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3.2.1. Passivization

This section discusses alternations between active and passive constructions. The characteristic property of these constructions is that the external argument of the verb is demoted to adjunct status, that is, that the external argument is no longer realized as the subject of the clause, but, for example, in an agentive door-PP. This demotion of the external argument seems to be the most important property of passivization, given that this immediately accounts for the fact that intransitive verbs differ from unaccusative verbs in that only the former can undergo this process; unaccusative verbs cannot be passivized since they do not have an external argument. This is illustrated in (15).

Example 15
a. Jan lacht.
  Jan laughs
a'. Er wordt gelachen (door Jan).
  there  is  laughed   by Jan
b. Jan valt.
  Jan falls
b'. * Er wordt gevallen (door Jan).
  there  is  fallen   by Jan

If the verb is (di-)transitive, the demotion of the external argument has the concomitant effect that one of the objects in the active construction is promoted to subject. If the verb is transitive, as in (16), it is the direct object that is promoted to subject.

Example 16
a. Jan beoordeelt het boek.
  Jan evaluates  the book
b. Het boek wordt/is (door Jan) beoordeeld.
  the book  is/has.been   by Jan  evaluated

When the verb is ditransitive, as in (17), whether the direct or the indirect object is promoted to subject depends on the passive auxiliary that is used: if the passive auxiliary is worden or zijn, as in (17b), the direct object is promoted; if the auxiliary is krijgen, as in (17c), the indirect object is promoted.

Example 17
a. Jan stuurt Marie het boek toe.
  Jan  sends  Marie  the book  prt.
b. Het boek wordt/is Marie toegestuurd.
  the book  is/has.been  Marie  prt.-sent
c. Marie krijgt het boek toegestuurd.
  Marie  gets  the book  prt.-sent

Note in passing that it is sometimes claimed that the verb zijn in examples such as (17b) is not a passive but a perfect auxiliary, which is assumed to select an empty verb that corresponds to the past participle form of the "true" passive auxiliary worden. This assumption is supported by pointing out that the participle geworden can be used in southern varieties of Dutch; we will not discuss this claim here but return to it in Section 6.2.2.
      It is generally assumed that the promotion of one of the objects to subject is due to the fact that the passive morphology on the participle "absorbs" one of the cases that would normally be assigned to an internal argument of the verb; the internal argument that is deprived of its case must therefore be assigned nominative case, which is only possible if the external argument is demoted to adjunct. That it is indeed case assignment that is involved in the promotion of the direct/indirect object is clear from the fact that the nominal part of PP-complements like naar Marie in (18a) is not promoted to subject; since the nominal part of the PP-complement is assigned case by the preposition, there is no need for it to be assigned nominative case. See Section, sub IVB, for more discussion.

Example 18
a. Jan kijkt naar Marie/haar.
  Jan looks  at Marie/her
b. Er wordt naar Marie/haar gekeken.
  there  is  at Marie/her  looked
b'. * Marie/zij wordt naar gekeken.
  Marie/she  is  at  looked

      Passive constructions that correspond to active constructions with an intransitive (PO-)verb do not have a derived subject (an internal argument marked with nominative case) and are for that reason often referred to as impersonal passives. Passive constructions that correspond to active constructions with a (di-)transitive verb, on the other hand, invariably have a subject and can therefore be referred to as personal passives. The personal passives can be further divided on the basis of whether the subject corresponds to the direct or the indirect object of the corresponding active construction. Since the former case is most frequent, it is sometimes referred to as the regular passive; the latter case is referred to as the krijgen-passive.

Table 1: Types of passive constructions
type subject corresponds to example section
impersonal passive (15a') & (18b)
personal passive regular passive direct object (16b) & (17b)
  krijgen-passive indirect object (17c)

The remainder of this section is organized as follows. Section starts with a discussion of some general properties of the passive, subsequently, the three types of passive constructions will be discussed in more detail in the sections indicated in the final column of Table 1.

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