• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
3.2. Premodification

Premodification within the noun phrase is usually done by means of adjectival phrases. In addition, present and past participles and so-called modal infinitives can be used as modifiers in prenominal position. This section will be brief since a detailed discussion of the syntactic properties and various uses of these modifiers can be found in Chapter A5 and Section A9.2.

[+]  I.  Adjectival phrases

The examples in Table 2 show that attributive adjectives occur in prenominal position, and can be inflected with the attributive ending -e (pronounced as schwa /ə/). The distribution of the inflection depends on the gender of the noun it modifies. If the noun is masculine or feminine, that is, if it belongs to the de-group, the adjective normally is inflected; see Section A5.1 for exceptions. If the noun is neuter, that is, belongs to the het-group, the -e ending only appears in definite and plural noun phrases: attributive modifiers of singular indefinite count nouns and indefinite non-count nouns are not inflected.

Table 2: Attributive adjectives
count nouns singular plural
  de-noun het-noun de-noun het-noun
definite de oude stoel
the old chair
het oude boek
the old book
de oude stoelen
the old chairs
de oude boeken
the old books
indefinite een oude stoel
an old chair
een oud- boek
an old book
oude stoelen
old chairs
oude boeken
old books
non-count nouns de-noun het-noun
definite de lekkere rijst
the tasty rice
het lekkere bier
tasty beer
indefinite lekkere rijst
tasty rice
tasty beer

      Attributive adjectives denote a property of the noun they modify. In most cases they have a restrictive function: by attributing the property in question, they restrict the denotation of the head noun. Thus in example (34a), the noun phrase as a whole refers to a subset of the set denoted by the noun.

Example 34
a. Ik ben dol op blauwe druiven.
  am  fond of  blue grapes
b. De blauwe druiven zijn duur dit jaar.
  the  blue grapes  are  expensive  this year

Under certain circumstances, however, an attributive adjective can also be given a non-restrictive interpretation. This is clear from example (35a), which is acceptable even if there is just a single crown prince in the active domain of discourse: this means that the function of the attributive adjectives is not to restrict the denotation of the head noun crown prince, but just to provide more information about the referent of the noun phrase. Example (35b) is ambiguous between the two readings: under the restrictive reading of the adjective dappere'brave', it is asserted that Caesar only praised a subset of the Germans; under the non-restrictive interpretation Caesar praises all Germans, who are said to all have the property of being brave. Note that this sentence is only ambiguous in written language: in speech, the ambiguity will be resolved by the fact that on the restrictive reading the adjective will be emphasized; see Section 3.1.2, sub II, and Section A1.3.2.1, sub I for more discussion.

Example 35
a. De lange, blonde kroonprins trok in China veel aandacht.
  the  tall  fair  crown.prince  drew  in China  much attention
  'The tall, fair crown prince attracted much attention in China.'
b. Julius Caesar prees de dappere Germanen.
  Julius Caesar praised  the brave Germans
[+]  II.  Present and past participial phrases

Prenominal modifiers may also take the form of a past or present participial phrase. The modified noun stands in a certain thematic relation to the prenominal participle. If the modifier is a past participle, the referent of the noun phrase will be interpreted as the theme of the participle. Hence, the participle must be derived from a (di-)transitive or an unaccusative verb, as in (36b-d); using a past participle derived from an intransitive verb, as in (36a), leads to ungrammaticality.

Example 36
a. * de gelachen jongen
  the  laughed  boy
b. de geschuurde muur
  the  sanded  wall
c. de hem aangeboden baan
  the  him  prt.-offered  job
d. de gevallen bladeren
  the  fallen  leaves

In the case of a present participle, the referent of the noun phrase is interpreted as the agent of the participle if the verb is intransitive or (di-)transitive, or as the theme if the verb is unaccusative. Examples can be found in (37).

Example 37
a. de lachende jongen
  the  laughing  boy
b. de bier drinkende man
  the  beer  drinking  man
c. de ons advies gevende instanties
  the  us  advise  giving  organizations
d. de vallende bladeren
  the  falling  leaves

The difference between (36d) and (37d) is aspectual in nature: the former expresses perfective, and the latter imperfective aspect. For a more detailed discussion of the attributive use of participles, see Section A9.2. For a discussion of postmodification by participial phrases, see Section 3.3.5, sub II.

[+]  III.  Modal infinitives

A third type of attributive premodifier is the modal infinitive. These modifiers are always preceded by the infinitival marker te, and express some notion of ability or obligation. The modified noun corresponds to the theme argument of a (di-)transitive verb: intransitive and unaccusative verbs normally cannot occur as modal infinitives.

Example 38
a. * de te lachen jongen
  the  to laugh  boy
b. de te schuren muur
  the  to sand  wall
  'the wall to be sanded'
c. de Jan aan te bieden boeken
  the  Jan prt.  to offer  books
  'the book to be offered to Jan'
d. * de te vallen bladeren
  the  to fall  leaves

For a more detailed discussion of the modal infinitives we refer the reader to Section A9.2. Here, we want to conclude by pointing out that the modal infinitives should not be confused with the postnominal infinitival modifiers that will be discussed in Section 3.3.3, where the antecedent is interpreted as coreferential with some phonetically silent element within the infinitival clause: the direct object in (39a), and the nominal part of, respectively, a PP-complement and PP-adjunct in (39b&c).

Example 39
a. Dit is een boek [om PRO in één adem uit te lezen].
  this  is a book  comp  in one breath  prt.  to read
  'This is a book to read out in the same breath.'
b. een schilderij [om PRO lang naar te kijken]
  a painting  comp  long  at  to look
  'a painting to look at for a long time'
c. De machine [om PRO deze muur (mee) te schuren is erg duur].
  the machine  comp  this wall  with  to sand  is very expensive
  'This machine, to sand walls with, is very expensive.'
    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.