

Example (2) shows that the difference in referentiality is also reflected in the modification possibilities of the noun phrase complements: whereas referential noun phrases can be modified by, e.g., an attributive adjective like nieuwe'new', this is normally excluded in the case of bare noun phrases.

Example 2
a. Jan werkt op het nieuwe kantoor.
a'. * Jan werkt op nieuwe kantoor.
b. Jan zit op dit moment op het nieuwe kantoor.
b'. * Jan zit op dit moment op nieuwe kantoor.

Exceptions to the general rule that bare noun phrases cannot be modified are fixed collocations denoting mental states like in verwarring or in verlegenheid; the examples in (3) show that such collocations do allow for a limited set af attributive modifiers with an amplifying function.

Example 3
a. Zij brengt hem in (totale) verwarring.
  she  brings  him  in complete confusion
  'She totally confuses him.'
b. Zij bracht hem in (grote) verlegenheid.
  she  brought  him  in big embarrassment
  'She greatly embarrassed him.'
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[+]  I.  Referential noun phrases

The examples throughout this study amply illustrate that the core case of complementation of an adpositional phrase involves a noun phrase. The only restriction on nominal complements seems to be of a semantic nature. For example, if we use the spatial preposition binnen'inside' or buiten'outside', the nominal complement must have dimensional properties that are compatible with these prepositions. Example (4a) is acceptable because a city can be conceived of as an entity with an interior and an exterior. Example (4b) is semantically anomalous because een dak'a roof' is normally not used to divide space in this way; we really have to force an exceptional interpretation on this example in order to make it acceptable. An example such as (4c), finally, is completely unacceptable because space is not involved at all. It seems that, as long as the semantic restrictions imposed by the adpositions are met, any noun phrase can be used as a complement.

Example 4
a. Jan woont binnen/buiten de stad.
  Jan lives  within/outside the city
b. $ Jan zit binnen/buiten het dak.
  Jan sits  within/outside the roof
c. * Jan is binnen/buiten de vreugde.
  Jan is  within/outside the joy
[+]  II.  Bare singular noun phrases

The set of prepositions that may take a bare singular noun phrase as their complement is rather limited. Some examples are given in (5): the (a)-examples involve the locational prepositions in'in' and op'at', and the (b)-examples the directional prepositions naar'to' and van'from'; examples (5c&d) show that the reduced phrasal directional prepositions richting'in the direction of' and the temporal prepositions voor'before' and na'after' can also take a bare noun phrase.

Example 5
a. Jan ligt in bed.
  Jan lies in bed
a'. Jan is op school.
  Jan is at school
b. Jan gaat vroeg naar huis.
  Jan goes  early  to home
  'Jan goes home early.'
b'. Jan komt vroeg terug van school.
  Jan comes  early  back  from school
c. Deze tram rijdt richting centrum.
  this tram  drives  direction center
  'This tram goes in the direction of the center.'
d. Jan komt voor/na school even langs.
  Jan comes  before/after school  a.moment  past
  'Jan drops by before/after school.'

The interpretation of such PPs is often rather special. The PPs op school and op kantoor in (6), for example, are not spatial in nature, but express that Jan has a certain occupation; note that the location in these examples is expressed by the deictic locational pro-form hier'here'. These readings are virtually lost if a determiner is used; the noun phrases then preferably refer to the actual objects, and the PP is interpreted spatially.

Example 6
a. Jan zit hier op school.
  Jan sits  here  on school
  'Jan is enrolled as a student here (= at this school).'
a'. Jan zit op deze school.
  Jan sits  at this school
  'Jan is enrolled/employed/... at this school.'
b. Jan zit hier al jaren op kantoor.
  Jan sit  here  for.years  on office
  'Jan has been employed here (= at this office) as a clerk for years.'
b'. Jan zit al jaren op dit kantoor.
  Jan sits  for.years  on this office
  'Jan has worked (not necessarily as a clerk) at this office for years.'

Not only is the number of prepositions that can enter this construction limited, there are also a number of badly understood restrictions on the nominal complement. For example, given the acceptability of the examples in (6), one might expect that (7a) would also be acceptable with the meaning “Jan is enrolled as a student here (= at this university)”. This example is, however, severely degraded; the only way to express the intended meaning is by using the definite determiner de preceding the noun, as in (7b).

Example 7
a. * Jan zit (hier) op universiteit.
  Jan sits   here  at university
b. Jan zit (hier) op de universiteit.
  Jan sits   here  at the university
  'Jan is enrolled as a student (at this university).'

      In the examples above, the bare singular nominal complements give rise to interpretations involving occupations, but they may also give rise to event interpretations, which may or may not be idiomatic in nature. Apart from the fact that the use of a definite determiner is excluded, the meaning of (8a) seems fully compositional. Example (8b), on the other hand, has the more specialized interpretation that Jan has gone to bed in order to get some sleep (which will be lost if the article het'the' is added). Note that in cases such as (8c), the presence or absence of the definite determiner does not seem to make much difference for the interpretation.

Example 8
a. Jan zit op (*de) schoot.
  Jan sits  on     the  lap
  'Jan is sitting on (someoneʼs) lap.'
b. Jan ligt al in bed.
  Jan lies already  in bed
  'Jan already went to bed/is already sleeping.'
c. De sleutels liggen op (de) tafel.
  the keys  lie  on the table
  'The keys are on the table.'

      The contrasts between the Dutch and English examples in (9) suggest that bare singular nominal complements are not as common in Dutch as in English; see for more English data Quirk et al. (1985: 277-9), from which we have also taken the primed examples. These contrasts strongly suggest that the collocations consisting of a preposition and a bare noun phrase are listed in the mental lexicon.

Example 9
a. Jan ligt in bed.
a'. Jan is in bed.
b. Marie zit op school.
b'. Marie is in/at school.
c. Het boek ligt op (de) tafel
c'. the book is on *(the) table.
d. Jan zit op (zijn) schoot.
d'. Jan is sitting on *(his) lap.
c. Jan ligt in hetziekenhuis.
c'. Jan is in hospital.
d. Marie zit in de gevangenis.
d'. Marie is in jail.
e. Jan reist met de trein.
e'. Jan travels by train.
f. met de dageraad
f'. at dawn
g. na delunch
g'. after lunch
h. in de herfst
h'. in (the) autumn/in thefall

      Finally, note that the Latinate preposition per in (10) is characterized by the fact that it can only take bare noun phrases.

Example 10
a. per (*de) trein/(*de) bus/(*de) auto
  by  the train/the bus/the car
b. per (*de) minuut/(*het) uur/(*de) dag
  per  the minute/the hour/the day

The preposition in in (11) often occurs with the verbs zijn'to be' or brengen'to bring' in more or lesss fixed collocations, many of which denote mental states.

Example 11
a. in aantocht zijn 'to be on the way'
b. in aanbouw zijn 'to be under construction'
c. in ontroering brengen 'to move/touch'
d. in verwachting zijn 'to be pregnant'
e. in verlegenheid brengen 'to embarrass'
f. in verleiding brengen 'to tempt'
g. in verwarring brengen 'to confuse'
References:
  • Quirk, Randolph, Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey & Svartvik, Jan1985A comprehensive grammar of the English languageLondon/New YorkLongman
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