• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
8.2.1. Nominal predicates

Nominal complementives can be divided into three types. In the first type, the nominal predicate and its logical subject are in a set/subset relation: the latter is argued to be part of the set denoted by the former. In this type the nominal predicate is typically preceded by an indefinite article ( een or ∅). In the second type, the nominal predicate and its subject are identified: the latter is claimed to be identical to the former. In this case the predicate can be preceded by a wider set of determiners, including the definite article de/het and demonstrative and possessive pronouns. In the third type the predicate is a bare noun phrase, that is, not preceded by a determiner at all. This type usually occurs with verbs that select a predicate introduced by als or tot; bare nominal predicates may sometimes also occur in copular or vinden-constructions, but since these cases exhibit various special properties, we will discuss them separately in Section 8.2.2.

Example 85
a. Jan is een goede vriend van mij.
  Jan is a good friend of mine
b. Jan is de directeur van deze school.
  Jan is the director of this school
c. Zij zullen Jan tot voorzitter benoemen.
als/ tot + bare noun
  they  will  Jan to chairman  appoint
  'They will appoint Jan as chairman.'
[+]  I.  The set/subset relation

In the copular construction and the vinden-construction, a nominal predicate denotes a non-singleton set and it is claimed that the subjectof the predicate is part of this set. In the copular constructions in the (a)-examples in (86) the subjectof the predicate isthe subject of the clause, and in the vinden-constructions in the (b)-examples it is the accusative object of the clause. These examples also show that the nominal predicate and its subjectagree in number. Example (86c) is added to show that, for some unknown reason, resultative constructions with a “truly” nominal predicate are not common; resultative verbs generally take a nominal predicate introduced by als or tot; cf. Subsection III below.

Example 86
a. Jan is [PRED een aardige jongen].
  Jan is  a nice boy
a'. Jan en Peter zijn [PRED aardige jongens].
  Jan and Peter  are  nice boys
b. Ik vind Peter [PRED een aardige jongen].
  consider  Peter  a nice boy
b'. Ik vind Jan en Peter [PRED aardige jongens].
  consider  Jan and Peter  nice boys
c. Hij benoemde Jan *(tot/als) voorzitter.
  he  appointed  Jan    as  chairman
[+]  II.  The identification relation

The examples in (86) above illustrate the use of indefinite noun phrases as predicates. Definite noun phrases can be used in the same way. The main difference is that whereas the use of an indefinite noun phrase expresses that its subjectispart of the denotation of the NP, the use of a definite noun phrase implies that the subjectexhausts it. For example, (87a) expresses that Peter is just part of the set of students that are supervised by Marie, whereas (87b) implies that Peter is the only student that is supervised by Marie. The (b)-examples in (87) therefore differ from those in the (a)-examples in not expressing a set/subset relation, but an identification relation.

Example 87
a. Peter is [PRED een student die door Marie begeleid wordt].
  Peter is  a student  who  by Marie  supervised  is
a'. Peter en Jan zijn [PRED studenten die door Marie begeleid worden].
  Peter and Jan  are  students  who  by Marie  supervised  are
b. Peter is [PRED de student die door Marie begeleid wordt].
  Peter is  the student  who  by Marie  supervised  is
b'. Peter en Jan zijn [PRED de studenten die door Marie begeleid worden].
  Peter and Jan  are  the students  who  by Marie  supervised  are

That we are dealing with an identification relation does not mean, however, that both DPs are referring expressions. That this is not the case will become clear when we consider the referential behavior of the coordinated DPs in (88). The plural marking on the finite verb in (88a) shows that the coordinated subject de dokter en de burgemeester'the physician and the mayor' is also necessarily plural. This shows that there is a one-to-one relation between the number of articles and the number of referents: each conjunct refers to a separate person. This is, however, not the case in (88b), in which the coordinated DP functions as a predicate: there is simply one person who can be identified both as the physician and as the mayor of the village under discussion. Example (88b') shows that predicative definite noun phrases can also be coordinated by means of conjunctions other than en'and'. Note that the adverbs tevens'also' and ook'also' in (88b&b') emphasize the fact that the persons denoted by the coordinated predicative noun phrases are actually the same; see also the discussion of the examples in (97) below.

Example 88
a. De dokter en de burgemeester komen/*komt morgen langs.
  the physician  and  the mayor  come/comes  tomorrow  prt.
  'The physician and the mayor will visit us tomorrow.'
b. Jan is de dokter en (tevens) de burgemeester van dit dorp.
  Jan is the physician  and   also  the mayor  of this village
b'. Jan is niet alleen de dokter maar ook de burgemeester van dit dorp.
  Jan is not only  the physician  but  also  the mayor  of this village

Examples like (88b&b') clearly show that definite nominal predicates do not refer to some entity in the domain of discourse; the function of the definite articles is to express that the sets denoted by the nominal predicates dokter van dit dorp and burgemeester van dit dorp have just one member. The construction as a whole expresses that the members of these two singleton sets are identical and can be identified with the referent of the subject of the clause, Jan. See Alexiadou et al. (2007: prt II, §2.3) for more discussion.
      The examples in (89) show that, in constructions expressing an identification relation, it is often possible to interchange the positions of the two noun phrases. At first sight it is not clear what this tells us. It may be the case that the two word orders differ in underlying syntactic structure, that is, differ with respect to which noun phrase performs which syntactic function (subject or complementive). However, it may also be the case that the two orders have the same underlying syntactic structure but that one of the two is derived by topicalization, an option that can be argued for independently on the basis of examples such as Aardig is hij niet'Nice, he is not'.

Example 89
a. Marie is de beste leerling van deze klas.
  Marie is the best pupil  of this group
a'. De beste leerling van deze klas is Peter.
b. Peter en Marie zijn de beste leerlingen van deze klas.
  Peter and Marie  are  the best pupils  of this group
b'. De beste leerlingen van deze klas zijn Peter en Marie.

The option of having two different underlying structures seems to be refuted by the data in (90): if the proper noun(s) need not act as the subject but can also act as the predicate, the primed examples should be fully acceptable, which they are not. However, they are not as bad as one would expect: especially if the proper nouns are given emphatic accent, the result is reasonably acceptable, and it yields at least quite a contrast with examples such as *dat aardig Jan niet is, in which aardig is unequivocally a predicate.

Example 90
a. dat Marie de beste leerling van deze klas is.
  that  Marie  the best pupil  of this group  is
a'. dat de beste leerling van deze klas Peter/??Peter is.
b. dat Peter en Marie de beste leerlingen van deze klas zijn.
  that  Peter and Marie  the best pupils  of this group  are
b'. dat de beste leerlingen van deze klas Peter en Marie/??Peter en Marie zijn.

Another prediction would be that in the vinden-constructions the two noun phrases are also interchangeable. As can be seen in (91), however, there is a strong preference for the proper noun(s) to precede the definite noun phrase: the primed examples in (91) require heavy stress on the proper nouns, and even then the result is marginal at best. From this, it seems that we can safely conclude that the proper noun acts as the subject and the definite noun phrase acts as the predicate in these examples.

Example 91
a. dat ik Marie de beste leerling van deze klas vind.
  that  Marie the best pupil  of this group  consider
  'that I consider Marie the best pupil of this group.'
a'. * dat ik de beste leerling van deze klas Marie vind.
b. dat ik Peter en Marie de beste leerlingen van deze klas vind.
  that  Peter and Marie  the best pupils  of this group  consider
  'that I consider Peter and Marie the best pupils of this group.'
b'. * Ik de beste leerlingen van deze klas Peter en Marie vind.

Note in passing that the test in (91) is only available if the nominal predicate is evaluative; if it expresses an objective property, the vinden-construction always gives rise to an unacceptable result. This is illustrated in the (b)-examples of (92).

Example 92
a. Peter is de (beste) voorzitter van de vereniging (ooit).
  Peter is the   best  chairman of the association   ever
b. Ik vind Peter de *(beste) voorzitter van de vereniging.
  consider  Peter  the   best  chairman of the association
b'. * Ik vind de (beste) voorzitter van de vereniging Peter.

      That the definite noun phrase functions as the complementive can also be supported by the fact that if the clause contains a first or second person personal pronoun, the verb must agree with the pronoun: the copula verb in the examples in (93) must be the second person form ben(t)'are' and cannot be the third person form is'is'. Similar facts concerning number agreement can be found in (94).

Example 93
a. Jij bent/*is de beste leerling van deze klas.
  you are/is  the best pupil of this group
b. De beste leerling van de klas ben/*is jij.
  the best pupil of the group  are/is  you
Example 94
a. De kinderen zijn/*is het grootste probleem.
  the children  are/is  the biggest problem
  'The children are the biggest problem.'
b. Het grootste probleem zijn/*is de kinderen.
  the biggest problem  are/is  the children
  'The biggest problem is the children.'

Note in passing that the agreement facts in Dutch crucially differ from the corresponding ones in English. For example, in English, inversion of the subject and the predicate will result in verb agreement with the preposed predicate, as will be clear from the rendering of example (94b). Furthermore, the subject pronoun will surface as an object form: cf. De beste kandidaat ben ik/*mij vs. The best candidate is me/*I. Since this is not the place to discuss these differences between English and Dutch, we refer the reader to Den Dikken (2006: Ch.4, fn.43), who argues that these differences are related to the fact that predicate inversion may result from topicalization in Dutch, but not in English.
      The discussion above has shown that even in predicative constructions expressing identity, there can be a fixed division of labor between the two noun phrases. This leads to the question what determines whether a certain noun phrase acts as the subject or the predicate. Just as in the case of regular predicative constructions, this seems to be related to inclusion relations. Whereas proper nouns normally refer to some specific entity in the domain of discourse, the referents of definite noun phrases are primarily presented as members of a larger set denoted by the NP. For example, the definite noun phrase de beste leerling van de klas'the best pupil(s) of the group' does not simply refer to a certain individual, but to an individual who is characterized as being a member of a larger subset denoted by the NP leerling van deze klas'pupil of this group'. The facts reviewed above suggest that it is always the noun phrase presented as part of a larger superset that is taken as the predicative part of the construction.
      In fact, it seems that this can be made even more precise. The examples in (95), which involve two definite noun phrases, suggest that it is the noun phrase presented as part of the largest superset that is taken as the complementive. In the most plausible extra-linguistic context to utter the primeless examples in (95), the set of tulips will be considerably smaller than the total set of flowers exhibited at the exhibition, and the primed examples unambiguously show that, as a result of this, it is the noun phrase de mooiste bloem van deze tentoonstelling that functions as the complementive, given that example (95b') is at best marginally acceptable with strong emphatic accent on the noun phrase deze blauwe tulp.

Example 95
a. Deze blauwe tulp is de mooiste bloem van deze tentoonstelling.
  this blue tulip  is the most.beautiful flower of this exhibition
a'. Ik vind deze blauwe tulp de mooiste bloem van deze tentoonstelling.
  consider  this blue tulip  the most.beautiful flower of this exhibition
b. De mooiste bloem van deze tentoonstelling is deze blauwe tulp.
b'. *? Ik vind de mooiste bloem van deze tentoonstelling deze blauwe tulp.

      Of course, there are still many cases where it is not so clear which of the two noun phrases must be considered the predicate of the construction. This is illustrated by the examples in (96). The embedded clauses show that the two definite noun phrases may both act as the predicate of the copular construction. The difference between (96a') and (96b') is that in the former the noun phrase de voorzitter van deze vergadering is taken to be a referential expression, the referent of which is known to both the speaker and the addressee, whereas in the latter it is taken to be a property assigned to the referent of the referential noun phrase de decaan van de universiteit. This shows that the assignment of referential or predicative status may be dependent on properties of the discourse; in (96a'), the referent of the noun phrase de voorzitter van deze vergadering is assumed to be known to the addressee, whereas the referent of de decaan van de universiteit is not: it is the purpose of the sentence to express that the two noun phrases have the same referent.

Example 96
a. De voorzitter van deze vergadering is de decaan van de faculteit.
  the chairman of this meeting  is  the dean of the faculty
a'. dat de voorzitter van deze vergadering de decaan van de faculteit is.
  that  the chairman of this meeting  the dean of the faculty  is
b. De decaan van de faculteit is de voorzitter van deze vergadering.
b'. dat de decaan van de faculteit de voorzitter van deze vergadering is.

The primeless examples in (96) are semantically ambiguous, but the two interpretations are generally associated with two different intonation patterns. If the sentences are interpreted with the first noun phrase as a referential expression, it can be pronounced with a neutral, continuous intonation contour. On the alternative, inverse interpretation, some special intonational clue is needed, for example by inserting a brief intonation stop before the second noun phrase, and/or by placing emphatic or contrastive focus on it. The alternative, inverse interpretation can also be blocked by means of adverbs like ook'also' or tevens'also': in examples such as (97) the second noun phrase must be construed as the predicate.

Example 97
a. De voorzitter van deze vergadering is ook de decaan van de faculteit.
  the chairman of this meeting subject  is  also the dean of the facultyPred
b. De decaan van de universiteit is tevens de voorzitter van deze vergadering.
  the dean of the facultysubject  is also  the chairman of this meetingPred
[+]  III.  Nominal predicates introduced by als/tot

In some cases, the nominal predicate must be introduced by als or tot, or, less commonly, voor. In some cases this seems to be an idiosyncratic property, given that verbs like beschouwen'to consider' and benoemen'to appoint' obligatorily take such a predicate: in (98a), the als-phrase cannot be dropped without shifting the meaning of the verb to something like “to observe”; in (98b), the tot/als-phrase can be dropped, but will then be implied.

Example 98
a. Ik beschouw Jan #(als een veelbelovende student).
  consider  Jan     as  a promising student
  'I consider Jan a promising student.'
b. We benoemen Jan morgen (tot/als voorzitter).
  we  appoint  Jan tomorrow   as  chairman

There are also some more or lesss fixed collocations with the verb houden and the preposition voor. Some examples are given in (99); in the (a)-example voor is followed by a noun phrase and in the (b)-example by an adjective.

Example 99
a. Ze hielden hem voor de dader.
  they  consider  him  for  the perpetrator
b. Je zult het niet voor mogelijk houden, maar ...
  you  will  it  not  for  possible  consider  but
  'You wonʼt believe it, but ...'

      Using a nominal predicate introduced by tot is the normal way of expressing a result. Whereas bare adjectival predicates like boos or dood can be used in all kinds of resultative constructions, the option of using a bare nominal predicate seems to be restricted to the verb maken.

Example 100
a. Ik maak Peter boos.
  make  Peter angry
a'. Jan sloeg de mug dood.
  Jan hit  the mosquito  dead
b. We maken Peter het hoofd van de afdeling.
  we  make  Peter the head of the department
b'. We slaan Peter tot ridder.
  we  hit  Peter  to knight
  'We knight Peter.'

We should add immediately that, in accordance with what we have already observed with respect to the examples in (98), many cases of the sort in (100b') seem to be lexically restricted. An example such as (101a) is unacceptable, despite the fact that it seems to make perfect sense semantically; cf. the acceptability of (101b) with the adjectival complementive fit.

Example 101
a. Marie zwom zich *(??tot) wereldkampioen op de honderd meter schoolslag.
  Marie swam  refl     to  world.champion  on the hundred meter breaststroke
b. Marie zwom zich fit
  Marie swam  refl  fit
  'Jan swam herself fit.'

      All of the examples discussed above involve a set/subset relation. The predicative als-phrase can, however, also be used to express an identity relation, in which case the noun phrase is typically definite.

Example 102
a. Ik beschouw Jan als de beste leerling in jaren.
  consider  Jan as  the best pupil  in years
  'I consider Jan the best pupil in years.'
b. Ik beschouw Jan als de aanstichter van de rel.
  consider  Jan as  the instigator of the riot

      Finally, example (103) shows that noun phrases introduced by als can also be used as supplementives. Note that the noun phrase in this example does not contain an article, just like the noun phrase in (98b). This is a typical property of predicatively used nouns denoting a profession or social function; we will discuss this extensively in Section 8.2.2, where we will also discuss examples such as (103) in more detail.

Example 103
Als student werkte Marie in het ziekenhuis.
  as student  worked  Marie  in the hospital
'As a student, Marie worked in the hospital.'
  • Alexiadou, Artemis, Haegeman, Liliane & Stavrou, Melita2007Noun phrases in the generative perspectiveBerlin/New YorkMouton de Gruyter
  • Dikken, Marcel den2006Relators and linkers. The syntax of predication, predicate inversion, and copulasCambridge, MA/LondonMIT Press
Suggestions for further reading ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
  • In prenominal position
    [90%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Adjectives
  • Cardinal numbers
    [90%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Numerals
  • Weak verbs
    [90%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Verbs
  • Degree
    [90%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Adjectives
  • Ellipsis
    [90%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Adjectives
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.