• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
6.1. Characteristics and typology of non-main verbs

Haeseryn et al. (1997:46) define main verbs as verbs expressing the core meaning of the verbal complex, while non-main verbs are seen as modifier-like elements providing supplementary information. This semantic approach to the distinction between main and non-main verbs is generally felt to imply a "one-main-verb-only" criterion, according to which there is one single main verb in every structure that exhibits monoclausal behavior in the sense discussed in Section 4.6. Although we agree with the claim that non-main verbs provide supplementary information, we do not endorse the claim that structures exhibiting monoclausal behavior contain exactly one main verb. This is in keeping with Section 1.1, sub I, which defined main verbs as n-place predicates, that is, verbs that have the ability to take arguments.
      This introductory section is organized as follows, subsection I starts by reviewing the term monoclausal behavior and some related problems, subsection II will show that, given our definition of main verb, exhibiting monoclausal behavior is not sufficient for arguing that only the most deeply embedded verb is a main verb, subsection III concludes by showing that, as a result, our definition of main verb greatly reduces the number of non-main verb classes that are normally distinguished in descriptive grammars.

[+]  I.  Monoclausal behavior

Section 4.6 characterizes structures exhibiting monoclausal behavior by pointing to two prototypical properties. First, such structures exhibit verb clustering/clause splitting: the verbs are placed together in clause-final position and the dependents of the most deeply embedded verb (e.g., nominal arguments and modifiers) must precede the cluster as a whole. Second, such structures exhibit the infinitivus-pro-participio (IPP) effect in perfect-tense constructions with three or more verbs.

Table 1: Structures exhibiting mono- and biclausal behavior
  monoclausal biclausal
verb clustering +
infinitivus-pro-participio +

The examples in (2) illustrate the monoclausal properties of structures containing the aspectual verb komen: example (2a) shows that the verbs cluster in clause-final position, which results in splitting the lexical projection of the main verb repareren'to repair', given in italics; example (2b) illustrates the IPP-effect.

Example 2
a. dat Jan de televisie komt repareren.
verb clustering
  that  Jan  the television  comes  repair
  'that Jan will be here to repair the television.'
b. Jan is de televisie komen/*gekomen repareren.
  Jan is the television  comeinf/comepart  repair
  'that Jan has been here to repair the television.'

The two properties in Table 1 are neither necessary nor sufficient, however, for assigning non-main verb status to a certain verb. The examples in (3) show that exhibiting the IPP-effect is not a necessary condition—it does not occur in passive constructions despite the fact that passive auxiliaries are frequently seen as prototypical cases of non-main verbs. Note in passing that the percentage sign in (3b) indicates that most speakers from the Netherlands omit the participle geworden in the regular passive, whereas it is often realized by, especially, Flemish speakers.

Example 3
a. Marie zal Jan dat boek toesturen.
  Marie will  Jan that book  prt.-send
  'Marie will send Jan that book.'
b. Dat boek is Jan toegestuurd (%geworden).
regular passive
  that book is Jan prt.-sent      been
  'That book has been sent to Jan.'
c. Jan heeft dat boek toegestuurd gekregen.
  Jan has  that book  prt.-sent  got
  'Jan has been sent the book.'

Although it is generally true for most speakers from the Netherlands that verb clustering leads to splitting of the lexical projection of the most deeply embedded verb, it is not entirely true that this always results in a structure in which the dependents of this verb precede the non-main verbs: verbal particles, for example, can remain adjacent to it, and the same holds for certain monosyllabic complementives; see the examples in (4) and the discussion in Section A6.2.2, sub I for more details.

Example 4
a. dat Peter zijn kamer <op> gaat <op> ruimen.
  that  Peter his room   up  goes  clear
  'that Peter will clear up his room.'
b. dat Jan zijn kamer <schoon> gaat <schoon> maken.
  that  Jan his room    clean  goes  make
  'that Jan will clean his room.'

In fact, the restriction that verb clusters are impermeable by dependents of the embedded verb is even less strict for speakers of the Flemish variety of Standard Dutch, in which the verb cluster may easily include a wide variety of complementives, indefinite objects, etc. This means that we can only maintain that verb clustering is a necessary condition for assuming non-main verb status if we replace the stronger claim that verb clustering requires splitting of the lexical projection of the main verb by the weaker one that it makes splitting possible. The discussion in this chapter will show that there is a great deal of word order variation in verb clusters, especially those that contain a past or passive participle. Although the regional variation along the north/south dimension has been an intensively studied research topic since Pauwels (1953), we still found some gaps in the available information. We were fortunate in securing native-speakers judgments from the following Flemish speakers: Evie Coussé (East-Flanders), Benny de Decker (Province of Antwerp) and Reinhild Vandekerckhove (West-Flanders).

[+]  II.  Monoclausal behavior is not sufficient for assuming non-main verb status

Subsection I has shown that, although the two tests in Table 1 for establishing whether or not we are dealing with a monoclausal structure normally provide reasonably reliable results for the speakers of Standard Dutch from the Netherlands, they are not without their problems in the light of the regional variation that we find. This subsection continues to show that the occurrence in a structure exhibiting monoclausal behavior is not sufficient for concluding that the term main verb should be reserved for the most deeply embedded verb (as most grammars do that adopt the "one-main-verb-only" criterion).
      In example (5a), the verb proberen'to try' clearly functions as a main verb semantically; it is a two-place predicate that expresses the core meaning of the main clause. That we are dealing with a two-place predicate is clear from the fact that the infinitival clause can be pronominalized, as shown by (5b).

Example 5
a. dat Jan heeft geprobeerd [(om) dat boek te lezen].
  that  Jan has  tried  comp  that book  to read
  'that Jan has tried to read the book.'
b. dat Jan dat heeft geprobeerd.
  that  Jan that  has  tried
  'that Jan has tried that.'

Example (6) expresses virtually the same meaning as (5a), so that there is no semantic reason for assuming that the verb proberen functions as a non-main verb in this construction. Nevertheless, the structure exhibits monoclausal behavior, that is, verb clustering and the IPP-effect; see Section for detailed discussion.

Example 6
dat Jan <dat boek> heeft proberen <*dat boek> te lezen.
  that  Jan     that book  has  try  to read
'that Jan has tried to read that book.'

The examples in (5) and (6) thus show that, although the monoclausal properties in Table 1 are typically found with certain prototypical non-main verbs, it is not the case that they are restricted to these verbs. It suggests that exhibiting these properties is not sufficient for concluding that we are dealing with non-main verbs, and, for this reason, Section 4.6 proposed to simply define main verbs as n-place predicates; any verb that takes one or more arguments is a main verb.
      On the assumption that subject/object pronouns always function as arguments, pronominalization of the projection of the infinitive can be used as a test for distinguishing between main and non-main verbs: infinitival clauses can only be pronominalized if selected by a main verb. The claim that the aspectual verb gaan in example (7a) is a non-main verb can therefore be supported by the fact illustrated by the corresponding primed example that the infinitival clause (Jan) de televisie repareren cannot be pronominalized; the number sign indicates that Dat gaat is only possible in the irrelevant reading "that can be done". That the verb proberen is a main verb is clear from the fact that pronominalization of the infinitival clause de televisie te repareren is possible.

Example 7
a. Jan gaat de televisie repareren.
  Jan goes  the television  repair
  'Jan is going to repair the television.'
a'. * Jan gaat dat. /#Dat gaat.
  Jan goes  that     that goes
b. Jan probeert de televisie te repareren.
  Jan tries  the television  to repair
  'Jan is trying to repair the television.'
b'. Jan probeert dat.
  Jan tries  that
  'Jan is trying that.'

      Another difference between main and non-main verbs is that while the former can increase the number of nominal arguments in the sentence, the latter cannot. This is the reason why the two primed examples in (8) are discussed in different sections. Example (8a') is discussed in Section, that is, as a case of a main verb with an infinitival argument clause, because the use of hebben goes hand in hand with the addition of the nominal argument Jan. Example (8b'), on the other hand, is discussed in this chapter on non-main verbs because the use of hebben does not affect the number of nominal arguments in the clause, at least not on the traditional assumption that the two arguments Jan en Piet are selected by the past participle gekust (but see Section 6.2.4 for some reasons not to adopt this view).

Example 8
a. Zijn auto staat in de garage.
  his car  stands  in the garage
  'His car is in the garage.'
a'. Jan heeft zijn auto in de garage staan.
  Jan has  his car  in the garage  stand
  'Jan is keeping his car in the garage.'
b. Jan kust Piet.
  Jan kisses  Piet
  'Jan is kissing Piet.'
b'. Jan heeft Piet gekust.
  Jan has  Piet kissed
  'Jan has kissed Piet.'
[+]  III.  Types of non-main verbs

By defining the distinction between main and non-main verbs in terms of their ability or inability to select arguments, the dividing line between the two will be drawn at a different place than in most descriptive grammars: the set of non-main verbs will be considerably reduced. This definition does not affect the set of non-main verbs selecting a participle (although Section 6.2.4 will provide reasons for assuming that perfect and passive auxiliaries are less different in this respect from their cognates with other semantic/syntactic functions than is normally assumed).

Example 9
Non-main verbs selecting a participle
a. Perfect auxiliaries: hebben'to have' and zijn'to be'
b. Passive auxiliaries:
Regular passive: worden'to be' and, possibly, zijn
Semi-passive: krijgen'to get'

The set of non-main verbs selecting a te-infinitive, on the other hand, is substantially reduced. Whereas descriptive grammars normally assume that it includes the semi-aspectual verbs in (10a) as well as the modal verbs in (10b), the latter are excluded by our definition because they allow pronominalization of the infinitival clause and thus clearly have an argument structure: for instance, pronominalization of the infinitival clause in Jan bleek zijn fiets verkocht te hebben'Jan turned out to have sold his bike' results in Dat bleek (lit.: that turned out). We indicate our exclusion of the modal verbs in (10b) from the set of non-main verbs by marking them with the number sign #.

Example 10
Non-main verbs selecting a te-infinitive (traditional view)
a. Semi-aspectual verbs: zitten'to sit', liggen'to lie', lopen'to walk', etc.
b. # Modal verbs: lijken'to appear', schijnen'to seem', blijken'to turn out'

The set of non-main verbs selecting a bare infinitive is likewise reduced. Whereas more traditional grammars assume that this set includes at least the modal, causative and aspectual verbs in (11), our definition only includes the last category. The modal verbs are again excluded because they allow pronominalization of the infinitival clause, as will be clear from comparing Jan moet dat boek lezen 'Jan must read that book' with Jan moet dat (lit.: Jan must that). And the causative verbs are excluded because they typically add an additional nominal argument, as will be clear from comparing Jan zingt een liedje'Jan is a song' with Jan liet Marie een liedje zingen'Jan made Marie sing a song'. The number sign # indicates that we diverge from the more traditional view by excluding the verbs in (11a&b) from the set of non-main verbs.

Example 11
Non-main verbs selecting a bare infinitive (traditional view)
a. # Modal verbs: moeten'must', kunnen'can', willen'want', etc.
b. # Causative verbs: laten/ doen'to make'
c. Aspectual verbs: gaan'to go'. komen'to come', zijn'to be'

This chapter on non-main verbs considers the verb types mentioned in (9) to (11) insofar as they are not marked by a number sign. The verbs marked by a number sign are discussed in Section 5.2 on main verbs taking an infinitival argument.

  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Pauwels, A1953De plaats van hulpwerkwoord, verleden deelwoord en infinitief in de Nederlandse bijzinLeuvenDrukkerij M. & L.Symons
Suggestions for further reading ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
This topic is the result of an automatic conversion from Word and may therefore contain errors.
A free Open Access publication of the corresponding volumes of the Syntax of Dutch is available at OAPEN.org.