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6.4.1. Aspectual verbs

This section discusses the aspectual verbs, that is, inchoative gaan'to go' and komen'to come', and continuative blijven'to stay'. Examples are given in (192), in which the verbal complexes are in italics. Subsection I begins by showing that the meaning contribution of the verbs in these examples is aspectual in nature, and Subsection II shows that as a result of this the bare infinitive selected by the aspectual verb must have an internal temporal structure, that is, it must be dynamic.

Example 192
a. De kat gaat muizen vangen.
  the cat  goes  mice  catch
  'The cat is going to catch mice.'
b. Marie komt morgen mijn computer repareren.
  Marie comes  tomorrow  my computer  repair
  'Marie will come tomorrow to repair my computer.'
c. Els blijft zijn stelling betwisten.
  Els remains  his claim  contest
  'Els continues to contest his claim.'

Subsection III continues by showing that there is no evidence that the aspectual verbs are able to take arguments, which is the main reason to consider them non-main verbs, and Subsection IV shows that the bare infinitives are verbal (and not nominal) in nature. The discussion is concluded with two digressions: Subsection V discusses the claim in Haeseryn et al. (1997) that gaan sometimes functions as a future auxiliary and argues that this claim is incorrect; Subsection VI compares examples such as (192a) with examples like De kat gaat uit muizen vangen'lit.: The cat is going out catching mice' and will argue that despite the seeming similarity between them, the two constructions have totally different structures.

[+]  I.  Meaning contribution of the aspectual verbs

The verbs gaan and komen are also used as main verbs denoting movement, and blijven as a main verb denoting lack of movement; in such cases the verb is typically combined with a directional/locational complementive that denotes the (new) location.

Example 193
a. Jan gaat weg/naar Amsterdam.
  Jan goes  away/to Amsterdam
  'Jan is going away/to Amsterdam.'
b. Jan komt boven/naar Amsterdam.
  Jan comes  upstairs/to Amsterdam
  'Jan is coming upstairs/to Amsterdam.'
c. Jan blijft buiten/in Amsterdam.
  Jan stays  outside/in Amsterdam
  'Jan stays outside/in Amsterdam.'

For what will follow it is important to note that examples like (193a&b) express not only that the logical subject Jan of the adpositional complementive is undergoing a change of location, but also have certain implications concerning the location of the speaker/addressee. Let us assume that every discourse has a deictic center, normally taken as the "here and now" of the speaker and/or the hearer by default. An example such as (193a) with gaan'to go' then suggests that Amsterdam is not part of the deictic center, whereas examples such as (193b) with komen'to come' suggest that it is. Examples such as (193c) with blijven'to stay' are more neutral in this respect; Amsterdam may or may not be part of the deictic center.
      It should be noted that the deictic center is not only dependent on the choice of verb but also by the subject of the construction. Consider the primeless examples in (194) with a first person pronoun as subject: example (194a) is normally construed such that Utrecht is not part of the deictic center, whereas (194b) is construed such that Utrecht is part of the deictic center, which is taken as the "here and now" of the addressee. The primed examples with a second person pronoun show a similar contrast with one crucial difference: example (194a') is again construed such that Utrecht is not part of the deictic center, whereas (194b') is construed such that Utrecht is part of the deictic center, which is, however, taken as the "here and now" of the speaker in this case.

Example 194
a. Ik ga naar Utrecht.
  go  to Utrecht
  'Iʼm going to Utrecht.'
a'. Je gaat toch naar Utrecht?
  you  go  prt  to Utrecht
  'Youʼre going to Utrecht, arenʼt you?'
b. Ik kom naar Utrecht.
  come  to Utrecht
  'Iʼm coming to Utrecht.'
b'. Je komt toch naar Utrecht?
  you  come  prt  to Utrecht
  'Youʼre coming to Utrecht, arenʼt you?'

Sometimes the deictic center can/must be determined on the basis of contextual information. In example (195a), the deictic center may be construed as the "here or now" of the speaker/addressee (the default interpretation), but also as the "here and now" of the subject Jan. Example (195b) cannot receive the default interpretation but requires deictic center to be construed as the "here and now" of Jan's parents.

Example 195
a. Jan gaat vaak bij zijn ouders op bezoek.
  Jan goes  often  with his parents  on visit
  'Jan visits his parents often.'
b. Jan komt vaak bij zijn ouders op bezoek.
  Jan  comes  often  with his parents  on visit
  'Jan visits his parents often.'

      The spatial implications of the examples in (193) can also be present when gaan'to go', komen'to come' and blijven'to stay' take an infinitival complement. As the acceptability judgments on the presence of the adverbial phrases daar'there' and hier'here' show, examples such as (196a) with gaan strongly prefer that the location at which Jan will stay is not part of the deictic center, whereas examples such as (196b) with komen strongly prefer that it is; examples such as (196c) with blijven are again not sensitive to this effect. The use of the percentage sign indicates that examples with the less preferred adverbs do occur on the internet.

Example 196
a. Jan gaat daar/%hier een tijdje logeren.
  Jan goes  there/here  a time  stay
  'Jan will stay there for some time.'
b. Jan komt hier/%daar een tijdje logeren.
  Jan comes  here/there  a time  stay
  'Jan will stay here for some time.'
c. Jan blijft hier/daar een tijdje logeren.
  Jan stays  here/there  a time  stay
  'Jan will stay here/there for some time.'

The examples in (196) are not only strictly locational but also aspectual in nature: the verbs gaan and komen also express inchoative aspect and thus imply that the eventuality denoted by the infinitive will only be realized after speech time; the verb blijven also expresses continuative aspect and thus implies that the eventuality denoted by the infinitive is ongoing at speech time. The examples in (197) show that the verbs gaan and blijven can also have a purely aspectual meaning: example (197a) can be used when the speaker is already in bed and is simply announcing that he is going to sleep and example (197c) with blijven does not imply that Jan will remain in the deictic center. A purely aspectual reading of komen is not easy to get: an example such as (197b) strongly suggests that the speaker still has to join the addressee in the bed(room).

Example 197
a. Ik ga zo slapen.
purely aspectual
  go  soon  sleep
  'Iʼm about to go to sleep.'
b. Ik kom zo slapen.
movement + aspectual
  come  soon  sleep
  'Iʼll come to bed soon.'
c. Jan blijft maar zeuren.
purely aspectual
  Jan  stays  prt  nag
  'Jan keeps nagging.'
[+]  II.  Restrictions on the bare infinitive

Since the aspectual verbs express inchoative/continuative aspect, we expect that they cannot be combined with stative predicates; the predicate must be dynamic in the sense of Verkuyl (1972/2005). This is illustrated by means of the contrast between the two examples in (198); note that we found one case such as (198b), but in that case, gaat ziek zijn clearly means something like "is going to simulate being ill".

Example 198
a. Jan gaat ziek worden.
  Jan goes  ill  become
b. * Jan gaat ziek zijn.
  Jan goes  ill  be

Things are, however, not so simple given that it is easily possible to find examples such as (199b). Although it is not clear to us how to account for the contrast between the examples in (198) and (199), it is important to note that example (199b) receives a dynamic meaning: such examples are typically used when the speaker announces that something is going to happen that will make Jan angry.

Example 199
a. Jan gaat boos worden.
  Jan goes  angry become
b. Jan gaat boos zijn.
  Jan goes  angry  be

The examples in (200a) show that all aspectual verbs can readily be used with activities; the constructions as a whole simply indicate that the activity will start/is continuing. Whereas the inchoative verbs gaan and komen are fully acceptable with accomplishments, the continuative verb blijven triggers a special effect: the use of the diacritic "$" in (200b) indicates that this verb is only possible if the sentence allows a repetitive reading. Example (200c) shows that the verbs gaan and blijven are also compatible with achievement verbs and refer to respectively the starting point and the continuation of the melting process; the fact that komen gives rise to an unacceptable result may be due to the fact discussed in subsection I that the lexical meaning of the corresponding main verb is difficult to suppress; cf. example (197b). Note that we did not aim at capturing the aspectual differences between the three verbs in the translations.

Example 200
a. Jan gaat/komt/blijft een tijdje logeren.
  Jan goes/comes/stays  a time  stay
  'Jan will be staying for some time.'
b. Jan gaat/komt/$blijft dat liedje zingen.
  Jan goes/comes/stays  that song  sing
  'Jan will be singing that song.'
c. Het ijs gaat/*komt/blijft smelten.
  the ice  goes/comes/stays  melt
  'The ice will/continues to melt.'

The aspectual nature of the verbs gaan, komen and blijven predicts that the eventuality denoted by the bare infinitive must have an internal temporal structure. This means that verbs that occur instantaneously are expected to be impossible. The actual situation is, however, more complex: examples such as (201), for example, are possible but trigger a special effect: examples such as (201a) suggest that the eventuality does have a temporal extension, and examples such as (201b) receive a repetitive reading.

Example 201
a. De lamp gaat omvallen.
  the lamp goes  fall.over
  'The lamp is going to fall down.'
b. De lamp blijft omvallen.
  the lamp  stays  fall.over
  'The lamp keeps falling down.'

If a repetitive reading clashes with our knowledge of the world, as in (202a), the verb blijven yields an impossible result. It is very hard to find cases in which gaan is excluded: examples such as (202b) are normally perfectly acceptable under a semelfactive reading.

Example 202
a. Jan gaat/*blijft overlijden.
  Jan  goes/stays  die
  'Jan is going to die.'
b. Jan gaat niezen/knipogen.
  Jan goes  sneeze/blink
  'Jan is going to sneeze/blink'

The acceptability of (202b) thus suggests that it is generally possible for speakers to assign an internal temporal structure (beginning—main event—conclusion) to verbs of this type. An alternative would be to claim that gaan is not an aspectual but a future auxiliary, but we will show in Subsection V that there is little evidence to support such a claim.

[+]  III.  There is no evidence that aspectual verbs take arguments

The reason for treating the aspectual verbs gaan, komen and blijven as non-main verbs is that there is no clear evidence to the contrary. There is no clear reason for assuming that the subject of the clause is an argument of the infinitive. The examples in (203) further show that, unlike in the case of deontic modal verbs, the bare infinitival complement cannot be pronominalized.

Example 203
a. Jan gaat/komt/blijft werken.
  Jan goes/comes/stays  work
a'. * Jan gaat/komt/blijft dat.
  Jan goes/comes/stays  that
b. Jan moet/kan werken.
  Jan must/can  work
b'. Jan moet/kan dat.
  Jan must/can  that

The ungrammaticality of (203a') is, of course, expected given that the main verbs gaan, komen and blijven are monadic unaccusative verbs and hence allow at most one nominal argument; the examples in (204) show that it is very likely that the aspectual verbs are also unaccusative, given that they take the auxiliary zijn in the perfect tense.

Example 204
a. Jan is/*heeft daar gaan zwemmen.
  Jan is/has  there  go  swim
b. Jan is/*heeft hier komen werken.
  Jan is/has  here  come  work
c. Jan is/*heeft daar blijven logeren.
  Jan is/has  there  stay  stay

The examples in (205) therefore show that it is also impossible to pronominalize the bare infinitival complement together with the subject of the clause. In this respect the aspectual verbs differ from the epistemic modal verbs, which do allow this.

Example 205
a. Jan gaat/komt/blijft werken.
  Jan goes/comes/stays  work
a'. * Dat gaat/komt/blijft.
  that goes/comes/stays
b. Jan moet/kan nu wel werken.
  Jan must/can now  prt  work
b'. Dat moet/kan nu wel.
  that must/can  now  prt

Note in passing that the impossibility of pronominalization makes it difficult to decide what the syntactic structure of construction as a whole is. Do the aspectual verbs resemble the deontic modals in entering a control structure, that is, a structure like [NP VASP [PRO ... V]], or do they resemble the epistemic modals in entering a subject raising construction, that is, a structure like [NPi VASP [ti ... V]]? It is not entirely clear what would count as sufficient evidence for one of the two structures, but examples such as (206a) suggest that the raising analysis may be the correct one: the subject of the main clause clearly functions as the external argument (subject) of the bare infinitive and it would be unclear how it could be semantically licensed by the aspectual verb. This conclusion also seems to be supported by the fact that (206b) has the currently popular idiomatic reading of "to go bankrupt".

Example 206
a. De boom gaat sterven.
  the tree  goes  die
  'The tree is going to die.'
b. Die spaarbank gaat omvallen.
  that  savings.bank  goes  prt-fallen
  'That savings bank is going to collapse.'
[+]  IV.  The bare infinitive is verbal in nature

The impossibility of pronominalization illustrated in Subsection III implies that it is highly unlikely that the bare infinitives involved are nominalizations; the bare infinitives must therefore be verbal in nature, which is also supported by the fact that the perfect-tense examples in (207) exhibit the IPP-effect. We will not try to give an English rendering of these examples but simply note that the examples in (207a&b) express that the inception of the eventuality of swimming/working is completed (while the eventuality itself may still be going on), whereas example (207c) seems to suggest that the visiting eventuality is fully completed.

Example 207
a. dat Jan daar is gaan/*gegaan zwemmen.
  that  Jan  there  is go/gone  swim
b. dat Jan hier is komen/*gekomen werken.
  that  Jan here  is comeinf/comepart  work
c. dat Jan daar is blijven/*gebleven logeren.
  that  Jan there  is stay/stayed  stay
[+]  V.  The verb gaan is not a future auxiliary

Haeseryn et al. (1997:976ff.) claim that gaan can be used as a future auxiliary, because an example such as (208a) is normally interpreted in such a way that it refers to a future eventuality of raining. This claim seems untenable, however, in view of the fact that gaan + infinitive constructions also occur in the perfect tense; the perfect-tense example in (208b) makes it crystal clear that gaan only pertains to the starting point of the eventuality, which is situated in the actualized part of the present-tense interval. The future interpretation of (208a) therefore cannot be attributed to the use of gaan, but reflects the fact that the simple present more generally situates eventualities in the non-actualized part of the present-tense interval; see Section 1.5.2 for detailed discussion.

Example 208
a. Het gaat regenen.
  it  goes  raining
  'It is going to rain.'
b. Het is gaan regenen.
  it  is  go  rain
  'It has started to rain.'

Haeseryn et al. (1997:978) further note that there is a large number of more or lesss fixed expressions consisting of gaan + bare infinitive that seem to denote future events. These involve, for example, the bare infinitives oversteken'to cross a street', promoveren'to take a doctoral degree', trouwen'to marry', van baan veranderen'change jobs', verhuizen'to move house'. The fact that these collocations can normally also appear in the present perfect again shows that we are not dealing with future auxiliaries. For the examples in (209), it is not very clear what the meaning contribution of gaan is but it seems that it emphasizes the processes that preceded the actual acts of marrying and taking a degree.

Example 209
a. Ik ben gaan trouwen omdat ik zwanger was.
  am  go  marry  because  pregnant  was
  'I decided to get married because I was pregnant.'
b. Ik ben gaan promoveren omdat ik onderzoek leuk vind.
  am  go  take.degree  because  research  nice  consider
  'I decided to take my PhD degree because I like research.'

In short, the fact that the non-main verb gaan can be used in perfect-tense constructions and the fact that such constructions situate the starting point of the eventuality denoted by the main in the actualized part of the present-tense interval shows that gaan is not a future, but an aspectual auxiliary. The fact that present-tense constructions with gaan often refer to eventualities in the non-actualized part of the present-tense interval is not due to the verb gaan, but reflects a more general property of the present tense.

[+]  VI.  V issen gaan versus uit vissen gaan

Subsection I has shown that the main verb counterparts of the aspectual verbs gaan'to go', komen'to come' and blijven'to stay' denote (lack of) movement, and that they typically take a locational or directional complementive; (210a) illustrates this again with an example in which the complementive has the form of the verbal particle uit'out'. The connotation of movement is not necessarily present in the aspectual use of these verbs: the verb gaan in examples such (210b) may simply express inchoative aspect.

Example 210
a. Jan gaat uit.
main verb
  Jan  goes  out
  'Jan is going out.'
b. Jan gaat vissen.
aspectual verb
  Jan goes  fish
  'Jan is going to fish'

This subsection discusses the more special construction in (211a); the contrast with (211b) seems to show that this construction is restricted to the movement verb gaan'to go' (although there is a seemingly similar construction with zijn'to be', which will be discussed in Section 6.4.2, sub V, and which, at first sight at least, seems to constitute a kind of in-between category). The construction typically refers to "enjoyable" activities which are performed at some location not part of the deictic center, which is typically taken as the home or the workplace of the referent of the subject of the sentence. Typical examples are uit eten gaan'to eat out', uit jagen gaan'to go out hunting', uit dansen gaan'to go out dancing' and uit winkelen gaan'to go out shopping'. It should be noted, however, that there are also cases like uit werken gaan'to go out cleaning' and somewhat obsolete expressions like uit koken/wassen gaan'to go out cooking/washing' for performing domestic duties at other people's homes. The question we want to investigate here is whether gaan functions as a main or as an aspectual verb in such constructions, and we will argue that the former is the case.

Example 211
a. Jan gaat uit vissen.
main/aspectual verb?
  Jan goes  out  fish
  'Jan is going out fishing.'
b. * Jan komt/blijft uit vissen.
  Jan comes/stays  out  fish

A first observation in favor of assuming that gaan functions as a main verb in (211a) is that the particle uit does not function as a complementive of the bare infinitive vissen'to fish', as is clear from the unacceptability of (212) with uit present. This seems to leave us with just one option and that is that uit functions as a complementive of the verb gaan. This, in turn, suggests that gaan is a main verb on the assumption that complementives are unlikely to be selected by non-main verbs.

Example 212
Jan vist (*uit).
  Jan fishes     out

A second observation that disfavors a non-main verb analysis of the verb gaan is that the bare infinitive does not exhibit verbal behavior: example (213a') shows that the bare infinitive cannot follow the verb gaan and example (213b') shows that it does not trigger the IPP-effect. The aspectual constructions in the primeless examples are added to illustrate the normal behavior of verbal bare infinitives.

Example 213
a. dat Jan <vissen> gaat <vissen>.
  that  Jan    fish  goes
  'that Jan is going to fish.'
a'. dat Jan uit <vissen> gaat <*vissen>
  that  Jan out     fish  goes
  'that Jan is going out fishing.'
b. dat Jan is gaan/*gegaan vissen.
  that  Jan  is go/gone fish
  'that Jan has gone fishing.'
b'. dat Jan uit vissen is gegaan/*gaan.
  that  Jan out  fish  is gone/go
  'that Jan has gone out fishing.'

In tandem, the two observations in (212) and (213) lead to the conclusion that gaan functions as a main verb in examples such as (211a), which leaves us with the question as to what function the bare infinitive has. An important observation is that the bare infinitive in the primed examples in (213) is placed in between the complementive uit and the main verb gaan. The fact that complementives/verbal particles normally cannot be separated from the verbs in clause-final position suggests that the bare infinitive is part of the complementive. This is supported by the fact illustrated in (214a) that the sequence uit + bare infinitive can be placed in clause-initial position and by the fact that this sequence may be used in the absolute met construction in (214b).

Example 214
a. Uit vissen is hij nog niet gegaan.
  out fish  is he  not  yet  gone
  'He hasnʼt gone out fishing yet.'
b. [Met Jan uit vissen] hebben we eindelijk rust.
  with Jan out fish  have  we  finally  peace
  'With Jan out fishing we finally have peace and quiet.'

More evidence in support of the claim that the sequence uit + bare infinitive is a constituent is that the infinitive must follow the particle; the examples in (215) show that the bare infinitive can neither be placed more leftward in the middle field of the clause nor be placed in clause-initial position by means of topicalization or wh-movement.

Example 215
a. Jan is <*vissen> uit <vissen> gegaan.
  Jan is       fish  out  gone
b. * Visseni/Wati is Jan uit ti gegaan.
  fish/what is Jan out  gone

In fact, the constituent consisting of the sequence uit + bare infinitive is entirely opaque, as is clear from the fact that internal arguments of the bare infinitives cannot escape this sequence either. This will be especially clear by comparing the unacceptable example in (216b) with the fully acceptable aspectual construction Wat ging de kat vangen?'What was the cat going to catch?'.

Example 216
a. De kat ging <*muizen> uit <muizen> vangen.
  the cat  went      mice  out  catch
  'The cat went out catching mice.'
b. * Muizeni/Wati ging de kat uit ti vangen.
  mice/what  went  the cat  out  catch

Since example (212) has already shown that the particle uit is not selected by the verb vissen'to fish', the bare infinitive vissen in (211a) must be a complement or a modifier of the adposition uit. The latter option is the most likely one for semantic reasons: the particle verb uitgaan'to go out' is typically used to express that the subject is involved in some (outdoor) recreative activity and the bare infinitive can therefore be seen as a modifier specifying this activity, which explains the fact noted earlier that we are generally dealing with "enjoyable" activities. Since adjuncts (but not complements) are typically islands for extraction, assuming modifier status for the phrase headed by the bare infinitive may also account for the impossibility of movement in examples like (215) and (216).
      The discussion above suggests that example (211a) has essentially the same clausal structure as (210a); we are dealing with the main verb gaan, which selects a complementive in the form of the verbal particle uit. The bare infinitive is not selected by the verb gaan but functions as a modifier of the verbal particle. That we are not dealing with an aspectual structure such as (210b) receives more support from the fact that the lexical meaning of the main verb gaan'to go' can be suppressed in such examples, but not in examples such as (211a). The conclusions we have drawn above are tentative in nature: the syntactic behavior of the uit vissen gaan construction has received virtually no attention in the literature; see Paardekooper (1986:136), as well as Haslinger (2007: Section 2.6) for a discussion of the related uit vissen zijn construction, which will be discussed in Section 6.4.2, sub V.

  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haslinger, Irene2007The syntactic location of events. Aspects of verbal complementation in DutchUniversity of TilburgThesis
  • Pardoen, Justine1986Werkwoordclustering in the voltooide tijdVoortgang849-76
  • Verkuyl, Henk1972On the compositional nature of the aspectsDordrechtReidel
  • Verkuyl, Henk J2005Aspectual composition: surveying the ingredientsVerkuyl, Henk J., Swart, Henriëtte de & Hout, Angeliek van (eds.)Perspectives on aspectDordrechtSpringer19-39
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