• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
4.1. Adpositional phrases used as arguments
quickinfo

The use of adpositional phrases in positions that are normally occupied by a nominative or an accusative noun phrase is restricted to constructions in which the adpositional phrase acts as the logical subject of a complementive: the two examples in (1) illustrate, respectively, a copular and a vinden-construction, in which the locational prepositional phrase onder het bed'under the bed' functions as the subject of the nominal predicate een leuke plek'a nice spot'.

Example 1
a. Waarschijnlijk is onder het bed een leuke plek.
  probably  is under the bed  a nice spot
b. Ik vind onder het bed een leuke plek.
  I consider  under the bed  a nice spot

Example (2) provides similar examples in which the directional postpositional phrase de berg op functions as the subject of the adjectival predicate gemakkelijker'easier'.

Example 2
a. De berg op is gemakkelijker dan de berg af.
  the mountain up  is easier  than  the mountain down
  'It is easier to ascend the mountain than to descend it.'
b. Ik vind de berg op gemakkelijker dan de berg af.
  I consider  the mountain up  easier  than  the mountain down
  'I consider ascending the mountain easier than descending it.'

It has been argued that in examples such as Het is warm in de kamer'It is warm in the room', the PP in de kamer'in the room' also functions as a subject of the adjectival predicate warm'warm', albeit that the pronoun het'it' is used as an anticipatory pronoun introducing the subject-PP. Constructions like these are not be discussed here but in Section A6.6, sub III.
      Examples in which an adpositional phrase acts as the subject of a main verb cannot readily be constructed and generally sound quite forced. Adpositional phrases can, however, readily be used as complements of lexical heads; they frequently occur as complements of verbs, adjectives and nouns, as illustrated in (3). It is, however, quite uncommon for adpositional phrases to occur as the complement of an adposition; see Section 2.2 for a few such exceptional cases.

Example 3
a. Marie kijkt graag naar mooie jongens.
complement of V
  Marie looks  gladly  at beautiful boys
  'Marie likes to look at beautiful boys.'
b. Jan is erg trots op zijn mooie lange haar.
complement of A
  Jan is very proud  of his beautiful long hair
c. Jan verafschuwt de jacht op wilde zwijnen.
complement of N
  Jan loathes  the hunt on wild boars

That it is the lexical head of the construction that selects the PP is clear from the fact that the actual choice of the adposition fully depends on the selectional properties of the head; replacement of the prepositions in (3) by any other preposition results in ungrammaticality. Since the prepositions seem to be mainly present for syntactic reasons and do not seem to contribute in a compositional way to the meaning of the sentences, we will call them functional prepositions. We refer the reader to Table 29 in Section 1.3.3 for a list of these functional prepositions and more examples, and continue here with an investigation of four syntactic properties of argument PPs: topicalization, scrambling, PP-over-V and R-extraction.

readmore
[+]  I.  Topicalization

PPs acting as the subject/object of the clause can be topicalized. This is shown in (4) for the examples in (1): (1a) illustrates the case in which the subject PP occupies the regular subject position of the clause, which is right adjacent to the finite verb, and (4a) provides the counterpart of this example with topicalization of the subject-PP onder het bed; example (4b) is the topicalization counterpart of (1b).

Example 4
a. Onder het bed is waarschijnlijk een leuke plek.
  under the bed  is probably  a nice spot
b. Onder het bed vind ik een leuke plek.
  under the bed  consider  a nice spot

The examples in (5) are the topicalization counterparts of the examples in (3). Examples (5a&b) show that PP-complements of verbs and predicatively used adjectives can readily be topicalized. Topicalization of the PP-complement of the definite noun phrase in (3c), on the other hand, seems impossible; we refer the reader to Subsection V for a discussion of the topicalization behavior of PP-complements of indefinite noun phrases.

Example 5
a. Naar mooie jongens kijkt Marie graag.
  at beautiful boys  looks  Marie  gladly
b. Op zijn mooie lange haar is Jan erg trots.
  of his beautiful long hair  is Jan very proud
c. *? Op wilde zwijnen verafschuwt Jan de jacht.
  on wild boars  loathes  Jan the hunt
[+]  II.  Scrambling

Example (6) shows that PPs that act as the object of a vinden-construction can undergo scrambling, and are thus able to either precede or follow the adverbs. As with nominal objects, the two forms differ with respect to the information structure of the clause: if the PP precedes the clausal adverb, it is construed as belonging to the presupposition of the clause, while it is construed as part of the focus (“new” information) if it follows the clausal adverb.

Example 6
dat Jan <onder het bed> misschien <onder het bed> een leuke plek vindt.
  that Jan under the bed  possibly  a nice spot  considers

The examples in (7a&b) show that prepositional complements of verbs and adjectives can also undergo scrambling. In these examples the difference does not involve the distinction between presupposition and focus but, rather, the distinction between emphatic and contrastive focus; if it is scrambled, the PP is emphasized. Example (7c) shows that, like topicalization in (5c), scrambling of the PP-complement of a noun gives rise to a degraded result.

Example 7
a. dat Marie <naar mooie jongens> graag <naar mooie jongens> kijkt.
  that  Marie    at beautiful boys  gladly  looks
b. dat Jan <op zijn mooie lange haar> erg trots <op zijn mooie lange haar> is.
  that  Jan   of his beautiful long hair  very proud  is
c. dat Jan <*?op wilde zwijnen> de jacht <op wilde zwijnen> verafschuwt.
  that  Jan      on wild boars  the hunt  loathes
[+]  III.  PP-over-V

The primed examples in (8) show that PP-over-V of the subject/object PPs in the examples in (1) is excluded; they behave like nominal subjects/objects in this respect. The number sign # indicates that (8b') is acceptable if vinden acts as a transitive verb meaning “to find”, in which case the PP functions as a locational adverbial phrase, which is clear from the fact that it is optional; this interpretation of the PP is, of course, also available in (4b) and (8b).

Example 8
a. dat onder het bed een leuke plek is.
  that  under the bed  a nice spot  is
a'. * dat een leuke plek is onder het bed.
b. dat ik onder het bed een leuke plek vind.
  that  under the bed  a nice spot  consider
b'. # dat ik een leuke plek vind (onder het bed).

The examples in (9a&b) show that PP-over-V of PP complements of verbs and adjectives is possible. PP-over-V seems be blocked, however, with PP complements of definite noun phrases; we refer the reader to Subsection V for a discussion of the extraposition behavior of PP-complements of indefinite noun phrases.

Example 9
a. dat Marie graag kijkt naar mooie jongens.
  that  Marie gladly  looks  at beautiful boys
b. dat Jan erg trots is op zijn mooie lange haar.
  that  Jan very proud  is of his beautiful long hair
c. *? dat Jan waarschijnlijk de jacht verafschuwt op wilde zwijnen.
  that  Jan probably  the hunt  loathes  on wild boars
[+]  IV.  R-extraction

The argument PPs discussed in the previous subsections all allow R-pronominalization. The examples differ, however, with respect to the question as to whether the R-word er must be adjacent to the preposition, or whether the two can be separated by some other element as a result of R-extraction. The examples in (10) show that pronominal PPs that act as the subject or the object of the clause cannot be split.

Example 10
a. Om te spelen is waarschijnlijk daar onder een leuke plek.
  for to play  is  probably  there  under  a nice spot
  'Under there will probably be a nice place for playing.'
a'. * Om te spelen is daar waarschijnlijk onder een leuke plek.
b. Ik vind waarschijnlijk daar onder een leuke plek.
  consider  probably  there  under  a nice spot
  'I think that under there will probably be a nice spot for playing.'
b. * Ik vind daar waarschijnlijk onder een leuke plek.

The examples in (11a&b) show that the split pattern is possible if the pronominal PP is the complement of a verb or an adjective. When the PP is a complement of a definite noun phrase, however, the split pattern seems to be excluded; we again refer the reader to Subsection V for a discussion of the behavior of PP-complements of indefinite noun phrases in this respect.

Example 11
a. dat Marie <daar> graag <daar> naar kijkt.
  that  Marie   there  gladly  at  looks
  'that Marie gladly looks at that.'
b. dat Jan <daar> waarschijnlijk erg trots <daar> op is.
  that  Jan   there  probably  very proud  of  is
  'that Jan is of course very proud of that.'
c. dat Jan <*?daar> de jacht <daar> op verafschuwt.
  that  Jan      there  the hunt  on  loathes
  'that Jan loathes the hunt on it.'
[+]  V.  Conclusion

Table 2 summarizes the results from Subsections I to IV. The second column refers to PPs that are used in positions where we would normally have a nominative or an accusative noun phrase. The third column gives the cases in which a PP is used as a complement of V, A or N.

Table 2: Adpositions used as arguments
  SUBJECT of complementive complement of
  subject object V A N
topicalization + + + +
Scrambling n.a. + + +
PP-over-V + +
R-extraction + +

The data in Subsections I to IV suggest that PP-complements of verbs and adjectives differ from PP-complements of nouns in that only the former can undergo topicalization, scrambling, PP-over-V and R-extraction. It is not clear, however, whether it is really the case that PP-complements of nouns categorically resist these processes; when we are dealing with indefinite noun phrases, the results appear to be totally different. In (12a), for example, the PP over ruimtevaart'about space travel' is often claimed to be a complement of the noun boek'book', and the examples in (12b-e) show that topicalization, scrambling, PP-over-V, and R-extraction are all nevertheless possible if the noun phrase is indefinite.

Example 12
a. Marie heeft een/het boek over ruimtevaart gelezen.
  Marie has  a/the book  on space travel  read
b. Over ruimtevaart heeft Marie een/??het boek gelezen.
topicalization
c. Marie heeft over ruimtevaart een/??het boek gelezen.
scrambling
d. Marie heeft een/??het boek gelezen over ruimtevaart.
PP-over-V
e. Marie heeft er een/??het boek over gelezen.
R-extraction
  Marie has  there  a/the book  on  read
  'Marie read a book on it.'

The claim that we are dealing with a PP complement in (12) is not uncontroversial, however: it is sometimes claimed that, at least in (12b-e), the PP is not a complement of the noun but a restrictive adverbial phrase. We will not discuss this issue here, but refer the reader to Section N2.2.1 and subsequent sections for an extensive discussion of this and many other intricate questions concerning adpositional complements of nouns.

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.