• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
3.2.2.2. The regular middle construction
quickinfo

Subsection I discusses a number of properties of the regular middle construction, such as the fact that the middle verb must be derived from a transitive verb. If the middle verb is related to a transitive verb that also has an unaccusative counterpart, the regular middle and unaccusative construction can easily be confused, and Subsection II will therefore develop a number of tests for distinguishing the two, subsection III concludes by comparing the regular middle constructions with a number of constructions that are semantically close to it.

readmore
[+]  I.  Properties of regular middles

This subsection discusses a number of properties of regular middle constructions, subsection A starts with a discussion of the verb types that can be used as input for regular middle formation, subsection B characterizes the meaning of the regular middle and shows that the verb phrase in this construction normally functions as an individual-level predicate, subsection C discusses the evaluative modifier that is typically found in this construction, and subsection D discusses a number of properties of the subject of the middle construction. It is often assumed that the subject must be an internal argument of the middle verb: subsection E argues on the basis of the acceptability of so-called resultative middles that this assumption is incorrect, subsection F concludes with a discussion of a special case in which the verb phrase in the regular middle normally functions not as an individual-level but as a stage-level predicate.

[+]  A.  The input verb is transitive

Verbs in regular middle constructions are related to transitive verbs. The examples in (152) show that regular middles are like regular passive constructions in that the direct object of the corresponding transitive verb surfaces as the subject. This is clear from the form of the pronoun in the (a)-examples and subject-verb agreement in the (b)-examples.

Example 152
a. De jongens verven die muur/hemacc.
transitive
  the boys  paint  that wall/him
  'The boys are painting that wall/it.'
a'. Die muur/Hijnom verft gemakkelijk.
middle
  that wall/he  paints  easily
b. Jan leest die dissertaties.
transitive
  Jan reads  those theses
  'Jan is reading those theses.'
b'. Die dissertaties lezen gemakkelijk.
middle
  those theses  read  easily

The examples in (153) show that the regular middles in (152) differ from passives in that they do not allow expression of the subject of the corresponding transitive verb by means of an agentive door-phrase. Nevertheless, the notion of agent still seems to be implied in the middle constructions given that the implied experiencer of the evaluative modifier is typically interpreted as the agent; we will return to this in subsection C.

Example 153
a. * Die muur/Hijnom verft gemakkelijk door de jongens.
  that wall/he  paints  easily by the boys
b. * Die dissertaties lezen gemakkelijk door Jan.
  those theses  read  easily  by Jan

      Regular middle formation sometimes has subtle side effects. The examples in (154) show, for example, that the regular middle construction licenses the use of the particle weg'away', which seems to be used especially in contexts of (excessive) consumption; see also the discussion of example (197c) in subsection E. To our knowledge such side effects have not been investigated so far and we therefore leave them to future research.

Example 154
a. Jan leest die thrillers (*weg).
  Jan reads  those thrillers   away
  'Jan is reading those thrillers.'
b. Die thrillers lezen lekker (weg).
  those thrillers  read  nicely  away
  'Those thrillers make easy reading (can be consumed in large quantities).'

      Intransitive (PO-)verbs like lachen'to laugh' and wachten (op)'to wait (for)' in the examples in (155) cannot undergo regular middle formation, which shows that the verb must have a nominal complement that can surface as the subject of the middle construction (although Section 3.2.2.4 will show that under specific strict conditions impersonal middles may nevertheless arise).

Example 155
a. Jan lacht.
intransitive verb
  Jan laughs
a'. * Het/Er lacht gemakkelijk.
  it/there  laughs  easily
b. Jan wacht op de post.
intransitive PO-verb
  Jan waits  for the post
b'. * De post wacht gemakkelijk (op).
  the post  waits  easily   for

      The examples in (156) show that monadic unaccusative verbs like vertrekken'to leave' and undative verbs like weten/kennen'to know' also resist regular middle formation. This shows that the verb must have an external argument in order to allow regular middle formation, and that it is not sufficient for a verb to have an internal theme argument; it must also be possible to realize this argument as a direct object–in fact, Subsection E will argue that it is not the term internal argument that is relevant for middle formation but the term direct object.

Example 156
a. Marie vertrekt vroeg.
  Marie  leaves  early
a'. * Het vertrekt gemakkelijk vroeg.
  it  leaves  easily  early
b. Jan weet het antwoord op deze vraag.
  Jan knows  the answer  to this question
b'. * Het antwoord op deze vraag weet gemakkelijk.
  the answer  to this question  knows  easily

      The above has established that regular middle formation requires the verb to be transitive. This leads to the expectation that ditransitive verbs also allow regular middle formation, but example (157b) shows that this expectation is not borne out: regular middle formation is excluded if the input verb takes a nominal indirect object. The primed (b)-example is added to show that regular middle constructions in which the indirect object is promoted to subject are excluded as well.

Example 157
a. Jan gaf de kar een zet.
  Jan gave  the cart  a push
b. * Zoʼn zet geeft de kar gemakkelijk.
promotion of direct object
  such a push  gives  the cart  easily
b'. * De kar geeft gemakkelijk een zet.
promotion of indirect object
  the cart  gives  easily  a push

The examples in (158) show that regular middle formation is blocked not only in double object constructions but also in constructions with a periphrastic indirect object; regular middle constructions such as (158b) are marginally acceptable at best with the aan-PP present.

Example 158
a. Marie vertelt altijd lange verhalen aan kinderen.
  Marie  tells  always  long stories  to children
b. Lange verhalen vertellen niet gemakkelijk (*?aan kinderen).
  long stories  tell  not easily  to children
  'It isnʼt easy to tell long stories to children.'

Indirect objects are never promoted to subject, not even in cases in which some speakers allow them to be promoted in passive constructions, like with the verb verzoeken when it takes an infinitival direct object clause, as in (159).

Example 159
a. Jan verzocht de leveranciersi [om PROi de waren snel te leveren].
  Jan requested  the suppliers  comp  the goods  soon  to deliver
  'Jan asked the suppliers to deliver the goods soon.'
b. % De leveranciersi werden verzocht [om PROi de waren snel te leveren].
  the suppliers  were  requested  comp  the goods  soon  to deliver
  'The suppliers were asked to deliver the goods soon.'
c. * De leveranciersi verzoeken gemakkelijk [om PROi de waren snel te leveren].
  the suppliers  requested  easily  comp the goods soon  to deliver
[+]  B.  The meaning of the regular middle construction

The meaning expressed by the regular middle is rather complex. The construction as a whole refers to some inherent property of the subject referent; example (160a), for instance, expresses that the wall has the property that it can be painted. The adverbially used adjective gemakkelijk'easily' functions as an evaluative modifier of this property ascribed to the subject of the clause: the implicit experiencer of the adjective functions as a universal quantifier that ranges over all relevant entities in the domain of discourse. All in all, this means that the meaning of example (160a) can be paraphrased as in (160b).

Example 160
a. Die muur verft gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints  easily
b. Die muur kan door iedereen gemakkelijk geverfd worden.
  that wall  can  by everybody  easily  painted  be
  'That wall can easily be painted by everybody.'

Another example is given in (161a). The proper noun Vergilius refers to a body of literary work that has the inherent property that it is easy to translate (for those that have sufficient knowledge of Latin). The meaning of this example can therefore be paraphrased as in (161b).

Example 161
a. Vergilius vertaalt gemakkelijk.
  Vergil  translates  easily
b. Vergilius kan door iedereen gemakkelijk vertaald worden.
  Vergil  can  by everybody  easily  translated  be
  'Vergil can easily be translated by everybody (who knows Latin).'

In short, regular middle constructions are generic in nature; the verb phrase functions as an individual-level predicate in the sense that it does not refer to a specific state of affairs but describes an inherent property of the subject of the construction. This receives more support from the following facts.

[+]  1.  Time adverbs

Since the use of punctual time adverbs like gisteren'yesterday' in (162b) is incompatible with the generic interpretation of the clause, it normally yields a marginal result (see subsection F for a more detailed discussion). The use of an adverb like altijd'always' in (162c), on the other hand, is fully compatible with such a generic interpretation and consequently gives rise to a fully acceptable result. The examples in (163) show the same thing as those in (162).

Example 162
a. Jan verfde gisteren de muur.
  Jan painted  yesterday  the wall
b. ?? Die muur verfde gisteren gemakkelijk.
  that wall  painted  yesterday  easily
c. Die muur verft altijd gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints  always  easily
Example 163
a. Jan vertaalt Vergilius.
  Jan translates  Vergil
b. ?? Vergilius vertaalde gisteren gemakkelijk.
  Vergil  translated  yesterday  easily
c. Vergilius vertaalt altijd gemakkelijk.
  Vergil  translates  always  easily
[+]  2.  The position and interpretation of indefinite subjects

The examples in (164) show that indefinite plural subjects in regular middle constructions are incompatible with insertion of expletive er'there'. They therefore do not receive a non-specific but a generic interpretation.

Example 164
a. Deuren verven gemakkelijk.
  doors  paint  easily
b. * Er verven deuren gemakkelijk.
  there  painted  doors  easily

This is consistent with the assumption that predicates of regular middle constructions are individual-level predicates, given that the examples in (165) show that the same thing holds for adjectival individual-level predicates like voedzaam'nutritious'.

Example 165
a. Bonen zijn voedzaam.
  beans  are  nutritious
b. * Er zijn bonen voedzaam.
  there  are  beans  nutritious
[+]  3.  The progressive aan het + infinitive construction

Since regular middle constructions do not refer to specific events, they are not compatible with the progressive aan het + infinitive construction. Compare the ungrammatical progressive middle construction in (166b) with the equally ungrammatical English gerund *The wall is painting easily.

Example 166
a. Jan is de muur aan het verven.
  Jan is the wall aan het  paint
  'Jan is painting the wall.'
b. * De muur is gemakkelijk aan het verven.
  the wall  is easily  aan het  paint
[+]  4.  Regular middles cannot be the complement of a perception verb

The contrast between the two examples in (167) shows that regular middles differ from their corresponding transitive constructions in that they cannot function as infinitival complements of a perception verb. This is due to the fact that the complement of the perception verb is dependent on the tense of the higher verb: it must refer to an event that applies simultaneously with the event referred to by the verb in the main clause and this is incompatible with the generic meaning of the regular middle construction.

Example 167
a. Ik zag Marie de muur verven.
  saw  Marie the wall  paint
b. * Ik zag de muur gemakkelijk verven.
  saw  the wall  easily  paint
[+]  5.  Pseudo-cleft construction

The examples in (168) show that, in contrast to transitive verbs, regular middle verbs cannot occur in pseudo-cleft constructions. This is probably due to their non-eventive nature: the verb doen forces an activity reading on the middle verb, and thus an agentive reading on its subject die muur'that wall'.

Example 168
a. Wat Jan deed was de muur verven.
  what  Jan did  was  the wall  paint
  'What Jan did was paint the wall.'
b. * Wat die muur deed was gemakkelijk verven.
  what  that wall  did  was  easily  paint

The contrast between (168a) and (168b) is replicated in (169a) and (169b), in which the verb gebeuren likewise forces an eventive interpretation on the preceding sentence.

Example 169
a. Jan verfde de muur. Dat is gisteren gebeurd.
  Jan  painted  the wall.  that  is  yesterday  happened
  'Jan painted the wall. That happened yesterday.'
b. Die muur verfde erg gemakkelijk. *Dat is gisteren gebeurd.
  that wall  painted  very easily.   that  is  yesterday  happened
[+]  C.  The evaluative modifier

Regular middle constructions generally contain an adverbial phrase like gemakkelijk'easily' or moeilijk'difficult' that functions as an evaluative modifier of the property expressed by the middle verb. In (170) we provide a small sample of adjectives that can occur as adverbial modifiers in regular middles.

Example 170
Adjectives that can be used as evaluative modifiers of regular middle constructions: fantastisch'fantastic', gemakkelijk'easily', heerlijk'lovely', lastig'difficult', lekker'nicely', moeilijk'difficult', moeizaam'laborious', plezierig'pleasantly', prettig'pleasantly', probleemloos'without any problem'

The adjectives in (170) are all predicative and able to be predicated of an embedded clause, as is clear from the fact that they can all be used as the complementive in a copular construction. It seems that this option is a prerequisite for entry into the middle construction; the (b)-examples in (171) show that adverbial phrases like met gemak'with ease', which cannot be used in copular constructions, cannot be used in middles either.

Example 171
a. Die muur verft gemakkelijk.
  that wall paints easily
b. Het is gemakkelijk [om PRO die muur te verven].
  it  is easy  comp  that wall to paint
  'It is easy to paint that wall.'
b'. * Die muur verft met gemak.
  that wall paints with ease
b''. * Het is met gemak [om PRO die muur te verven].
  it  is with ease comp  that wall to paint

The evaluation expressed by the adjective can be positive, as in (172a), or negative, as in (172b).

Example 172
a. Die muur verft gemakkelijk/lekker/probleemloos.
  that wall  paints  easily/nicely/without.any.problem
b. Die muur verft moeilijk/moeizaam.
  that wall  paints  with difficulty/laboriously

The default interpretation is that the evaluation given is that of the speaker, but the examples in (173) show that this can be overridden by adding a PP headed by volgens'according to'.

Example 173
a. Deze muur verft volgens Peter gemakkelijk.
  this wall  paints  according.to Peter  easily
b. Vergilius vertaalt volgens Peter gemakkelijk.
  Vergil  translates  according.to Peter  easily

      Adjectives like gemakkelijk belong to a set of adjectives that optionally take an experiencer voor-PP, which is taken as the norm for the assessment expressed by the adjective; cf. Deze som is gemakkelijk voor Jan'this calculation is easy for Jan'. However, this experiencer voor-phrase normally cannot be overtly expressed in middle constructions.

Example 174
a. Zoʼn muur verft gemakkelijk/moeilijk/plezierig (*voor Jan).
  such.a wall  paints  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly     for Jan
b. Zoʼn boek vertaalt gemakkelijk/moeilijk/plezierig (*voor Jan).
  such.a book  translates  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly     for Jan

This may be related to the fact that the experiencer of the adjective is interpreted as coreferential with the implied agent of the transitive verb that served as the input for middle formation. As a result, the restriction expressed by the experiencer PP voor Jan in (174) may be incompatible with the generic interpretation of the middle construction as a whole: if a wall paints easily or if a book translates easily, this is claimed to hold for all possible agents, not only for Jan. This account of the unacceptability of the voor-phrases in (174) seems to be supported by the fact that the results improve considerably if we replace the complement of the voor-PPs by a generic noun phrase.

Example 175
a. Zoʼn muur verft gemakkelijk/moeilijk/plezierig (voor ervaren schilders/?een ervaren schilder).
  such.a wall  paints  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly  for experienced painters/an experienced painter
b. Zoʼn boek vertaalt gemakkelijk/moeilijk/plezierig (voor ervaren vertalers/?een ervaren vertaler).
  such.a book  translates  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly for experienced translators/an experienced translator

Note in passing that example (174a) also improves if the voor-PP is placed in a position preceding the adverb, as in (176a), if it is assigned contrastive accent, as in (176b), or if it is preceded by the focus particle zelfs'even', as in (176c). These examples no longer have a generic interpretation: it is only for Jan that the wall is said to be easy to paint. It is, however, not clear whether we are dealing with an experiencer voor-phrase in these examples given that voor-PPs can also be used as restrictive adverbial modifiers; cf. Section N2.2.1 for discussion.

Example 176
a. dat <voor Jan> zoʼn muur <voor Jan> gemakkelijk <*voor Jan> verft.
  that    for Jan  such a wall  easily  paints
b. Deze muur verft voor Jan gemakkelijk.
  this wall  paints  for Jan  easily
c. Deze muur verft gemakkelijk, zelfs voor amateurs.
  this wall  paints  easily  even for amateurs

      That we are dealing with adverbial phrases is clear from the fact illustrated by (177) that the adverbs in the regular middle construction allow modification. If the degree modifier te'too' is used, the experiencer can be optionally expressed as a dative phrase; since the experiencer in (177c) is also taken as the agent of the input verb, the construction is not necessarily interpreted generically.

Example 177
a. Die muur verft erg gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints  very easily
b. Die muur verft niet gemakkelijk genoeg.
  that wall  paints  not  easily  enough
c. Die muur verft (mij) te gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints   me  too easily
  'That wall paints too easily for me.'

The examples in (178) show that the adverb can also appear as an equative, a comparative or a superlative.

Example 178
a. Deze muur verft even gemakkelijk als die deur.
  this wall  paints  as easily  as that door
b. Die muur verft gemakkelijker dan die deur.
  that wall  paints  more easily  than that door
c. Zoʼn gladde muur verft het gemakkelijkst.
  such a smooth wall  paints  the easiest

      There is a smaller subset of regular middles that need not contain a modifier of the type in (170). First, there is a small set of adjectives that can be used in regular middles despite the fact that they normally do not select an experiencer voor-PP, including snel'quickly', traag'slowly', licht'without difficulty' and zwaar'with difficulty'. Like the adjectives in (170), they express some inherent property of the subject from the perspective of the speaker or some other entity in the domain of discourse.

Example 179
a. Deze muur verft snel/traag.
  this wall  paints  quickly/slowly
  'Painting of this wall proceeds quickly/slowly.'
b. Deze muur verft licht/zwaar.
  this wall   paints  without/with difficulty
  'Painting of this wall takes little/much effort.'

Second, regular middles may contain the negative adverb niet'not'. In such cases it is expressed that the subject of the sentence lacks the property denoted by the verb phrase. In example (180b) negation is expressed by means of the idiomatic phrase voor geen meter'hardly at all'.

Example 180
a. Deze muur verft niet.
  this wall  paints  not
b. Die muur verft voor geen meter.
  that wall  paints  hardly

The evaluative modifier can also be absent if the evaluation is expressed by some other means. In (181a), the contrastive accent on the verb expresses that the subject exhibits the property denoted by the verb to a high degree. In (181b), the evaluation is expressed by means of comparison; the thesis is claimed to be very exciting and highly readable. The comparison is sometimes idiomatic in nature; an example is given in (181c), in which the phrase als een trein'like a train' expresses that the thesis has the property that it can be read very fast.

Example 181
a. Deze muur VERFT! Pfff!
  this wall  paints  phew
b. Die dissertatie leest als een detective.
  that thesis  reads  like a detective.story
c. Die dissertatie leest als een trein.
  that thesis  reads  like a train
[+]  D.  Semantic restrictions on the arguments of the input verb

Subsection A has shown that the input verb for regular middle formation must be transitive: intransitive, unaccusative, undative and ditransitive verbs are all excluded. This subsection shows that there are also a number of restrictions of a more semantic nature.

[+]  1.  The input verb denotes an activity that can be performed by humans

The verb herkauwen'to ruminate' in (182) denotes an activity that cannot be performed by humans; such verbs cannot readily be used as the input for regular middle formation and seem to be possible in anthropomorphic contexts only.

Example 182
a. De koe herkauwt het gras.
  the cow  ruminates  the grass
b. # Dit gras herkauwt lekker.
  this grass  ruminates  nicely

A possible exception may be found in examples such as (183b) with "agentive" instruments, which could in principle be derived from either of the two (a)-examples, but the fact that it may contain an instrumental met-PP suggests that (183a) is the actual source.

Example 183
a. Wij vertalen teksten naar het Engels met een computerprogramma.
  we  translate  texts  into the English  with a computer.program
  'We translate texts into English with the help of a computer program.'
a'. Dit computerprogramma vertaalt teksten naar het Engels.
  this computer.program translates texts  into the English
  'This computer program translates texts into English.'
b. Deze teksten vertalen sneller in het Engels (met dit programma).
  these texts  translate  quicker  into the English  with this program
  'These texts translate faster into English with this program.'
[+]  2.  Affectedness or inherent property of the derived subject?

It has been suggested that regular middles require that the derived subject be affected by the event denoted by the verb. In an intuitive sense, a wall is affected by the act of painting it, so that the middle construction De muur schildert gemakkelijk'the wall paints easily' is possible. A language, on the other hand, is not affected by someone learning it, which is held responsible for the fact that the middle construction in (184b) is marginal at best.

Example 184
a. Jan leert Frans.
  Jan learns  French
b. ?? Frans leert gemakkelijk.
  French  learns  easily
  'French learns easily.'

The postulation of such an affectedness constraint also correctly accounts for the fact that perception verbs like horen'to hear' in (185a) and verbs of saying like z eggen'to say' in (185b) do not allow regular middle formation either.

Example 185
a. Els hoort rare geluiden.
  Els  hears  strange  noises
a'. * Rare geluiden horen gemakkelijk.
  weird noises  hear  easily
b. Marie zegt vaak zulke dingen.
  Marie  says  often  such things
b'. * Zulke dingen zeggen lekker.
  such things  say  nicely

It is not clear, however, how the primed examples in (186) can escape the affectedness constraint: a book, for example, is no more affected by being read than a language is affected by being learned or a sound by being heard.

Example 186
a. Els leest dit boek.
  Els reads  this book
a'. Dit boek leest gemakkelijk.
  this book  reads  easily
b. Jan zingt dit lied.
  Jan sings  this song
b'. Dit lied zingt lekker.
  this song  sings  nicely

It might be the case that it is not affectedness that is involved, but that the restriction is instead related to the fact discussed in Subsection B that the middle construction as a whole expresses an inherent property of the referent of its subject. Since all books have a certain degree of readability and all songs have a degree of singability, this would account for the acceptability of the primed examples in (186). This proposal would also account for the difference in acceptability between the two (b)-examples in (187), which would be left unexplained by an affectedness restriction: whereas it is an inherent property of clothes that they can or cannot be washed easily, this is not a property normally attributed to babies.

Example 187
a. Jan wast die kleren/babyʼs.
  Jan washes  those clothes/babies
b. Die kleren wassen gemakkelijk.
  those clothes  wash  easily
b'. $ Babyʼs van acht maanden wassen gemakkelijk.
  babies of eight months  wash  easily

It is possible, however, to favor an inherent property reading by providing sufficient context. In a discussion on babies one may state that babies of three months old are so tender that they are extremely difficult to wash. In reply, an example such as (187b') could very readily be used: cf. Babyʼs van acht maanden daarentegen wassen gemakkelijk'Babies of eight months, on the other hand, wash easily'. Example (187b') is therefore not ungrammatical but just infelicitous out of context.

[+]  3.  The derived subject is presented as a passive entity

The subject of the regular middle construction is presented as a passive entity; if the subject is +human, the referent is represented as an entity without control over the event or even without freedom of volition. This accounts for the fact that examples such as (188) have a condescending flavor. That person names cannot easily be used as subject in the middle construction might be related to this fact.

Example 188
a. Dat soort jongens/?Jan versiert gemakkelijk.
  that sort boys/Jan  picks.up  easily
  'It is easy to pick up that sort of boy.'
b. Dat soort patiënten/?Jan opereert gemakkelijk.
  that sort patients/Jan  operates  easily
  'That sort of patient operates easily.'
[+]  E.  Resultative middles; the semantic role of the derived subject

The subjects of the regular middle constructions discussed in the preceding subsections all correspond to the theme argument of the corresponding transitive verb. From this, we might hypothesize that the subject of the regular middle construction must be the internal theme argument of the verb, which, in turn, would predict that the middle construction gives rise to an ungrammatical result if the object in the corresponding transitive construction is selected by some other element in the clause. This subsection shows that, despite appearances, this prediction is not correct. First consider the examples in (189) and (190), which seem to support the suggested hypothesis. The English examples in (189) show that the subject of the regular middle construction cannot correspond to an accusative noun phrase that functions as the subject of an infinitival clause.

Example 189
a. I believe John to be a fool.
b. * John believes to be a fool easily.

Comparable examples cannot be given for Dutch since it does not allow the construction in (189a). This is different from the primeless examples in (190), in which the direct object is generally considered the external argument of the complementive (that is, the predicative noun phrase/AP); the primed examples show that English and Dutch behave alike in not allowing regular middle counterparts of such constructions.

Example 190
a. I consider John a fool/kind.
a'. * John considers a fool/kind easily.
b. Ik vind Jan een idioot/aardig.
  I consider  Jan an idiot/nice
b'. * Jan vindt gemakkelijk een idioot/aardig.
  Jan considers  easily  an idiot/nice

The examples in (191) further show that the same thing holds for AcI-constructions in which the accusative object functions as the subject of the embedded infinitive; note that such constructions do not enter passivization either.

Example 191
a. Jan hoort vliegtuigen overvliegen.
  Jan hears  airplanes  over-fly
  'Jan is hearing airplanes fly over.'
b. * Vliegtuigen horen gemakkelijk overvliegen.
  airplanes  hear  easily  over-fly

      The examples in (189) to (191) thus support the hypothesis that the subject of a middle verb must be an internal argument of the corresponding transitive verb, but there is also a problem for this hypothesis: some resultative constructions do have middle counterparts, as is shown by the examples in (192).

Example 192
a. John hammers the metal flat.
a'. The metal hammers flat easily.
b. Jan slaat het metaal plat.
  Jan hits  the metal  flat
b'. Het metaal slaat gemakkelijk plat.
  the metal  hits  easily  flat

In order to save the hypothesis it has been claimed that the accusative noun phrase the metal/het metaal enters not only into a predicative relation with the adjective flat/plat but also with the verb to hammer/slaan, that is, the accusative noun phrase is not only the subject of the adjective but also an internal argument of the verb; see Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995: Section 2.2.1) and references cited there. Empirical support for this assumption is that English (192a) is also acceptable without the adjective; cf. John hammers the metal. A problem is, however, that the supposed thematic relation between the verb and the accusative noun phrase is not present in all resultative constructions that have regular middle counterparts; dropping the complementive plat'flat' in the Dutch example in (192b) in fact gives rise to a degraded result at best and is entirely impossible in examples such as (193a). This shows that the object is not assigned a thematic role by the verbs in these examples, and thus refutes the claim that the object must be an internal argument of the transitive verb for middle formation to be possible.

Example 193
a. Jan loopt het gras *(plat).
  Jan walks  the grass     flat
b. Het gras loopt gemakkelijk plat.
  the grass  walks  easily  flat

Similarly, the fact that particles in particle verb constructions are often obligatorily present has been used to argue that accusative noun phrases in such constructions are arguments of the particles and not of the verbs. But, again, middle constructions do readily arise with these particle verbs; see the primed examples in (194).

Example 194
a. Jan vult de formulieren *(in).
  Jan fills the forms     in
a'. Die formulieren vullen gemakkelijk in.
  these forms  fill  easily  in
b. Jan zet de tent *(op).
  Jan puts  the tent     up
  'Jan is putting up the tent.'
b'. Deze tent zet gemakkelijk op.
  this tent  puts  easily  up

For completeness' sake, the examples in (195) show that like simple unaccusative constructions, resultative unaccusative constructions do not allow regular middle formation. This shows again that middle formation requires that the input verb has an external argument.

Example 195
a. Jan rijdt met een sportauto naar Groningen.
  Jan drives  with a sports.car  to Groningen
  'Jan drives to Groningen in a sports car.'
b. * Het rijdt met een sportauto gemakkelijk naar Groningen.
  it  drives  with a sports.car  easily  to Groningen

      The fact that the object that is promoted to subject in the regular middle construction need not be assigned a thematic role by the verb but can be introduced by some other predicative element strongly suggests that middle formation is not a lexical, but a syntactic process. This not does, of course, imply that there are no semantic restrictions on middle formation. On the contrary, the contrast between the examples in (189) and (190), on the one hand, and (192), on the other, can be made to follow from the previously established restriction that the input verb must denote an activity, and the contrast between the examples in (194) and those in (196) below shows that the middle verb must refer to some inherent property of the derived subject; see the discussions in Subsections A and D.

Example 196
a. Jan lacht die domoren *(uit).
  Jan  laughs  those idiots     prt.
  'Jan is laughing at those idiots.'
b. * Die domoren lachen gemakkelijk uit.
  those idiots  laugh  easily  prt.

      To conclude, it should be noted that there are certainly more restrictions on middle formation than those mentioned above: although opeten'to eat up' denotes an activity and we could readily imagine that gemakkelijk opeten would refer to some inherent property of rice, the middle formation in (197b) is nevertheless excluded. Perhaps this is due to the fact that middle verbs denoting some form of consumption are often used with the particle weg; see example (197c) and the discussion of example (154) in Subsection A.

Example 197
a. Els eet de rijst (op).
  Els  eats  the rice   prt.
  'Els finishes the rice.'
b. * Rijst eet meestal gemakkelijk op.
  rice  eats  generally  easily  prt.
c. Rijst eet meestal gemakkelijk ?(weg).
  rice  eats  generally  easily     prt.

But there is certainly more going on given that middle formation is also excluded in resultative constructions such as (198), in which the PP onder the tafel is predicated of the noun phrase die studenten'those students'.

Example 198
a. Jan dronk [die studenten onder de tafel].
  Jan drank  those students  under the table
  'Jan drank those students under the table.'
b. *? Die studenten drinken (niet) gemakkelijk onder de tafel.
  those students  drink   not  easily  under the table

Since we do not have any further insights to offer, we leave the formulation of the precise conditions under which resultative construction can or cannot undergo middle formation to future research.

[+]  F.  Non-generic uses of the regular middle construction

Subsection B has shown that regular middle constructions normally receive a generic interpretation, as is clear from the fact that punctual time adverbs like gisteren'yesterday' cannot be used, in contrast to time adverbs referring to a longer span of time; cf. (162b&c), repeated here as (199).

Example 199
a. ?? Die muur verfde gisteren gemakkelijk.
  that wall  painted  yesterday  easily
b. Die muur verft altijd gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints  always  easily

It should be noted, however, that (199a) improves considerably if the adverbial phrase gemakkelijk is modified by an intensifier like erg'very', as in (200a), or if it is given in a form other than the positive degree, as in (200b). In such examples, the verb phrase no longer denotes an individual-level but a stage-level property of the subject; the examples explicitly compare the degree of "paintability" at different moments in time. Adverbs like nog'still' or al'already' may also improve the result by explicitly stating that the relevant property has changed.

Example 200
a. Die muur verfde gisteren erg gemakkelijk.
  that wall  painted  yesterday  very easily
b. Die muur verfde gisteren gemakkelijker dan vandaag.
  that wall  painted  yesterday  more easily  than today
c. Die muur verfde gisteren nog gemakkelijk.
  that wall  painted  yesterday  still  easily

Whereas it is readily imaginable that the degree of paintability of a certain object depends on additional circumstances and can thus be construed as a stage-level property, this is less likely when it comes to the degree of "translatability" of a specific body of literary work. The fact that the marginal example ??Vergilius vertaalde gisteren gemakkelijk in (163b) does not improve by degree modification or comparative formation does not really come as a surprise; examples such as (201) are unacceptable when Vergilius is construed as referring to the whole body of work (which is the default reading if these examples are uttered out of the blue). However, these examples seem to become fully acceptable if the context makes it possible to construe Vergil's work as divided into a series of texts that differ in degree of translatability and if Vergilius refers to only one of these texts.

Example 201
a. Vergilius vertaalde gisteren erg gemakkelijk.
  Vergil translated  yesterday  very easily
b. Vergilius vertaalde gisteren gemakkelijker dan vandaag.
  Vergil  translated  yesterday  more easily  than today

The discussion in this subsection strongly suggests that the generic interpretation of the verb phrase in regular middles can be overridden when the adverbial evaluative modifier provides sufficient evidence that a stage-level interpretation is intended.

[+]  II.  Regular middles and unaccusative constructions

The regular middle constructions discussed in Subsection I are normally relatively easy to identify, but this becomes much harder if the transitive verb that functions as the input of regular middle formation also has an unaccusative counterpart; cf. Section 3.2.3 for a discussion of such alternations. Consider the examples in (202) and (203): the (a)-examples involve transitive, the (b)-examples unaccusative, and the (c)-examples middle verbs.

Example 202
a. Jan sluit de deur
transitive
  Jan closes  the door
b. De deur sluit automatisch.
unaccusative
  the door  closes  automatically
c. De deur sluit gemakkelijk/moeilijk/prettig/...
middle
  the door  closes  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly/...
Example 203
a. Jan brak de glazen
transitive
  Jan broke  the glasses
b. Die glazen breken vanzelf.
unaccusative
  those glasses  break spontaneously
c. Die glazen breken gemakkelijk.
middle
  those glasses  break  easily

The main difference in surface form between the (b)- and (c)-examples is that the latter contain adverbial phrases that function as evaluative modifiers of the properties denoted by the verb phrases. At first sight, this seems sufficient given that unambiguously unaccusative constructions normally do not seem to allow that type of adverbial modification, as shown by the examples in (204).

Example 204
a. * De jongen arriveert gemakkelijk/moeilijk/prettig/...
  the boy  arrives  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly/...
b. * De fles valt gemakkelijk/moeilijk/prettig/...
  the bottle  falls  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly/...

The problem is, however, that adjectives like gemakkelijk sometimes also occur in unaccusative constructions such as (205). In cases like these, the interpretation of the adverbial phrase is sufficient to show that we are not dealing with a regular middle construction: it is clearly not interpreted as an evaluative modifier of some inherent property of the subject of the construction due to the fact that the verb phrase simply refers to some specific state of affairs.

Example 205
De jongen arriveert gemakkelijk op tijd.
  the boy  arrives  easily  in time
'It is easy for the boy to arrive in time.'

In other cases, however, the interpretation of the adverb is not sufficient: the unaccusative sentences in (206), for example, seem to refer to some characteristic property of the subject of the clause and the meaning of the adverbial phrase comes much closer to that of an evaluative modifier.

Example 206
a. Deze fles valt gemakkelijk om.
  this bottle  falls  easily  over
  'This bottle is inclined to tip over.'
b. Die soep kookt gemakkelijk over.
  that soup  boils  easily  over
  'That kind of soup tends to boil over.'
c. Die aardappels branden gemakkelijk aan.
  those potatoes  burn  easily  prt.
  'That type of potatoes burn easily.'
d. Die granaten ontploffen gemakkelijk.
  those grenades  explode  easily
  'That type of grenades explode easily.'

For this reason we will try to develop a number of tests that may help to tell the unaccusative and middle constructions in (202) and (203) apart. Although judgments are sometimes subtle, the following subsections will show that the two constructions do differ in several respects. We conclude with a concrete case study where the tests to be developed can be fruitfully put to use.

[+]  A.  Auxiliary selection

Unaccusative constructions can readily occur in the perfect tense. Although there are also unaccusative verbs selecting the perfect auxiliary hebben, the fact that the (b)-examples in (202) and (203) select zijn is sufficient for showing that they are unaccusative. Note in passing that the acceptable versions of the examples in (207) can be ambiguous; without the adverbs automatisch'automatically' and vanzelf'spontaneously' they allow not only an unaccusative, but also a passive interpretation. This is, of course, due to the fact that verbs like sluiten'to close' and breken'to break' can also be used as transitive verbs.

Example 207
a. De deur is/*heeft automatisch gesloten.
  the door is/has  automatically  closed
  'The door has closed automatically.'
b. De glazen zijn/*hebben vanzelf gebroken.
  the glasses  are/have  naturally  broken
  'The glasses have broken by themselves.'

Regular middle constructions do not readily occur in the perfect tense. This is probably due to their generic reading given that we find the same thing in generic examples such as (208a). Generic sentences in the perfect tense improve, however, if we add an adverbial phrase like altijd al'all along', as in (208b).

Example 208
a. ?? Leeuwen zijn zoogdieren geweest.
  lions  are  mammals  been
  'Lions have been mammals.'
b. Leeuwen zijn altijd al zoogdieren geweest.
  lions  have  all along  mammals  been
  'Lions have been mammals all along.'

The examples in (209a&b) show that perfect-tense forms of regular middle constructions also improve by the addition of this adverbial phrase. For our present purpose it is relevant to note that the auxiliary verb in these examples is hebben. Example (209c) shows that the selection of hebben is not forced by the generic meaning of the middle construction, given that the generic unaccusative construction in (206a) still selects zijn.

Example 209
a. Die deur heeft/*is altijd al gemakkelijk/moeilijk gesloten.
middle
  that door   has/is  all along  easily/with.difficulty  closed
b. Die glazen ?hebben/*zijn altijd al gemakkelijk gebroken.
middle
  those glasses   have/are  all along  easily  broken
c. Deze fles ?is/*heeft altijd al gemakkelijk omgevallen.
unaccusative
  this bottle   is/has  all along  easily  fallen.over
  'This bottle has always been inclined to tip over.'

The examples in this subsection thus show that selection of the perfect auxiliary can be used as a test for distinguishing unaccusative and middle verbs.

[+]  B.  Predicative and attributive use of the past participle

Past participles of the unaccusative verb can often readily be used predicatively in the copular construction; cf. Section A9.3. This is never possible, however, with past participles that correspond to the verb in the regular middle construction. This is shown by the contrast between the primeless and primed examples in (210).

Example 210
a. De deur bleek (?automatisch) gesloten.
unaccusative
  the door  turned.out   automatically  closed
a'. * De deur bleek gemakkelijk/moeilijk gesloten.
middle
  the door  turned.out  easily/with.difficulty  closed
b. De glazen bleken (?vanzelf) gebroken.
unaccusative
  the glasses  turned.out  spontaneously  broken
b'. * De glazen bleken gemakkelijk gebroken.
middle
  the glasses  turned.out  easily  broken

Similarly, past participles of unaccusative verbs can readily be used attributively (cf. Section A9.2), whereas this is excluded in the case of middle verbs. This is shown by the contrast between the primed and primeless examples in (211).

Example 211
a. de automatisch gesloten deur
unaccusative
  the  automatically  closed  door
a'. * de gemakkelijk/moeilijk gesloten deur
middle
  the  easily/with.difficulty  closed  door
b. de vanzelf gebroken glazen
unaccusative
  the  spontaneously  broken  glasses
b'. * de gemakkelijk gebroken glazen
middle
  the  easily  broken  glasses

The primeless examples in (212) show, however, that, unlike the case in English, present participles of both unaccusative and middle verbs can both be used attributively.

Example 212
a. de automatisch sluitende deur
unaccusative
  the  automatically  closing  door
a'. de gemakkelijk/moeilijk sluitende deur
middle
  the easily/with.difficulty  closing  door
b. de vanzelf brekende glazen
unaccusative
  the  spontaneously  breaking  glasses
b'. de gemakkelijk brekende glazen
middle
  the  easily  breaking  glasses

For completeness' sake, the examples in (213) show that, as usual, present participles of middle verbs cannot be used predicatively.

Example 213
a. * De deur bleek automatisch sluitend.
unaccusative
  the door turned.out  automatically  closing
a'. * De deur bleek gemakkelijk/moeilijk sluitend.
middle
  the door turned.out  easily/with.difficulty  closing
b. * De glazen bleken vanzelf brekend.
unaccusative
  the glasses  turned.out  spontaneously  breaking
b'. * De glazen bleken gemakkelijk brekend.
middle
  the glasses  turned.out  easily  breaking

The examples in this subsection thus show that the ability of past (but not present) participles to occur in predicative and/or attributive position can be used as a test for distinguishing unaccusative and middle verbs.

[+]  C.  Tense and aspect

Unaccusative and regular middle constructions differ in that the former normally refer to a specific state of affairs whereas the latter are normally generic in the sense that the verb phrase denotes some inherent (thus time-independent) property of the referent of the subject of the construction. As a consequence, unaccusative and regular middle constructions systematically differ with respect to the properties of middles discussed in Subsection IB. First, the examples in (214) show that unaccusative and regular middle constructions differ in that only the former can be readily combined with punctual adverbial phrases; the use of such time adverbs in regular middle constructions clashes with the fact that the verb phrase must refer to some inherent property of the subject of the construction.

Example 214
a. De deur sloot daarnet automatisch.
unaccusative
  the door  closed  a.minute.ago  automatically
a'. ? De deur sloot daarnet gemakkelijk/moeilijk.
middle
  the door  closed  a.minute.ago  easily/with.difficulty
b. De glazen braken daarnet vanzelf.
unaccusative
  the glasses  broke  a.minute.ago  spontaneously
b'. ?? De glazen braken daarnet gemakkelijk.
middle
  the glasses  broke  a.minute.ago  easily

Second, unaccusative and regular middle constructions differ in that only the former can be used in the progressive aan het + infinitive construction; the latter are categorically excluded in this construction.

Example 215
a. De deur is (?automatisch) aan het sluiten.
unaccusative
  the door is  automatically  aan het  close
  'The door is closing automatically.'
a'. * De deur is gemakkelijk/moeilijk aan het sluiten.
middle
b. De glazen zijn (?vanzelf) aan het breken.
unaccusative
  the glasses  are  spontaneously  aan het  break
b'. * De glazen zijn gemakkelijk aan het breken.
middle

Third, unaccusative and regular middle constructions differ in that only the former can occur as the complement of a perception verb, subsection IB, accounted for that by assuming that the tense of the infinitival clause must be linked to the tense of the main verb and that this clashes with the generic interpretation of the middle construction.

Example 216
a. Ik hoorde de deur automatisch sluiten.
unaccusative
  heard  the door  automatically  close
a'. * Ik hoorde de deur gemakkelijk/moeilijk/prettig sluiten.
middle
  heard  the door  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly  close
b. Ik zag de glazen vanzelf breken.
unaccusative
  saw  the glasses  spontaneously  break
b'. *? Ik zag die glazen gemakkelijk breken.
middle
  saw  those glasses  easily  break

Observe that the AcI-construction with the verb vinden'to consider' in (217) is fully acceptable. This seems in line with the fact that the verb vinden can take propositional complements headed by individual-level predicates like intelligent: Ik vind Marie intelligent'I consider Marie intelligent'; vinden thus differs from the perception verbs in that it is compatible with the generic, individual-level meaning of the middle verbs; see Subsection IB, for discussion.

Example 217
Ik vind die glazen wel heel gemakkelijk breken.
middle
  consider  those glasses  prt  very easily  break
'My opinion is that those glasses break very easily.'
[+]  D.  Modifiers like automatisch'automatically' and vanzelf'spontaneously'

The obligatory adverbial phrase in the regular middle construction is construed as an evaluative modifier of the inherent property denoted by the verb phrase. This modifier thus implicitly introduces an experiencer. Subsection IC noted that this implied experiencer is interpreted by default as the agent of the transitive verb that served as the input for middle formation. This accounts for the fact that regular middle verbs cannot be used with adverbial phrases like automatisch'automatically' and vanzelf'spontaneously', given that these suggest the absence of such an agent.

Example 218
a. De deur sloot automatisch.
unaccusative
  the door  closed  automatically
a'. De deur sloot gemakkelijk/moeilijk (*automatisch).
middle
  the door  closed  easily/with.difficulty     automatically
b. De glazen braken vanzelf.
unaccusative
  the glasses  broke  by.themselves
b'. Die glazen braken gemakkelijk/moeilijk (?vanzelf).
middle
  those glasses  broke  easily/with.difficulty  spontaneously
[+]  E.  Summary and application of the tests

The previous subsections have shown that unaccusative and middle verbs systematically differ in various respects. First, whereas unaccusative verbs may take either zijn or hebben in the perfect tense, middle verbs invariably take hebben. Second, whereas past participles of unaccusative verbs can readily be used as predicates or attributive modifiers, this is not possible with past participles of middle verbs. Third, whereas unaccusatives may refer to an actual event, middles have a generic interpretation; as a result the former but not the latter can be modified by punctual time adverbs, occur in the progressive aan het + infinitive construction, or occur as the infinitival complement of a perception verb. Finally, since the implicit experiencer in the middle construction is construed as the agent of the corresponding transitive verb of the middle, modification of the middle verb by adverbs like automatisch'automatically' or vanzelf'spontaneously' gives rise to a degraded result.

Table 2: Differences between unaccusative and middle constructions
  unaccusative middle
auxiliary selection zijn/hebben hebben
predicative/predicative use of past participles +
event denotation +
vanzelf/automatisch +

      We conclude our discussion on the differences between unaccusative and middle constructions by means of the discussion of a potentially unclear case. Compare the two examples in (219). The examples are similar in that they both require the adverb to be present, but we will see that they exhibit different behavior with respect to the tests in Table 2.

Example 219
a. Dit type auto verkoopt *(goed).
  this type car  sells     well
  'This type of car sells well.'
b. Dit type auto verkoopt *(gemakkelijk).
  this type car  sells     easily
  'This type of car sells easily.'

The first test does not distinguish the two constructions; they both take the auxiliary hebben in the perfect tense, which is compatible with both unaccusative and middle verbs. However, the fact that (220a) is also fully acceptable without the adverbial modifier altijd al'all along' may already raise some eyebrows, but is an issue independent of auxiliary selection.

Example 220
a. Dit type auto heeft (altijd al) goed verkocht.
  this type car  has  all along  well  sold
  'This type of car has sold well (all along).'
b. Dit type auto heeft ??(altijd al) gemakkelijk verkocht.
  this type car  has    all along  easily  sold
  'This type of car has sold easily all along.'

The examples in (221) show that the two examples differ with respect to the predicative and attributive use of the past participle. This suggests that (219a) but not (219b) exhibits properties of unaccusative verbs.

Example 221
a. Dit type auto bleek goed verkocht.
unaccusative
  this type car  turned.out  well  sold
a'. * Dit type auto bleek gemakkelijk verkocht.
middle
  this type car  turned.out  easily  sold
b. een goed verkocht type auto
unaccusative
  well  sold  type car
b'. * een gemakkelijk verkocht type auto
middle
  an  easily  sold  type car

The primeless examples in (222) strongly suggest that example (219a) refers to an actual event: although the construction does not seem very felicitous in the progressive aan het + infinitive construction, it can be used with a punctual time adverb like vanmorgen'this morning' and it can be used as the infinitival complement of the perception verb zien.

Example 222
a. Dit type auto verkocht vanmorgen goed.
  this type car  sold  this.morning  well
a'. ? Dit type auto verkocht vanmorgen gemakkelijk.
  this type car  sold  this.morning  easily
b. Ik zag dit type auto goed verkopen.
  saw  this type car  well  sell
b'. *? Ik zag dit type auto gemakkelijk verkopen.
  saw  this type car  easily  sell
c. ? Dit type auto is goed aan het verkopen.
  this type car  is  good  aan het  sell
c'. * Dit type auto is gemakkelijk aan het verkopen.
  this type car  is  easily  aan het  sell

The examples in (223), finally, show that the adverb vanzelf'spontaneously' can readily be added to example (219a), but not to example (219b).

Example 223
a. Dit type auto verkocht vanzelf goed.
  this type car  sold  spontaneously  well
b. * Dit type auto verkocht vanzelf gemakkelijk.
  this type car  sold  spontaneously  easily

On the basis of the discussion above we can safely conclude that example (219b) is a genuine case of the regular middle construction. The discussion also suggests that, despite the fact that the adverb goed'well' is obligatorily present, verkopen acts as an unaccusative verb in (219a), a conclusion that was reached on different grounds for the English verb to sell in Keyser and Roeper (1984:394). Perhaps it would be useful to conclude this subsection by noting that verbs like verkopen and verhuren'to rent out' contrast with other transaction verbs like kopen'to buy', huren'to rent' and lenen'to borrow'; the latter can enter neither the unaccusative construction in (224a) nor the regular middle construction in (224b). It might be useful to investigate whether the contrast is related to the fact that the former involve an (implied) recipient/goal, whereas the latter involve an (implied) source.

Example 224
a. * Dit type auto koopt/huurt/leent goed.
  this type car  buys/rents/borrows  well
b. * Dit type auto koopt/huurt/leent gemakkelijk.
  this type car  buys/rents/borrows  easily
[+]  III.  Other constructions that resemble the regular middle

This subsection concludes the discussion of the regular middle construction by comparing it with two other constructions that can readily be confused with it: easy-to-please and modal infinitive constructions.

[+]  A.  Easy-to-please construction

The regular middle construction exhibits some similarities with the easy-to-please construction in (225b), which is extensively discussed in Section A6.5, sub IVA.

[+]  1.  Meaning

The middle construction in (225a) and the easy-to-please construction in (225b) are both more or lesss semantically equivalent to the copular example in (225c).

Example 225
a. Deze muur verft gemakkelijk/plezierig.
  this wall  paints  easily/pleasantly
b. Deze muur is gemakkelijk/plezierig om te verven.
  this wall  is easy/pleasant  comp  to paint
  'This wall is easy/pleasant to paint.'
c. Het is gemakkelijk/plezierig om deze muur te verven.
  it  is easy/pleasant  comp  this wall  to paint
  'It is easy/pleasant to paint this wall.'

There are two conspicuous syntactic similarities between the middle and the easy-to-please construction. First, in both cases the subject is interpreted as the logical object of the verb verven'to paint'. Second, both constructions contain an evaluative modifier with an implicit experiencer PP. In fact, all of the examples in (225) become unacceptable under the intended readings if the adjective is dropped (the surface string that would result in (225b) is possible but only if the infinitival clause is interpreted as an adverbial purpose clause).
      The main semantic difference between the middle in (225a) and the easy-to-please construction in (225b) is that the latter can readily be construed non-generically, just like the copular construction in (225c). This is clear, for instance, from the fact that the experiencer voor-PP can readily be added in the last two constructions, as shown by (226).

Example 226
a. * Deze muur verft voor mij gemakkelijk/plezierig.
  this wall  paints  for me  easily/pleasantly
b. Deze muur is voor mij gemakkelijk/plezierig om te verven.
  this wall  is for me  easy/pleasant  comp  to paint
c. Het is voor mij gemakkelijk/plezierig om deze muur te verven.
  it  is for me  easy/pleasant  comp  this wall  to paint
[+]  2.  The verb

Easy-to-please constructions differ from middle constructions in that they are less restrictive with respect to the verb types that can enter them. The examples in (227) show, for instance, that stative verbs like weten'to know' yield a completely acceptable result.

Example 227
a. * Het antwoord op deze vraag weet gemakkelijk/prettig.
  the answer to this question  knows  easily/pleasantly
b. Het antwoord op deze vraag is gemakkelijk/plezierig om te weten.
  the answer on this question  is easy/pleasant  comp  to know
c. Het is gemakkelijk/plezierig om het antwoord op deze vraag te weten.
  it is easy/pleasant  comp  the answer  on this question  to know
  'It is convenient/pleasant to know the answer to this question.'
[+]  3.  A conjecture

Although the relation between the middle and the easy-to-please construction has not yet been studied in any detail, it seems that all middle constructions do have an easy-to-please counterpart (but not vice versa, as shown by (227)); note that Section 3.2.2.3 will draw the same conclusion for adjunct middle constructions. Perhaps the correlation between the two constructions is even closer than the judgments in (227) suggest given that there is a slight meaning difference between the adjectives in (225b) and (227b); gemakkelijk means "easy" in the former, whereas it means something like "convenient" in the latter. This may suggest that middle constructions in fact alternate with easy-to-please constructions when gemakkelijk means "easy".

[+]  B.  Modal infinitive

There is also a certain similarity between middles and the modal infinitive constructions discussed in Section A6.5, sub IVB. For instance, the examples in (228) show that, like middle verbs, modal infinitives must denote an activity.

Example 228
a. Die muur is gemakkelijk te verven.
  that wall  is easy  to paint
  'That wall can be painted easily.'
b. * Het antwoord is gemakkelijk te weten.
  the answer  is easy  to know

The unacceptability of the modal infinitives in (229) shows, however, that the set of adverbially used adjectives that can enter modal infinitive constructions is considerably smaller than the set of adverbially used adjectives that can enter the regular middle construction; cf. the list of adverbs in (170).

Example 229
a. * Die muur is plezierig te verven.
modal infinitive
  that wall  is pleasantly  to paint
a'. Die muur verft plezierig.
middle
  that wall  paints  pleasantly
b. * Dit boek is lekker te lezen.
modal infinitive
  this book  is nicely  to read
b'. Dit boek leest lekker.
middle
  this book  reads  nicely
References:
  • Keyser, Samuel & Roeper, Thomas1984On the middle and ergative constructions in EnglishLinguistic Inquiry15381-416
  • Levin, Beth & Rappaport Hovav, Malka1995Unaccusativity at the syntax-lexical semantics interfaceCambridge, MA/LondonMIT Press
Suggestions for further reading ▼
phonology
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
morphology
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
syntax
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
  • 2.2.3. Resultative constructions
    [95%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 2 Projection of verb phrases I:Argument structure > 2.2. Complementives (secondary predicates)
  • 3.3.3. Nominative/PP alternations
    [95%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 3 Projection of verb phrases II:Verb frame alternations > 3.3. Alternations of noun phrases and PPs
  • 6.2.1. The three main construction types
    [95%] Dutch > Syntax > Adjectives and Adjective Phrases > 6 Predicative use of the adjective phrase > 6.2. Complementive use of the adjective
  • 3.2.2.3. The adjunct middle construction
    [95%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 3 Projection of verb phrases II:Verb frame alternations > 3.2. Alternations involving the external argument > 3.2.2. Middle Formation
  • 3.3.2. Accusative/PP alternations
    [95%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 3 Projection of verb phrases II:Verb frame alternations > 3.3. Alternations of noun phrases and PPs
Show more ▼
cite
print
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.