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5.1.3. Subject clauses
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This section discusses subject clauses. That subject clauses are possible is strongly suggested by the fact that the primeless examples in (215), in which the verbs zeggen'to say' and vragen'to ask' take a direct object clause, can be passivized; the resulting primed examples are likely to have a subject clause.

Example 215
a. Jan zei [dat de bank beroofd was].
  Jan said   that  the bank  robbed  was
  'Jan said that the bank had been robbed.'
a'. Er werd gezegd [dat de bank beroofd was].
  there  was  said   that  the bank  robbed  was
  'It was said that the bank had been robbed.'
b. Marie vroeg [of de buit groot was].
  Marie asked  whether  the catch  big  was
  'Marie asked whether the catch was big.'
b'. Er werd gevraagd [of de buit groot was].
  there  was  asked  whether  the catch  big  was
  'It was asked whether the catch was big.'

The acceptability of the primed examples in (215) raises the question as to whether subject clauses can also be selected by active main verbs, subsection I shows that although subject clauses do not occur with intransitive and transitive verbs, they do occur with unaccusative verbs, that is, verbs with a derived DO-subject; from this we may safely conclude that subject clauses are always internal arguments of the matrix verb, subsection II and III discuss, respectively, the position of subject clauses and the use of the anticipatory subject pronoun het.

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[+]  I.  Verb types

Generally speaking, subject clauses do not occur with intransitive and transitive verbs. The reason is that such verbs normally take an external argument with the function of agent. Given that clauses refer to propositions/questions/etc., and not to agentive entities, it is expected on semantic grounds that subject clauses cannot occur with such verbs. The examples in (216) show that using subject clauses with (in)transitive verbs indeed gives rise to complete gibberish.

Example 216
a. Jan lacht.
  Jan laughs
a'. $ Het lacht [dat Peter zingt].
  it  smiles   that  Peter sings
b. Jan eet spinazie.
  Jan eats  spinach
b'. $ Het eet spinazie [dat Marie honger heeft].
  it  eats  spinach   that Marie  hungry  is

There are potential counterexamples to the claim that transitive verbs do not take subject clauses. Example (217a), for instance, shows that the transitive verb bewijzen'to prove' can easily be combined with a clausal subject. Such cases are special, however, in that they involve factive clauses, that is, clauses the truth of which is presupposed by the speaker. Section 5.1.2.3 has shown that normally such clauses can be paraphrased by means of a noun phrase het feit dat ...'the fact that ...', as in (217b), and that they exhibit a number of nominal properties.

Example 217
a. Het bewijst niets [dat Peter geen alibi heeft].
  it  proves  nothing   that  Peter no alibi  has
  'It proves nothing that Peter has no alibi.'
b. Het feit [dat Peter geen alibi heeft] bewijst niets.
  the fact that Peter no alibi has  proves  nothing
  'The fact that Peter has no alibi proves nothing.'

      Subject clauses are possible if they are internal arguments of the verb, as is clear from the fact that a transitive sentence such as (218a) is easy to passivize. The (b)-examples show that the passive counterpart of this sentence may either contain the expletive er or the anticipatory pronoun het: this is a reflex of the fact that the anticipatory pronoun is optional in (218a).

Example 218
a. dat Jan (het) zei [dat Peter een nieuwe auto gekocht had].
  that  Jan   it  said   that  Peter a new car  bought  had
  'that Jan said (it) that Peter had bought a new car.'
b. Er werd (door Jan) gezegd [dat Peter een nieuwe auto gekocht had].
  there  was   by Jan  said   that  Peter a new car  bought  had
  'It was said (by Jan) that Peter had bought a new car.'
b'. Het werd (door Jan) gezegd [dat Peter een nieuwe auto gekocht had].
  it  was  by Jan  said   that  Peter a new car  bought  had
  'It was said by Jan that Peter had bought a new car.'

Since the examples in (218) show that DO-subjects may be clausal, it should not come as a surprise that we also find subject clauses with unaccusative verbs. The examples in (219) show that this is quite common with nom-dat verbs; cf. Section 2.1.3. We illustrate this in the (a)-examples by means of a nom-dat verb that takes zijn in the perfect tense, and in the (b)-examples by means of a nom-dat verb that takes hebben.

Example 219
a. Het viel Marie erg tegen [dat Jan erover klaagde].
  it  disappointed  Marie a.lot   prt.   that  Jan about.it  complained
  'It disappointed Marie terribly that Jan was complaining about it.'
a'. Het is Marie erg tegengevallen [dat Jan erover klaagde].
  it  is Marie  a.lot  prt.-disappointed   that  Jan about.it  complained
b. Het bevreemde Marie zeer [dat Jan erover klaagde].
  it  surprised  Marie much   that  Jan about.it  complained
  'It surprised Marie greatly that Jan was complaining about it.'
b'. Het heeft Marie zeer bevreemd [dat Jan erover klaagde].
  it  has  Marie much  surprised   that  Jan about.it  complained

Subject clauses are also common with psychological predicates that take an object experiencer; cf. Section 2.5.1.3. This holds both for (220a) with the psych-verb ergeren'to annoy' and for (220b) with the periphrastic expression kwaad maken'to make angry'.

Example 220
a. Het ergerde Peter/hem [dat Els er niet was].
  it  annoyed  Peter/him   that  Els there  not  was
  'It annoyed Peter/him that Els wasnʼt present.'
b. Het maakte Peter/hem erg kwaad [dat Els er niet was].
  it  made  Peter/him  very angry   that  Els there  not  was
  'It made Peter very angry that Els wasnʼt present.'

Note in passing that psych-verbs such as ergeren'to annoy' and many nom-datverbs are object experiencer verbs; consequently, they can be combined successfully with conditional als-clauses; see the examples in (221). Since Section 5.1.2.1, sub VI, has shown on the basis of similar examples with subject experiencer verbs that such als-clauses are not arguments of the verb, we need not elaborate on this here; as illustrated in the primed examples, the fact that preposed als-phrases can be followed by the resumptive element dan'then' suggests that we are dealing with conditional adverbial clauses.

Example 221
a. Het valt me op als Jan erover klaagt.
nom-dat verb
  it  is.conspicuous  me prt.  if  Jan about.it  complains
  'I notice it when Jan complains about it.'
a'. Als Jan erover klaagt (dan) valt me dat op.
  if  Jan  about.it  complains  then is.conspicuous  me that  prt.
b. Het staat me erg tegen als Jan erover klaagt.
nom-dat verb
  it  palls  me much  on  if  Jan about.it  complains
  'It disgusts me if he complains about it.'
b'. Als Jan erover klaagt (dan) staat me dat erg tegen.
  if  Jan  about.it  complains  then palls  me that  much  on
c. Het ergert me als Els er niet is.
psych-verb
  it  annoys  me  if  Els there  not  is
  'It annoys me if Els isnʼt present.'
c'. Als Els er niet is, (dan) ergert me dat.
  if  Els there  not  is  then  annoys  me that

A conclusive argument for assuming that the als-phrases in (221) are not subject clauses is that the subject pronoun dat in the primed examples cannot be dropped when they occupy the sentence-initial position (that is, when dan'then' is not present). The examples in (222) show that this is compulsory when run-of-the-mill subject clauses introduced by the complementizer dat'that' occupy the initial position, for the simple reason that inclusion of the pronoun dat leads to a clause with two subjects.

Example 222
a. Dat Jan erover klaagt valt me (*dat) op.
  that  Jan  about.it  complains  is.conspicuous  me    that  prt.
b. Dat Jan erover klaagt staat me (*dat) erg tegen.
  that  Jan about.it  complains  stands  me     that  much  counter
c. Dat Els er niet is, ergert me (*dat).
  that  Els there  not  is  annoys  me     that

      Subject clauses are also very common if they function as the subject of copular constructions, as in (223a). This is expected because such subjects are not the external arguments of the copular, for the same reason that the direct object in the vinden-construction in (223b) is not an internal argument of vinden. In these two cases we are dealing with subjects of the complementive; cf. Section 2.2.2.

Example 223
a. Het is vreemd [dat Els er niet is].
  it  is strange   that  Els there  not  is
  'Itʼs odd that Els isnʼt present.'
b. Peter vindt het vreemd [dat Els er niet is].
  Peter considers  it  strange   that  Els there  not  is

The copular constructions in (224) show that the adjective bekend may take either a declarative or an interrogative subject clause. The former is always possible, but the latter only occurs if the matrix clause is negative and/or interrogative. The complementizer of is used in the (b)-examples if the relevant decision has not been made public yet, the complementizer dat if the decision has been made public but has (not yet) reached the intended public.

Example 224
a. Het is al bekend [dat/*of Els de nieuwe voorzitter wordt].
  it  is already  known  that/whether  Els the new chairman becomes
  'It is already known that Els will be the new Chair.'
b. Het is nog niet bekend [dat/of Els de nieuwe voorzitter wordt].
  it  is yet not  known  that/whether  Els the new chairman becomes
  'It isnʼt known yet that/whether Els will be the new Chair.'
b'. Is het al/nog niet bekend [dat/of Els de nieuwe voorzitter wordt]?
  is it  already/not yet  known  that/whether  Els the new chairman becomes
  'Is it already/not yet known that/whether Els will be the new Chair?'

Again, it should be noted that we occasionally encounter als-clauses that can easily be misanalyzed as subject clauses. That we are not dealing with subject clauses here is clear from the fact, illustrated in (225), that such als-clauses differ from run-of-the-mill subject clauses introduced by the complementizer dat'that' in that a subject pronoun must be present if the als-clause occupies the sentence-initial position; we must therefore be dealing with conditional clauses.

Example 225
a. Dat Els er niet is, is (*dat) vreemd.
  that Els  there  not  is   is    that  strange
  'that Els isnʼt present is strange.'
b. Als Els er niet is, is *(dat) vreemd.
  if  Els  there  not  is   is     that  strange
  'If Els isnʼt present, that is strange.'

Finally, we want to point out subject clauses are possible with epistemic modal verbs; we will return to this in Section 5.2.2.2 and 5.2.3.2.

Example 226
a. Het kan [dat Peter morgen in Utrecht is].
  it  may.be.the.case   that  Peter tomorrow  in Utrecht is
  'It may be the case that Peter will be in Utrecht tomorrow.'
b. Het schijnt [dat Peter morgen in Utrecht is].
  it  seems   that  Peter tomorrow  in Utrecht is
  'It seems to be the case that Peter will be in Utrecht tomorrow.'
[+]  II.  The placement of subject clauses

Subject clauses normally follow the verbs in clause-final position, as shown by the primed examples in (219), which are repeated here for convenience as (227).

Example 227
a. Het is Marie erg tegengevallen [dat Jan erover klaagde].
  it  is Marie  a.lot  prt.-disappointed   that  Jan about.it  complained
  'It has disappointed Marie terribly that Jan complained about it.'
b. Het heeft Marie zeer bevreemd [dat Jan erover klaagde].
  it  has  Marie much  surprised   that  Jan about.it  complained
  'It has surprised Marie greatly that Jan was complaining about it.'

Subject clauses may also occur in sentence-initial position, in which case they are optionally followed by the resumptive demonstrative pronoun dat'that'.

Example 228
a. [Dat Jan erover klaagde] (dat) is Marie erg tegengevallen.
  that  Jan about.it  complained   that  is Marie  a.lot  prt.-disappointed
  'That Jan complained about it has disappointed Marie terribly.'
b. [Dat Jan erover klaagde] (dat) heeft Marie zeer bevreemd.
  that  Jan about.it  complained   that  has  Marie  much  surprised
  'That Jan complained about it has surprised Marie greatly.'

The examples in (229) show that it is not possible to have the subject clause in the middle field of the clause; see De Haan (1974) and Koster (1978). The main clauses in the primeless examples have a non-subject in sentence-initial position and the subject clauses of (227) and (228) in the middle field; the primed examples provide the corresponding embedded clauses. Such examples are deemed ungrammatical.

Example 229
a. * Waarschijnlijk is [dat Jan erover klaagde] Marie erg tegengevallen.
  probably  is   that  Jan about.it  complained  Marie a.lot  prt.-disappointed
a'. * dat [dat Jan erover klaagde] Marie erg tegengevallen is.
  that   that  Jan  about.it  complained  Marie a.lot  prt.-disappointed  is
b. * Waarschijnlijk heeft [dat Jan erover klaagde] Marie erg bevreemd.
  probably  has   that  Jan about.it  complained  Marie  a.lot  surprised
b'. * dat [dat Jan erover klaagde] Marie erg bevreemd heeft.
  that   that  Jan about.it  complained  Marie  a.lot  surprised  has

We should note, however, that the examples seem at least marginally acceptable if the clause is interpreted as factive: ( het feit) dat Jan erover klaagde. If this is the case, it would not be surprising, considering that Section 5.1.2.3 has shown that factive clauses are more generally used in nominal argument positions. Example (230) provides instances in which the subject clause is more clearly factive, and we believe that these cases are indeed possible (provided that the clause does not become too lengthy).

Example 230
a. Natuurlijk bewijst [(het feit) [dat Peter geen alibi heeft]] absoluut niets.
  of.course  proves    the fact   that Peter no alibi  has  absolutely nothing
  'Of course, the fact that Peter has no alibi proves absolutely nothing.'
b. dat [(het feit) [dat Peter geen alibi heeft]] absoluut niets bewijst.
  that  the fact   that Peter no alibi  has  absolutely nothing  proves
  'that the fact that Peter has no alibi proves absolutely nothing.'

      Koster (1978) concludes from the fact that subject clauses cannot occur in the regular subject position in the middle field of the clause that subject sentences do not exist. He also proposes that the clauses in (228) are not sentence-internal, but function as sentence-external satellites that bind a (possibly phonetically empty) subject pronoun; actually, according to Koster, we are dealing with a kind of left-dislocation constructions. If we assume that pronouns are moved from the regular subject position into sentence-initial position, examples such as (228a) are analyzed as in (231a) if the demonstrative pronoun is present, and as in (231b) if it is not.

Example 231
a. [Dat Jan erover klaagde]i [sentence dati is ti Marie erg tegengevallen].
b. [Dat Jan erover klaagde]i [sentence proi is ti Marie erg tegengevallen].

Koster's proposal was challenged in Klein (1979). An important reason is that the prosody of the examples with and without the resumptive pronoun dat differ markedly: while in the former case the clause is normally separated from the sentence by an intonation break, the clause can be prosodically integrated in the sentence in the latter case, as indicated in (232), in which the comma indicates the obligatory intonation break.

Example 232
a. [Dat Jan erover klaagde], dat is Marie erg tegengevallen.
b. [Dat Jan erover klaagde] is Marie erg tegengevallen.

If Klein's conclusion that the clause in (232b) is sentence-internal is correct, we should account for the fact that the clause cannot occur in the regular subject position in the examples in (229) by claiming that clauses cannot surface in nominal argument positions. This is in fact the same conclusion drawn for object clauses in Section 5.1.2.2, sub III, to which we refer the reader for further discussion. We will investigate the pros and cons of Koster's proposal in our discussion of topicalization in Section 11.3.2.

[+]  III.  The anticipatory pronoun het and expletive er

Like object clauses, subject clauses cannot be preposed in sentences that contain the anticipatory pronoun het, as shown in (233b). This would follow immediately from Koster's left-dislocation analysis as the object pronoun must be replaced by the resumptive pronoun dat or its phonetically empty counterpart pro. The structures in (231) show that the position of het in (233b) is already occupied by a trace.

Example 233
a. Het is Marie erg tegengevallen [dat Jan erover klaagde].
  it  is Marie  a.lot  prt.-disappointed   that  Jan about.it  complained
  'It has greatly disappointed Marie that Jan complained about it.'
b. [Dat Jan erover klaagde] is (*het) Marie erg tegengevallen.
  that  Jan about.it  complained  is    it  Marie a.lot  prt.-disappointed

The analysis must be slightly different if we accept Klein's conclusion that the subject clause occupies the sentence-initial position if the demonstrative pronoun dat is not present. We then have to assume that the subject clause has not been moved into clause-initial position in one fell swoop but has moved via the regular subject position; the anticipatory pronoun is then blocked given that the subject position is occupied by a trace of the clause. See Section 5.1.2.2, sub III, for a more extensive discussion of this option.
      The (b)-examples in (234) show that subject clauses cannot be preposed in clauses that contain expletive er either; er can only be interpreted as an adverbial phrase of place in these examples. The reason for this is different, however, than in the case of het; expletive er can only be used if the subject is part of the focus (new information) of the clause, whereas preposed subject clauses are normally interpreted as being part of the presupposition of the clause.

Example 234
a. Er is gebleken [dat de software goed werkt].
  there  is turned.out   that  the software  well  works
  'It has turned out that the software is working well.'
b. [dat de software goed werkt] dat is (#er) gebleken.
  that  the software  well  works  that  is there  turned.out
b'. [dat de software goed werkt] is (#er) gebleken.
  that  the software  well  works  is there  turned.out

      The option of having the anticipatory pronoun het or the expletive er is not only affected by the position of the subject clause. In examples with a complementive, the position of the secondary predicate may also be relevant. With a sentence-initial predicate het is preferably dropped and er becomes completely impossible.

Example 235
a. Het/Er is duidelijk geworden [dat Jan de nieuwe voorzitter wordt].
  it/there  is  clear  become   that  Jan the new chairman  becomes
  'It has become clear that Jan will become the new chairman].'
b. Duidelijk is (?het) geworden [dat Jan de nieuwe voorzitter wordt].
  clear  is    it  become   that  Jan the new chairman  becomes
b'. Duidelijk is (*er) geworden [dat Jan de nieuwe voorzitter wordt].
  clear  is  there  become   that  Jan the new chairman  becomes

The examples in (236) show that we may find the same phenomenon in perfect-tense constructions with monadic unaccusative verbs taking subject clauses like blijken'to turn out': with topicalized participles, het and er cannot be properly realized. Examples with het and er do occur on the internet but are very rare.

Example 236
a. Het/Er is gebleken [dat vette vis gezond is].
  it/there  is turned.out   that  oily fish  healthy  is
  'It has turned out that oily fish is healthy.'
b. Gebleken is (?het) [dat vette vis gezond is].
  turned.out  is    it   that  oily fish  healthy  is
b'. Gebleken is (?er) [dat vette vis gezond is].
  turned.out  is  there   that  oily fish  healthy  is

Although we are not aware of any theoretical account for the markedness of the primeless (b)-examples in (235) and (236), we hypothesize that examples of this type involve some kind of locative inversion of the type we find in English. Den Dikken and Næss (1993) have argued that in examples like Down the hill rolled a baby carriage the predicative PP down the hill has been topicalized via the regular subject position, and that the subject occupies its base position in the small clause headed by the moved predicate; [CP Down the hilli [TPti rolled [SC the baby carriage ti]]]. If we assume something similar for examples such as (235b), insertion of the pronoun het may be blocked given that the regular subject position is occupied by a trace of the moved predicate. A potential problem for this analysis is that this leaves unexplained why insertion of het seems to be marginally possible. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether an analysis of this sort can be extended to examples such as (236b). The degraded status of the primed (b)-examples can again be related to the information structure of the clause if left dislocation/topicalization of the predicate is only possible if it is part of the presupposition of the clause. We leave it to future research to investigate whether proposals along these lines are viable.
      Example (218) in Subsection I has shown that in passive constructions the choice between het and er is related to the question as to whether the object clause in the corresponding passive construction can be combined with the anticipatory pronoun het. It seems that, as in English, clause-final subject clauses in active sentences can always be introduced by anticipatory het and that in many cases they can also be combined with expletive er. The semantic difference between the two options is not always clear, but we may suppose that the choice between the two options depends on whether the subject clause is presented as part of the presupposition or the focus of the sentence. A Google search (1/27/2012) shows that the frequencies of het and er in examples such as (237) are both high.

Example 237
a. Het is duidelijk geworden dat ...
presupposition
  it  is  clear  become  that
  'It has become clear that ...'
b. Er is duidelijk geworden dat ...
focus
  there  is  clear  become  that
  'It has become clear that ...'

An appeal to the information structure of the sentence seems supported by examples like those in (238). Given that interrogative clauses are less likely to be interpreted as presuppositional than declarative clauses, we expect examples such as (238a) to be extremely rare (despite being definitely grammatical). A Google search (3/22/2013) on this string shows that this expectation is indeed borne out: it resulted in no more than 4 hits. Strings such as (238b), on the other hand, are very frequent.

Example 238
a. Het werd gevraagd of ...
presupposition
  it  was  asked  whether
  'It was asked whether ...'
b. Er werd gevraagd of ...
focus
  there  was  asked  whether
  'It was asked whether ...'

Given the result of our Google searches mentioned above, one would also expect the frequency of examples such as (239a) to be much lower than examples such as (239b). This expectation is, however, not borne out: we found 225 cases of the two strings in (239a) and only 13 of the two strings in (239b).

Example 239
a. Het is niet/nooit duidelijk geworden of ...
  it  is not/never  clear  become  whether
  'It has not/never become clear whether ...'
b. Er is niet/nooit duidelijk geworden of ...
  there  is not/never  clear  become  whether
  'It has not/never become clear whether ...'

The results of our Google searches on the examples in (239) show that there must be other factors, yet to be identified, that must be involved in the choice between het and er. One factor that springs to mind is that the choice is related to the type of predicate, but we leave this for future research.

References:
  • Dikken, Marcel den & Næss, Alma1993Case dependencies: the case of predicate inversionThe Linguistic Review10303-336
  • Haan, Ger de1974On extrapositionSpektator4161-183
  • Klein, Maarten1979Paardekoopers notie <i>aanloop</i> and het bestaansrecht van subjectzinnenGramma387-223
  • Koster, Jan1978Why subject sentences don't existKeyser, S. Jay (ed.)Recent transformational studies in European languages53-64
  • Koster, Jan1978Why subject sentences don't existKeyser, S. Jay (ed.)Recent transformational studies in European languages53-64
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