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2.1.4. Undative verbs

Sections 2.1.2 and 2.1.3 discussed the so-called unaccusative verbs, that is, verbs taking an internal theme argument that surfaces as the subject of the clause. The derived subjects of these verbs have a thematic role similar to that of the direct object of a (di-)transitive clause, and behave in several respects like the subjects of passive constructions. One may wonder, however, whether there are also what we will call undative constructions, in which the derived subject is a recipient and hence corresponds to an indirect object in a ditransitive clause. Although this question has hardly been discussed in the literature, there are reasons for assuming that it should be answered in the affirmative.

[+]  I.  The verb krijgen'to get'

We begin with the verb krijgen, which we will consider to be a prototypical instantiation of the undative verbs. Consider the examples in (128).

Example 128
a. Jan gaf Marie een boek.
  Jan gave  Marie a book
b. Marie kreeg een boek (van Jan).
  Marie got  a book   of Jan
  'Marie received a book from Jan.'

In (128b) the subject has a role similar to that of the indirect object of geven'to give' in (128a): in both cases we seem to be dealing with a recipient argument. This suggests that the verb krijgen'to get' does not have an external argument (although the agent/cause can be expressed in a van-PP) and that the subject in (128b) is a derived one, which we will refer to an IO-subject. We will provide evidence in favor of this suggestion in the next subsections, but before we do that we want to note that the alternation in (128) also holds for particle verbs with geven and krijgen like teruggeven/terugkrijgen'to give/get back' or opgeven/opkrijgen in (129).

Example 129
a. De leraar gaf de leerlingen te veel huiswerk op.
  the teacher  gave  the pupils  too much homework  prt.
  'The teacher gave his pupils too much homework.'
b. De leerlingen kregen te veel huiswerk op.
  the pupils  got  too much homework  prt.
  'The pupils got too much homework.'
[+]  A.  Er-nominalization and imperative

If the subject in (128b) is indeed an internal recipient argument, we predict that er-nominalization of krijgen is excluded, since this process requires an external argument; cf. the generalization in (59a). Example (130a) shows that this prediction is indeed borne out. Note that krijgen differs in this respect from the verb ontvangen'to receive' which seems semantically close, but which has a subject that is more agent-like, that is, more actively involved in the event.

Example 130
a. * de krijger van dit boek
  the get-er  of this book
b. de ontvanger van dit boek
  the receiver  of this book

Similarly, we expect the two verbs to behave differently in imperatives. The examples in (131) show that this expectation is indeed borne out.

Example 131
a. We krijgen/ontvangen morgen gasten.
  we  get/receive  tomorrow  guests
  'Weʼll get/receive guests tomorrow.'
b. Ontvang/*krijg ze (gastvrij)!
  receive/get  them  hospitably
  'Receive them hospitably.'
[+]  B.  Passive

According to the generalization in (59d), the presence of an external argument is also a necessary condition for passivization, and this correctly predicts that passivization of (128b) is excluded. Again, krijgen differs from the verb ontvangen, which, contrary to what is claimed by Haeseryn et al. (1997), does allow passivization and must therefore be considered a regular transitive verb.

Example 132
a. * Het boek werd (door Marie) gekregen.
  the book  was   by Marie  gotten
b. Het boek werd (door Marie) ontvangen.
  the book  was   by Marie  received

Although the facts in (130) and (132) are suggestive, they are not conclusive, since we know that not all unergative verbs allow er-nominalization and that there are several additional restrictions on passivization; cf. Section 3.2.1. There is, however, additional evidence that supports the idea that the subject of krijgen is a derived subject.

[+]  C.  Idioms

      The idea that the subject of krijgen is a derived subject may also account for the fact that example (133a), which contains the more or lesss idiomatic double object construction iemand de koude rillingen bezorgen'to give someone the creeps', has the counterpart in (133b) with krijgen. This would be entirely coincidental if Jan would be an external argument of the verb krijgen, but follows immediately if it originates in the same position as the indirect object in (133a). For completeness' sake, observe that the more agentive-like verb ontvangen cannot be used in this context.

Example 133
a. De heks bezorgt Jan de koude rillingen.
  the witch  gives  Jan the cold shivers
  'The witch gives Jan the creeps.'
b. Jan kreeg/*ontving de koude rillingen (van de heks).
  Jan got/received  the cold shivers  from the witch
[+]  D.  Possessive phrases

The most convincing argument in favor of the assumption that krijgen has an IO-subject is that it is possible for krijgen to enter inalienable possession constructions. In Standard Dutch, inalienable possession constructions require the presence of a locative PP like op de vingers in (134a). The nominal part of the PP refers to some body part and the possessor is normally expressed by a dative noun phrase: (134a) expresses the same meaning as (134b), in which the possessive relation is made explicit by means of the possessive pronoun haar'her'. We refer the reader for a more detailed discussion of this construction to Section

Example 134
a. Jan gaf Marie een tik op de vingers.
  Jan  gave  Marie  a slap  on the fingers
  'Jan gave Marie a slap on her fingers.'
b. Jan gaf Marie een tik op haar vingers.
  Jan  gave  Marie  a slap  on her fingers
  'Jan gave Marie a slap on her fingers.'

Subjects of active constructions normally do not function as inalienable possessors: an example such as (135a) cannot express a possessive relationship between the underlying subject Jan and the nominal part of the PP, as a result of which the example is pragmatically weird (unless the context provides more information about the possessor of the body part). In order to express inalienable possession the simplex reflexive object pronoun zich must be added, as in (135b).

Example 135
a. ?? Jan sloeg op de borst.
  Jan  hit  on the chest
b. Jan sloeg zich op de borst.
  Jan  hit  refl  on the chest
  'Jan tapped his chest.'

Note that the reflexive pronoun in (135b) is most likely assigned dative case (and not accusative). Of course, this cannot be seen by inspecting the form of the invariant reflexive in (135b) but it can be made plausible by inspecting the structurally parallel German examples in (136) where the possessor appears as a dative pronoun; see Broekhuis et al. (1996) for detailed discussion.

Example 136
a. Ich boxe ihmdat in den Magen.
  hit  him  in the stomach
  'I hit him in the stomach.'
b. Ich klopfe ihmdat auf die Schulter.
  pat him  on the shoulder
  'I patted his shoulder.'

The subject of the verb krijgen is an exception to the general rule that subjects of active constructions do not function as inalienable possessors, as is clear from the fact that the subject Marie in (137a) is interpreted as the inalienable possessor of the noun phrase de vingers. This would again follow immediately if we assume (i) that inalienable possessors must be internal recipient arguments, and (ii) that subject Marie (137a) is not an underlying subject but a derived IO-subject. Example (137b) is added to show that, just as in (134), the inalienable possession relation can be made explicit by means of the possessive pronoun haar'her'.

Example 137
a. Marie kreeg een tik op de vingers.
  Marie  got a  slap  on the fingers
b. Marie kreeg een tik op haar vingers.
  Marie  got  a slap  on her fingers

A Google search shows that the verb krijgen again differs from the more agentive-like verb ontvangen. The number of hits for the string [V een tik op de vingers], with one of the present or past-tense forms of the verb krijgen resulted in numerous hits, whereas there was not a single hit for the same string with one of the present or past forms of the verb ontvangen.
      To conclude, it may be useful to observe that the possessive dative examples in (134) and (137) all allow an idiomatic reading comparable to English to give someone/to get a rap on the knuckles, that is, "to reprimand/be reprimanded"; compare the discussion of the examples in (133).

[+]  E.  Krijgen-passive construction

The idea that krijgen is an undative verb is interesting in view of the fact that it is also used as the auxiliary in the so-called krijgen-passive, in which it is not the direct but the indirect object that is promoted to subject. Consider the examples in (138): example (138b) is the regular passive counterpart of (138a), in which the direct object is promoted to subject; example (138c) is the krijgen-passive counterpart of (138a), and involves promotion of the indirect object to subject.

Example 138
a. Jan bood Marie het boek aan.
  Jan offered  Marie the book  prt.
b. Het boek werd Marie aangeboden.
  the book  was Marie  prt.-offered
  'The book was offered to Marie.'
c. Marie kreeg het boek aangeboden
  Marie got  the book  prt.-offered
  'Marie was offered the book.'

The obvious question that the passive constructions in (138b&c) raise is what determines which of the two internal arguments is promoted to subject. Given the fact that worden is clearly an unaccusative verb (for example, it takes the auxiliary zijn in the perfect tense), the hypothesis that krijgen is an undative verb suggests that it is the auxiliary verb that is responsible for that: if the auxiliary is an unaccusative verb, the direct object of the corresponding active construction cannot be assigned accusative case and must hence be promoted to subject; if the auxiliary is an undative verb, on the other hand, the indirect object cannot be assigned dative case and must therefore be promoted to subject. If we assume that passive participles are not able to assign case (see Section 3.2.1), case assignment in the two types of passive construction will take place, as indicated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Case assignment in passive constructions

[+]  II.  The verbs hebben'to have' and houden'to keep'

The discussion in the previous subsection strongly suggests that main verb krijgen is a representative of a verb type that can be characterized as undative. This subsection shows that the verbs hebben'to have' and houden'to keep' exhibit very similar syntactic behavior to krijgen, and are thus likely to belong to the same verb class. But before we do this, we want to discuss one important difference between krijgen, on the one hand, and hebben and houden, on the other.

[+]  A.  The use of agentive van-PPs

The contrast between (139a) and (139b-c) shows that krijgen but not hebben and houden, may take a van-PP that seems to express an agent. Note that we have added a percentage mark to (139b) in order to express that some speakers do accept this example with the van-PP, albeit that in that case the meaning of hebben shifts in the direction of krijgen; a more or lesss idiomatic example of this type is Marie heeft dat trekje van haar vader'Marie has inherited this trait from her father'.

Example 139
a. Marie kreeg het boek (van JanAgent).
  Marie got  the book   from Jan
b. Marie heeft het boek (%van JanAgent).
  Marie has  the book   from Jan
c. Marie houdt het boek (*van JanAgent).
  Marie keeps  the book   from Jan

The contrasts in (139) may be related to the meanings expressed by the three verbs: the construction with krijgen in (139a) expresses that the theme het boek has changed position with the referent of the complement of the van-PP referring to its original, and the subject of the clause referring to its new location. This suggests that the van-PPs express not only the agent but also the source. If so, the fact that the agentive van-PP is not possible in the construction with hebben in (139b) may be due to the fact that this verb does not denote transfer, but expresses possession. Something similar holds for the construction with houden'to keep' in (139c), which explicitly expresses that transfer of the theme is not in order.

[+]  B.  The verb hebben'to have'

This subsection discusses data that suggest that hebben is an undative verb on a par with krijgen. The first thing to note is that hebben does not allow er-nominalization. In this respect, hebben differs from the verb bezitten, which is semantically very close to it. The contrast between (140a) and (140b) may again be related to the fact that the subject of the latter is more agent-like. For example, whereas the verb hebben can be used in individual-level predicates like grijs haar hebben'to have grey hair' or in non-control predicates like de griep hebben'to have flu', the verb bezitten cannot: Jan heeft/*bezit grijs haar'Jan has grey hair'; Jan heeft/*bezit de griep'Jan is having flu'.

Example 140
a. * een hebber van boeken
  have-er  of books
b. een bezitter van boeken
  an  owner  of books
  'an owner of books'

For completeness' sake, note that there is a noun hebberd, which is used to refer to greedy persons. This noun is probably lexicalized, which is clear not only from the meaning specialization but also from the facts that it is derived by means of the unproductive suffix -erd and that it does not inherit the theme argument of the input verb: een hebberd (*van boeken).
      Second, hebben is like krijgen in that it cannot be passivized. Note that this also holds for the verb bezitten, which was shown in (140b) to be a regular transitive verb. This shows that passivization is not a necessary condition for assuming transitive status for a verb.

Example 141
a. * Het boek werd (door Marie) gehad.
  the book  was   by Marie  had
b. ?? Het boek werd (door Marie) bezeten.
  the book  was by Marie  owned

Third, alongside the idiomatic example in (133), we find example (142) with a similar meaning. This would be coincidental if the subject were an external argument of the verb hebben, but is expected if it is an IO-subject.

Example 142
Jan heeft de koude rillingen (??van de heks).
  Jan has  the cold shivers    from the witch
'Jan has got the creeps.'

Finally, like the subject of krijgen, the subject of hebben can be used as an inalienable possessor of the nominal part of a locative PP. This would again follow if we assume (i) that inalienable possessors must be recipient arguments and (ii) that subject Peter in (143b) is an IO-subject.

Example 143
a. Jan stopt Peter een euro in de hand.
  Jan puts  Peter  a euro  in the hand
  'Jan is putting a euro in Peterʼs hand.'
b. Peter heeft een euro in de hand.
  Peter has  a euro  in the hand
  'Peter has a euro in his hand.'
[+]  C.  The verb houden'to keep'

The verb houden'to keep' in (144a) seems to belong to the same semantic field as hebben'to have' and krijgen'to get', but expresses that transmission of the theme argument does not take place. Examples (144b) and (144c) show, respectively, that er-nominalization and passivization are excluded, and (144d) shows that the subject of this verb may act as an inalienable possessor.

Example 144
a. Marie houdt de boeken.
  Marie keeps the books
b. * een houder van boeken
  a keeper  of books
c. * De boeken worden gehouden.
  the books  are  kept
d. Mao hield een rood boekje in de hand.
  Mao  kept  a red bookdiminutive  in the hand
  'Mao held a little red book in his hand.'

There are, however, several problems with the assumption that houden is an undative verb. First, there are cases of er-nominalization such as (145b). These cases are special, however, because the corresponding verbal construction does not occur, and we therefore conclude that we are dealing with (commonly used) jargon.

Example 145
a. * Jan houdt een OV-jaarkaart van de NS.
  Jan keeps an annual commutation ticket
  Intended meaning: 'Jan has an annual commutation ticket.'
b. houders van een OV-jaarkaart van de NS
  keepers of an annual commutation ticket

Second, the (a)-examples in (146) show that there are constructions with houden that do allow passivization; this deviant behavior of these examples may be due to the fact that we are dealing with an idiomatic expression with more or lesss the same meaning as the transitive verb bespieden'to spy on', which likewise allows passivization. Note in passing that the corresponding construction with krijgen behaves as expected and does not allow passivization.

Example 146
a. De politie hield de man in de gaten.
gaten probably refers to eyes
  the police  kept  the man  in the gaten
  'The police were keeping an eye on the man.'
a'. De man werd door de politie in de gaten gehouden.
  the man  was  by the police  in the gaten  kept
  'The man was being watched by the police.'
b. De politie kreeg de man in de gaten.
  the police  got  the man  in the gaten
  'The police noticed the man.'
b'. * De man werd door de politie in de gaten gekregen.
  the man was  by the police  in the gaten  got

Third, er-nominalization and passivization are possible with the verb houden when this verb is used in reference to livestock, as in (147). The fact that the object in (147a) can be a bare plural (or a mass noun) suggests, however, that we are dealing in this case with a semantic (that is, syntactically separable) compound verb comparable to particle verbs (although it should be noted that the bare noun can be replaced by quantified indefinite noun phrases like veel schapen'many sheep').

Example 147
a. Jan houdt schapen/*een schaap.
  Jan keeps sheep/a sheep
  'Jan is keeping sheep'
b. schapenhouder'sheep breeder'
c. Er worden schapen gehouden.
  there  are  sheep  kept
[+]  III.  Verbs of cognition

The class of undative verbs has not been extensively studied so far, and it is therefore hard to say anything with certainty about the extent of this verb class. Although this is certainly a topic for future research, we will briefly argue that verbs of cognition like weten'to know' and kennen'to know' in (148a), in which the subject of the clause acts not as an agent but as an experiencer, may also belong to this class. One argument in favor of assuming that these verbs are undative is that the thematic role of experiencer is normally assigned to internal arguments; see the discussion of the nom-dat verbs in Section 2.1.3. A second argument is that these verbs normally do not allow passivization, as is shown in (148b).

Example 148
a. Jan weet/kent het antwoord.
  Jan knows  the answer
  'Jan knows the answer.'
b. * Het antwoord wordt (door Jan) geweten/gekend.
  the answer  is   by Jan  known

Note in passing that passives like these do occur in more or lesss formal contexts, in which case the subject is most likely a human being: Jezus kan uitsluitend echt gekend worden door iemand die de juiste geesteshouding heeft' 'Jesus can only be known by someone who has the right spiritual attitude'. It also occurs in collocations like gekend worden als'to be known as' and gekend worden in'to be consulted'.
      Er-nominalizations also seem to suggest that cognitive verbs are undative. Although the er-noun kenner in (149a) does exist, it does not exhibit the characteristic property of productively formed er-nouns that they inherit the internal argument of the input verb. Furthermore, it has the highly specialized meaning "expert". The er-noun weter in (149b) does not exist at all (although it does occur as the second member in the compounds allesweter'someone who knows everything' and betweter'know-it-all'). The fact that these verbs normally do not occur in the imperative shows that the input verbs do not have an agentive argument and therefore point in the same direction as well; see Section 1.4.2, sub IA for a discussion of the counterexample Ken uzelf!'Know yourself!'.

Example 149
a. de kenner (*van het antwoord)
  the  know-er      of the answer
  'the expert'
a'. * Ken het antwoord!
  know  the answer
b. * de weter (van het antwoord)
  the  know-er   of the answer
b'. * Weet het antwoord!
  know  the answer

Finally, the examples in (150) show that the subjects of these verbs may enter into a possessive relationship with the nominal part of a locative PP, which is probably the strongest evidence in favor of assuming undative status for these verbs. It further suggests that, like the thematic role recipient, the thematic role experiencer cannot be assigned to an external argument, but must be assigned to an internal argument that corresponds to the dative argument of a ditransitive verb.

Example 150
a. Jan kent het gedicht uit het/zijn hoofd.
  Jan knows  the poem  from the/his head
  'Jan knows the poem by heart.'
b. Jan weet het uit het/zijn hoofd.
  Jan knows  it  from the/his head
  'Jan knows it like that.'
[+]  IV.  Other potential cases

Other potential examples of undative verbs are behelzen'to contain/include', bevatten'to contain', inhouden'to imply', and omvatten'to comprise'. These verbs may belong to the same semantic field as hebben and Haeseryn et al. (1997:54) note that these verbs are similar to hebben in rejecting passivization. It is, however, not clear whether the impossibility of passivization is very telling in these cases given that many of these verbs take inanimate subjects, for which reason they of course also resist the formation of person nouns by means of er-nominalization.

  • Broekhuis, Hans, Cornips, Leonie & De Wind, Maarten1996Inalienable possession in locational constructions; some apparent problemsCremers, Crit & Den Dikken, Marcel (eds.)Linguistics in the Netherlands 1996Amsterdam/PhiladelphiaJohn Benjamins37-48
  • 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
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