• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
5.5.3. Conflation of functions of er
quickinfo

One occurrence of er can simultaneously perform more than one function. However, not all functions of er can be conflated. It is generally accepted that er cannot simultaneously perform the functions of locational and pronominal er, and according to us (but not others), the functions of locational and quantitative er cannot be conflated either, subsection I starts by discussing cases in which er expresses more than one function, subsection II continues with a discussion of cases in which er expresses the same functions more than once, subsection III summarizes the findings from this section, the most noteworthy of which is that a single occurrence of er can express seven meaning combinations.

readmore
[+]  I.  Conflation of two or more different functions of er

This subsection discusses the conflation of two or more different functions of er. Since embedded and main clauses differ somewhat in this respect, we devote separate subsections to these two syntactic environments. We start, however, with a general discussion of the question of which functions of er can be conflated.

[+]  1.  Which functions of er can be conflated?

The R-word er can perform four different functions. It can be used as an expletive in, e.g., an existential construction (164a), as the pronominal R-part of a pronominal PP (164b), as a locational pro-form (164c), and as the indicator of the nominal gap in quantitative constructions (164d).

Example 164
a. Er loopt een man op straat.
.. expl ..
  there  walks  a man  in the.street
b. Jan wacht er al tijden op.
.. pron ..
  Jan waits  there  for ages  for
c. Jan staat er al.
.. loc ..
  Jan stands  there  already
d. Jan heeft er [NP drie [e]]
.. quant ..
  Jan has  there  three

Sometimes the element er can be used to express more than one of these functions at the same time. In (165d), for example, er performs the function of both the noun phrase de sigarenkist'the cigar box' and the noun sigaren'cigars' in (165a). This can be proved very easily: in (165b), er must be part of the pronominal PP er ... in, and since it cannot be dropped, we conclude that it is obligatorily present; in (165d), we are dealing with quantitative er, and since it cannot be dropped, we again conclude that it is obligatorily present; since both pronominal and quantitative er are obligatorily present, er must perform both functions in (165d).

Example 165
a. Marie stopte drie sigaren in de sigarenkist.
  Marie put  three cigars  into the cigar.box
b. Marie stopte *(er) drie sigaren in.
.. pron ..
  Marie put  there  three cigars  into
c. Marie stopte *(er) [NP drie [e]] in de sigarenkist.
.. quant ..
  Marie put  there  three  into the cigar.box
d. Marie stopte er [NP drie [e]] in.
.. quant+pron ..
  Marie put  there  three  into

It seems not to be the case, however, that all functions can be conflated. First, example (166b) shows that locational er cannot be conflated with pronominal er given that er can only be interpreted as part of the pronominal PP er ... op; pronominalization of the locational PP op het bal in (166a) requires that a strong locational R-word like daar'there' be used.

Example 166
Pronominal and locational er cannot be conflated:
a. Zij vertelde Jan gisteren op het bal over haar jeugd.
  she  told  Jan yesterday  at the ball  about her youth
  'Yesterday she told Jan about her youth at the ball.'
b. Zij vertelde er (daar) Jan gisteren over.
.. pron ..
  she  told  there  there Jan  yesterday  about
  'Yesterday, she told Jan about it.'

Second, example (167b) shows that the same thing holds for quantitative and locational er. According to us, er can only be interpreted as the licenser of the nominal gap [e]; pronominalization of the locational PP in Amsterdam in (167a) requires that a strong locational R-word like daar'there' or hier'here' be used.

Example 167
Locational and quantitative er cannot be conflated:
a. Zij bezit drie huizen in Amsterdam.
  she  owns  three houses  in Amsterdam
b. Zij bezit er (daar/hier) [NPdrie [e]].
.. quant ..
  she  owns  there  there/here  three
  'She owns three (here).'

      By claiming that the functions of locational and quantitative er cannot be conflated, we go against a long-standing tradition starting with Bech (1952) that claims otherwise. Examples that are given in support of the assumption that these two functions can be conflated generally take the form in (168), where the context, provided in (168a), restricts the assertion of (168b) to students that are in the class. The question we have to ask, however, is whether the fact that the students referred to in (168b) are situated in the class is expressed by the element er or is simply an inference made from the context. In order to answer that question, we have to look at example (168c), in which er can only be taken to be the locational pro-form: according to us, this example sounds pretty forced with er present (due to its redundancy). This suggests that er does not express the locational meaning in (168b) and that we are simply dealing with an inference made from the context.

Example 168
a. Gewoonlijk heb ik twintig leerlingen in de klas, ...
  usually  have  twenty students  in the class
b. ... maar vandaag heb ik er maar vijf.
  but  today  have  there  only  five
c. ... maar vandaag heb ik (??er) maar vijf studenten.
  but  today  have  there  only  five students

Our claim that quantitative and locational er cannot be conflated also contradicts the claim in Bennis (1986: 180) that the primeless examples in (169) are acceptable: since wonen'to live' and doorbrengen'to spend time' require the presence of a locational phrase, these examples would provide evidence in favor of the assumption that the quantitative and locational functions of er can be conflated. However, we believe that in these cases the presence of a strong locational R-word, as in the primed examples, is much preferred; the primeless examples are marginal at best.

Example 169
a. % dat er maar [NP twee e] wonen.
  that  there  only  two  live
a'. dat er hier maar [NP twee e] wonen.
  that  there  here  only  two  live
  'that only two [e.g., students] live here.'
b. % Hij bracht er [NP twee e] door.
  he  spent  there  two  prt.
b'. Hij bracht er hier [NP twee e] door.
  he  spent  there  here  two  prt.
  'He spent two [e.g., vacation days] here.'

We leave it to the reader to decide whether our arguments against the traditional view are conclusive, but in the following we will assume they are. Therefore, if we put aside for the moment the possibility that er performs the same function more than once (see Section 5.5.3, sub II for cases in which er is part of two pronominal PPs or quantitative noun phrases at the same time), we predict the following conflations of functions to be possible: all other combinations are excluded by the two observational generalizations in (166) and (167).

Example 170
a. Single function: expletive; locational; pronominal; quantitative
b. Dual function: expletive + pronominal ; expletive + quantitative; quantitative + pronominal ; expletive + locational
c. Triple function: expletive + pronominal + quantitative

The possibilities in (170a) are of course trivial: no conflation has taken place, as in the examples in (164). In the following two subsections, we will therefore focus on the options in (170b&c) and show that these combinations do indeed occur.

[+]  2.  Embedded clauses

This subsection shows that the predicted conflations of functions in (170b&c) do indeed arise. The dual functions expletive + pronominal and expletive + quantitative are illustrated in (171b&c), and in (171d) the only possibility of combining three functions is illustrated.

Example 171
a. dat er gisteren drie potloden op tafel lagen.
.. expl ..
  that  there  yesterday  three pencils  on the.table  lay
  'that there were three pencils lying on the table yesterday.'
b. dat er gisteren drie potloden op lagen.
.. expl+pron ..
  that  there  yesterday  three pencils  on  lay
  'that there were three pencils lying on it yesterday.'
c. dat er gisteren drie op tafel lagen.
.. expl+quant ..
  that  there  yesterday  three  on the table  lay
  'that there were three lying on the table yesterday.'
d. dat er gisteren drie op lagen.
.. expl+pron+quant ..
  that  there  yesterday  three  on  lay
  'that there were three lying on it yesterday.'

The dual function quantitative + pronominal has already been demonstrated in (165), and we simply repeat the examples here.

Example 172
a. Marie stopte drie sigaren in de sigarenkist.
  Marie put  three cigars  into the cigar.box
b. Marie stopte *(er) drie sigaren in.
.. pron ..
  Marie put  there  three cigars  into
c. Marie stopte *(er) [NP drie [e]] in de sigarenkist.
.. quant ..
  Marie put  there  three  into the cigar.box
d. Marie stopte er [NP drie [e]] in.
.. quant+pron ..
  Marie put  there  three  into

Example (173c) demonstrates the final option in (170b). That we are dealing here with a conflation of the expletive and locational functions of er is clear from the examples in (173a&b): (173a) shows that (in the absence of some other locational phrase or qualifying adjectival phrase) locational er is obligatorily present in this construction, and (173b) shows that an indefinite noun phrase requires the presence of expletive er. As a consequence, we should conclude that er performs both functions in (173c).

Example 173
a. dat Jan *(er) woont.
.. loc ..
  that  Jan  there  lives
  'that Jan lives there.'
b. dat *(er) veel mensen wonen in Amsterdam.
.. expl ..
  that  there  many people  live  in Amsterdam
  'that many people live in Amsterdam.'
c. dat er veel mensen wonen.
.. expl+loc ..
  that  there  many people  live
  'that many people live there.'
[+]  3.  Main clauses

Section 5.5.1 has shown that the behavior of the weak R-word er resembles that of weak object pronouns in that it is normally not able to occupy the clause-initial position in main clauses. The only exception to this generalization is expletive er, which behaves like weak subject pronouns in that it may occur in first position. This exceptional status of expletive er raises the question as to whether the placement of expletive er affects the conflation of the functions of er. In order to establish this, we will investigate the main clauses corresponding to (171) and (173).
      The examples in (174) show that if expletive er occupies the regular subject position after the finite verb in second position, the judgments are just the same as in the embedded clauses in (171).

Example 174
a. Gisteren lagen er drie potloden op tafel.
.. expl ..
  yesterday  lay  there  three pencils  on the table
  'Yesterday there were lying three pencils on the table.'
b. Gisteren lagen er drie potloden op.
.. expl+pron ..
  yesterday  lay  there  three pencils  on
c. Gisteren lagen er drie op tafel.
.. expl+quant ..
  yesterday  lay  there  three  on the table
d. Gisteren lagen er drie op.
.. expl+pron+quant ..
  yesterday  lay  there  three  on

Example (175a) just illustrates that expletive er can also occupy the first position in the clause. The two examples in (175b) show that conflation of the expletive and pronominal functions of er is not affected by the sentence-initial placement of the expletive; expressing the pronominal function by means of a separate occurrence of er, as in (175b'), leads to ungrammaticality.

Example 175
a. Er lagen gisteren drie potloden op tafel.
.. expl ..
b. Er lagen gisteren drie potloden op.
.. expl+pron ..
b'. * Er lagen er gisteren drie potloden op.
.. expl .. pron ..

Things are different, however, in the case of expletive and quantitative er. The (b)- examples in (176) shows that conflation of the two functions is not possible; the quantitative function must be expressed by means of a separate occurrence of er in the regular position of non-expletive er, as in (176c').

Example 176
a. Er lagen gisteren drie potloden op tafel.
.. expl ..
b. * Er lagen gisteren drie op tafel.
.. expl+quant ..
b'. Er lagen er gisteren drie op tafel.
.. expl .. quant ..

When we are dealing with three functions, as in (177), one additional occurrence of er is again required. In view of the data in (175) and (176), it seems we are justified in assuming that the first occurrence of er expresses the expletive and the pronominal functions, whereas the second one only expresses the quantitative function, but it should be noted that we do not have independent evidence bearing on this claim.

Example 177
Er lagen er gisteren drie op.
.. expl+pron .. quant ..

The examples in (178), finally, provide the main clause counterpart of (173c) and show that the locational pro-form behaves like pronominal er in that conflation with the expletive is also required if er occupies the sentence-initial position.

Example 178
a. Toen woonden er nog veel mensen.
.. expl+loc ..
  then  lived  there  still  many people
  'Many people lived there then.'
b. Er wonen veel mensen.
.. expl+loc ..
  there  live  many people
  'There live many people there.'
b'. * Er wonen er veel mensen.
.. expl .. loc ..
  there  live  there  many people
[+]  II.  Conflation of two similar functions of er

Section 5.5.3, sub I, has discussed the conflation of two or more different functions of er. It is, however, also possible that two similar functions of er are conflated. This is not possible with expletive er for the obvious reason that a clause contains at most one expletive. It does not occur with locational er either, but it is possible with pronominal and quantitative er.

[+]  A.  Conflation of two pronominal R-words

Example (179a) contains two PPs that both allow R-extraction; cf. (179b&c). The (d)-examples show that two stranded prepositions must occur with just a single occurrence of pronominal er, which shows that two occurrences of pronominal er are obligatorily conflated. Similar examples are given in (180).

Example 179
a. Jan is speciaal voor dat boek naar de bibliotheek toe gegaan.
  Jan is especially  for that book  to the library  toe  went
  'Jan went to the library for that book especially.'
b. Jan is er speciaal voor naar de bibliotheek toe gegaan.
c. Jan is er speciaal voor dat boek naar toe gegaan.
d. Jan is er speciaal voor naar toe gegaan.
d'. * Jan is er er speciaal voor naar toe gegaan.
Example 180
a. Jan heeft de sleutel met een tang uit het slot gehaald
  Jan has  the key  with a pair of tongs  out.of the lock  taken
  'Jan took the key out of the lock with pliers.'
b. Jan heeft er de sleutel mee uit het slot gehaald.
c. Jan heeft er de sleutel met een tang uit gehaald.
d. Jan heeft er de sleutel mee uit gehaald.
d'. * Jan heeft er er de sleutel mee uit gehaald.

However, constructions in which er is construed with two stranded adpositions are not always available. Examples like (181d) and (182d), for example seem ungrammatical, despite the fact that the (b)- and (c)-examples show that the two PPs both allow R-extraction on their own.

Example 181
a. Jan heeft net met de lepel in de soep geroerd.
  Jan has  just.now  with the spoon  in the soup  stirred
  'Jan has stirred the soup with that spoon.'
b. Jan heeft er net met de lepel in geroerd.
c. Jan heeft er net mee in de soep geroerd.
d. *? Jan heeft er net mee in geroerd.
d'. * Jan heeft er er net mee in geroerd.
Example 182
a. Jan keek net met zijn verrekijker naar een bootje.
  Jan looked  just. now  with his binoculars  to a small boat
  'Jan looked at a small boat with his binoculars.'
b. Jan keek er net met zijn verrekijker naar.
c. Jan keek er net mee naar een bootje.
d. * Jan keek er net mee naar.
d'. * Jan keek er er net mee naar.

      The difference between (179) and (180), on the one hand, and (181) and (182), on the other, has not been discussed in the literature and therefore we can only speculate about what causes the difference in judgments on the two sets of examples. The most conspicuous difference is that the former set involves complementive locational/directional PPs ( naar de bibliotheek toe and uit het slot, respectively), whereas the latter two examples do not. Our conjecture is therefore that this type of conflation is possible only if one of the two pronominal PPs is a complementive, that is, acts a predicatively used locational or directional phrase. Future research must show whether this conjecture is on the right track.
      Given that R-words other than er may also strand prepositions, the question arises whether the possibility of conflation is a typical property of er or a more general property of R-words. The data in (183) suggest that the former is the case; note that we are not able to give examples with relative pronouns since their reference is determined by their (unique) antecedent.

Example 183
a. * Jan heeft hier/daar de sleutel mee uit gehaald.
  Jan has  here/there  the key  with  out.of  taken
  Intended reading: 'Jan took the key out of this/that with this/that.'
b. * Jan heeft ergens de sleutel mee uit gehaald.
  Jan has  somewhere  the key  with  out.of  taken
  Intended reading: 'Jan took the key out of something with something.'
c. * Jan heeft overal de sleutel mee uit gehaald.
  Jan has  everywhere  the key  with  out.of  taken
  Intended reading: 'Jan took the key out of everything with everything.'
d. * Waar heeft Jan de sleutel mee uit gehaald?
  where  has  Jan the key  with  out.of  taken
  Intended reading: 'With what did Jan take the key out of what?'

In order to have two stranded prepositions, in general two R-words must be present as in (184). The examples are somewhat hard to process but it seems that the first R-word in each of the examples in (184) must be interpreted as the pronominal object of the locational preposition uit'out of'; the reading in which the first R-word is construed as the pronominal object of the stranded preposition mee'with' seems to be excluded. This also holds for the interrogative R-word in (184d), in which waar is construed as the pronominal object of uit. These examples therefore all have a similar structure involving a nested dependency: .. R-wordi ... R-wordj .. Pj .. Pi, where the indices indicate which R-word is construed with which adposition.

Example 184
a. Jan heeft er hier/daar de sleutel mee uit gehaald.
  Jan has  there  here/there  the key  with  out.of  taken
  Intended reading: 'Jan took the key out of it with this/that.'
b. ? Jan heeft er ergens de sleutel mee uit gehaald.
  Jan has  there  somewhere  the key  with  out.of  taken
  Intended reading: 'Jan took the key out of it with something.'
c. ? Jan heeft er overal de sleutel mee uit gehaald.
  Jan has  there  everywhere  the key  with  out.of  taken
  Intended reading: 'Jan took the key out of it with everything.'
d. Waar heeft Jan er de sleutel mee uit gehaald?
  where  has  Jan there  the key  with  out.of  taken
  Intended reading: 'What did Jan take the key out of with it?'

      To conclude this subsection, we want to discuss one more example, taken from Haeseryn (1997:488). As in (179) and (180), the example in (185) involves one complementive PP, viz. in de krant, so that this example falls under the earlier hypothesis that one of the two PPs involved must be a complementive. What is special about this example, however, is that the over-PP seems to function as the modifier of a subject noun phrase. Since the subject noun phrase is indefinite, er in (185a) is an expletive. In (185b&c), er simultaneously functions as an expletive and as a pronominal R-word. In (185d), er is construed with two stranded prepositions. We have added (185e) just to illustrate how complex constructions like these can become: in addition to the three functions it already has in (185d), er also functions as quantitative er in this example.

Example 185
a. Vandaag staan er twee artikelen over zure regen in de krant.
  today  stand there  two articles about acid rain  in the newspaper
  'Today, there are two articles about acid rain in the paper.'
b. Vandaag staan er twee artikelen over in de krant.
  today  stand there  two articles about  in the newspaper
c. Vandaag staan er twee artikelen over zure regen in.
  today  stand there  two articles about acid rain  in
d. Vandaag staan er twee artikelen over in.
  today  stand there  two articles about  in
e. Vandaag staan er [NP twee [e] over] in.
  today  stand there  two  about  in
[+]  B.  Conflation of two occurrences of quantitative er

Example (186a) shows that it is also possible to conflate two instances of quantitative er. That we are dealing with conflation here is clear from the examples in (186b&c): if the direct object is a full noun phrase, as in (186b), er is obligatorily present to indicate the nominal gap in the subject; if the subject is a full noun phrase, er is present to indicate the nominal gap in the direct object: consequently, er in (186a) must simultaneously perform both functions. Note that a subject with a nominal gap may precede quantitative er; see Section N6.3 for more discussion.

Example 186
Iedere student heeft een onvoldoende gekregen ...
  every student  has  an unsatisfactory mark  gotten
'Every student got an unsatisfactory mark ...'
a. ... en [NP drie e] hebben er zelfs [NP twee e].
  and  three  have  there  even  two
  '... and three even got two.'
b. ... en [NP drie e] hebben *(er) zelfs twee onvoldoendes.
  and  three  have  there  even two unsatisfactory marks
  '... and three even got two unsatisfactory marks.'
c. ... en drie studenten hebben *(er) zelfs [NP twee e].
  and  three students  have  there  even  two
  '... and three students even got two.'
[+]  III.  Summary

The previous subsections have discussed the conflation of functions of er. We have shown that all functions of er can be conflated with the exception of (i) the locational and the pronominal function and (ii) the locational and the quantitative function; cf. (166) and (167). Consequently, er can simultaneously express up to three different functions; cf. (170). A single occurrence of er can also be construed with more than one pronominal PP or quantitative noun phrase. Table 5 gives an overview of the possibilities, with references to the examples in question that illustrate them. Recall that main clauses with expletive er in first position exhibit a slightly deviant pattern; cf. (176).

Table 5: Conflation of functions of er
function example
expletive pronominal (171b)
  quantitative (171c)
  locational (173c)
  pronominal quantitative (171d)
quantitative pronominal (165d)
  quantitative (186a)
pronominal pronominal (179d)/(180d)

More complex examples can be constructed by combining conflation of different and similar functions. We conclude by giving one such example. In (187a), er only has an expletive function. In (187b), there are two quantitative noun phrases, so er simultaneously performs the expletive function once and the quantitative function twice. In (187c), R-pronominalization has been applied to the PP uit de boekenkast, so that er performs the pronominal function on top of the other functions in (187b).

Example 187
a. dat er twee studenten drie boeken uit de boekenkast gehaald hebben.
  that  there  two students  three books  out.of the bookcase  fetched have
  'that two students fetched three books out of the bookcase.'
b. dat er [NP twee e] [NP drie e] uit de boekenkast gehaald hebben.
c. dat er [NP twee e] [NP drie e] uit gehaald hebben.
References:
  • Bech, Gunnar1952Über das niederländische Adverbialpronomen <i>er</i>Traveaux du Cercle Linguistique de Copenhague VIII, Copenhague/Amsterdam85-32
  • Bennis, Hans1986Gaps and dummiesDordrechtForis Publications
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
Suggestions for further reading ▼
phonology
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
morphology
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
syntax
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
  • 5.5.2. Co-occurrence of R-words
    [91%] Dutch > Syntax > Adpositions and adpositional phrases > 5 R-pronominalization and R-words > 5.5. Appendix: The syntax of R-words
  • 6.3. Quantitative er
    [90%] Dutch > Syntax > Nouns and Noun Phrases > 6 Numerals and quantifiers
  • 3.3.3. Nominative/PP alternations
    [89%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 3 Projection of verb phrases II:Verb frame alternations > 3.3. Alternations of noun phrases and PPs
  • 11.3.3. Topicalization
    [88%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 11 Word order in the clause III:Clause-initial position (wh-movement) > 11.3. Clause-initial position is filled
  • Introduction
    [88%] Dutch > Syntax > Adpositions and adpositional phrases > 5 R-pronominalization and R-words
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.