• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
4.1.2. The periphrastic majorative/maximative

Section 4.1.1 has shown that the majorative and maximative forms of the adjectives are normally formed by means of affixation. In some cases, however, a periphrastic construction can or must be used. The periphrastic construction consists of the majorative/maximative form of the adjective veel followed by the adjective in its positive form: meer/meest A'more/most A'. The first four subsections below discuss some more or lesss systematic cases.The final subsection concludes with a discussion of two alleged cases of periphrastic majorative/maximative constructions.

[+]  I.  Adjectives ending in /st/

Adjectives that end in /st/ often take the periphrastic superlative form. This is probably due to the fact that there is a tendency to not pronounce the /t/ sound in sequences like /sts/. For instance, a compound like herf sts torm, which consists of the nouns herfst'autumn' and storm'storm', is often pronounced as [hεrfstorm] in normal speech, that is, the phoneme sequence /stst/ is reduced to [st]. This can be described by assuming the phonological rules in (29a), which we apply to the phonological form /hεrfststorm/ in (29b). If we apply the same phonological rules to the superlative form of an adjective that end in /st/, such as driest'daring', the ultimate result is indistinguishable from the positive form of the adjective; cf. (29c).

Example 29
a. /stst//s-st/ ⇒ [st]
b. /hεrfst/ + /storm/: /hεrfststorm//hεrfs-storm/ ⇒ [hεrfstorm]
c. /drist/ + /st/: /dristst//dris-st/ ⇒ [drist]

This phonological reduction leads to problems if the superlative is used in attributive position; the examples in (30a) and (30b) are pronounced in the same way. As a result, most people strongly prefer the periphrastic form in (30b'). If the superlative is used in predicative position, on the other hand, the problem is less serious; despite the fact that the positive and superlative adjectives in (30c) and (30d) have the same pronunciation, the presence of the element het unambiguously indicates that we are dealing with a superlative in (30d); see Section 4.2, sub II, for a discussion of the element het. As a result, most speakers readily accept (30d), although the periphrastic form in (30d') is possible, too.

Example 30
a. de drieste jongen
  the  daring  boy
c. Jan is driest.
  Jan is daring
b. *? de driestste jongen
  the  most.daring  boy
d. Jan is het driestst.
  Jan is the most.daring
b'. de meest drieste jongen
  the  most   daring  boy
d'. Jan is het meest driest.
  Jan is the most daring

Since similar problems do not occur with the majorative, it will probably not come as a surprise that the morphological complex forms in the primeless examples of (31) are preferred to periphrastic constructions in the primed examples.

Example 31
a. een driestere jongen
  more.daring  boy
a'. ?? een meer drieste jongen
   a  more  daring  boy
b. Jan is driester.
  Jan is more.daring
b'. ?? Jan is meer driest.
   Jan is more daring

      Observe that when the positive form of the adjective ends in the consonant /s/, the superlative affix -st reduces to - t, which is also orthographically reflected. Often, such adjectives also appear in the periphrastic maximative construction; the periphrastic majorative construction, on the other hand, sounds extremely marked.

Example 32
Majorative and maximative forms of adjectives ending in /s/
positive majorative maximative
grijs‘grey’ grijz-er/??meer grijs grijs-t/meest grijs
pervers‘perverse’ pervers-er/??meer pervers pervers-t/meest pervers
wijs‘wise’ wijz-er/??meer wijs wijs-t/meest wijs
[+]  II.  Adjectives that end in /ə/

Adjectives that end in -en (pronounced as schwa in Standard Dutch) generally can appear in the periphrastic majorative and maximative forms. Acceptability judgments on the morphologically complex forms in the primeless examples of (33), in which the orthographic n must be pronounced, tend to differ among speakers. The marked status of the morphologically derived adjectives may be related to the fact that the addition of the affix -er/-st gives rise to a sequence of two syllables that contain a schwa.

Example 33
a. ? een gedegen-er opleiding
  more.solid  training
a'. een meer gedegen opleiding
  more  solid  training
b. ? de gedegen-ste opleiding
  the  most.solid  training
b'. de meest gedegen opleiding
  the  most  solid  training
c. ? een verlegen-er jongen
  more.bashful  boy
c'. een meer verlegen jongen
  more  bashful  boy
d. ?? de verlegen-ste jongen
  the  most.bashful  boy
d'. de meest verlegen jongen
  the  most  bashful  boy
e. ?? een belegen-er kaas
  a more.matured  cheese
e'. een meer belegen kaas
  more  matured  cheese
f. ?? de belegen-ste kaas
  the  most.matured  cheese
f'. de meest belegen kaas
  the  most  matured  cheese
[+]  III.  Pseudo-participles and participles

Many pseudo-participles do not have a morphologically derived majorative or maximative form. Table (34) provides the majorative/maximative forms of the pseudo-participles from Section 2.3.1, sub III. Again, we should note that judgments on the acceptability of the morphologically complex forms vary among speakers.

Example 34
Majorative/maximative forms of pseudo-participles
form example comparative superlative
ge- .. -d/t/en gebrand op
keen on
*gebrander *gebrandst
    meer gebrand meest gebrand
  gekant tegen
opposed to
*gekanter *?gekantst
    meer gekant meest gekant
  geschikt voor
suitable for
geschikter geschiktst
    meer geschikt meest geschikt
  gespitst op
especially alert to
??gespitster ??gespitstst
    meer gespitst meest gespitst
  gesteld op
keen on
*gestelder *?gesteldst
    meer gesteld meest gesteld
  ingenomen met
delighted with
*ingenomener *ingenomenst
    meer ingenomen meest ingenomen
ver- .. -d/t verliefd op
in.love with
verliefder verliefdst
    meer verliefd meest verliefd
  verrukt over
delighted at
?verrukter ?verruktst
    meer verrukt meest verrukt
  verwant aan
related to
*verwanter *verwantst
    meer verwant meest verwant
be- .. -d/t bedacht op
cautious for
*?bedachter *?bedachtst
    meer bedacht meest bedacht
  bekend met
familiar with
bekender bekendst
    meer bekend meest bekend
  bereid tot
willing to
*bereider *?bereidst
    meer bereid meest bereid
  bevreesd voor
fearful of
bevreesder *bevreesdst
    meer bevreesd meest bevreesd
irregular forms voldaan over
content with
voldaner voldaanst
    meer voldaan meest voldaan
  begaan met
sympathetic towards
*beganer *begaanst
    meer begaan meest begaan

The fact that the pseudo-participles prefer, or at least allow, the periphrastic form may be related to the fact discussed in Subsection V below that adjectivally used past/passive participles normally do not allow majorative/maximative formation. This even holds for the compounds in (35), the adjectival status of which is unquestionable, and which do allow majorative and maximative formation provided that the affix -er/-st is placed on the first morpheme: the resulting majorative forms are often written as two separate words whereas the maximative forms are sometimes also written as a single word. The pattern in (35) strongly resembles the modification pattern of attributively used past/passive participles discussed in Section 9.5.

Example 35
Majorative/maximative forms of compounds with past participles
positive majorative maximative
dichtbevolkt‘densely populated’ dichter bevolkt dichtstbevolkt
drukbezet‘very busy’ drukker bezet drukst bezet
drukbezocht‘well-attended’ drukker bezocht drukst bezocht
hooggeplaatst‘eminent’ hoger geplaatst hoogstgeplaatst
vergezocht‘far-fetched’ verder gezocht verstgezocht

Compounds that take a present participle as their second member, as in (36), normally do allow regular suffixation with -er/-st, although they sometimes also allow affixation of their first member. For more examples, we refer the reader to taaladvies.net/taal/advies/tekst/22/ and taaladvies.net/taal/advies/vraag/838/, as well as the references cited there.

Example 36
Majorative/maximative forms of compounds with present participles
positive majorative maximative
hoogdravend‘grandiloquent’ hoogdravender
*hoger dravend
diepgravend‘in-depth/thorough’ diepgravender
dieper gravend
diepst gravend
veelomvattend‘comprehensive’ veelomvattender
meer omvattend
meest omvattend
[+]  IV.  Emphasis

The periphrastic superlative construction can also be used to give special emphasis, as in the (a)-examples of (37). Alternatively, emphasis can be expressed by affixing the superlative with the prefix aller-, as in the (b)-examples; see the discussion of (171) for the pseudo-superlative use of forms with aller-.

Example 37
a. Jan is de meest vreemde jongen die ik ken.
  Jan is the  most  strange  boy  that I know
a'. Gezond zijn is het meest belangrijk.
  healthy being  is the  most  important
  'Being healthy is the most important.'
b. Jan is de allervreemdste jongen die ik ken.
  Jan is the  strangest  boy  that I know
b'. Gezond zijn is het allerbelangrijkst.
  healthy being  is the  most.important
  'Being healthy is the most important of all.'
[+]  V.  Two alleged cases of periphrastic majoratives/maximatives

The cases discussed in the previous subsections seem to exhaust the possibilities. Nevertheless, we have to discuss two other cases that have been claimed to involve a periphrastic majorative/maximative form; cf. Haeseryn et al. (1997:416-7).

[+]  A.  Attributively used past/passive participles

The first case concerns attributively used past/passive participles. Attributively used participles occasionally retain some of their verbal properties; cf. Section 9.2. The participle in (38a), for example, resembles a regular passive participle in that it can license a passive door-phrase. Example (38b) shows that the participle cannot undergo morphological majorative formation, whereas the grammaticality of (38c) seems to suggest that the periphrastic majorative leads to an acceptable result.

Example 38
a. een door Peter zeer gewaardeerde foto
  by Peter  very  appreciated  photo
b. * een door Peter gewaardeerdere foto
  the  by Peter  more.appreciated  photo
c. een door Peter meer gewaardeerde foto
  by Peter  more appreciated  photo

Example (38c) may be deceiving, however. Since Section 4.2, sub III, will show that adjectives may also appear in the majorative form if they are used adverbially, it may be the case that the element meer does not form a constituent with the participle gewaardeerd, but performs a function similar to that in example (39a). The maximative construction with meest'most' casts light on this issue: if we replace the majorative meer in (39a) by the maximative meest, as in (39b), it must be preceded by the element het.

Example 39
a. Peter waardeert deze foto meer.
  Peter appreciates  this photo  more
b. Peter waardeert deze foto het meest.
  Peter appreciates  this photo  the most

Given that attributively used superlatives are never preceded by het, we can test whether meer in (38c) is part of a periphrastic majorative meer gewaardeerd or acts as an independent adverb by replacing it by the superlative form meest. Since (40) shows that het must be present in that case, we should conclude that meer/meest in (38c) and (40) are the majorative/maximative forms of the independent adverb that we also find in (39), and do not form a periphrastic majorative/maximative construction with the past/passive participle.

Example 40
de door Peter *(het) meest gewaardeerde foto
  the  by Peter     the  most  appreciated  photo

      If the door-phrase in (40) is dropped, the element het is preferably absent, which suggests that we are dealing with a periphrastic majorative/maximative forms in the examples in (41). If this is indeed the case, the contrast with example (40) may be due to the fact that the participle has lost its verbal character in example (41) and behaves as a true adjective; cf. Section 9.2.

Example 41
a. een meer gewaardeerde foto
  more appreciated  photo
b. de (?het) meest gewaardeerde foto
  the    the  most appreciated  photo

In the remainder of this subsection we will show, however, that the fact that dropping the element het is possible in (41b) is still not conclusive, and that we are actually not dealing with periphrastic majorative/maximative constructions in (41). A first, somewhat weak, argument is that the majorative/maximative form cannot be expressed by morphological means, which may be slightly suspect given that at least some of the pseudo-participles given in (34) can undergo the morphological affixation process.

Example 42
a. * de gewaardeerdere foto
b. * de gewaardeerdste foto

A more compelling argument is that attributively used participles can also be accompanied by intensifiers of a more adverbial nature, like goed'well' in (43a). The crucial observation is that the superlative form of the adverb in (43c) need not be preceded by the element het either.

Example 43
a. een goed opgeleide jongen
  well  trained  boy
b. een beter opgeleide jongen
  better  trained  boy
c. de (?het) best opgeleide jongen
  the    the  best  trained  boy

The examples in (44) show that a similar effect can be observed if we are dealing with the superlative form of the modifier of a pseudo-participle or true set-denoting adjective.

Example 44
a. de (??het) zwaarst behaarde man
  the     the  most.heavily  hairy  man
b. de (??het) ergst zieke jongen
  the     the  worst  ill  boy

Although it is not immediately clear what causes the degraded status of the noun phrases in (43c) and (44) when het is present, it is clear that we should conclude that adverbially used superlatives need not be accompanied by the element het when they act as modifiers of attributively used adjectives, unlike what is the case when they modify a predicatively used adjective, as in (45). We must therefore conclude that the absence of the element het in (41) is not sufficient to claim that we are dealing with a periphrastic superlative.

Example 45
a. Deze jongen is *(het) best opgeleid.
  this boy  is    the  best trained
b. Deze man is *(het) zwaarst behaard.
  this man  is    the  most.heavily  hairy
c. Deze jongen is *(het) ergst ziek.
  this boy  is    the  worst  ill

We want to conclude by proposing that the markedness of the use of het in examples (41b), (43c) and (44) is due to the fact that it occurs adjacent to the definite article. This claim can be supported by the fact that het deletion also arises with predicatively and adverbially used superlatives in the attributively used participle phrases in the primed examples in (46). If the adjacency of het and the determiner is indeed the relevant factor, we may also account for the fact that het cannot be dropped in example (40) and the primed examples of (46). We will return to the examples in (46) in Section 4.2, sub II and III.

Example 46
a. de (?het) hardst/minst hard lopende jongen
  the    the  fastest/least  fast  running  boy
  'the boy that runs the fastest/least fast'
a'. de steeds weer *(het) hardst lopende jongen
  the  always  again     the  fastest  running  boy
b. de (?het) gladst/minst glad gestreken broek
  the   the  smoothest/least smooth  ironed  trousers
  'the trousers that were ironed the smoothest/least smooth'
b'. de door Peter *(het) gladst/minst glad gestreken broek
  the  by Peter    the  smoothest/least smooth  ironed  trousers
[+]  B.  Comparison of two adjectives

The second alleged case of periphrastic majorative/maximative forms involves comparison of two adjectives; it has been claimed that this is only possible if the periphrastic majorative form is used. Two examples are given in (47).

Example 47
a. Deze kamer is meer praktisch/*praktischer dan gezellig.
  this room  is more practical than cozy
b. De atleet bereikte de finish meer dood/*doder dan levend.
  the sportsman  reached  the finish  more dead  than alive

It is not clear, however, whether the examples in (47) really involve periphrastic majorative phrases. A first reason to doubt this is that these examples seem more concerned with the appropriateness of the used terms, than with degrees. This is shown by the fact that meer in (47) can be replaced by eerder'rather', as in (48), which is never possible with true majoratives; insofar as the examples in (49) are intelligible, eerder must be translated as sooner, which yields a pragmatically odd result because we are dealing here with individual-level adjectives.

Example 48
a. Deze kamer is eerder praktisch dan gezellig.
  this room  is rather  practical  than cozy
b. De atleet bereikte de finish eerder dood/*doder dan levend.
  the sportsman  reached  the finish  rather  more dead  than alive
Example 49
a. Jan is intelligenter dan Peter.
  Jan is more intelligent  than Peter
a'. # Jan is eerder intelligent dan Peter.
b. Jan is meer gesteld op vlees dan Peter.
  Jan is keener  on meat  than Peter
b'. # Jan is eerder gesteld op vlees dan Peter.

Second, the two examples in (50) involve a syntactic frame similar to that of the examples in (47), although the adjectives are replaced by noun phrases and PPs, respectively. Obviously, the examples in (47) and (50) must receive a similar description, which casts serious doubt on any attempt to analyze the examples in (47) as cases of periphrastic comparatives.

Example 50
a. Jan is meer/eerder een denker dan een doener.
  Jan is rather  a thinker  than  a do-er
  'Jan is someone who is thinking rather than someone who acts.'
b. Jan valt meer/eerder op mannen dan op vrouwen.
  Jan falls  rather  on men  than  on women
  'Jan fancies men rather than women.'

      The discussion above does not intend to suggest that comparison of two adjectives is impossible, which is clearly not true; cf. Section 4.1.4. It only shows that the examples under discussion are not cases of periphrastic majoratives. Instead of being part of a periphrastic comparative, meer acts as an independent clausal adverb, just like eerder, which is clear from the fact that, e.g., the (a)-examples in (47) and (48) can be paraphrased as in (51a); cf. adverb tests. The examples in (51b&c) show that similar paraphrases are possible for the examples in (50).

Example 51
a. Het is meer/eerder zo dat de kamer praktisch is dan dat hij gezellig is.
  it  is rather  the.case  that the room practical is  than  that he cozy is
  'Itʼs the case that the room is practical rather than that itʼs cozy.'
b. Het is meer/eerder zo dat Jan een denker is dan dat hij een doener is.
  it  is rather  the.case  that Jan a thinker is  than  that he a do-er is
  'Itʼs the case that Jan is a thinker rather than that heʼs someone who acts.'
c. Het is meer/eerder zo dat Jan op mannen dan dat hij op vrouwen valt.
  it  is rather  the.case  that Jan on men  than  that he on women falls
  'Itʼs the case that Jan fancies men rather than that he fancies women.'
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
Suggestions for further reading ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
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.