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5.2.2.1. Classification
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In what follows we will assume that Dutch possessive pronouns function as determiners. The main reason for doing so is that they are in complementary distribution with the articles, as is shown in Table 9.

Table 9: The complementary distribution of articles and possessive pronouns
  [-neuter] [+neuter] plural
article de fiets
‘the bike’
het boek
‘the book’
de boeken
‘the books’
possessive pronoun mijn fiets
‘the bike’
mijn boek
‘my books’
mijn boeken
‘my books’
article +
possessive pronoun
*de mijn fiets
*mijn de fiets
*het mijn boek
*mijn het boek
*de mijn boeken
*mijn de boeken

This complementary in distribution can be accounted for by assuming that the two compete for the same position in the nominal structure, the head position of the DP. It should be noted, however, that the claim that possessive pronouns are determiners is not cross-linguistically valid; in languages like Hungarian, for instance, possessive pronouns can co-occur with articles; see Szabolcsi (1983) for the Hungarian data, and Alexiadou et al. (2007) for a more general discussion.
      The introduction to this section on pronouns (5.2) has shown that the possessive pronouns can be divided into approximately the same semantic subclasses as the personal pronouns, although there is no set of reflexive possessive pronouns. The semantic subclassification given there is shown in (406a-e). We will see, however, that we need to add the demonstrative possessive pronoun diens in (406f) to this classification.

Example 406
Semantic subcategories of possessive pronouns
a. Referential: Zijn broer is ziek. 'His brother is ill.'
b. Interrogative: Wiens broer is ziek? 'Whose brother is ill?'
c. Quantificational: Iemands broer is ziek. 'Someoneʼs brother is ill.'
d. Relative: de jongen wiens broer ziek is 'the boy whose brother is ill'
e. Reciprocal: Zij wassen elkaars broer. 'They wash each otherʼs brother.'
f. Demonstrative: Jan en diens hond 'Jan and his dog'
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[+]  I.  Referential possessive pronouns

As with the referential personal pronouns, discussed in Section 5.2.1, the form of the referential possessive pronouns depends on person, number and gender. With the exception of the second person polite form uw, the singular forms can be either strongor weak. In the former case the nucleus of the pronoun is a long vowel or a diphthong and can be stressed, whereas in the latter case the nucleus is a schwa and hence necessarily unstressed. The plural forms, on the other hand, do not have a weak form, with the exception of the second person plural form je: we will turn to this form in Section 5.2.2.3, where we will discuss the distinction between the weak and strong forms more extensively. Table 10 gives the full set of strong and weak possessive pronouns.

Table 10: Referential possessive pronouns
  singular plural
  strong weak strong weak
1st person mijn mʼn/me ons/onze
2nd person colloquial jouw je jullie (je)
  polite uw uw
3rd person masculine zijn zʼn/ze hun
  feminine haar dʼr/ʼr    
  neuter zijn zʼn/ze    

For completeness’ sake, note that Haeseryn et al. (1997: 290) suggest that dʼrr is also used as a weak plural third person possessive pronoun, although no examples are given. According to us, using dʼrr in this way is not possible; in Die meisjes hebben hun/#dʼr boeken verkocht'those girls/boys have sold their books', the strong pronoun hun can take the subject of the clause as its antecedent, whereas the weak form dʼr cannot and must refer to some other female person in domain D.
      Observe that there is no special possessive counterpart for the indefinite/generic personal pronoun men, but example (407b) shows that the weak singular second person possessive pronoun je can be used generically, just like the weak second person personal pronoun je in (407a). This reading is not available for the strong form jouw.

Example 407
a. In de bus moet je/#jij oppassen voor zakkenrollers.
  in the bus  must  one  take.care  for pickpockets
  'On the bus, one must beware of pickpockets.'
b. Je/*Jouw gezondheid is het belangrijkste in het leven.
  oneʼs health  is the most important  in the life
  'Oneʼs health is the most important thing in life.'

      Generally speaking, referential possessive pronouns refer to +animate entities. This is, of course, evident for the first and second person pronouns since these refer to (referent sets including) the speaker and the listener, respectively, but it also holds for the third person pronouns. So, whereas the examples in (408a&b) have a counterpart involving a possessive pronoun, using the pronominal counterparts of (408c&d) may lead to interpretative problems.

Example 408
a. de fiets van Jan
  the bike of Janʼs
a'. zijn fiets
  his bike
b. de riem van Bruno
  the leash of Brunoʼs
b'. zijn riem
  his leash
c. het dak van het huis
  the roof of the house
c'. $ zijn dak
  its roof
d. de motor van de auto
  the motor of the car
d'. $ zijn motor
  its motor

      The reason why the use of (408c'&d') may occasionally have a questionable result is connected to the fact that, when considered in isolation, the possessive pronouns in the primed examples are unanimously interpreted as +animate, or even +human. This, in turn, may be related to the fact that the postnominal pronominal PP ervan'of it' in the primed examples of (409) must be interpreted as referring to a -animate referent.

Example 409
a. de fiets van Jan
  the bike of Janʼs
a'. * de fiets ervan
  the bike of.it
b. de riem van Bruno
  the leash of Brunoʼs
b'. * de riem ervan
  the leash of.it
c. het dak van het huis
  the roof of the house
c'. het dak ervan
  the roof of.it
d. de motor van de auto
  the motor of the car
d'. de motor ervan
  the motor of.it

This does not mean, however, that the possessive pronouns never have -animate antecedents, but only that this use is more restricted. Haeseryn et al. (1997: 291 ff.) correctly point out that the best result is obtained if the antecedent is an argument of the clause that also contains the possessive pronoun, as in (410a); more precisely, in terms of binding, the result is fully acceptable if the possessive pronoun is bound by a -animate antecedent. If the two are, e.g., in different clauses, there is a certain preference to simply use a definite article instead of the possessive pronoun, as in (410b&b'): if the reader wants to be very explicit the noun is modified by the pronominal PP ervan'of it'.

Example 410
a. Deze auto heeft problemen met zijn/(?)de motor.
  this car  has problem  with his motor
b. De auto staat in de garage. De motor (ervan) moet nagekeken worden.
  the car  stands  in the garage  the motor   of.it  must prt.-checked  be
  'The car is the garage. Its motor must be checked.'
b'. ? De auto staat in de garage. Zijn motor moet nagekeken worden.
  the car  stands  in the garage  his motor  must prt.-checked  be

Although use of a possessive pronoun is still possible in example (410b'), in many other cases the result may become highly questionable. This is illustrated in (411), adapted from Haeseryn et al. (1997: 292). Since it is not clear what factors determine the felicitousness of this use, we will leave this for future research.

Example 411
a. Dit probleem is ingewikkeld. De oplossing ervan kost veel tijd.
  this problem  is complicated  the solution of.it  costs  much time
  'This problem is complicated. Its solution will take much time.'
b. *? Dit probleem is ingewikkeld. Zijn oplossing kost veel tijd.
  this problem  is complicated  Its solution  costs  much time
[+]  II.  Interrogative and relative possessive pronouns

Unlike the referential possessive pronouns, the remaining possessive pronouns are all derived from other pronominal forms. The interrogative and relative possessive pronouns, for example, are old genitive forms of the interrogative personal pronoun wie. First, consider the interrogative examples in (412).

Example 412
a. Wiens boek is dit?
  whosemasc.  book  is this
b. Wier boek is dit?
  whosefem.  book  is this
c. Van wie is dit boek?
  of whom  is  this book

Given that the Dutch case system is archaic, it will not come as a surprise that examples like (412a&b) are pretty formal; the more colloquial way of expressing the same question is given in (412c). Nevertheless, the case-marked forms are still productively used if the noun phrase that they belong to functions as the complement of a preposition, as in (413a), which may be due to the fact that the alternative version with a possessive van-PP is also quite cumbersome.

Example 413
a. Op wiens/wier initiatief wordt dit reisje georganiseerd?
  on  whose  initiative  is  this trip  organized
b. Op het initiatief van wie wordt dit reisje georganiseerd?
  on the initiative of who  is  this trip  organized

The examples in (414) show that case-marked forms can also be found as relative pronouns, especially in the formal register; cf. Section 3.3.2.2, sub II. It should be noted, however, that in examples such as (414a) the feminine form wier is often replaced by the masculine form wiens. A Google search (December 2008) on the strings [ de vrouw wier man] and [ de vrouw wiens man] gave 32 cases of the former (which include several linguistic sources) and 14 cases of the latter, which shows that the two forms are more or lesss chosen at random. This, in turn, strongly suggests that the genitive forms are no longer part of the living language.

Example 414
a. de man [wiens vrouw ik gisteren heb ontmoet]
  the man   whose wife  yesterday  have  met
b. de vrouw [wier man ik gisteren heb ontmoet]
  the woman  whose husband  yesterday  have  met
[+]  III.  Quantificational possessive pronouns

There are three quantificational possessive pronouns, ieders'everyoneʼs', iemands'someoneʼs', and niemands'no oneʼs'. These are shown in the primeless examples in (415), which alternate with the primed examples. We have the impression that the use of ieders is somewhat formal compared to the use of the postnominal PP van iedereen, whereas the use of (n)iemands is more common than van (n)iemand. The former claim cannot be supported by the frequency of the strings of the (a)-examples on the internet: (415a) occurs about three times as often as (415a') but this is not telling given that our Google search provides no insight in the registers involved. It might be supported by the fact that ieders is sometimes replaced by the less common but regularly derived form iedereens: the relative frequency of the two forms on the internet is approximately 23:1. The latter claim is supported by a Google search (12/1/2015): the string [ iemands recht] resulted in 420 hits, whereas the string [ het recht van iemand] resulted in only 68 hits; the string [ niemands recht] resulted in 142 hits, whereas the string [ het recht van niemand] had no relevant result (apart from one very dubious case).

Example 415
a. ieders recht
  everyoneʼs right
a'. het recht van iedereen
  the right of everyone
b. iemands recht
  someoneʼs right
b'. het recht van iemand
  the right of someone
c. niemands recht
  no oneʼs right
c'. het recht van niemand
  the right of no one
[+]  IV.  Reciprocal possessive pronouns

One conspicuous difference between the personal and the possessive pronouns is that the latter do not have a reflexive form. This is due to the fact that, whereas a referential personal pronoun cannot be bound by a co-argument, a referential possessive pronoun can always be bound by a co-argument of the noun phrase it is part of; a special reflexive form is therefore not necessary. Having the reciprocal form of the possessive pronoun in (416c), on the other hand, is certainly useful as this pronoun adds a reciprocal meaning aspect.

Example 416
a. * Jan bewondert hem.
  Jan admires  him
b. Jan bewondert zijn broer.
  Jan admires  his brother
c. Zij bewonderen elkaars werk.
  they admire  each.otherʼs work
[+]  V.  Other cases

Possessive pronouns also have a demonstrative form: the genitive masculine form diens. The feminine counterpart of this form is dier, but it seems that this form is completely obsolete: it is less common and feels extremely formal and artificial. All occurrences of diens can in principle be replaced by a referential possessive pronoun, but the inverse is not the case: diens can never refer to a subject regardless of whether this subject is part of the same clause, some higher clause, or even another sentence (Postma 1984). Whereas the pronoun zijn can be bound by Jan in the examples in (417), diens can only be used to refer to some other salient discourse entity. Coreference is indicated by italics.

Example 417
a. Jan bewondert zijn/*diens broer.
  Jan  admires  his  brother
b. Jan weet dat ik zijn/*?diens broer bewonder.
  Jan knows  that  his  brother  admire
c. Jan wilde vertrekken. Zijn/*?Diens auto wilde echter niet starten.
  Jan  wanted  leave  his  car  would  however  not  start

This difference between the possessive and demonstrative possessive pronoun accounts for why, despite its highly formal nature, the use of diens is still popular in written language, since it solves certain ambiguities that may arise when we use the referential possessive pronoun. This becomes clear from the examples in (418): whereas the referential pronoun zijn can be interpreted either as coreferential with the subject de vader van Jan or the proper noun Jan embedded in the subject, the possessive pronoun diens only has the latter option. Note that the question mark in (418a') indicates that this is simply a less prominent reading.

Example 418
a. De vader van Jan heeft zijn boeken weggegooid.
  the father of Jan  has  his books  thrown.away
a'. ? De vader van Jan heeft zijn boeken weggegooid.
b. De vader van Jan heeft diens boeken weggegooid.
  the father of Jan  has  his books  thrown.away
b'. * De vader van Jan heeft diens boeken weggegooid.

The examples so far may wrongly suggest that diens behaves like referential noun phrases in that is cannot have a c-commanding antecedent. That this is actually possible is shown by the examples in (419): in (419a) a nominal indirect object functions as the antecedent of diens embedded in a direct object, in (419b) the direct object functions as the antecedent of diens embedded in a periphrastic indirect object, and in (419c) the direct object is the antecedent of diens embedded in an adverbial phrase. This means that the proper generalization is indeed the one given earlier, viz., that diens cannot be bound by a subject. For completeness’ sake, note that all examples become ambiguous if we replace diens by the possessive pronoun zijn'his'.

Example 419
a. Jan gaf Peter het eerste exemplaar van diens nieuwe boek.
  Jan gave  Peter  the first copy  of his new book
b. Jan stelde Peter aan diens nieuwe chef voor.
  Jan introduced  Peter to his new manager  prt.
c. Jan begroette Peter bij diens aankomst op Schiphol.
  Jan greeted  Peter on  his  arrival at Schiphol

In (420) we give some examples that involve coordination, where coreference is expressed by means of co-indexing. The (a)-examples show that, whereas the possessive pronoun zijn can be interpreted as referential either with the subject of the clause or with the first conjunct of the coordinated phrase Peter en zijn dochter, this ambiguity is solved if we use diens given that the latter cannot be bound by the subject noun phrase Jan. The (b)-examples provide similar cases involving coordinated sentences. For more discussion, we refer the reader to Postma (1984) and onzetaal.nl/advies/diens.php.

Example 420
a. Jani ontmoette Pietj en zijni/j dochter.
  Jan  met  Piet  and  his daughter
a'. Jani ontmoette Pietj en diensj/*i dochter.
  Jan  met  Piet  and  his daughter
b. Jani ontmoette Pietj gisteren en later ontmoette hij ook zijni/j dochter.
  Jan  met  Piet  yesterday  and  later met  he  also  his daughter
  'Jan met Piet yesterday and later he also met his daughter.'
b'. Jani ontmoette Pietj gisteren en later ontmoette hij ook diensj/*i dochter.
  Jan  met  Piet  yesterday  and  later met  he  also  his daughter
  'Jan met Peter yesterday and later he also met his (= Peterʼs) daughter.'

      Finally, we want to note that complex noun phrases and proper nouns marked with the genitive ending -smay alternate with the possessive pronouns; these complex noun phrases normally refer to +human entities. Of course these noun phrases do not function as determiners in the same sense as the possessive pronoun: they are phrases and not just words, and therefore cannot be placed in the D-position of the DP. See Section 5.2.2.5, sub I, for a more precise discussion of the restrictions on the use of these prenominal genitive phrases.

Example 421
a. Complex noun phrase: mijn broers boek'my brotherʼs book'
b. Proper noun: Jans boek'Janʼs book'
References:
  • Alexiadou, Artemis, Haegeman, Liliane & Stavrou, Melita2007Noun phrases in the generative perspectiveBerlin/New YorkMouton de Gruyter
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Postma, Gertjan1984The Dutch pronoun <i>diens</i>; distribution and reference propertiesBennis, Hans & Lessen Kloeke, W.U.S. van (eds.)Linguistics in the Netherlands 1984Dordrecht/CinnaminsonForis Publications147-157
  • Postma, Gertjan1984The Dutch pronoun <i>diens</i>; distribution and reference propertiesBennis, Hans & Lessen Kloeke, W.U.S. van (eds.)Linguistics in the Netherlands 1984Dordrecht/CinnaminsonForis Publications147-157
  • Szabolcsi, Anna1983The possessor that ran away from homeThe Linguistic Review389-102
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