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5.2. Attributively used adjectives versus other prenominal elements

This section compares attributively used adjectives with other elements that may occur in prenominal position, like determiners, numerals and quantifiers, possessive pronouns and certain adverbs. We conclude with a comparision of attubutive constructions and adjective-noun compounds,

[+]  I.  Position with respect to the determiner and the head noun

In Dutch, attributively used adjectives are placed between the determiner and the noun, as in (49a). Placement of the adjective before the determiner, as in (49b), is always excluded, and the same normally holds for placement of the adjective after the noun, as in (49c).

Example 49
The position of the attributive adjective
a. de grote jongen
  the  big  boy
a'. een grote jongen
   a  big  boy
b. * grote de jongen
b'. * grote een jongen
c. * de jongen grote/groot
c'. * een jongen grote/groot

Observe that the order in the (b)-examples is also excluded if the adjective is questioned or prefixed by the intensifier zo'that'. In other words, English constructions like (50a&b) are not acceptable in Dutch, as is shown in the primed examples. The acceptable counterparts of the English examples are given in the doubly-primed examples.

Example 50
a. How big a computer did he buy?
a'. * Hoe groot een computer heeft hij gekocht?
  how big  a computer  has  he  bought
a''. Een hoe grote computer heeft hij gekocht?
  how  big  computer  has  he  bought
b. John has bought that big a computer!
b'. * Jan heeft zo groot een computer gekocht!
  Jan has  that  big  a computer  bought
b''. Jan heeft zoʼn grote computer gekocht!
  Jan has  that.a  big computer  bought

The order in (49c), on the other hand, is possible in some archaic or fixed expressions, as well as in literary style. The primed examples in (51) show that, unlike prenominal attributive adjectives, the postnominal adjective is not inflected.

Example 51
Postnominal attributive adjectives
a. de almachtig-e God
  the  omnipotent  God
b. een koen-e ridder
  a brave  knight
a'. God almachtig-
b'. een ridder koen-

The (a)-examples in (52) are formulaic temporal expressions that are found in written texts and formal language: note the -e ending on aanstaande. Example (52b') shows that the N-A pattern is not generally available.

Example 52
a. jongstleden/aanstaande maandag
  last/next  Monday
b. komende maandag
   next  Monday
a'. maandag jongstleden/aanstaande
b'. * maandag komende

Furthermore, it can be noted that, in colloquial speech, the adjective lief'dear' can be used postnominally in forms of address: kindje lief'dear child'. Finally, Dutch has various compounds that may have had their origin in the postnominal use of attributive adjectives: often cited examples are Staten-Generaal'States-General' and secretaris-generaal'secretary-general'.

[+]  II.  Prenominal numerals/quantifiers

Other elements that may appear between the noun and the determiner can often be distinguished from the adjectives by their lack of inflection. The clearest examples are the cardinal numerals. As is illustrated in (53), cardinal numerals like twee'two', drie'three' and vier'four' never show inflection.

Example 53
Cardinal numerals
a. de vijf/*vijv-e vingers
  the  five  fingers
b. de tien/*tien-e boeken
  the  ten  books

The same thing seems to hold for ordinal numerals like eerste'first', tweede'second', derde'third': although these numerals end in -e, this -e also shows up if they modify a singular indefinite neuter noun, as in (54), and is therefore clearly not the attributive -e ending

Example 54
Ordinal numerals
a. een tweede argument
het argument
  second  argument
b. een vierde probleem
het probleem
  fourth  problem

Example (55a) shows that the position of the cardinal numerals is always more to the left than the attributive adjectives. The position of the ordinal numerals, on the other hand, seems more flexible: although the order in (55b) is probably the more common one, the order in (55b') is possible as well. The meanings of the two (b)-examples do differ, however: whereas the primeless example refers to an entity that is part of a set of serious problems, the primed example refers to an entity that is part of a set of problems that may or may not be serious, and it is said about this problem that it is serious.

Example 55
The order of numerals and attributive adjectives
a. de twee mooie glazen
cardinal numeral
  the  two  beautiful  glasses
a'. * de mooie twee glazen
b. het tweede grote probleem
ordinal numeral
  the  second  big  problem
b'. het grote tweede probleem
  the  big  second problem

Note that in examples like (56a&b) the ordinal number can also be preceded by an attributive adjective. These cases are different, however, given that the strings eerste minister and tweede kamer are complex nouns, which is evident from the fact that they have a specialized meaning: de tweede kamer, for instance, is comparable to the British House of Commons. This specialized meaning is lost if the attributive adjective is placed between the numeral and the noun, as in the primed examples.

Example 56
a. de Nederlandse eerste minister
  the  Dutch  premier
a'. de eerste Nederlandse minister
  the  first  Dutch  minister
b. de Nederlandse Tweede Kamer
  the  Dutch  Lower House
b'. de tweede Nederlandse kamer
  the  second  Dutch  chamber/room

      The quantifiers weinig'little/few' and veel'much/many' behave ambivalently with respect to attributive inflection: if one of these quantifiers is used in a noun phrase without a determiner, as in the primeless examples of (57), it normally appears in its uninflected form, although the inflected form vele can occasionally be found in formal contexts and written language; if a determiner is present, as in the primed examples, the quantifier must appear with the attributive -e ending.

Example 57
a. veel/vel-e problemen
  many  problems
a'. de vel-e /*veel problemen
  the  many  problems
b. weinig/?weinig-e problemen
  few  problems
b'. de weinig-e /*weinig problemen
  the  few  problems

The quantifiers weinig and veel also have the adjectival properties of being eligible for modification by the intensifiers heel/erg'very' and vrij'rather'. Surprisingly, however, this gives rise to an acceptable result only if the quantifier does not carry the attributive inflection.

Example 58
a. heel/erg/vrij veel problemen
a'. * heel/erg/vrij vel-e problemen
also: *hele vele problemen
b. heel/erg/vrij weinig problemen
b'. * heel/erg/vrij weinig-e problemen
c. * de heel/erg/vrij vel-e problemen
also: *de hele vele problemen
d. * de heel/erg/vrij weinig-e problemen

Further, these quantifiers have the adjectival property of having a comparative and superlative form: weinig - minder - minst; veel - meer - meest. As is shown in (59), the comparative form cannot be used if the noun phrase has a determiner, whereas the superlative form requires a determiner. This may be due to the fact that the latter selects a fixed set of entities from the domain of discourse, whereas the former is inherently indefinite; cf. the discussion in Section 4.2.

Example 59
a. minder/meer problemen
  fewer/more  problems
b. de minste/meeste problemen
   the  fewest/most  problems
a'. * de mindere/mere problemen
b'. * minste/meeste problemen

For completeness’ sake, note that minder can also be found in examples such as (60a) where it has lost its quantificational meaning, meaning instead something like “of a lower status". In (60b), minder acts as an intensifier, which is clear from the fact that it lacks the attributive -e ending; see Section 5.4, sub II, example (148). for a discussion of comparable examples.

Example 60
a. de mindere goden
  the  lesser  gods
b. de minder gegoeden
  the  less  moneyed.ones

      It has been claimed that the inflected numeral vele obligatorily has a distributive reading, whereas uninflected veel is compatible with both a collective and a distributive reading. The fact illustrated in (61) that the inflected form can be used with count nouns but not with mass nouns suggests that this claim is on the right track; the adjective lekker'tasty' in (61b) is added to show that the noun wijn triggers the presence of the attributive ending -e.

Example 61
a. Hij dronk veel/vele glazen wijn.
  he  drank  many  glasses wine
  'He drank many glasses of wine.'
b. Hij dronk veel/*vele lekker-e wijn.
  he  drank  much  tasty  wine
  'He drank a lot of wine.'

A similar conclusion with respect to distributivity can probably be drawn from the examples in (62): according to many speakers, example (62a) necessarily expresses that there were several events in which the heavy table was lifted by some person, whereas example (62b) may also involve a single event in which the table was lifted by a group of people; see Section N5.1.1.4 for a more general discussion of these collective and distributive readings.

Example 62
a. De zware tafel werd door vele mensen opgetild.
  the heavy table  was  by many people  lifted
  'The heavy table was lifted by many people.'
b. De zware tafel werd door veel mensen opgetild.
  the heavy table was  by  many people  lifted
  'The heavy table was lifted by a lot of (a group of) people.'

      Other prenominal quantifiers like ieder'every', elk'each', enkele'some' and beide'both' always take the attributive -e ending. That we are really dealing with the inflectional ending is particularly clear in the first two cases, which combine with singular nouns; the -e ending is absent if we are dealing with a het-noun, as in primed examples of (63), but obligatorily present if we are dealing with a de-noun, as in the primeless examples.

Example 63
Non-neuter nouns ( de jongen)
Neuter nouns ( het kind)
a. iedere/*ieder jongen
  every  boy
a'. ieder/*iedere kind
  every  child
b. elke/*elk jongen
  each  boy
b'. elk/*elke kind
  each  child

This contrast resembles the contrast between the de- and het-nouns in Table 1 and Table 2. It should be noted, however, that the primed examples may constitute a problem for our earlier claim in (2) and (3b) that the attributive -e ending can only be absent in an indefinite noun phrase; noun phrases containing ieder or elk are not indefinite in the intended sense as is shown by the fact that, unlike indefinite noun phrases, they cannot appear in expletive constructions such as (64).

Example 64
Er speelt een/*ieder/*elk kind in de tuin.
  there  walks  a/every/each child  in the garden
'There is a child playing in the garden.'

Quantifiers like enkele and beide never occur without the e ending in attributive position, which is consistent with the fact that they can only be combined with plural nouns.

Example 65
a. enkele/*enkel jongens
  some  boys
a'. enkele/*enkel kinderen
  some  children
b. beide/*beid jongens
  both  boys
b'. beide/*beid kinderen
  both  children

For completeness’ sake, note that the quantificational use of enkel in (65) should be distinguished from its non-quantificational use in (66), where it is more or lesss synonymous with uitsluitend'exclusively' and alleen'only'.

Example 66
a. Mijn zuster heeft enkel/uitsluitend jongens.
  my sister  has  only/exclusively  boys
  'My sister has only sons, no daughters.'
b. Er zitten enkel/alleen jongens in de klas.
  there  sit  only  boys  in the group
  'There are only boys in the group, no girls.'

      The examples in (67) show that the position of the quantifiers is always more to the left than the attributive adjectives, regardless of whether the first show attributive inflection or not.

Example 67
The order of quantifiers and attributive adjectives
a. de vele interessante oplossingen
  the  many  interesting  solutions
a'. * de interessante vele oplossingen
b. veel/vele interessante oplossingen
  many  interesting  solutions
b'. * interessante veel/vele oplossingen
c. iedere aardige jongen
  every  nice  boy
c'. * aardige iedere jongen
[+]  III.  Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns always lack the -e ending with the exception of the first person plural one, ons'our'. Here, we give examples of the first singular and plural only; see Section N5.2.2.1 for the complete paradigm. The fact that the e ending does not appear if the possessive pronoun ons precedes a singular het-noun may suggest that we are dealing with attributive inflection.

Example 68
The first person singular possessive pronoun mijn'my'
  de-noun het-noun
singular mijn/*mijne zoon‘my son’ mijn/*mijne kind‘my child’
plural mijn/*mijne zoons‘my sons’ mijn/*mijne kinderen‘my children’
Example 69
The first person plural possessive pronoun ons'our'
  de-noun het-noun
singular onze/*ons zoon‘our son’ ons/*onze kind our child’
plural onze/*ons zoons‘our sons’ onze/*ons kinderen our children’

However, the examples in (70) show that possessive pronoun ons need not necessarily (and in fact occasionally cannot) carry the same inflection as the attributive adjective. The fact that this would violate the Concord Constraint on attributive inflection from Section 5.1.1, sub I, therefore suggests that the inflection on ons cannot be treated as attributive inflection.

Example 70
a. ? ons lief kind
b. * ons favoriet boek
a'. ons lieve kind
b'. ons favoriete boek
a''. * onze lieve kind
  our sweet child
b''. * onze favoriete boek
   our favorite book

Note that, if Booij (1992a) is correct in claiming that (70a) is acceptable, the absence of the attributive -e ending on the attributive adjective lief'sweet' constitutes an exception to the het paradigm in Table 1 of Section 5.1.1, sub I: noun phrases with referential possessive pronouns are definite and the rules in (2) and (3b) therefore predict that the attributive adjective carries an -e ending.

[+]  IV.  Prenominal adverbs

Adverbs may also occur between the determiner and the noun. Unlike the case with attributive adjectives and numerals, adverbs are not related to the noun, but modify some other element within the noun phrase, which is also reflected in that they normally do not exhibit attributive inflection. The fact that the adverbs in (71) modify not the nouns but the adjectives can also be illustrated by the fact that they can only appear if the adjectives are present.

Example 71
a. een erg *(grote) hoed
  very    large  hat
b. een heel *(mooi) boek
  very    beautiful  book

When we are dealing with adjectives that can also be used adverbially (cf. Section 3.1.2, sub I), confusion may arise in the case of singular, indefinite, neuter nouns. In example (72a), for instance, belachelijk can either be construed as an adjective modifying the noun, or as an intensifier that modifies the adjective (in the latter but not in the former case belachelijk must receive accent). This problem does not arise in the other cases, since the attributive adjective would then get the -e inflection, whereas the adverb remains uninflected; cf. the contrast between the primeless and primed examples in (72b-c).

Example 72
a. een belachelijk groot bad
indefinite, singular het-noun
  ridiculous(ly)  large  bath
b. het belachelijke grote bad
  the  ridiculous  large  bath
b'. het belachelijk grote bad
  the  ridiculously  large  bath
c. belachelijke grote baden
  ridiculous  large  baths
c'. belachelijk grote baden
  ridiculously  large  baths
d. een belachelijke grote badkuip
  ridiculous  large  bathtub
d'. een belachelijk grote badkuip
  ridiculously  large  bathtub

      Occasionally, however, speakers seem to allow an inflectional ending on the intensifier as well, as is shown in the primeless examples of (73). It may be the case that we are dealing with a reinterpretation of the adverbs heel and erg as adjectives, since inflection never occurs on adverbs like zeer'very' that are never used as attributive adjectives; cf. the primed examples in (73). Semantically, however, we are clearly dealing with adverbs that modify an adjective: if the adjective is dropped, all examples become ungrammatical.

Example 73
a. heel/hele aardige mensen
cf. een hele opgave 'a difficult task’
a'. zeer/*zere aardige mensen
  very  nice  people
b. erg/erge hete soep
cf. een erge verstopping 'a bad constipation’
b'. zeer/*zere hete soep
  very  hot  soup

The examples in (74) show that adverbs modifying attributively used participles, pseudo-participles or deverbal adjectives are never inflected; see Section 9.5 for more discussion. The use of the number signs indicates that the relevant examples in (74) are fully acceptable if the inflected adjective is interpreted as a modifier of the noun.

Example 74
a. een goed/#goede opgeleide student
  well  trained  student
b. een zwaar/#zware behaarde man
  heavily  hairy  man
  'a man that is very hairy'
c. een slecht/#slechte verstaanbare lezing
  badly  intelligible  talk
  'a talk that isnʼt very intelligible'
[+]  V.  Attributive adjectives versus adjective-noun compounds

The inflectional ending also provides a means to distinguish attributively used adjectives from the adjectival part of adjective-noun compounds: the inflection only shows up in the former case. Some minimal pairs are given in the primeless examples in (75). The primed examples in (75) are added to show that attributive adjectives must precede the complete compound.

Example 75
a. de rode borst van de roodborst
  the  red  breast  of  the robin
a'. de kleine roodborst
  the  little  Robin
b. de kleine zoon van haar kleinzoon
  the  little  son  of  her grandson
b'. haar beminde kleinzoon
  her  beloved  grandson

The adjective-noun compounds, of course, have a specialized meaning: a roodborst is not a red breast but a bird, and a kleindochter is not a special kind of daughter but a female descendant of the second degree. Having a specialized meaning does not require compounding, though: the meaning of blauwe reiger'lit: blue heron' is as specialized as roodborst (it refers to the species that is called “gray heron" in English), but still the adjective has adjectival inflection; cf. Section, sub ID, for more discussion.

  • Booij, Geert1992Congruentie in Nederlandse NPsSpektator21119-135
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