• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents The regular passive

This section discusses personal passive constructions, that is, passive constructions with a derived subject. Two cases of personal passives should be distinguished: regular worden-passives such as (60b), whichinvolve promotion to subject of the direct objects of the corresponding active constructions, and so-called krijgen-passives such as (60c), whichinvolve promotion to subject of the indirect objects. This section is concerned with the regular passive; the krijgen-passive will be discussed in Section

Example 60
a. Marienom biedt hemdat het boekacc aan.
  Marie  offers  him  the book  prt.
b. Het boeknom wordt hemdat (door Marie) aangeboden.
regular passive
  the book  is  him   by Marie  prt.-offered
c. Hijnom krijgt het boekacc' aangeboden (door Marie).
  he  gets  the book  prt.-offered    by Marie
[+]  I.  Verbs entering the regular passive

This subsection discusses the types of verbs that may enter the regular passive. Since the core property of the passive is the demotion of the external argument, it does not really come as a surprise that the core cases of the regular passive involve verbs with an agentive or causer subject. There are, however, several special cases, which will also be discussed in this subsection.

[+]  A.  Verbs with an agentive subject

Since agents are typically +animate entities, the regular passive involves the demotion of an animate subject in the majority of cases, as in the (a)-examples in (61). However, Section, sub III, has shown that, if an inanimate entity is construed as agentive, passivization is possible as well. This is illustrated again by the (b)-examples.

Example 61
a. Jan bestudeert het passief.
  Jan investigates  the passive
  'Jan is investigating the passive.'
a'. Het passief wordt door Jan bestudeerd.
  the passive  is  by Jan  investigated
  'The passive is investigated by Jan.'
b. Die machine sorteert het huisafval.
  that machine  sorts.out  the household.garbage
  'That machine sorts out the household garbage.'
b'. Het huisafval wordt door die machine gesorteerd.
  the  household.garbage  is  by that machines  sorted.out
[+]  B.  Verbs with a causer/cause subject

A causer can be considered a special kind of agent, and it is therefore not surprising that verbs with a causer subject can also be passivized. This is illustrated here by means of the transitive verb breken'to break' in the (a)-examples in (62). The demoted subject of the causative verb can also be inanimate as long as it is construed as the causer of the event; this is shown in the (b)-examples.

Example 62
a. Jan breekt de vaas.
  Jan  breaks  the vase
a'. De vaas wordt (door Jan) gebroken.
  the vase  is   by Jan  broken
b. Die machine breekt het afgekeurde porselein.
  that machine  breaks  the disapproved china
  'That machine breaks the disapproved china.'
b'. Het afgekeurde porselein wordt door die machine gebroken.
  the disapproved china  is  by that machine  broken

The primed examples in (63) suggest that causative object experiencer psych-verbs like irriteren'to irritate' and overtuigen'to convince' (cf. Section, sub II) can also be passivized. This requires, however, that the met-PP referring to the cause (the means by which the causer brings about the mental state of the experiencer) is not overtly realized.

Example 63
a. JanCauser irriteert haarExp met zijn gezeurCause.
  Jan  irritates  her  with his nagging
a'. Zij wordt door Jan geïrriteerd (*met zijn gezeur).
  she  is  by  Jan  irritated     with his nagging
b. JanCauser overtuigt haarExp met zijn verhaalCause.
  Jan  convinces  her  with his story
b'. Zij wordt door Jan overtuigd (*met zijn verhaal).
  she  is  by Jan  convinced     with his story

A typical property of the psych-verbs in (63) is that the cause can also be realized as the subject of the active construction, as in the primeless examples of (64). The primed examples again suggest that passivization of such causative psych-constructions is possible.

Example 64
a. Zijn gezeurCause irriteert haarExp.
  his nagging  irritates  her
a'. Zij wordt door zijn gezeur geïrriteerd.
  she  is  by his nagging  irritated
b. Zijn verhaalCause overtuigde haarExp.
  his story  convinced  her
b'. Zij werd door zijn verhaal overtuigd.
  she  was  by his story  convinced

The claim that we are dealing with passives in the primed examples in (63) and (64) presupposes that the door-PPs are agentive phrases similar to the ones we find in unequivocal passive examples. This seems, however, to be at odds with the fact that the door-phrases in (64) contain an inanimate, non-agentive noun phrase. Furthermore there is an alternative analysis according to which the door-phrases function as causative adjuncts comparable to the ones we find in unaccusative constructions like De ruit brak door de harde wind'The window broke due to the hard wind'. A final reason for doubting the passive analysis of the primed examples in (63) and (64) is that the verb worden can be replaced by raken'to get', which is typically used with a copular-like function.

Example 65
a. Zij raakte/werd door Jan/zijn gezeur geïrriteerd.
  she  got/became  by  Jan/his nagging  irritated
b. Zij raakte/werd door Jan/zijn verhaal overtuigd.
  she  got/became  by Jan/his story convinced

The examples in (65) strongly suggest that the verb worden in (63) and (64) is also used as a copular verb meaning "become". If so, we would expect that in embedded clauses the participle must precede the finite verb. The judgments on the primed examples in (66) show, however, that this expectation is not really borne out; for at least some speakers the order worden-participle is considerably better than the order raken-participle.

Example 66
a. dat zij door Jan/zijn gezeur geïrriteerd raakte/werd.
  that  she  by Jan/his nagging  irritated  got/became
a'. dat zij door Jan/zijn gezeur *raakte/%werd geïrriteerd.
b. dat zij door Jan/zijn verhaal overtuigd raakte/werd.
  that  she  by Jan/his story  convinced  got/became
b'. dat zij door Jan/zijn verhaal *raakte/%werd overtuigd.

We therefore conclude that it is not entirely clear on the basis of the currently available evidence whether we are dealing with passive or copular (adjectival passive) constructions in the primed examples in (63) and (64); see Section, sub IID, for more relevant discussion.
      We conclude with a discussion of a set small set of causative non-experiencer verbs exhibiting behavior more or lesss similar to that of object experiencer psych-verbs like irriteren'to irritate', cf. Section, sub V. A typical example is the verb verduidelijken'to clarify' in (67), which, like irriteren, allows the subject of the active construction to be either a causer or a cause.

Example 67
a. JanCauser verduidelijkte de stelling met een voorbeeldCause.
  Jan  clarified  the thesis  with an example
a'. De stelling werd (door Jan) met een voorbeeld verduidelijkt.
  the thesis  was   by Jan  with an example  clarified
b. Dit voorbeeldCause verduidelijkt de stelling aanzienlijk.
  this example  clarifies  the thesis  considerably
b'. De stelling wordt door dit voorbeeld aanzienlijk verduidelijkt.
  the thesis  is  by this example  considerably  clarified

It is again not clear whether the primed examples are passive counterparts of the primeless examples, given that the door-phrase is causative in nature. This is especially evident in this case given that some of these causative verbs may also take a causative door-phrase in the active voice. As a result there is no doubt that the door-phrase in (68c) can be construed as causative.

Example 68
a. Jan redde de situatie door zijn doortastend optreden.
  Jan saved  the situation  by his vigorous action
b. Zijn doortastend optreden redde de situatie.
  his vigorous action  saved  the situation
c. De situatie werd gered door zijn doortastend optreden.
  the situation  was  saved  by his vigorous action

If (68c) were a passive construction and if the door-phrase in this example were the same type of phrase as the door-phrase in (68a), we would expect that we may add an additional agentive door-phrase in (68c). Our intuitions given in (69) are not entirely clear and depend on the precise positions of the two door-phrases.

Example 69
a. ?? Door zijn doortastend optreden werd de situatienom door Jan gered.
  by his vigorous act  was  the situation  by Jan  saved
b. ?? De situatienom werd door Jan door zijn doortastend optreden gered.
c. ?? De situatienom werd door zijn doortastend optreden door Jan gered.
d. *? Door Jan werd de situatienom door zijn doortastend optreden gered.

It seems premature to us to draw any conclusions from the examples in (69); again it is not clear on the basis of the currently available evidence whether we are dealing with a passive or a copular (adjectival passive) construction in the primed examples in (67).

[+]  C.  Other verbs

There are various types of non-agentive/non-causative verbs with inanimate subjects that nevertheless do allow passivization. Some examples are given in (70). Other verbs of this type are begrenzen'to bound', omcirkelen'to encircle', omlijsten'to frame', omringen'to surround', overdekken'to cover', and overwoekeren'to overgrow'. Observe that the passive counterparts of the stative primeless examples in (70) require the door-phrase to be present; if it is absent the passive verbs receive an agentive, activity reading.

Example 70
a. De snelwegen omringen dat huis aan alle kanten.
  the highways  surround  that house  at all sides
a'. Dat huis wordt aan alle kanten #(door snelwegen) omringd.
  that house  is  at all sides     by highways  surrounded
b. Tal van rivieren doorsnijden het land.
  many of rivers  crisscross  the land
  'A great number of rivers crisscross the land.'
b'. Het land wordt #(door tal van rivieren) doorsneden.
  the land  is     by many of rivers  crisscrossed
  'A great number of rivers crisscross the land.'

Other non-agentive verbs that can be found in the regular passive are verbs taking an object with propositional content like aantonen'to demonstrate', bewijzen'to prove', demonstreren'to show/demonstrate', bepalen'to determine', impliceren'to imply' as well as the verb vormen'to make up'. The examples in (71) show that in these cases too, the passive constructions must contain a door-PP.

Example 71
a. Die maatregelen impliceren een grotere werkloosheid.
  these measures  imply  a greater unemployment
  'These measures imply greater unemployment.'
a'. Een grotere werkloosheidnom wordt *(door die maatregelen) geïmpliceerd.
  a greater unemployment  is      by these measures  implied
b. Twaalf dozijn vormt een grosacc.
  twelve dozen  makes.up  a gross
  'Twelve dozen make up a gross.'
b'. Een grosnom wordt gevormd *(door twaalf dozijn).
  a gross  is  made.up      by twelve dozen

The (a)-examples in (72) show that measure verbs like duren'to last', kosten'to cost', tellen'to count' and wegen'to weigh' with a non-agentive subject cannot be passivized. If the verb denotes an activity, as in the (b)-examples, passivization is possible.

Example 72
a. Peter weegt 100 pond.
  Peter weighs  100 pound
a'. * 100 pond wordt/worden (door Peter) gewogen.
  100 pound  is/are   by Peter  weighed
b. Peter weegt de appels.
  Peter weighs  the apples
b'. De appels worden (door Peter) gewogen.
  the apples  are   by Peter  weighed
  'The apples are being weighed by Peter.'

The difference between the two sets of examples could in principle be attributed to the non-agentive nature of the subject in (72a), but it is sometimes also assumed that it is the nature of the nominal complement (here: 100 pond) that is relevant; it is not a direct object but a predicatively used phrase comparable to the adjective zwaar in Jan weegt zwaar'Jan weighs heavy'.

[+]  II.  The derived subject of the regular passive

This subsection discusses a number of properties of derived subjects in regular passive constructions.

[+]  A.  The thematic role of the derived subject

Since regular passivization results in promotion to subject of the theme argument of the active verb, it is sometimes claimed that an important function of regular passivization is "externalization" of the internal argument of the active verb. Section, sub IV, has already shown that this cannot be correct; the obligatoriness of the complementives van de tafel af'from the table' and kapot'broken' in the primeless examples in (73) shows that the accusative noun phrases are subjects (external arguments) of these phrases, and not internal arguments of the verb vegen.

Example 73
a. Jan veegde de kruimels *(van de tafel af).
  Jan wiped  the crumbs     from the table af
a'. De kruimels werden (door Jan) van de tafel af geveegd.
  the crumbs  were   by Jan  from the table af  wiped
b. Jan veegde de bezem *(kapot).
  Jan  brushed  the broom    broken
b'. De bezem werd (door Jan) kapot geveegd.
  the broom  was   by Jan  broken  brushed

Section, sub IV, concluded from this that, in contrast to the active verb, the passive participle is unable to assign accusative case to the noun phrase de kruimels/de bezem, which must therefore be promoted to subject in order to receive nominative case. That we are not dealing with externalization of the internal argument is also clear from the fact that arguments that are not assigned accusative case but surface in the form of a PP cannot be promoted to subject; intransitive PO-verbs only give rise to impersonal passivization; see Subsection IVB.

Example 74
a. Wij spraken lang over die jongen/hem.
  we  talked  a.long.time  about that boy/him
  'We talked about that boy/him for a long time.'
b. Er werd (door ons) lang over die jongen/hem gesproken.
  there  was   by us  long  about that boy/him  talked
b'. * Die jongen/Hij werd (door ons) lang over gesproken.
  that boy/he  was   by us  a.long.time  about  talked

The (a)-examples in (75) show the same thing for complement clauses. Note in passing that the expletive er in (75a') does not have the syntactic function of subject, that is, it is not an anticipatory pronoun introducing the embedded clause. This function is restricted to the pronoun het in the (b)-examples. The passive examples in (75) thus differ in that the passive construction in (75a') is an impersonal passive, whereas the one in (75b') is a regular passive.

Example 75
a. Jan zei dat het boek gestolen was.
  Jan  said  that  the book  stolen  was
  'Jan said that the book was stolen.'
a'. Er werd (door Jan) gezegd dat het boek gestolen was.
  there  was   by Jan  said  that  the book  stolen  was
b. Jan zei het dat het boek gestolen was.
  Jan  said  it  that  the book  stolen  was
  'Jan said it that the book was stolen.'
b'. Het werd (door Jan) gezegd dat het boek gestolen was.
  it  was   by Jan  said  that  the book  stolen  was
[+]  B.  Placement of the derived subject (nominative-dative inversion)

In English, the derived subject is not only assigned nominative case but also obligatorily placed in the regular subject position of the clause. The latter does not hold for Dutch: the derived subject may remain in its original position, that is, the position normally occupied by the direct object of the active verb. This can readily be demonstrated by means of the passive counterparts of the active ditransitive construction in (76a); the derived object may either follow or precede the indirect object, an option that is not available to the subject of active constructions (like Jan in (76a)).

Example 76
a. dat Jan de kinderendat dat mooie boekacc aangeboden heeft.
  that  Jan the children  that beautiful book  prt.-offered  has
  'that Jan offered the children that beautiful book.'
b. dat de kinderendat dat mooie boeknom aangeboden werd.
  that  the children  that beautiful book  prt.-offered  was
b'. dat dat mooie boeknom de kinderendat aangeboden werd.
  that  that beautiful book  the children  prt.-offered  was

The difference between the two (b)-examples in (76) is related to the information structure of the clause: if the derived subject surfaces in its original position, as in (76b), it typically belongs to the focus ("new" information) of the clause, whereas it is presented as part of the presupposition("old" information) of the clause if it is placed in the canonical subject position, as in (76b'). That this is the case is supported by the distribution of (non-specific) indefinite noun phrases like een mooi boek'a beautiful book', which typically belong to the focus, and referential personal pronouns like het'it', which typically belong to the presupposition of the clause; the examples in (77) show that the former normally follow and the latter precede the indirect object.

Example 77
a. dat de kinderen een mooi boek/*het aangeboden werd.
  that  the children  a beautiful book/it  prt.-offered  was
  'that a beautiful book was offered to the children.'
b. dat het/*een mooi boek de kinderen aangeboden werd.
  that  it/a beautiful book  the children  prt.-offered  was
  'that it was offered to the children.'

The examples in (76) and (77) show that the placement of the derived subject into the regular subject position is subject to conditions similar to scrambling of nominal objects; cf. Section N8.1.3. This is not really surprising given that the placement of subjects of active clauses is also subject to similar conditions. This is illustrated in example (78a), in which the position of the adverbial phrase gisteren'yesterday' shows that the subject does not have to occupy the canonical subject position right-adjacent to the complementizer. The (b)- and (c)-examples show that the information structure of the clause is also involved in this case. Note in passing that the presence of er in (78b) depends on whether gisteren'yesterday' is presented as part of the focus or the presupposition of the clause; cf. N8.1.4. Note further that we assume a more or lesss neutral intonation pattern; example (78b') becomes acceptable if the noun phrase een student is assigned contrastive focus.

Example 78
a. dat <die student> gisteren <die student> weer belde.
  that  that student  yesterday  again  phoned
b. dat (er) gisteren een student belde.
  that  there  yesterday  a student  phoned
b'. ?? dat een student gisteren belde.
c. dat <hij> gisteren <*hij> belde.
  that    he  yesterday  phoned

For completeness' sake, it can further be observed that in some cases the derived subject can never be placed in the regular subject position. This holds for passive counterparts of idiomatic expressions like (79a&b), in which the obligatory presence of the expletive er'there' suggests that the derived subject is not in the canonical subject position. The reason for this is probably that the derived subject is not referential, and therefore cannot be part of the presupposition of the clause.

Example 79
a. dat Jan een stokje voor dat plan stak.
  that  Jan  a stick  in.front.of that plan  put
  'Jan forestalled that plan.'
a'. dat ??(er) een stokje voor dat plan gestoken werd.
  that  there  a stick  in.front.of that plan  put  was
b. dat Peter de draakacc met Els stak.
  that  Peter  the dragon  with Els  stabbed
  'Peter always made fun of Els.'
b'. dat ?(er) de draaknom met Els werd gestoken.
  that  there  the dragon  with Els  was  stabbed
[+]  C.  Grammatical function of the promoted object in the active clause

The derived subject in regular passives normally corresponds to the accusative phrase in the corresponding active clause. In some cases, however, it seems that dative phrases can also be promoted to subject in the regular passive.

[+]  1.  Transitive, ditransitive and intransitive PO-verbs

English and Dutch differ with respect to the original grammatical function of the object that is promoted to subject in passive constructions. This does not, of course, hold for regular passives of transitive clauses, given that the direct object is the only available one in such cases.

Example 80
a. Marienom slaat haaracc.
  Marie  beats  her
b. Zijnom wordt/is (door Marie) geslagen.
  she  is/have.been   by Marie  beaten
  'She is/has been beaten (by Marie).'

English and Dutch do differ, however, if the verb is ditransitive. In English, the derived subject may correspond to either the direct or the indirect object, depending on whether the indirect object is realized as a noun phrase or a PP. In Dutch, on the other hand, it is normally the direct object that is promoted to subject, as is shown in the examples in (81).

Example 81
a. Ik bood de boeken aan Jan aan.
prepositional indirect object
  offered  the books  to Jan  prt.
a'. De boeken werden aan Jan aangeboden.
  the books  were  to Jan  prt.-offered
  'The books were offered to Jan.'
b. Ik bood Jan/hem de boeken aan.
dative indirect object
  offered  Jan/him  the books  prt.
b'. De boeken werden Jan/hem aangeboden.
  the books  were  Jan/him  prt.-offered
b''. * Jan/Hij werd de boeken aangeboden.
  Jan/he  was  the books  prt.-offered

The promoted objects in (80) and (81) are internal arguments of the verbs. Recall from Subsection A, however, that externalization of internal arguments is not the core property of passivization given that intransitive PO-verbs or verbs selecting a clause only give rise to impersonal passivization. It is therefore not the thematic but the case assignment relation between the verb and its objects that is relevant.

[+]  2.  Ditransitive verbs with a clausal direct object

Although regular passivization normally involves promotion of the accusative noun phrase to subject, there seem to be some, at least marginally acceptable, cases that involve the promotion of an indirect object to subject. This is, for instance, the case with object controlverbs like verzoeken'to request' in (82). Besides the expected impersonal passive construction in (82b), the construction in (82c) is regularly produced. Other object control verbs that seem to allow promotion of the indirect object are aanraden'to recommend', beletten'to prevent', verbieden'to prohibit', verwijten'to blame' and vragen'to ask'.

Example 82
a. Peternom verzocht de studenten/hun [PRO het terrein te verlaten].
  Peter  requested  the students/them  the premises  to leave
  'Peter asked the students to leave.'
b. Er werd de studenten/hun verzocht het terrein te verlaten.
  there  was  the students/them  requested  the premises  to leave
c. % De studenten/zij werden verzocht het terrein te verlaten.
  the students/they  were  requested  the premises  to leave

The judgments of our informants do not really change if the complement clause in (82) is replaced by a PP-complement; see also Section 2.3.3, sub IID, where it is shown that PO-verbs with a dative object exhibit this behavior in general.

Example 83
a. Peter heeft zijn schuldeisers/hun om uitstel van betaling verzocht.
  Peter has  his creditors/them  for suspension of payment  requested
  'Peter has asked his creditors/them for suspension of payment.'
b. Er is zijn schuldeisers/hun om uitstel van betaling verzocht.
  there  is his creditors/them  for suspension of payment  requested
c. % Zijn schuldeisers/Zij worden om uitstel van betaling verzocht.
  his creditors/they  are  for suspension of payment  requested

However, if the complement clause in (82) is replaced by a pronominal noun phrase, promotion of the indirect object leads to a severely degraded result. This suggests that promotion of the indirect object is only possible if no accusative noun phrase is present.

Example 84
a. Peter heeft de studenten/hun dat verzocht.
  Peter has  the students/them  that  requested
  'Peter has asked that of the students/them.'
b. Dat is de studenten/hun verzocht.
  that is  the students/them  requested
c. * De studenten/Zij zijn dat verzocht.
  the students/they  are  that  requested

It is tempting to speculate that the acceptability of the (c)-examples in (82) and (83) is the result of a reanalysis process that started with an incorrect analysis of examples such as (85); since the object and the subject form of the politeness pronoun are identical, this may have led to misinterpretation of u'you' as a subject pronoun.

Example 85
U wordt verzocht [PRO de rekening zo spoedig mogelijk te voldoen].
  you  are  requested  the bill  as soon as possible  to pay
'You are requested to pay the bill as soon as possible.'

It has also been suggested that the acceptability of the (c)-examples in (82) and (83) is due to the fact that the verb verzoeken'to request' has a meaning akin to that of the transitive PO-verb uitnodigen (tot)'to invite'; see onzetaal.nl/advies/reizigers.php. It is highly unlikely, however, that verzoeken is a transitive PO-verb if it selects a complement clause, as in (82), given that example (84) has already shown that the pronominalized form of the complement clause is a pronoun and not a pronominal PP; this shows unequivocally that we are dealing in (82) with a regular ditransitive verb and not with a PO-verb.

[+]  3.  Ditransitive verbs like voeren'to feed' and betalen'to pay'

The generalization that promotion to subject of the indirect object is (only) possible if no accusative noun phrase is present may also shed light on the exceptional behavior of verbs like voeren'to feed', betalen'to pay', vergeven'to forgive' and voorlezen'to read aloud to'. Consider the examples in (86). Example (86a) shows that the verb voeren can be used as a ditransitive verb, and the singular inflection on the auxiliary in (86a') shows that its passive counterpart involves promotion to subject of the accusative phrase brood. The verb voeren is somewhat special, however, in that it has a cognate direct object that can be left implicit, as shown in example (86b); in this case the indirect object can, or actually must, be promoted to subject.

Example 86
a. Jan voerde de eendjesdat broodacc.
  Jan fed  the ducks  bread
a'. Er werd/*werden de eendjesdat broodnom gevoerd.
  there  was/were  the ducks  bread  fed
b. Jan voerde de eendjesdat/acc?.
  Jan fed the  ducks
b'. De eendjesnom werden/werd gevoerd.
  the ducks  were/was  fed

Example (87) provides similar examples for the verb betalen'to pay'; in the (a)-examples the verb is ditransitive and it is the direct object een hoog loon rather than the indirect object de werknemers that must be promoted to subject; in the (b)-examples the direct object is omitted and now it is the noun phrase de werknemers that must be promoted to subject; cf. Van den Toorn (1971).

Example 87
a. Els betaalt de werknemersdat een hoog loonacc.
  Els pays  the employees  a high salary
a'. Er wordt/*worden de werknemersdat een hoog loonnom betaald.
  there  is/are  the employees  a high salary  paid
b. Els betaalde de werknemersdat/acc? niet op tijd.
  Els paid  the employees  not  in time
b'. De werknemersnom werden/*werd niet op tijd betaald.
  the workers  were/was  not  in time  paid

If one does not want to appeal to the idea that promotion of the indirect object is possible if no accusative noun phrase is present, one would be forced to assume that the objects de eendjes and de werknemers have different grammatical functions in the (a)- and (b)-examples, namely that of indirect and direct object, respectively. Such a view might be undesirable given that these objects have a similar semantic role in all cases, namely that of recipient, but we cannot rule out this possibility beforehand.

[+]  4.  Verbs corresponding to German verbs with a dative complement

Another reason for accepting the generalization that promotion of the indirect object is possible if no accusative noun phrase is present comes from verbs like assisteren'to assist', gehoorzamen'to obey', helpen'to help', huldigen'to honor', and volgen'to follow'. The primed examples in (88) show that these verbs all allow personal passivization in Dutch, even though the Standard German counterparts of these verbs take a dative object; see Drosdowski (1995:608-9) for an extensive list of such verbs. One might, of course, assume that the syntactic function of the objects in the Dutch examples simply differs from those in the corresponding German constructions, but then we would have to conclude that the assignment of syntactic functions may differ considerably even among closely related languages.

Example 88
a. De jongens gehoorzaamden de agent.
  the boys  obeyed  the policeman
a'. De agent werd (door de jongens) gehoorzaamd.
  the policeman  was   by the boys  obeyed
b. Jan helpt mijn vader.
  Jan helps  my father
b'. Mijn vader wordt (door Jan) geholpen.
  my father  is   by Jan  helped

For completeness' sake, note that a special problem is constituted by the verb danken in (89a), which also takes a dative object in German. In Dutch, this verb resists both impersonal and personal passivization. Perhaps the unacceptability of the constructions in (89b&c) is due to the fact that danken is somewhat formal. The more usual form is bedanken (which clearly takes an accusative object in Dutch).

Example 89
a. Ik dank hem voor zijn hulp.
  thank  him  for his help
b. * Er werd hem gedankt voor zijn hulp.
  there  was  him thanked  for his help
c. * Hij werd gedankt voor zijn hulp.
  he  was  thanked  for his help
[+]  5.  Idiomatic ditransitive constructions

Promotion of the indirect object is sometimes also accepted with some more or lesss fixed expressions that include a direct object. Consider example (90a) with the collocation iemand slagen toebrengen'to beat someone'. The expected passive form of this example is given in (90b), in which the direct object enkele slagen functions as the subject of the passive construction, as is clear from the fact that it agrees in number with the auxiliary verb worden. However, if the noun phrase de jongen is placed in clause-initial position, many speakers also accept singular agreement on the auxiliary, which suggests that this noun phrase is promoted to subject.

Example 90
a. De agent bracht de jongen/hemdat enkele slagenacc toe.
  the policeman  gave  the boy/him  several blows  prt.
  'The police officer gave the boy/him some blows.'
b. Er werden/*?werd de jongen/hemdat enkele slagennom toegebracht.
  there  were/was  the boy/hem  several blows  prt.-given
c. De jongen werden/%werd enkele slagen toegebracht.
  the boy  were/was  several blows  prt.-given

It should be noted, though, that speakers who allow (90c) with singular agreement on the verb do not allow replacement of de jongen by the subject pronoun hij, which might indicate that promotion of the indirect object is actually ungrammatical, and that the acceptance (and production) of singular agreement is a reflex of some parsing error; sentence-initial de jongen can of course be replaced by the object pronoun hem but then the verb must exhibit plural agreement, just as in (90b).
      Actually, many speakers are very uncertain about their judgments on the passive counterparts of collocations like iemand slagen toebrengen. The same thing holds for collocations like iemand de stuipen op het lijf jagen'to give someone a scare' in (91), which seems to involve a possessive dative.

Example 91
a. De agent joeg de jongen de stuipen op het lijf.
  the police officer  gave  the boy  the spasms  on the body
  'The police officer gave the boy a scare.'
b. De jongen werd/?werden de stuipen op het lijf gejaagd.
  the boy  was/were  the spasms  on the body  given

Examples of this type may be of a somewhat different nature, however, given that there are attested examples such as (92b). This example was found in two different contexts in two different newspapers, where the verb is singular and thus agrees neither with the possessor nor with the direct object de stuipen. The passive (b)-examples in (91) and (92) thus suggest that some speakers no longer construe the noun phrase de stuipen as a direct object but as part of a phrasal verb (cf. Schermer-Vermeer 1991:261-2) and that we are dealing with impersonal passives.

Example 92
a. De Fed joeg beleggers/hun de stuipen op het lijf.
  the Fed  caused.to.have  investors/them  the spasms  on the body
  'The Fed gave investors/them a scare.'
b. Beleggers/hun werd de stuipen op het lijf gejaagd door ...
  investors/them  was  the spasms  on the body  given  by ...

We tested this by means of a Google search (1/27/2014) on the singular search strings [ wordt/werd de stuipen op het lijf gejaagd]'is/was given a scare', which resulted in 59 hits: we checked these manually and found 12 cases such as (92b) with a plural noun phrase and one case with the plural object pronoun ons'us'. This seems consistent with an impersonal passive analysis. For completenesssake, we also performed a Google search on the plural search string [ worden/werden de stuipen op het lijf gejaagd'are/were given a scare'. These resulted in 76 hits, but a manual check revealed that in virtually all cases the noun phrase preceding the finite verb worden/werden was plural as well. This fact suggests that such examples should be analyzed not as regular passives with the noun phrase de stuipen as subject, but as passives in which the dative possessor is promoted to subject. We will not digress on this surprising conclusion, which is also supported by the fact noted in (92b) that plural agreement is marked if the noun phrase preceding the finite verb is singular, and leave it to future research to investigate it in more detail.

[+]  6.  Conclusion

The discussion in the previous subsections has shown that subjects of regular passives normally correspond to accusative objects in active constructions. It also seems possible, however, to promote an indirect object to subject provided that no accusative noun phrase is available, e.g., if the direct object is a clausal complement or if it is omitted. The fact that many verbs related to German verbs with a dative complement allow regular passivization in Dutch also suggests that promotion of indirect objects is possible. Perhaps idiomatic ditransitive verbal expressions like iemand slagen toebrengen'to beat someone' or iemand de stuipen op het lijf jagen'to give someone a scare' may be used to show the same thing, but the evidence is much weaker because the judgments on the relevant passive examples are less clear and other factors may interfere.

[+]  III.  Meaning differences between active and passive sentences

Although the semantic relation between verbs and their internal arguments is basically the same in active and passive constructions, the following subsections will show that passivization may give rise to changes in interpretation. Sometimes this change of interpretation is also dependent on the actual position of the derived subject in the clause.

[+]  A.  The interpretation of subject-oriented adverbs

The interpretation of certain adverbs is sensitive to grammatical function and thus sensitive to passivization; the adverb graag in (93) is related to the agent in the active sentence in (93a), but to the theme in the passive construction in (93b).

Example 93
a. Jannom licht Marieacc graag in.
  Jan  informs  Marie  gladly  prt.
  'Jan likes to inform Marie.'
b. Marienom wordt graag door Jan ingelicht.
  Marie  is  gladly  by Jan  prt.-informed
  'Marie likes to get informed by Jan.'
[+]  B.  Binding

The examples in (94) illustrate that passivization may affect the binding possibilities of pronouns. The possessive pronoun haar'her' in the active example in (94a) can be construed either as coreferential with Marie or as referring to some other person previously mentioned in the discourse, e.g., Els. In the passive sentence in (94b), on the other hand, the possessive pronoun is preferably interpreted as referring to some previously mentioned person, e.g., Els.

Example 94
a. Marienom kust haar verloofdeacc.
  Marie  kisses  her fiancé
b. Haar verloofdenom wordt door Marie gekust.
  her fiancé  is  by Marie  kissed
  'Her fiancé is being kissed by Marie.'

more or lesss the same thing is shown by the examples in (95a&b): whereas the reciprocal pronoun elkaar'each other' can be licitly bound by the indirect object in (95a), this is not possible in (95b). The example in (95c) shows, however, that this depends not only on passivization but also on word order; if the subject is not moved into the canonical subject position but stays in its underlying position following the indirect object, binding by the indirect object remains possible.

Example 95
a. dat ik de meisjes elkaars werk toonde.
  that  the girls  each otherʼs work  showed
b. ? dat elkaars werk de meisjes getoond werd.
  that  each otherʼs work  the girls  shown  was
c. dat de meisjes elkaars werk getoond werd.
  that  the girls  each otherʼs work  shown  was

The examples in (96) also show that it is a combination of passivization and word order that determines the interpretation of the sentence. In the active sentence in (96a), the possessive pronoun zijn'his' can be interpreted as bound by the quantifier iedereen'everyone' or it can refer to some entity previously mentioned in the discourse. The former interpretation gives rise tot the so-called bound variable reading, in which the pronoun functions as a variable in the semantic representation of the sentence: x (x kissed x's brother). The latter interpretation will be called the independent reading given that the pronoun functions as a referential expression in the semantic representation: x (x kissed his(=Jan) brother). The passive sentence in (96b) does not allow a bound variablereading of the pronoun, which can thus only be interpreted as referring to some previously mentioned person: x (his(=Jan) brother was kissed by x). But again, word order seems to play a role; if the subject is not moved into the canonical subject position but stays in its underlying position following the door-phrase, as in (96c), the bound variable reading of the pronoun is easier to get (although it is not fully felicitous due to the fact that the quantifier is the complement of a PP and that pronominal binding from such a position is somewhat marginal in general).

Example 96
a. dat iedereennom zijn broeracc kuste.
bound/independent reading
  that  everybody  his brother  kissed
b. dat zijn broernom door iedereen gekust werd.
independent reading only
  that  his brother  by everybody  kissed  was
c. dat door iedereen zijn broernom gekust werd.
independent/bound reading
  that  by everybody his brother  kissed  was

      The examples in (94) and (96) have shown that binding is bled by passivization if the derived subject moves into the canonical subject position. Binding can, however, also be fed by passivization. Example (97a) shows that a possessive pronoun embedded in a subject cannot be bound by the direct object: this example can only be construed with an independent reading of the pronoun zijn. In the corresponding passive construction in (97b), on the other hand, both the independent and the bound variable reading are available. Observe, however, that the derived subject must be moved into the canonical subject position in order to make the bound reading available: example (97c) only licenses the independent reading of the pronoun.

Example 97
a. dat zijn broer iedereen uitnodigde.
independent reading only
  that  his brother  everyone  invited
b. dat iedereen door zijn broer uitgenodigd werd.
independent/bound reading
  that  everyone by his brother  invited  was
c. dat door zijn broer iedereen uitgenodigd werd.
independent reading only
  that  by his brother  everyone  invited  was
[+]  C.  Scope

Passivization may affect the relative scope of quantified phrases. Consider the examples in (98). In (98a) the universal quantifier iedereen has scope over the indefinite noun phrase twee talen, that is, the languages spoken may differ from person to person. In the passive construction in (98b), on the other hand, the scope relations are reversed, that is, the sentence expresses that there are two languages that are spoken by all persons under discussion. This reversal of scope requires the derived subject to be moved into the regular subject position: example (98c), in which the derived subject remains in its base-position, has the same scope relation as (98a).

Example 98
a. Iedereen spreekt twee talen.
∀ > ∃
  everybody  speaks  two languages
b. Twee talen worden door iedereen gesproken.
∃ > ∀
  two languages  are  by everybody  spoken
c. Er worden door iedereen twee talen gesproken.
∀ > ∃
  there  are  by everybody  two languages  spoken
[+]  IV.  Special cases of the regular passive

This subsection briefly discusses a number of more special cases of passivization. We start with a discussion of passivization of clauses with a modal verb, which is followed by some brief remarks on passivization of intransitive PO-verbs. We conclude with a discussion of causative and perception verbs in AcI-constructions.

[+]  A.  Constructions with modal verbs

If an active clause contains a modal verb, passivization is normally possible. The modal verb remains the finite verb of the clause and the passive auxiliary is realized as an infinitive, but seems to be optional.

Example 99
a. Jan moet de muur schilderen.
  Jan  must  the wall  paint
  'Jan must paint the wall.'
b. De muur moet geschilderd (worden).
  the wall  must  painted   be
  'The wall must be painted.'

Examples such as (99b) without the auxiliary are often assumed to involve an empty counterpart of the passive auxiliary. There is, however, reason for assuming that such an analysis is on the wrong track. Given that passive constructions can normally contain an agentive door-phrase, the postulation of an empty passive auxiliary would wrongly predict that this adjunct phrase can also appear in examples such as (100) if worden is not present.

Example 100
De muur moet door Jan geschilderd *(worden).
  the wall   must  by Jan  painted     be
'The wall must be painted by Jan.'

Example (100) therefore suggests that the participle in the construction without worden is not a passive participle but a predicatively used adjective; cf. De muur moet geel'the wall must be made yellow'. That we are dealing with an adjectival participle can perhaps also be supported by the examples in (101); whereas the unequivocal verbal participle in (101a) can either precede or follow the verbs in clause-final position, the participle in (101b) prefers the preverbal position, which is a hallmark for non-verbal status.

Example 101
a. dat de muur <geschilderd> moet worden <geschilderd>.
  that  the wall    painted  must  be
b. dat de muur <geschilderd> moet <??geschilderd>.
  that  the wall    painted  must

More support for assuming that the participle functions as a predicatively used adjective when worden is not present is that it seems possible to coordinate it with other predicatively used phrases like the PP in de lak in (102).

Example 102
dat deze deur [[geschuurd] en [in de lak]] moet.
  that  this door    sanded  and  in the lacquer  must
'that this door must be sanded and be lacquered.'

Constructions in which modal verbs take an adjective as their complement are more extensively discussed in Section A6.2.3, sub II.

[+]  B.  Intransitive PO-verbs

Passivization of intransitive PO-verbs like rekenen op'to count on' in (103a) always involves the impersonal passive in (103b); passive constructions such as (103c), in which the complement of a preposition is promoted to subject, are unacceptable (but see the discussion of (105) below).

Example 103
a. Jan rekent op zijn vader.
  Jan counts  on his father
b. Er werd op zijn vader gerekend.
  there  was  on his father  counted
c. * Zijn vader werd op gerekend.
  his father  was  on  counted

Quirk et al. (1985: Section 3.69) and Huddleston & Pullum (2002:1433) show that English often allows passivization of the type in (103c). It is tempting to relate this to the fact that English does not allow impersonal passives; English passivization of the sort in the primed examples in (104) could then receive a functional explanation by assuming that it compensates for the unavailability of impersonal passivization.

Example 104
a. My mother approved of the plan.
a'. The plan was approved of by my mother.
b. Someone has slept in this bed.
b'. The bed has been slept in.

      Some Dutch speakers accept the string in (103c). This does not mean, however, that these speakers (marginally) allow promotion to subject of the complement of a preposition. They instead interpret example (103c) as a case of left dislocation; the structure is as given in (105) with the pronominal part of the PP daar ... op'on him' omitted. That the noun phrase zijn vader in (105a) is not a subject is clear from at least two fact. First, example (105b) shows that replacing this noun phrase by a subject pronoun severely degrades the result. Second, given that left dislocation only occurs in main clauses, the unacceptability of (105c) shows that we correctly predict that the surface string Zijn vader werd op gerekend in (105a) does not have an embedded counterpart.

Example 105
a. % Zijn vader, daar werd op gerekend.
  his father  there  was  on  counted
b. * Hij werd op gerekend.
  he  was  on  counted
c. * dat zijn vader gisteren op werd gerekend.
  that  his father  yesterday  on  was  counted

That the noun phrase in sentence-initial position does not function as a subject in such examples is also clear from the fact that this noun phrase does not agree in number with the finite verb; cf. Klooster (2001:324). For all Dutch speakers example (106b') is unacceptable both with and without the pronominal part of the PP; this contrasts sharply with the following English example from Huddleston & Pullum: These problems werenʼt faced up to by the committee.

Example 106
a. Jan rekent op zijn ouders.
  Jan counts  on his parents
b. Zijn ouders %(daar) werd op gerekend.
  his parents   there  was  on  counted
b'. * Zijn ouders (daar) werden op gerekend.
  his parents   there  were  on  counted
[+]  C.  AcI-constructions

Section, sub IV, has shown that accusative noun phrases can be promoted to subject in the regular passive, regardless of whether they are internal arguments of the passivized verbs or not. There are, however, specific additional restrictions on the accusative noun phrase. First consider example (107). The accusative noun phrase de vaas is not an argument of the verb slaan'to hit' but of the predicative adjective kapot'broken'. However, since the verb is responsible for case assignment to this noun phrase, passivization results in its promotion to subject.

Example 107
a. Jan slaat de vaas kapot.
  Jan  hits  the vase  broken
b. De vaas wordt kapot geslagen.
  the vase  is  broken  hit

Given this analysis of (107b), we would expect something similar to happen if we passivize the causative/permissive verb laten'to make/let' in (108a); since laten is generally taken to assign accusative case to the external argument of the verb dansen, we expect the latter to appear as the nominative subject of the clause after passivization. Example (108a') shows, however, that regular passivization is impossible. The (b)-examples in (108) provide similar examples with the perception verb horen.

Example 108
a. Marie liet hemacc dansen.
  Marie  make/let  him  dance
  'Marie made him dance.'
a'. * Hijnom werd laten/gelaten dansen.
  he  was  letinf/letpart  dance
b. Els hoorde henacc een liedje zingen.
  Els heard  them  a song  sing
  'Els heard them sing a song.'
b'. * Zijnom werden een liedje horen/gehoord zingen.
  they  were  a song  hear/heard  sing

It is not immediately clear what the unacceptability of the primed examples shows. For example, it might be that the problem is situated in the assumption that the verb assigns accusative case to the subject of the infinitival clause. However, if this assumption were wrong and this argument were assigned case by some other means, we would expect impersonal passivization to be possible, but the examples in (109) show that impersonal passivization is impossible as well.

Example 109
a. * Er werd hem laten/gelaten dansen.
  there  was  him  letinf/letpart  dance
b. * Er werd een liedje horen/gehoord zingen.
  there  was  a song hear/heard sing

This means that some independent reason must be found for the impossibility of passivization. The constructions with the participles gelaten and gehoord might be excluded by the fact that they are part of the verbal complex; as in the perfect-tense constructions in (110), the verb is expected to surface as an infinitive (the so-called infinitivus-pro-participio effect).

Example 110
a. Marie heeft hemacc laten/*gelaten dansen.
  Marie  has  him  letinf/letpart  dance
  'Marie has made him dance.'
b. Els heeft henacc een liedje horen/*gehoord zingen.
  Els has  them  a song  hear/heard  sing
  'Els has heard them sing a song.'

Evidence in favor of this claim is that German, which does allow participles in such verb sequences, also allows passivization of the type in the primed examples in (108); cf. Reis (1976) and Rutten (1991:121).

Example 111
a. dass die Kinder schlafen gelassen wurden.
  that  the children  sleep  letpart  were
b. dass das Buch liegen gelassen wurde.
  that  the book  lie  letpart  was

This leaves us with the constructions with the infinitival forms laten and horen; the impossibility of these constructions might be accounted for by appealing to the hypothesis discussed in Section, sub I/Section, sub II, that passive morphology is needed in order to demote the external argument of the verb or to absorb case; see Bennis & Hoekstra (1989b).

[+]  D.  The geacht worden-construction

The examples in (112) in a sense pose the opposite problem. The primeless examples in (112) seem to be cases in which the subject of the infinitival clause is promoted to subject of the matrix clause. However, the expected active counterparts of these constructions in the primed examples are unacceptable; see Section, sub III, for a more detailed discussion of this construction.

Example 112
a. Iki word geacht [ti dat te weten].
  am  supposed  that  to know
  'Iʼm supposed to know that.'
a'. * Mijn collegaʼs achten [mijacc dat te weten].
  my colleagues  suppose   me  that  to know
b. Ziji worden verondersteld [ti te kunnen zwemmen].
  they  are  supposed  to be able  to swim
  'Theyʼre supposed to be able to swim.'
b'. * Wij veronderstellen [henacc te kunnen zwemmen].
  we  suppose   them  to be able  to swim

The unacceptability of the primed examples would follow if the verbs achten and veronderstellen are not able to assign accusative case to the subject of the infinitival clause (which might be related to the fact that these verbs differ from the causative and perception verbs in that they do not trigger verb clustering but extraposition of the infinitival clause). If so, the primed examples can be used to support the claim that the core property of passivization is the demotion of the external argument of the verb and not absorption of accusative case, as was argued in Section For completeness' sake, we want to note that there is one exception to the rule that the active verb achten cannot assign accusative case to the subject of its infinitival complement: this involves the idiomatic expression in (113), in which achten alternates with the verb menen.

Example 113
Elk acht/meent [zijn uilacc een valk te zijn].
  each  supposes/supposes   his owl  a falcon  to be
'Everyone believes his [...] to be better than it actually is.'
  • Huddleston, Rodney & Pullum, Geoffrey (eds.)2002The Cambridge grammar of the English languageCambridgeCambridge University Press
  • Bennis, Hans & Hoekstra, Teun1989Why Kaatje was not heard sing a songJaspers, Danny, Klooster, Wim, Putseys, Yvan & Seuren, Pieter (eds.)Sentential complementation and the lexiconDordrechtForis Publications21-40
  • Drosdowski, Günther1995Duden Grammatik der deutschen GegenwartsspracheDer Duden in 12 Bänden Bd. 04MannheimDudenverlag
  • Klooster, Wim2001Grammatica van het hedendaags Nederlands. Een volledig overzichtDen HaagSDU Uitgeverij
  • Quirk, Randolph, Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey & Svartvik, Jan1985A comprehensive grammar of the English languageLondon/New YorkLongman
  • Reis, Marga1976Reflexivierung in deutsche A.c.I.-konstruktionen, Ein transformationsgrammatisches DilemmaPapiere zur Linguistik95-82
  • Rutten, Jean-Baptist1991Infinitival complements and auxiliariesAmsterdamUniversity of AmsterdamThesis
  • Schermer-Vermeer, E.C1991Substantiële versus formele taalbeschrijving: het indirect object in het NederlandsAmsterdamUniversiteit van AmsterdamThesis
  • Toorn, M.C. van den1971Enkele opmerkingen over het indirect objectLevende Talen 27432-71
Suggestions for further reading ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
  • 3.3.3. Nominative/PP alternations
    [96%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 3 Projection of verb phrases II:Verb frame alternations > 3.3. Alternations of noun phrases and PPs
  • General properties of passives
    [96%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 3 Projection of verb phrases II:Verb frame alternations > 3.2. Alternations involving the external argument > 3.2.1. Passivization
  • 2.2.3. Resultative constructions
    [96%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 2 Projection of verb phrases I:Argument structure > 2.2. Complementives (secondary predicates)
  • 6.2.1. The three main construction types
    [96%] Dutch > Syntax > Adjectives and Adjective Phrases > 6 Predicative use of the adjective phrase > 6.2. Complementive use of the adjective
  • 6.5. Clausal subjects
    [96%] Dutch > Syntax > Adjectives and Adjective Phrases > 6 Predicative use of the adjective phrase
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.