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5.1.2. Exceptions to the inflectional paradigm
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[+]  I.  Loan words

Taking recourse to a phonological condition that prohibits two adjacent schwa sounds does not account for the fact that the -e inflection does not arise with borrowed substance adjectives such as aluminium in (15a) that do not have the substance adjectival -en ending. This exceptional behavior can also be observed in the case of other loan words, such as privé'private' and gratis'free' in (15b&c).

Example 15
Exceptional behavior of loan words
a. een aluminium-/*aluminium-e beker
  an  aluminum  mug
b. een privé-/*privé kamer
  private room
c. een gratis-/*gratiss-e behandeling
  free treatment

The loan adjective plastic/plastiek'plastic' in (16) is occasionally produced with the ending -e(n): this affix is probably added under analogy with the adjectival -en ending on the regular substance adjectives, since it can also be found in the case of indefinite use of neuter nouns like mes'knife' and laken'sheet', which shows that it cannot be considered as the attributive -e inflection. A Google search quickly reveals that the orthographic forms plastic and plastiek differ with respect to the ending: whereas the vast majority of cases featuring the original loan word plastic do not exhibit the ending -e(n), the adapted form plastiek has a clear preference for this ending: de plastieken/*plastiek beker.

Example 16
a. een plastic-/?plastice(n) beker
de beker
  plastic  mug
b. een plastic-/?plastice(n) mes
het mes
  plastic  knife

The adjective pluche in (17), the nominal counterpart of which is pronounced without a schwa, is always pronounced with a schwa-ending. A Google search on the strings [ een pluche(n)] and [ de pluche(n)] shows that the forms with and without -n occur with about the same frequency in written language. However, again, we cannot be dealing with the attributive -e inflection given that we also find the schwa forms in examples such as (17b) with a neuter noun. For this reason we conclude that, despite its high frequency, the spelling without -n is not in accordance with the Dutch orthographic rules: see also onzetaal.nl/taaladvies/advies/pluche-pluchen-knuffelbeest.

Example 17
a. een pluche-/pluchen jas
de jas
  plush  coat
b. een pluche-/pluchen dekentje
het dekentje
  plush blanketDIM.
[+]  II.  Geographical adjectives ending in -er

The geographical adjectives that end in -er are another exception to the inflection pattern in Table 1: they categorically resist the adjectival -e inflection. The same thing holds for the adjectives linker'left-hand' and rechter'right-hand'. This is shown in (18a-c).

Example 18
a. de Groninger- koek
  'the gingerbread from Groningen'
b. de Edammer- kaas
  'the cheese from Edam'
c. de linker-/rechter- schoen
  'the left/right-hand shoe'

It seems that the absence of the attributive inflection is not purely a phonological matter, given that the examples in (19) show that simple adjectives that end in -er and comparatives do get the inflectional ending -e.

Example 19
a. de lekker-e koek
  the  tasty  cake
b. de groter-e schoen
  the  bigger  shoe
[+]  III.  Non-intersective meaning units

This subsection discusses more systematic exceptions to the inflectional paradigm in Table 1 that are characterized by the fact that the A+N combinations do not express the intersective reading discussed in Section 1.3.2.1, sub I, that is typical of attributive constructions. We will see that there are three subtypes, which will be discussed in separate subsections: the first two types involve more or less idiomatic A+N combinations, which therefore express a non-compositional meaning; the meaning of the third type seems to be compositional but is not straightforwardly intersective. Many of the examples in this subsection are taken from Odijk (1992).

[+]  A.  Type het stoffelijk overschot'the corpse'

The first exceptional paradigm occurs with neuter, that is, het-nouns only, where the deviation consists of the absence of the -e ending in definite singular noun phrases. This paradigm is illustrated in Table 3 by means of the collocation stoffelijk overschot “mortal remains/corpse’; the deviant case is boxed within bold lines. We can describe this paradigm by saying that the rule (3b) (-indefinite ⇒ adjective + -e) does not apply.

Table 3: Irregular het-paradigm
  singular plural
definite het stoffelijk/?stoffelijke overschot
the mortal remains, i.e., the corpse
de stoffelijke overschotten
indefinite een stoffelijk overschot stoffelijke overschotten

In order to get an impression of the robustness of the deviance, we performed a Google search (July 2009) on the two competing strings [ het stoffelijk overschot] and [ het stoffelijke overschot] and found that the first string appears about seventeen times as often as the second one (53,000 versus 3,300). For completeness’ sake, note that we also found 74 cases in which the string [ de stoffelijk overschotten] was used; the correct string [ de stoffelijke overschotten] resulted in nearly 8,000 hits.
      To a certain extent, the relevant A+N combinations form a meaning unit, which is clear from the fact that they often have a specialized meaning that can be rendered by means of a single English word. Many linguistic terms, of which a small sample is given in (20), belong to this type. Other cases are given in (21). This construction type is very productively used in creating names for newspapers and institutions, as is illustrated in (22).

Example 20
a. het zelfstandig naamwoord 'the noun'
b. het bijvoeglijk naamwoord 'the adjective'
c. het persoonlijk voornaamwoord 'the personal pronoun'
d. het lijdend voorwerp 'the direct object'
e. het meewerkend voorwerp 'the indirect object'
Example 21
a. het medisch dossier 'the medical file'
b. het Burgerlijk Wetboek 'the civil code'
c. het openbaar ministerie 'the Prosecuting Council'
d. het algemeen bestuur 'the general board'
Example 22
a. het Algemeen Dagblad 'the General Daily'
b. het Haarlems Dagblad 'the Haarlem Daily'
c. het Utrechts Nieuwsblad 'the Utrecht News'
d. het Bijbels Museum 'the Biblical Museum'
e. het Amsterdams Toneel 'the Amsterdam Theater'

That the A+N combinations form idiomatic semantic units that are not compositionally determined is supported by several facts.

[+]  1.  Modification of the adjective

The examples in (23) show that the adjective cannot be modified by means of an intensifier or appear in the comparative form, and the examples in (24) show that the A+N combination cannot be split up by means of an additional adjective. The number signs indicate that the examples in (24) are acceptable if we interpret zelfstandig'autonomous(ly)' and algemeen'general(ly)' as adverbs modifying the adjectives gebruikt/gevormd; this interpretation is of course not relevant here.

Example 23
a. het (*erg) zelfstandig naamwoord
  the    very noun
a'. * het zelfstandiger naamwoord
b. het (*zeer) algemeen bestuur
  the    very board
b'. * het algemener bestuur
Example 24
a. # het zelfstandig gebruikte naamwoord
b. # het algemeen gevormde bestuur

Still, the examples in (20) and (21) cannot be considered as real compounds because the adjectives are normally inflected in the plural. This is illustrated in Table (25), in which the numbers give the results of a Google search (April 2009) on the respective strings.

Example 25
attributive inflection on the plural forms
with inflection without inflection
zelfstandige naamwoorden
‘nouns’
>25,000 zelfstandig naamwoorden >2,000
bijvoeglijke naamwoorden
‘adjective’
>20,000 bijvoeglijke naamwoorden >1,500
lijdende voorwerpen
‘direct objects’
> 700 lijdend voorwerpen 56
meewerkende voorwerpen
‘indirect objects’
81 meewerkend voorwerpen 12
medische dossiers
‘medical files’
>25,000 medisch dossiers 200
algemene besturen
‘general boards’
> 95,000 algemeen besturen 800

      For completeness’ sake, observe that there are also idiomatic A+N combinations in which the adjective is inflected. Since the meaning is not compositionally determined, modification of the adjective is blocked in these cases, too. Some examples are given in (26).

Example 26
a. de (*zeer) grote vakantie
  the     very  big  holiday
  'the long vacation/summer holidays'
b. Hij heeft (*zeer) groene/lange vingers.
  he  has     very  green/long  fingers
  'He has a green thumb/sticky fingers.'
[+]  2.  The concord constraint on attributive inflection does not apply

If we modify the relevant A+N combination by means of an additional adjective, the concord constraint on attributive inflection in (5) from Section 5.1.1, sub I, can be violated, as is shown in (27). In this respect, the A+N collocations behave like compounds.

Example 27
a. het gebruikt-e zelfstandig- naamwoord
  the  used  noun
b. het corrupt-e openbaar- ministerie
  the  corrupt  Prosecuting Council

Occasionally, the -e ending is missing on both adjectives; in that case, the A+A+N combination acts as an idiomatic unit, which shows that the exceptional pattern can occur recursively.

Example 28
a. het Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands
  'Standard Dutch'
b. het Nieuw Burgerlijk Wetboek
  'the new civil code'
[+]  3.  No predicative use of the adjective

That the A+N combination is a fixed combination is also clear from the fact that the adjective cannot be used in predicative position (with the same meaning). Compare the copular constructions in (29) and (30) with the examples in (20) and (21).

Example 29
a. * Het naamwoord is zelfstandig.
b. * Het naamwoord is bijvoeglijk.
c. * Het voornaamwoord is persoonlijk.
d. * Het voorwerp is lijdend.
e. * Het voorwerp is meewerkend.
Example 30
a. * Het dossier is medisch.
b. * Het wetboek is burgerlijk.
c. * Het ministerie is openbaar.
d. * Het bestuur is algemeen.
[+]  B.  Type: de maatschappelijk werker'the social worker'

The second deviant paradigm is characterized by the fact that the -e ending is missing in all relevant singular environments. This construction type is possible with nouns that designate human beings only; many cases involve the names of titles or functions. The exceptional paradigm is given in Table 4. We can describe this exceptional paradigm by saying that the rules in (3a-c) do not apply.

Table 4: Irregular het/de paradigm
  singular plural
definite de maatschappelijk werker
the social worker
de maatschappelijk werkers
indefinite een maatschappelijk werker maatschappelijk werkers

Examples with neuter nouns are not easy to find, since most +human nouns have masculine or feminine gender. The best way to show that neuter nouns behave in a similar way is by adding the diminutive suffix -tje to the +human noun, which results in a neuter noun (with in this case a negative connotation), cf.:

Example 31
a. het maatschappelijk werkertje
b. de maatschappelijk werkertjes
c. een maatschappelijk werkertje
d. maatschappelijk werkertjes

      It should be noted, however, that for many (but not all) speakers, the -e ending can be optionally expressed in the plural. In order to give an impression of the robustness of the deviance from the regular pattern, we give the results of our Google search (March 2010) in (32); the numbers between square brackets give the result for the strings without the article with, respectively, the uninflected and inflected form of the adjective.

Example 32
a. een wetenschappelijk(*-e) medewerker
96,700/2,110
  scientific staff member
a'. wetenschappelijk(%-e) medewerkers
11,700/13,300
  scientific staff member
b. een cultureel(*-e) attaché
2,020/157
  cultural  ambassador
b'. cultureel(%-e) attachés
377/537
  cultural  ambassadors

      That the meaning of the relevant A+N combinations is not compositionally determined might be supported by the fact that the adjectives do not allow modification and cannot be used in predicative position. However, this may also be due to the fact that the adjectives in question are mostly relational adjectives, which are characterized by these properties anyway; cf. Section 1.3.3.

Example 33
a. * een erg/zeer maatschappelijk werker
  a very social  worker
b. * Deze werker is maatschappelijk.
  this worker  is social

More reliable evidence in favor of this claim that the A+N combinations are idiomatic in nature is provided by the observations in the following subsections.

[+]  1.  The concord constraint on attributive inflection does not apply

If we modify the relevant A+N combination by means of an additional adjective, the concord constraint on attributive inflection in (5) can be violated. As is illustrated in (34), if the A+N combination is preceded by an additional adjective that has the adjectival inflection -e, the -e ending may be absent on the adjective that belongs to the A+N combination. It should be noted, however, that for some speakers the constraint does seem to apply to such sequences.

Example 34
a. een voortreffelijke wetenschappelijk(-e) medewerker
  an  outstanding  scientific  staff member
b. de vroegere cultureel(-e) attaché
  the  former  cultural  ambassador
[+]  2.  Meaning specialization

Consider the examples in (35), which involve a present participle. The irregular pattern een waarnemend burgemeester in (35a) does not refer to a (certain kind of) mayor, but to the person who performs the tasks of the mayor during his absence. In the regular pattern in (35b), on the other hand, the noun phrase does refer to a mayor, who is temporarily performing some vacant function. Observe that the nominal argument de vrijgekomen post cannot be added to (35a), whereas it is preferably realized in (35b).

Example 35
a. de (*de vrijgekomen post) waarnemend burgemeester
b. de ?(de vrijgekomen post) waarnemende burgemeester
  the     the vacant position  performing  mayor
  'the mayor who is temporarily performing the vacant function'

Similarly, the irregular form een behandelend arts in (36a) does not refer to a doctor who is treating some patient, as the regular form in (36b) would do, but to a doctor on duty. As in (35a), the present participle cannot take a nominal argument in the irregular case.

Example 36
a. de (*mij) behandelend arts
b. de mij behandelende arts
  the     me  treating  doctor
  'the doctor who is treating me'
[+]  3.  Impermeability of the A+N combination

That the irregular A+N combinations in (35a&b) form a fixed semantic unit is also clear from the fact that they must be strictly adjacent, in contrast to the regular A+N combinations in the primed examples. This is shown in (37).

Example 37
a. * de waarnemend, Amsterdams(e) burgemeester
a'. de waarnemende, Amsterdamse burgemeester
  the  performing  Amsterdam  mayor
b. * een behandelend, gediplomeerde arts
b'. een behandelende, gediplomeerde arts
  treating  graduated  doctor
[+]  C.  Type: een groot keizer'a great emperor'

The third and final deviant paradigm is also restricted to +human nouns, and especially occurs with nouns denoting professions of some social standing. The divergence consists in the fact that the -e ending is lacking in the indefinite singular. Perhaps this paradigm occurs both with de- and het-nouns, but since the -e ending does not occur in singular, indefinite, neuter noun phrases anyway, this cannot be determined. The paradigm is given in Table 5, and again the exceptional case is boxed within bold lines. We can describe this paradigm by saying that rule (3a) (-neuter ⇒ adjective + -e) does not apply. Some more examples of this type are given in (38).

Table 5: Irregular de-paradigm
  singular plural
definite de grote keizer
the great emperor
de grote keizers
indefinite een groot keizer grote keizers

Example 38
a. een bekwaam arts
a'. de bekwame arts
a''. (de) bekwame artsen
b. een goed docent
b'. de goede docent
b''. (de) goede docenten
c. een getalenteerd danser
c'. getalenteerde danser
c''. (de) getalenteerde dansers

      In contrast to the earlier cases, the meaning of the noun phrase is compositionally determined; the adjective and the noun do not constitute a fixed meaning unit. That the adjective really denotes a property of the head noun is clear from the fact that the adjective can be modified by an intensifier or appear in its comparative form; cf. (39). The superlative form is possible as well, but then the noun phrase has a definite determiner and the -e ending is present: cf. de grootste keizer'the greatest emperor'.

Example 39
a. een erg groot keizer
  a very great emperor
a'. een groter keizer dan Caesar
   a greater emperor than Caesar
b. een erg knap taalkundige
  a very clever linguist
b'. een knapper taalkundige dan Bloomfield
   a cleverer linguist than Bloomfield

In the construction under discussion, simple nouns generally refer to male persons; nouns that refer to female persons are only possible if they are morphologically marked as feminine by means of an affix. This is demonstrated in (40): the simple noun vrouw'woman' gives rise to an unacceptable result in this construction, whereas the nouns derived by means of the feminine affixes -e and -ster lead to a fully grammatical result.

Example 40
a. een groot man
  a great man
a'. * een groot vrouw
     a great woman
b. een goed pianist
  a good pianist
b'. een goed pianist-e
   a good female pianist
c. een uitstekend schrijver
  an excellent writer
c'. een uitstekend schrijf-ster
   an excellent female writer

Note further that it is certainly not the case that all nouns denoting male individuals can be used in this construction. This can be illustrated by means of the examples in (41), which show that the limitations often are of a rather idiosyncratic nature.

Example 41
a. een deugdzaam mens/man/*jongen/*kerel
  righteous  person/man/boy/chap
b. een invloedrijk persoon/man/*jongen/*kerel
  an  influential  person/man/boy/chap

      The semantics of the examples in (39) and (40) is special in that a noun phrase like een knap taalkundige'a clever linguist' does not refer to the intersection of the sets denoted by the noun taalkundige and the adjective knap; see the discussion in Section 1.3.2.1, sub I. Instead, the adjective provides an evaluation of some property or skill that is typical for the entity denoted by the noun; een knap taalkundige thus does not denote a linguist who is clever in general, but a linguist who is clever as a linguist. This is also reflected by the entailment relations illustrated in (42); cf. Alexiadou et. al (2007). In (42a) the predicatively used noun phrase has an intersective interpretation, and we may conclude from this that the property denoted by the adjective is also applicable to the subject of the copular construction. In (42b), on the other hand, the predicatively used noun phrase has a non-intersective interpretation, and the entailment clearly does not hold.

Example 42
a. Jan is een grote jongen ⇒
  Jan is a big boy
a'. Jan is groot.
  Jan is big
b. Hitler was een goed spreker ⇏
  Hitler was a good orator
b'. Hitler was goed.
  Hitler was good

In many cases, the non-intersective meaning can also be expressed by means of the inflected adjective, that is, the primeless examples in (43) are in fact ambiguous: for example, een vlotte typist as (43c) may refer to a typist who is sporty, or to a typist who is skilled as a typist, whereas een vlot typist (43c') has only the latter reading.

Example 43
a. een grote keizer
  big/great  emperor
a'. een groot keizer
  great  emperor
b. een knappe taalkundige
  handsome/clever  linguist
b'. een knap taalkundige
  clever  linguist
c. een vlotte typist
  sporty/speedy  typist
c'. een vlot typist
  speedy  typist

If more than one adjective is present, the concord constraint on attributive inflection in (5) must be respected, that is, either the adjectives are either all inflected, or they are all uninflected.

Example 44
a. een belangrijk-e, Vlaams-e schilder
b. een belangrijk-, Vlaams- schilder
c. * een belangrijk-e, Vlaams- schilder
d. * een belangrijk-, Vlaams-e schilder
  'an important Flemish painter'
[+]  IV.  Prosody

If the adjective is polysyllabic, the -e ending can sometimes be dropped for prosodic reasons: this may occur if we are dealing with a derived adjective that ends in the affix -( e) lijk (pronounced as [(ə)lək]) or -ig (pronounced as /əx/), provided that the head of the noun phrase is a singular neuter ( het-) noun, as in (45).

Example 45
a. het overdrachtelijk(e) gebruik
het gebruik
  the  metaphorical  use
a'. de buitenechtelijke/*buitenechtelijk verhouding
de verhouding
  the  extramarital  relation
b. het overbodig(e) geklaag
het geklaag
  the  superfluous  lamentation
b'. de overbodige/*overbodig opmerking
de opmerking
  the  superfluous  remark

This is also possible with non-neuter nouns if the affix -ig or -(e)lijk is followed by the comparative affix -er (pronounced as [ər]), and the noun is indefinite, as in (46). Note that the primed examples in (46) sound somewhat better than those in (45).

Example 46
a. een gemakkelijker(e) oplossing
  an  easier  solution
a'. de gemakkelijkere/??gemakkelijker oplossing
  the  easier  solution
b. een uitvoeriger(e) beschrijving
  a more.elaborate  description
b'. de uitvoerigere/??uitvoeriger beschrijving
  the  more.elaborate  description

It seems plausible that dropping the -e ending is related to a tendency to avoid sequences of light syllables, that is, syllables that have a schwa as a nucleus: adding the -e ending in the primeless examples results in sequence of two or more light syllables. This leaves unexplained, however, why dropping the attributive inflection is worse or even excluded in the primed examples of (45) and (46).

[+]  V.  The pronoun iemand'somebody' and the noun persoon'person'

The quantificational pronoun iemand is non-neuter, which is clear from the fact illustrated in (47a) that it can act as an antecedent of the non-neuter relative pronoun die'who'. This leads us to expect that an attributive adjective modifying this quantifier will get the attributive -e ending. Example (47b) shows, however, that this expectation is not borne out.

Example 47
a. Ik ken iemand die dat wel wil doen.
  know  someone  who  that  prt  wants  do
  'I know someone who would be willing to do that.'
b. een aardig/*aardige iemand
  nice  someone

Observe that, in contrast to (47a), the modified pronoun iemand must be combined with the determiner een'a' in (47b); in a sense, this means that it is acting as regular noun in this example with the meaning “person". Interestingly, the noun persoon is also non-neuter and does not license the attributive ending either; cf. (48).

Example 48
a. Ik ken een persoon die dat wel wil doen.
  know  someone  who  that  prt  wants  do
b. een aardig/*aardige persoon
  nice  person
References:
  • Alexiadou, Artemis, Haegeman, Liliane & Stavrou, Melita2007Noun phrases in the generative perspectiveBerlin/New YorkMouton de Gruyter
  • Odijk, Jan1992Uninflected adjectives in DutchBok-Bennema, Reineke & Hout, Roeland van (eds.)Linguistics in the Netherlands 1992Amsterdam/PhiladelphiaJohn Benjamins
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