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Show full table of contents Special cases

This section continues our discussion of possessive pronouns with a discussion of some special cases. Subsection I starts with the discussion of the use of the weak pronouns in semi-genitival constructions such as Jan zʼn boek'Janʼs book'. This is followed in Subsection II by a discussion of nominalized possessive pronouns in phrases like de mijne'mine'. Subsection III, finally, illustrates the use of possessive pronouns in more or lesss fixed expressions and idioms.

[+]  I.  The semi-genitival construction: Jan zʼn boek'Janʼs book'

Section, sub I, has shown that the referential possessive pronouns have a strong and a weak form. Normally, these pronouns are used to refer to some discourse entity, but this subsection will show that the weak forms can also be used as a functional element (syntactic connective) if the possessor is expressed by means of a proper noun or a complex noun phrase.
      The primeless examples in (450) show that if a prenominal possessor is a proper noun or a complex noun phrase, it may be inflected with an -s ending, which is historically related to but not identical to the medieval genitive marker; cf. Booij (2010: Section 9.2). Although this is the norm in written language, it is not always the preferred option in speech. If the possessor is a proper noun or a singular noun phrase, the possessive relation is rather expressed by means of a weak possessive pronoun that agrees in gender and number with the possessive noun phrase, as in (450a'&b'). The judgments on the (c)-examples suggest that the genitive form is normal if the possessor is plural, which may be related to the fact that the possessive pronoun hun does not have a weak form; the use of % signals that speakers have different judgments on examples such as (450c'), varying from marked to fully acceptable.

Example 450
a. Jans boek
  Janʼs  book
a'. Jan zʼn boek
  Jan  his  book
b. Maries boek
  Marieʼs  book
b'. Marie dʼr boek
  Marie  her book
c. mijn ouders’ boek
  my parentsʼ  book
c'. % mijn ouders hun boek
  my parents  their  book

Since the proper noun or complex noun phrase in the primed examples in (450) is a referring expression, the possessive pronouns have a function similar to that of the -s ending in the primeless examples, so that it can be said that they are not referential but purely functional: given their resemblance to the genitival constructions in the primeless examples, the primed examples will be referred to as the semi-genitival construction.
      A complication concerning examples with plural possessors is that the acceptability of (450c) with the inflected plural noun phrase mijn ouders may be the exception rather than the rule. This is clear from the fact that, in speech, the homophonous examples mijn zusters/broers boeken in (451) can only have the singular interpretation of the primeless examples, not the plural interpretation of the primed example; in writing, the two readings can be distinguished by using an apostrophe following the possessor.

Example 451
a. mijn zusters boek
  my sisterʼs  book
a'. mijn zusters’ boek
  my sistersʼ  book
b. mijn broers boeken
  my brotherʼs  books
b'. mijn broers’ boeken
  my brothersʼ  books

This means that the plural reading can only be expressed by means of the semi-genitival construction, or, for speakers who disfavor this construction, definite noun phrases with a postnominal van-PP, as in (452). Example (452a) shows that this construction can also be used as an alternant for (450c).

Example 452
a. het boek van mijn ouders
  the book  of/by  my parents
b. het boek van mijn zuster/zusters
  the book of/by  my  sister/sisters
c. de boeken van mijn broer/broers
  the books  of/by  my  brother/brothers

Note that the examples above involve plural possessors that form their plural in -s. If the possessor has a plural in -en or -eren, interpretative problems like those in (451) do not arise, and we therefore might expect the genitival construction to give rise to a fully acceptable result, regardless of the number of the possessor. This expectation is, however, not borne out: the unacceptability of the primed examples in (453) shows that genitive constructions are also unacceptable with plural possessors in this case (although we should immediately add that we did find a number of examples of the type mijn kinderens N on the internet). What is even more remarkable (at least in the light of the acceptability in written language of the primed examples in (451)) is that the primed examples in (453) are also unacceptable in written language, where we only find the form het boek van mijn vrienden and de kamer van mijn kinderen. These idiosyncratic restrictions on the use of the genitival construction (even in writing) suggest that the genitival construction is only a remnant of an older stage of the language; in the present-day language, the productive forms are the construction in (452) with a definite noun phrase and a postnominal van-PP and (at least for those speakers who allow it) the semi-genitival construction.

Example 453
a. mijn vriends boek
  my friendʼs  book
a'. * mijn vriendens boek
  my friendsʼ  book
b. ? mijn kinds kamer
  my childʼs  room
b'. * mijn kinderens kamer
  my childrenʼs  room

      There are more restrictions on the genitival and, to a lesser extent, the semi-genitival constructions in (450). First, the possessor in these examples is typically a proper noun, as in (450a&b). If the noun phrase contains a kinship noun, as in (454a), both the genitival and the semi-genitival constructions are acceptable. If it refers to some other +human being, as in (454b), the genitival construction starts to decrease in acceptability, and the semi-genitival construction is then much preferred. The same thing holds if the noun phrase refers to a -human but +animate entity, as in (454c). A noun phrase referring to a -animate entity gives rise to a weird result in both constructions, as is shown in the (d)-examples; in this respect, the (semi-)genitival construction does not differ from those in (408c'&d') involving possessive pronouns. Note that expressing the possessive relation by means of the postnominal van-PP is possible in all cases: cf. het wiel van de brommer'the mopedʼs wheel'.

Example 454
a. mijn vaders boek
  my fatherʼs  book
a'. mijn vader zʼn boek
  my father  his  book
b. ?? de bakkers auto
  the bakerʼs  car
b'. de bakker zʼn auto
  the baker  his  car
c. ?? de honds voerbak
  the dogʼs  trough
c'. de hond zʼn voerbak
  the dog  his  trough
d. * de brommers wiel
  the mopedʼs  wheel
d'. *? de brommer zʼn wiel
  the moped  its  wheel

For completeness’ sake, it can be noted that English constructions such as yesterdayʼs newspaper cannot be rendered by means of a possessive construction in Dutch but only by making use of a (non-possessive) postnominal van-PP or adverb: de krant (van) gisteren. This construction is more extensively discussed in subSection 3.3.6, sub I.
      Referential and reciprocal personal pronouns are never used in the semi-genitival construction: instead, we always find constructions with a referential or a reciprocal possessive pronoun.

Example 455
a. * hij/hem zʼn boek
  he/him  his book
a'. zijn/zʼn boek
  his  book
b. * zij/haar dʼr boek
  she/her  her book
b'. haar/dʼr boek
  her  book
c. * elkaar zʼn/hun boek
  each.other  his/their  book
c'. elkaars boek
  each.otherʼs  book

This does not mean, however, that there is a general ban on using a personal pronoun as the possessor in semi-genitival constructions. The primeless examples in (456) show that demonstrative or interrogative pronouns can be used as such provided that their referent is +human. The primed examples show that these forms alternate with the genitival demonstrative pronoun diens or the interrogative pronouns wiens, which were discussed in Section, sub II and Section, sub V.

Example 456
a. die zʼn/dʼr/%hun boeken
  that  his/her/their  books
  'that personʼs/personsbooks'
a'. diens boeken
  that.personʼs  books
b. wie zʼn/dʼr/%hun boeken
  who  his/her/their  books
  'whose books'
b'. wiens boeken
  whose  books

Finally, the examples in (457) show that it is also possible for the quantificational personal pronouns to enter the semi-genitival construction. In all cases, it is the possessive pronoun zʼn that is used. The universal semi-genitival construction in (457b) seems impossible with the more formal pronouns ieder and elkeen, which may be due to a clash in register. The most common genitival counterpart of the semi-genitival form iedereen zʼn is ieders, although iedereens is also frequently encountered. The semi-genitival forms in (457a&c) alternate with the genitive forms iemands and niemands.

Example 457
a. Ik wil iemand zʼn boek lenen.
  want  someone  his  book  borrow
  'I want to borrow someoneʼs book.'
b. Ik heb iedereen zʼn werk gelezen.
  have  everyone his work  read
  'Iʼve read everyoneʼs work.'
c. Ik heb niemand zijn toestemming nodig.
  have  no.one  his  permission  need
  'I need no oneʼs permission.'
[+]  II.  Nominalized possessive pronouns

The observation in Section that possessive pronouns cannot occur with determiners only holds for possessive pronouns that modify an overtly realized noun. If such a noun is lacking, the possessive pronoun is preceded by the definite article and followed by an -e suffix. As can be seen in Table 11, not all forms are equally acceptable.

Table 11: Nominalized pronouns inflected with -e
  singular plural
1st person de/het mijne de/het onze
2nd person colloquial de/het jouwe *de/het jullie-e
  polite de/het uwe de/het uwe
3rd person masculine de/het z ijne ??de/het hunne
  feminine de/het hare  
  neuter de/het zijne  

Nominalized possessive pronouns are typically used in contrastive contexts like (458). The examples show that the article preceding the possessive pronoun is sensitive to the gender of the noun in the first conjunct: auto'car' is non-neuter, and correspondingly the possessive pronoun is preceded by the non-neuter article de in (458a); paard'horse' is neuter, and the article preceding the possessive pronoun in (458b) is the neuter article het.

Example 458
a. Jouw auto is mooi, maar de mijne is nog mooier.
  your car  is beautiful  but  the mine  is even  more beautiful
  'Your car is beautiful but mine is even more beautiful.'
b. Zijn paard is erg snel, maar het mijne is liever.
  his horse  is very  fast  but  the mine  is sweeter
  'His horse is very fast, but mine is sweeter.'

There are reasons, however, to assume that the possessive pronoun mijne in (458) is not part of an ellipsis construction, but the head of the noun phrase. The first is that, in contrast to the regular form mijn, the form mijne cannot be used if it is followed by an attributive adjective. This is shown in (459). Given the fact that an attributively used adjective must precede the noun it modifies, the ungrammaticality of (459b) is to be expected if mijne is a noun, but not if it is followed by an empty noun (cf. de blauwe'the blue one'). The force of the argument is rather weak, however, given that the adjective cannot precede the nominalized possessive pronoun either.

Example 459
a. Jouw rode trui is mooi, maar mijn blauwe is nog mooier.
  your  red sweater  is beautiful  but  my blue  is even  more beautiful
  'Your red sweater is beautiful, but my blue one is even more beautiful.'
b. * Jouw rode trui is mooi, maar de mijne blauwe is nog mooier.
  your  red sweater  is beautiful  but  the mine blue  is even  more beautiful

A second reason is that, at least in orthography, the possessive pronoun can be followed by the plural marker -n (the n in the plural suffix -en is normally not pronounced in Standard Dutch). The noun phrase headed by the possessive pronoun must then refer to the persons belonging to the referent of the possessive pronoun (in particular his family or followers).

Example 460
a. ik en de mijnen
  and  the mine
  'me and those who belong to me'
b. Luther en de zijnen
  Luther  and  the his
  'Luther and his followers'

For this reason, we will not consider the examples in (458) as counterevidence for the claim that possessive pronouns are determiners; they simply function as nouns. There is, however, another potential problem for this claim, which we have ignored so far, namely that the plural first person pronoun ons exhibits what seems to be attributive inflection. This is illustrated in (461).

Example 461
a. onze slaapkamer
  our  bedroom
a'. een mooie slaapkamer
  a beautiful  bedroom
b. ons- huis
  our  house
b'. een mooi- huis
  a beautiful  house
c. onze huizen
  our  houses
c'. mooie huizen
  beautiful  houses

A comparison of the primeless and primed examples suggests that the inflection of ons is similar to the inflection of an attributive adjective in an indefinite noun phrase (cf. Section 3.2, sub I), which in turn suggests that ons occupies the attributive position in the noun phrase (and not the determiner position). It should be noted, however, that the only thing we can conclude from the primeless examples in (461) is that the possessive pronoun agrees in gender and number with the head noun. In this respect, it is no different from the articles and the demonstrative pronouns, which agree with the head noun in the same way; what should surprise us is not that ons exhibits agreement with the head noun, but that the other forms do not. Note further that the fact that agreement on ons involves the suffix -e may be merely accidental, and need not point toward the conclusion that we are dealing with an attributive phrase. That it is just an accident is supported by the fact that the attributive ending -e is only absent in indefinite noun phrases, whereas noun phrases introduced by the referential possessive pronouns in Table 10 are always definite; cf. Section

[+]  III.  Idioms and fixed combinations

Possessive pronouns are featured in several more or lesss idiomatic constructions. Some of these will be discussed in the following subsections.

[+]  A.  Vocatives and salutations

Possessive pronouns can occur in noun phrases that address a person or are used as the salutation in a letter. The possessive pronoun then implies that there is a certain intimacy between the speaker/writer and the addressee. The pronoun is generally followed by an adjective like beste or lieve'dear'. For obvious reasons, the possessive pronoun is the first person singular one in cases like these.

Example 462
a. Mijn beste Jan/vriend, ...
  my  best  Jan/friend
  'Dear Jan/friend, ...'
b. Mijn lieve Jan/schat, ...
  my  sweet  Jan/treasure
  'My dear (Jan), ...'
[+]  B.  Evaluative use of possessive pronouns

Sometimes the possessive pronoun has a purely evaluative function. An example such as (463a) may express that Gerard Reve is the favorite writer of the addressee, a writer the addressee is talking about often, etc. Similarly, (463b) expresses that Jan has a special interest in astrology. Often, this construction is used ironically; an example such as (463c) expresses that the speaker certainly does not share the belief (implicitly attributed to the addressee) that the girl in question is sweet.

Example 463
a. jouw Gerard Reve
  your Gerard Reve
b. Jan is altijd bezig met zijn astrologie.
  Jan is always  busy  with his astrology
c. Jouw lieve dochter heeft weer eens een ruit gebroken.
  your sweet daughter  has  again  prt  a window  broken
  'Your sweet daughter has broken a window again.'
[+]  C.  “Par excellence” reading

In the cases in (464), the use of the possessive pronouns seems to come close to the “par excellence” reading of the definite articles, discussed in Section, sub II.

Example 464
a. je reinste onzin
  your clearest nonsense
  'utter nonsense'
b. Dat is je ware.
  that is your true
  'Thatʼs the real thing.'
c. Dat is je dat.
  that  is  your  that
  'Thatʼs tops.'
[+]  D.  Collocations

Many more or lesss fixed combinations involve possessive pronouns within PPs. For the following, we have relied heavily on the discussion in Haeseryn et al. (1997: 293), to which we refer the reader for more examples.

[+]  1.  PPs headed by op

The first set of constructions involves PPs headed by the preposition op. In the first subtype, exemplified in (465a), the possessive pronoun is followed by an NP inflected with -s. In the second subset, exemplified in (465b), the possessive pronoun is followed by a superlative adjective. In this construction, the pronoun zʼn is invariant and does not seem to have referring force; we are therefore not dealing with a “true” possessive pronoun.

Example 465
a. We doen het op zijn hondjes.
refers to a certain sexual position
  we  do  it  on zijn dogdim-s
  'We do it doggystyle.'
b. We zijn op zijn vroegst om vijf uur thuis.
  we  are  at zijn earliest  at 5 oʼclock home
  'At best, weʼll be home at 5 oʼclock (but probably later).'

In some cases, however, examples such as (465) do seem to contain a true possessive pronoun, which is clear from the fact that there is agreement between the pronoun and the subject of the clause. Some examples are given in (466).

Example 466
a. Ik kleed me vandaag op mʼn zondags.
  dress  refl  today  on my Sunday-s
  'Today, Iʼll dress like in my Sunday best.'
a'. Jij kleedt je vandaag op je zondags.
  'you dress refl today on your Sunday-s'
  'Today, you will dress like on Sunday/at your best.'
b. ʼs Avonds ben ik op mʼn best.
  at night  am  at my best
  'In the evening, Iʼm at my best.'
b'. ʼs Avonds ben jij op je best.
  at night  are  you  at your best
  'In the evening, youʼre at your best.'
[+]  2.  Met-PPs

Another more or lesss fixed combination consists of the preposition met followed by a possessive pronoun which in turn is followed by a cardinal numeral or quantifier inflected with -en (or, in Flemish, with ge- ... -en). This PP provides information about the size of a set of entities denoted by a plural argument elsewhere in the clause: in (467a) the subject pronoun we'we', and in (467b), the direct object de jongens'the boys'. In examples like these, we may be dealing with the spurious, non-referring and invariant possessive pronoun zijn, or with a possessive pronoun that agrees with the modified argument.

Example 467
a. We komen met zʼn/ons vieren.
  we  come  with  zijn/our four-en
  'There will be four of us.'
b. Ik heb de jongens met zijn/?hun allen naar de bioscoop gebracht.
  zhave  the boys  with zijn/their all  to the cinema  brought
  'Iʼve brought the boys (all of them) to the cinema.'

The numeral in (467a) cannot be *enen'one-en'. If one wants to express that one comes alone, one would instead use the construction in (468) where the numeral een'one' is adorned with the diminutive suffix -tje. Note that in this case the invariant, spurious possessive pronoun cannot be used.

Example 468
a. Ik kom in mijn/*zijn eentje.
  come  in my/zijn  one-tje
  'I come alone.'
b. Kom je in je/*zijn eentje?
  come  you  in your/zijn  one-tje
  'Are you coming alone?'
  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
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