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6.4.3. The non-main verb do en'to do'

This section discusses the non-main verb doen'to do'. This auxiliary and its cognates in other languages may occur in various syntactic contexts and have a wide variety of functions. Since the use of doen in Dutch is much more restricted than that of its cognates in English and specific Dutch/German dialects, it seems useful to set the stage by first focusing on these differences. We will discuss the Standard Dutch use of doen after that.

[+]  I.  Standard Dutch doen differs from its cognates in English and the Dutch dialects

In many languages, verbs of the type of English to do seem to function as a "least marked" verbal element that may be inserted as a "last resort" to avoid ungrammaticality; see Grimshaw (2012). For instance, the examples in (247) show that English do surfaces as the finite verb in various types of constructions that would be unacceptable without it, such as negative clauses and clauses that require subject-auxiliary inversion if an auxiliary is present; see Huddleston and Pullum (2002:92ff.) for more detailed discussion.

Example 247
a. He did not want to come.
negative clauses
a'. * He <wanted> not <wanted> to come.
b. What did he say?
b'. * What <said> he <said>?

The examples in (248) show that Dutch is different in that it does not need and, in fact, cannot have the auxiliary doen in such contexts. This difference between English and Dutch is probably related to the fact that whereas Dutch main verbs normally raise to the functional projections T and C (see Section 9.2 for these notions), English main verbs evidently do not do this.

Example 248
a. Hij wou niet komen.
  he  wanted  not  come
a'. * Hij deed niet willen komen.
  he  did  not  want  come
b. Wat zei hij?
  what said he
b'. * Wat deed hij zeggen?
  What  did  he  say

We will not discuss the reasons why English main verbs cannot move to T or C but refer the reader to the extensive literature on verb movement in English (e.g., Emonds 1976, Pollock 1989, Chomsky 1991), the Germanic languages (e.g., the studies collected in Haider & Prinzhorn (1985) and beyond (e.g., the studies collected in Lightfoot & Hornstein 1994); see also Broekhuis (2008: Section 4.1), for an attempt to provide a formal account of the available cross-linguistic variation.
      Example (249a) shows that the English non-main verb to do can also be used to express emphasis when it is accented; see Huddleston and Pullum (2002:97ff.) for more detailed discussion. The (b)-examples in (249) show that the Dutch verb doen cannot be used in this way; instead, contrastive accent is assigned to, e.g., some modal particle.

Example 249
a. He did go to the movies after all.
b. * Hij deed uiteindelijk naar de film gaan.
  he  did  in.the.end  to the movies  go
b'. Hij ging uiteindelijk toch naar de film.
  he went  in.the.end  prt  to the movies

Finally, it can be observed that Dutch doen differs from English to do in that it cannot be used as a pro-verb. So whereas the verb to do in (250a) has the same semantic function as the italicized verb phrase in the first conjunct, the verb deed in (250b) does not; the construction is only grammatical if an explicit deictic pronoun like dat'that' is present; we will return to examples such as (250b) in Subsection III, where it is argued that it would be a mistake to analyze the verb doen as a non-main verb there.

Example 250
a. Mary made many mistakes, and John did too.
b. Marie maakte veel fouten en Jan deed *(dat) ook.
  Marie made  many mistakes  and  Jan did     that  too

      Standard Dutch doen differs not only from English to do but also from its cognates in many Dutch and German dialects, where this type of main verb is often used periphrastically to express the tense features; so besides simple-tense forms like Hij werkt, such dialects also allow forms like Hij doet werken (lit.: He does work). There is a debate on whether the use of doen adds additional (aspectual or modal) meaning aspects, but since the periphrastic construction does not occur in Standard Dutch, we will not go into this issue here; see Cornips (1994/1998), and Erb (2001:ch.5) for discussion and a review of the literature.

[+]  II.  Dutch doen as a "last resort" verb

The differences between Dutch doen and English to do discussed in Subsection I do not alter the fact that they have one important property in common, namely that they are used as last resorts: they can be inserted only when this is needed to save the construction from ungrammaticality. In order to see this, let us consider now when doen-support is possible in Dutch. The following subsections will discuss three cases that potentially qualify for such an analysis: VP-topicalization, left dislocation and VP-pronominalization. We will see in Subsection III, however, that these three cases cannot be treated on a par.

[+]  A.  VP-topicalization

Doen-support is common in cases of VP-topicalization, that is, cases in which a verbal projection is topicalized. A typical example is given in (251). One possible account for the insertion of doen is appealing to the verb-second restriction on main clauses—because the main verb is part of the fronted VP, there is no verb available to satisfy this constraint, and the verb doen must therefore be inserted in order to save the resulting structure from ungrammaticality. Another possibility is saying that VP-topicalization makes it impossible to express the tense features of the clause on the main verb, and that doen must be inserted to make expression of these features possible. We prefer the latter option given that it correctly predicts that do-support is not restricted to main clauses but can also be found in embedded clauses; note that we will show shortly that the markedness of example (251b) is not due to the presence of doen but to VP-topicalization across the boundary of the embedded clause.

Example 251
a. [Haar verraden] doet hij niet.
  her  betray  does  he  not
  'He doesnʼt betray her.'
b. ? [Haar verraden] denk ik niet dat hij doet.
  her  betray think  not  that  he does
  'I donʼt think heʼll betray her.'

That we are dealing with "last resort" insertion can be supported in several ways. First, the examples in (252) show that VP-topicalization is an absolute prerequisite for doen-support; if the verb phrase is in clause-final position, doen-support is impossible both in main and in embedded clauses. For completeness' sake, note that pronouns normally precede negation, but that scrambling of the pronoun haar into a more leftward position does not improve the result in (252a) and that (252b) is unacceptable irrespective of the word order of the clause-final verb cluster in the embedded clause.

Example 252
a. * Hij doet <haar> niet <haar> verraden.
  he  does    her  not  betray
b. * Ik denk niet dat hij haar <verraden> doet <verraden>.
  think not  that  he  her     betray  does

Second, the examples in (253) show that insertion of doen is only possible if there is no other verb that is able to satisfy the verb-second requirement and/or to express tense. Since the modal verb can perform these functions, insertion of doen is not needed and therefore excluded by the last resort nature of doen-support.

Example 253
a. * [Haar verraden] doet hij niet kunnen.
  her  betray  does  he  not  be.able
a'. [Haar verraden] kan hij niet.
  her  betray is.able  he  not
  'He canʼt betray her.'
b. * [Haar verraden] denk ik niet dat hij doet kunnen.
  her  betray think  not  that  he does be.able
b'. ? [Haar verraden] denk ik niet dat hij kan.
  her  betray think  not  that  he is.able
  'I donʼt think he can betray her.'

The markedness of (253b) shows that the markedness of (251b) is not due to the fact that doen is part of an embedded clause, but that VP-topicalization from an embedded clause gives rise to a somewhat marked result.

[+]  B.  Left dislocation

Doen-support seems also possible in cases of left dislocation in examples such as (254). It is a matter of debate whether or not the VP-topicalization constructions in (251) are derived from these left-dislocation constructions by deletion of the deictic pronoun dat in sentence-initial position. If so, the constructions in (254) may receive a similar analysis as the examples in (251).

Example 254
a. [Haar verraden], dat doet hij niet.
  her  betray that  does  he  not
  'Betray her, that he wonʼt do.'
b. ? [Haar verraden], dat denk ik niet dat hij doet.
  her  betray that  think  not  that  he does
  'Betray her, that I donʼt think he will do.'

That we are dealing with "last resort" insertion of doen seems clear from the fact that it is impossible if some other verb is present that is able to satisfy the verb-second requirement and/or to express tense.

Example 255
a. * [Haar verraden], dat doet hij niet kunnen.
  her  betray that  does  he  not  be.able
a'. [Haar verraden], dat kan hij niet.
  her  betray that  be.able  he  not
b. * [Haar verraden], dat denk ik niet dat hij doet kunnen.
  her  betray that  think  not  that  he does be.able
b. ? [Haar verraden] dat denk ik niet dat hij kan.
  her  betray that  think  not  that  he is.able
[+]  C.  VP-pronominalization

Example (256a) shows that Dutch VP-topicalization involves the pronoun dat'that' or wat'what'. The obligatory insertion of doen'to do' in this example can perhaps be accounted for in the same way as in the case of topicalization and left dislocation of the verb phrase: since VP-pronominalization removes the main verb, some other verb is needed to satisfy the verb-second requirement and/or to express tense. The "last resort" nature of doen-support is, however, less clear given that doen is also possible if there is some other verb that can perform these functions (although some speakers may consider expression of doen as the less preferred option).

Example 256
a. Jan verraadde Marie en Peter deed dat ook.
  Jan betrayed  Marie  and  Peter did  that  too
  'Jan betrayed Marie and Peter did too.'
b. Jan verraadde Marie en Peter wilde dat ook (doen).
  Jan betrayed  Marie  and  Peter wanted  that  too  do
  'Jan betrayed Marie and Peter wanted to do that too.'
[+]  III.  Is doen a uniform category?

Subsection II discussed three construction types that potentially qualify for a doen-support analysis. We have seen, however, that these constructions differ with respect to what we may call the finiteness restriction: whereas doen must be finite in VP-topicalization and left-dislocation constructions, it can be non-finite in VP-pronominalization constructions. This raises the question as to whether the three cases can indeed be treated on a par; in order to answer this question the following subsections discuss some other properties of these constructions with doen.

[+]  A.  VP split

The first two examples in (257) show that the object of the main verb haar'her' need not be pied-piped by a topicalized/left-dislocated VP, but can also be stranded. VP-pronominalization, on the other hand, can never exclude the direct object; example (257c) is unacceptable if we add the direct object haar to the second conjunct; see Section 2.3.1, sub VII, for similar data with prepositional objects.

Example 257
a. Verraden doet hij haar niet.
  betray  does  he  her  not
  'He doesnʼt betray her.'
b. Verraden, dat doet hij haar niet.
  betray  that  does  he  her  not
  'He doesnʼt betray her.'
c. Jan verraadde Marie en Peter deed dat (*haar) ook.
  Jan betrayed  Marie and  Peter did  that  too
  'Jan betrayed Marie and Peter did too.'

This suggests that pronominalization differs in a crucial way from left dislocation and topicalization. It is important to note that the difference is not located in the verb doen, given that the acceptability judgments on (257) do not change when we substitute the modal verb willen for doen.

Example 258
a. Verraden wil hij haar niet.
  betray  wants  he  her  not
  'He doesnʼt want to betray her.'
b. Verraden, dat wil hij haar niet.
  betray  that  wants  he  her  not
  'He doesnʼt want to betray her.'
c. Jan verraadde Marie en Peter wil dat (*haar) ook.
  Jan betrayed  Marie and  Peter wants  that  too
  'Jan betrayed Marie and Peter wants that too.'

The fact that the object haar'her' cannot be expressed in (257c) suggests that doen'to do' can be analyzed as a regular transitive main verb in examples such as Jan doet het graag'Jan is doing it with pleasure'. The verb doen in (257b), on the other hand, cannot be analyzed as a main verb given that main verb doen is not a ditransitive verb: cf. * Jan doet het haar graag (lit: *Jan is doing her it with pleasure). For completeness' sake, observe that the contrast between (b)- and (c)-examples in (257) and (258) also shows that the two occurrences of dat have different functions: in the (c)-examples it clearly functions as a demonstrative pronoun with the function of direct object, whereas in the (b)-examples it does not.

[+]  B.  Restrictions on the verb

The previous subsection suggested that doen is only used as a non-main verb in VP-topicalization and left-dislocation constructions; in VP-pronominalization contexts it is simply a main verb. This suggestion can be further supported by considering the restrictions on VP-pronominalization in the contexts of main verb doen. First, consider the examples in (259), which show that doen typically expresses an activity controlled by the subject of the clause; whereas its object pronoun dat can readily refer to activities like reading a book with an agentive subject, it is impossible for it to refer to non-controlled events like getting something or knowing something with a goal/experiencer subject. The fact that all examples are fully acceptable if the verb doen is omitted shows that it is not pronominalization as such that causes this deviance, but the use of doen.

Example 259
a. Jan wou dat boek lezen en Marie wilde dat ook (doen).
  Jan wanted  that book  read  and  Marie  wanted  that  also   do
  'Jan wanted to read that book and Marie wanted to do that too.'
b. Peter zou dat boek krijgen en Els zou dat ook (*doen).
  Peter would  that book  get  and  Els would  that  also     do
  'Peter would get that book and Els would too.'
c. Jan wou het antwoord weten en Marie wou dat ook (*doen).
  Jan wanted  the answer  know  and  Marie wanted  that  also     do
  'Jan wanted to know the answer and Marie wanted that too.'

The VP-pronominalization construction in (259) contrasts sharply in this respect with the VP-topicalization and left-dislocation constructions in (260), which allow doen both with controllable activities and uncontrollable states. This holds both for cases in which the direct object of the proposed verb is pied-piped and for cases in which it is stranded.

Example 260
a. Dat boek lezen (dat) doet Marie graag.
  that book  read   that  does Marie gladly
  'Marie does like to read that book.'
a'. Lezen (dat) doet Marie dat boek graag.
  read   that  does Marie  that book  gladly
b. Het boek krijgen (dat) doen we niet.
  the book  get   that  do  we not
  'We will not get the book.'
b'. Krijgen (dat) doen we het boek niet.
  get   that  do  we  the book  not
c. Het antwoord zeker weten (dat) doet Els niet.
  the answer  certainly  know   that  does  Els not
  'Els does not know the answer for sure.'
c'. Zeker weten (dat) doet Els het antwoord niet.
  certain know   that  does  Els the answer  not
[+]  C.  A note on VP-topicalization

This previous subsections have shown that there are two additional facts supporting the claim that while VP-topicalization and left dislocation may involve non-main verb doen, VP-pronominalization always involves main verb doen. What we did not discuss is whether VP-topicalization must involve non-main verb doen. After all, it might well be the case that the presumed preposed VPs in the primeless examples in (260) are in fact nominalizations comparable to those in (261).

Example 261
a. [NP Dat boek lezen] (dat) is leuk.
  that book  read   that  is nice
  'Reading that book is nice.'
b. [NP Het boek krijgen] (dat) is leuk.
  the book  get   that  is nice
  'Getting the book is nice.'
c. [NP Het antwoord zeker weten] (dat) is belangrijk.
  the answer  certain  know   that  is important
  'Knowing the answer for sure is important.'

It does not seem easy to find a conclusive answer to the question as to whether the preposed phrases in the primeless examples in (260) can also be nominalizations, but the fact that the examples in (262), in which the presumed nominalizations are clause-internal, are unacceptable seems to make this a very unlikely analysis.

Example 262
a. * Marie doet [NP dat boek lezen] graag.
  Marie does  that books  read  gladly
b. * We doen [NP het boek krijgen] niet.
  we  do  the book  get  not
c. * Els doet [NP het antwoord zeker weten] niet.
  Els does  the answer certain  know  not

That the primed examples in (260) do not involve nominalizations seems uncontroversial since nominalizations behave as a unit under movement and are therefore normally not split by topicalization.

Example 263
a. Marie vindt boeken lezen leuk.
  Marie  considers  books  read  nice
  'Marie considers reading books nice.'
b. * Lezen vindt Marie boeken leuk.
  read  considers  Marie  books  nice

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  • Cornips, Leonie1998Habitual <i>doen </i>in Heerlen DutchTieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid, Wal, Marijke van der & Leuvensteijn, Arjan van (eds.)Do in English, Dutch and· German. History and present-day variationMünsterNodus Publikationen82-101
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  • Erb, Marie Christine2001Finite auxiliaries in GermanTilburgUniversity of TilburgThesis
  • Grimshaw, Jane2012Last Resorts: a typology of <i>do</i>-supportBroekhuis, Hans & Vogel, Ralf (eds.)Linguistic derivations and filtering. Minimalism and optimality theorySheffield (UK)/Bristol (US)Equinox Publishing
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  • Pollock, Jean-Yves1989Verb movement, Universal Grammar and the structure of IPLinguistic Inquiry20365-424
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