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Show full table of contents Differences between possessive pronouns and possessive van-PPs

We have seen in several places that possessive pronouns and prenominal possessive noun phrases may alternate with postnominal van-PPs; we illustrate this again in (469). This section concludes our discussion of possessive pronouns by pointing out some differences between the prenominal possessors and the postnominal PPs.

Example 469
a. Jans/zijn boek
  Jans/his book
b. het boek van Jan/hem
  the book of Jan/him

A first difference involves the use of the possessors in questions like (470). As was already pointed out in the discussion of example (412) in Section, the use of the interrogative possessives wiens/wier'whose' is rather formal. The colloquial manner of asking the intended question is by means of a possessive van-PP, as in (470a'). The questions in (470) evoke an elliptical answer, which only involves the possessor. The (b)-examples show, however, that using a possessive pronoun or genitive noun phrase gives rise to a degraded result; the more formal question in (470a) is also answered by means of the van-PP in (470b').

Example 470
a. Wiens/Wier boek is dit?
  whosemasc/fem.  book  is this
a'. Van wie is dit boek?
  of whom  is  this book
b. *? Jans/zijn.
b'. Van Jan/hem.
  Of Jan/him

Similar contrasts can also be found in other elliptical contexts like given in (471).

Example 471
a. ?? Zij heeft zijn/Jans boek gelezen en hij haar/Maries.
  she  has  his/Janʼs book  read  en  he  her/Marieʼs
  'She read her/Janʼs book, and he her/Marieʼs.'
b. Zij heeft het boek van hem/Jan gelezen en hij dat van haar/Marie.
  she  has the book of him/Jan  read  and  he  that  of her/Marie

      The second difference involves the form of the pronoun: example (472) shows that whereas the possessive pronoun can be either weak or strong, use of a weak pronoun as the complement of the preposition van gives rise to a marginal result. It should be noted, however, that using a weak pronoun is possible if we replace the definite article by the distal demonstrative dat: dat boek van me'that book of mine', provided that the noun phrase is interpreted as referring to an entity that is familiar to the hearer; Section, sub IIB, discusses this special construction in more detail.

Example 472
a. mijn/mʼn boek
  my  book
b. het boek van mij/??me
  the book  of me

      A third difference concerns the use of the possessor in predicative postcopular position: the examples in (473) show that this is excluded with possessive pronouns and genitive noun phrases but possible with van-PPs.

Example 473
a. *? Het boek is mijn/Jans.
  the book  is my/Janʼs
b. Het boek is van mij/Jan.
  the book  is of me/Jan

      The examples in (474) illustrate a final difference: whereas coordination of possessive pronouns and/or genitive noun phrases gives rise to a marked result, coordination of pronouns and noun phrases within the van-PP is easily possible.

Example 474
a. ?? jouw en haar boek
  your and her book
a'. * Peters en jouw boek
  Peterʼs and your book
b. het boek van jou en haar
  the book of you and her
b'. het boek van Peter en jou
  the book of Peter and you

It may be interesting to note that the differences between the possessive pronouns and the postnominal van-PP containing a personal pronoun neatly correspond to those between the so-called strong and weak possessive pronouns discussed by Cardinaletti (1998); see Alexiadou et al. (2007: 569-70) for a brief discussion of the relevant Italian data.

  • Alexiadou, Artemis, Haegeman, Liliane & Stavrou, Melita2007Noun phrases in the generative perspectiveBerlin/New YorkMouton de Gruyter
  • Cardinaletti, Anna1998On the deficient/strong opposition in possessive systemsAlexiadou, Artemis & Chris Wilder (eds.)Possessors, Predicates and Movement in the Determiner PhraseAmsterdam/PhiladelphiaJohn Benjamins17-54
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