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4.5. Non-main verbs

Non-main verbs differ from main verbs: they do not denote states of affairs, but express additional (temporal, modal, aspectual, etc.) information about states of affairs denoted by main verbs. This implies that non-main verbs are normally accompanied by the projection of a main verb. Moreover, constructions with non-main verbs are characterized by the fact that the main verbs in them are never finite. The examples in (65) also show that the form of the non-finite main verb depends on the type of non-main verb: perfect and passive auxiliaries, for example, combine with past/passive participles, modal/aspectual verbs combine with bare infinitivals, and semi-aspectual verbs combine with te-infinitivals.

Example 65
Types of non-main verbs
a. Jan heeft dat boek gelezen.
perfect auxiliary
  Jan has  that book  read
  'Jan has read that book.'
b. Het boek werd me (door Peter) toegestuurd.
passive auxiliary
  the book  was  me    by Peter  prt.-sent
  'The book was sent to me (by Peter).'
c. Jan wil/gaat dat boek kopen.
modal/aspectual verb
  Jan wants/goes  that book  buy
  'Jan wants/is going to buy that book.'
d. Jan zit dat boek te lezen.
semi-aspectual verb
  Jan sits  that book  to read
  'Jan is reading that book.'

Although the set of non-main verbs traditionally assumed is substantially larger than the four groups mentioned in (65), we will confine ourselves to these verbs for the purpose of illustration; Section 5.2 will provide a more exhaustive discussion.

[+]  I.  Perfect and passive auxiliaries

Auxiliaries like hebben and zijn are temporal in the sense that the perfect-tense constructions they are part of situate the state of affairs prior to a specific point in time. Example (66a), for instance, situates the arrival of Marie prior to the speech time (which is the default value), as the fact that it can be modified by the time adverbial gisteren'yesterday' but not by the time adverbial morgen'tomorrow' makes quite clear. In addition, perfect-tense constructions may under certain conditions also have aspectual implications by expressing that the state of affairs denoted by the main verb is completed in the sense that some logically implied endpoint has been reached: example (66b), for instance, can only be used when Jan has told the full story. We refer the reader to Section 1.5.1 for a more detailed discussion of the semantics of the perfect tense.

Example 66
a. Marie is (gisteren/*morgen) gearriveerd.
  Marie is yesterday/tomorrow  arrived
  'Marie arrived/Marie arrived yesterday.'
b. Jan heeft me het verhaal (gisteren/*morgen) verteld.
  Jan has  me  the story  yesterday/tomorrow  told
  'Jan has told me the story (yesterday).'

Participles are also used in combination with the auxiliaries worden'to be' and zijn'to have been' in regular passive constructions like (67a&b) and the auxiliary krijgen'to get' in so-called krijgen-passive constructions such as (67c).

Example 67
a. Het boek werd me (door Peter) toegestuurd.
  the book  was  me    by Peter  prt.-sent
  'The book was sent to me (by Peter).'
b. Het boek is me (door Peter) toegestuurd.
  the book  has.been  me    by Peter  prt.-sent
  'The book has been sent to me (by Peter).'
c. Ik kreeg het boek (door Peter) toegestuurd.
  got  the book    by Peter  prt.-sent
  'I was sent the book (by Peter).'

Note in passing that the auxiliary verb zijn in (67b) is sometimes analyzed not as a passive but as a perfect auxiliary given that the passive participle geworden can at least marginally be added to such examples. If correct, this means that worden and krijgen would exhaust the set of passive auxiliaries, but see Section 6.2.2 for a potential problem for this conclusion.
      That the auxiliaries discussed in this section are only instrumental in creating perfect tense or passive constructions immediately accounts for the fact that they cannot be used as heads of clauses (although zijn'to be' and worden'to become' do occur as copulas, and hebben'to have' and krijgen'to get' can also be used as main verbs of possession).

[+]  II.  Modal/aspectual verbs

The examples in (68) show that modal and aspectual verbs like willen and gaan differ from temporal and passive auxiliaries in that they do not combine with participles but require the main verb to take the form of a bare infinitive.

Example 68
a. Jan wil dat boek morgen kopen.
  Jan wants  that book  tomorrow  buy
  'Jan wants to buy that book tomorrow.'
b. Jan gaat morgen dat boek kopen.
  Jan goes  tomorrow  that book  buy
  'Jan is going to buy that book tomorrow.'

The primeless examples in (69) show that modal and aspectual verbs also differ from main verbs in that they exhibit the infinitivus-pro-participio (IPP) effect; they do not take the form of a participle in perfect-tense constructions, but of an infinitive. The primed examples have been added to show that willen and gaan do appear as participles are used as main verbs.

Example 69
a. Jan heeft dat boek altijd al willen/*gewild kopen.
  Jan has  that book  always  already  want/wanted  buy
  'Jan has always wanted to buy that book.'
a'. Jan heeft dat boek altijd al gewild/*willen.
  Jan has  that book  always  already  wanted/want
  'Jan has always wanted to have that book.'
b. Jan is dat boek gaan/*gegaan kopen.
  Jan has  that book  go/gone  buy
  'Jan has gone to buy that book.'
b'. Jan is naar de winkel gegaan/*gaan.
  Jan is to the shop  gone/go
  'Jan has gone to the shop.'

If modal and aspectual verbs supplement the event expressed by the main verb with specific modal/aspectual information, we expect that these verbs cannot be used without a main verb. This is indeed borne out in the case of the aspectual verbs, but not in the case of the modal verbs: the (a)-examples in (70) show that the string een ijsje kopen can be pronominalized by means of het'it' or dat'that'; the (b)-examples show that this is not possible with aspectual verbs (although speakers do accept left dislocation constructions like Een ijsje kopen, dat gaan we zeker!'Buying ice cream we certainly will!'; we refer the reader to Section 4.6, sub II, for reasons for assuming that this does not involve pronominalization).

Example 70
a. Jan wil [een ijsje kopen].
  Jan wants  an ice.cream  buy
  'Jan wants to buy an ice cream.'
a'. Jan wil het/dat.
  Jan wants  it/that
b. Jan gaat [een ijsje kopen].
  Jan goes  an ice.cream  buy
  'Jan is going to buy an ice cream.'
b'. * Jan gaat het/dat.
  Jan goes  it/that

Of course, one might try to solve this problem with modal verbs by assuming that example (70a') in fact contains a phonetically empty verb that corresponds to the semantically light verb doen'to do' in (71a), but this would leave unexplained why this verb cannot co-occur with the aspectual verb gaan.

Example 71
a. Jan wil het/dat doen.
  Jan wants  it/that  do 
a'. Jan wil het/dat
  Jan wants  it/that 
b. Jan gaat het/dat doen.
  Jan goes  it/that  do/∅
b'. * Jan gaat het/dat ∅.
  Jan goes  it/that 

Furthermore, this line of thinking might lead us to expect the modal verb willen to exhibit the IPP-effect irrespective of whether the clause contains the verb doen or its phonetically empty counterpart ∅. The examples in (72) show that this expectation is not borne out: the effect does not occur when doen is not present.

Example 72
a. Jan heeft het/dat willen/*gewild doen.
  Jan has  it/that  want/wanted  do
b. Jan heeft het/dat gewild /*willen ∅.
  Jan has  it/that  wanted/want 

Finally, the fact illustrated in (73) that modal verbs differ from aspectual verbs like gaan in that they can be combined with a nominal object is problematic for the view that the former is a non-main verb.

Example 73
a. Jan wil een ijsje.
  Jan wants  an ice.cream
  'Jan want to have an ice cream.'
b. * Jan gaat een ijsje.
  Jan goes  an ice.cream

The examples above are intended to bring out that it is not a priori clear that the question as to whether or not a specific verb can be used as the only verb of a clause is cast iron proof for establishing whether or not that specific verb is a main verb. We will return to this issue in Section 4.6.

[+]  III.  Semi-aspectual verbs

Semi-aspectual verbs correspond to main verbs like zitten'to sit', liggen'to lie', hangen'to hang' and staan'to stand' in (74), which refer to a certain posture or position of the subject of the clause, and certain verbs of movement like lopen'to walk'.

Example 74
a. Het boek staat in de kast.
  the book stands  in the bookcase
  'The book is in the bookcase.'
b. Het boek ligt op tafel.
  the book lies  on table
  'The book is lying on the table.'

In their semi-aspectual use the lexical meaning of the main verb can but need not be present; examples like those in (75) can be used comfortably when the speaker cannot observe the referent of the subject of the clause and is thus not able to tell whether this referent is actually sitting or walking at the moment of speech. The primary function of the semi-aspectual verb is to indicate that we are dealing with an ongoing event and we are thus dealing with a progressive construction comparable to the English progressive construction: see the renderings given in (75).

Example 75
a. Jan zit momenteel te lezen.
  Jan sits  at.present  to read
  'Jan is reading at the moment.'
b. Els loopt momenteel over het probleem te piekeren.
  Els walks  at.present  on that problem  to worry
  'Els is worrying about that problem at the moment.'

The examples in (75) also show that semi-aspectual verbs differ from the modal and aspectual verbs in (68) in that they do not combine with bare infinitivals but with so-called te-infinitivals: leaving out the infinitival marker te leads to ungrammaticality. This is, however, not the case in the corresponding perfect-tense constructions in (76), in which the marker te can be dropped. The examples in (76) make it clear as well that the semi-aspectual verbs exhibit the IPP-effect; replacement of the infinitive zitten/lopen by the participle gezeten/gelopen leads to ungrammaticality.

Example 76
a. Jan heeft de hele dag zitten (te) lezen.
  Jan has  the whole day  sit   to  read
  'Jan has been reading all day.'
b. Els heeft de hele dag over het probleem lopen (?te) piekeren.
  Els has  the whole day  on the problem  walk    to  worry
  'Els has been worrying about that problem all day.'
[+]  IV.  Non-main verbs are part of a verbal complex

The previous subsections have shown that non-main verbs impose certain restrictions on the morphological form of the main verb: temporal and passive auxiliaries select participles, modal/aspectual verbs select bare infinitivals, and (finite) semi-aspectual verbs select te-infinitivals. What we have not shown yet is that non-main verbs and the main verb they select obligatorily form a verbal complex, in which the main verb refers to some state of affairs and the non-main verbs function as modifiers providing supplementary information. This is clear from the fact that an embedded main verb normally cannot be the head of an independent finite clause introduced by the complementizer dat'that' or an infinitival clause introduced by the complementizer om. We illustrate this in (77) for the aspectual verb gaan and the semi-aspectual verb zitten; the number sign # is used to indicate that (77b) is possible if zitten is construed as a main verb and the infinitival clause is an adverbial purpose clause: "Jan sits in order to read the book".

Example 77
a. * Jan gaat dat hij het boek leest.
  Jan goes  that  he  the book  reads
b. # Jan zit om dat boek te lezen.
  Jan sits  comp  that book to read

Observe that this test shows again that a modal verb like willen'to want' can be used as a main verb; see the discussion of (72) in Subsection II. We will return to the issue in Section 4.6.

Example 78
a. Jan wil op tijd komen.
  Jan wants  in time  arrive
  'Jan wants to arrive there on time.'
b. Jan wil dat hij op tijd komt.
  Jan want  that  he  in time  arrives
  'Jan wants that heʼll arrive there on time.'
[+]  V.  Placement of the non-main verb in the clause

All examples in the subsections above have been presented as main with the non-main verb in second position. In most varieties of Dutch spoken in the Netherlands the auxiliaries cluster with the main verb in clause-final position; the arguments of the main verb must precede the non-main verb even when the main verb follows it. This clausal split is illustrated in (79) for the perfect auxiliary hebben'to have', the modal verb willen'to want' and the semi-aspectual verb zitten'to sit'.

Example 79
a. dat Jan <het boek> heeft <*het boek> gelezen.
  that  Jan    the book  has  read
  'that Jan has read the book.'
b. dat Jan <het boek> wil <%het boek> lezen.
  that  Jan   the book  wants  read
  'that Jan wants to read the book.'
c. dat Jan <het boek> zit <%het boek> te lezen.
  that  Jan   the book  sits  to read
  'that Jan is reading the book.'

We should note, however, that certain southern varieties of Dutch (including the standard variety spoken in Belgium) do allow the object to intervene between non-main verbs and ( te-)infinitives, hence the use of the percentage sign in (79b&c). See Barbiers (2008: Section 2.3.1) and Chapter 7 for more detailed information.

[+]  VI.  Conclusion

The previous subsections have shown that auxiliaries must be accompanied by a main verb in the same clause. Furthermore, non-main verbs place restrictions on the form of the main verb they select: temporal and passive auxiliaries select participles, modal and aspectual verbs select bare infinitivals, and (finite) semi-aspectual verbs select te-infinitivals. Non-main verbs do not combine with clauses introduced by the complementizer dat or om, which strongly suggests that non-main verbs must form a single verbal complex with a main verb. Finally, we have seen that in the varieties of Dutch spoken in the Netherlands, clauses with non-main verbs exhibit monoclausal behavior in the sense that they trigger verb clustering, as a result of which the projection of the main verb must be split if the non-main verb is in clause-final position.

  • Barbiers, Sjef, Bennis, Hans, Vogelaer, Gunther de, Devos, Magda & Ham, Margreet van de2008Syntactic atlas of the Dutch dialectsAmsterdamAmsterdam University Press
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