• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all
1 Characteristics and classification of verbs

The classification of verb forms is closely related to the type of constructions in which they may occur. The relation between semantic subdivision and syntactic behaviour of Verb Phrases (VPs) is briefly discussed in the sections below.

[+]1. Meaning of VPs and mapping of arguments

The semantic classification of verbs shows strong correlations with the syntactic behaviour of verb classes. In addition, the meaning of Verb Phrases (VPs) is closely related to the mapping of arguments of verbs.

Verbs having a modal meaning are referred to as modal auxiliaries. They form a coherent semantic group and include verbs like skälle ‘shall’ and konne ‘can’. When taking a verbal complement, they select bare infinitives ending in the suffix marking ordinary (or short) infinitives (see: Predication and infinitival complementation), as in the example below:

Skäl iek die hälp-e?
shall I you help-OI
Shall I help you?

Modal auxiliaries are realised in English as defective verbs, whereas they are full verbs in the continental West Germanic languages. The example illustrates that the modal verb selects ordinary infinitives, that is, infinitives in schwa. Verbs of perception are another semantically coherent class of verbs. They include verbs like sjo ‘to see’. They select gerundial infinitives, that is, infinitives ending in –n. An example is given below:

Dän Käärdel kon iek nit lop-en sjo.
that fellow can I not walk-GI see
I can’t stand that fellow.

Infinitives selected by perception verbs are accompanied by a subject. Thus dän Käardel ‘the fellow’ functions as the semantic subject of the infinitive lopen ‘walk’. The infinitive itself is also selected, as is clear from its ending, and from the fact that it participates in idiom formation with the modal verb.

Verbs of body posture like sitte ‘sit’ and stounde ‘stand’ form another semantic subclass. The verb classes mentioned so far involves small subclasses. However, all verbs can be subdivided as either unaccusative or unergative verbs. Unaccusative verbs are verbs of which the subject has the thematic role of theme, such as fale ‘to fall’. Unergative verbs are all other verbs, and they are conjugated in the perfect tense with häbe ‘have’. Unaccusative verbs are conjugated in the perfect tense with weze ‘to be’, just as passive verbs are: both share the property that a theme (a non-agent) is realised in the subject position, so agreeing with the tensed verb. In the same vein, more verb classes can be distinguished.

To sum up, a semantic subdivision yields several subclasses, and each subclass exhibits its own characteristic syntactic behaviour.

[+]2. Classification of verb forms

Every verb has a morphological paradigm of slightly differing forms. These mainly differ with respect to the suffix they bear, though the formal difference may in certain cases be realised in a different manner as well, such as stem vowel change or the presence of a prefix or the use of a different form alltogether (suppletion). Each of these forms is associated with a set of syntactic features which have a semantic interpretation.

A subset of verb forms is the set of finite verb forms, marked for tense, number and person, in contrast to non-finite verb forms such as the past participle or the infinitive. In addition, specific verb forms are associated with certain compatible neighbouring elements higher up in the structure: thus ordinary infinitives are selected by modals whereas gerundial infinitives are selected by verbs of perception. Finite verb forms can be subdivided into present and past tense forms, and these, in turn, can be subdivided by person and number features. Finite verb forms agree in person and number with the subject, an interesting phenomenon which does not readily receive a functional explanation and which may indicate the operative presence of a specifically syntactic component.

Non-finite verb forms include the present participle, the past participle and the infinitive. Saterland Frisian features three types of infinitives. The ordinary infinitive usually ends in schwa, except with a handful of monosyllabic verbs ending in –o such as sjo ‘to see’. The ordinary infinitive is, for example, selected by modal verbs and by the causative verb läite ‘to let’. The gerundial infinitive ends in -en. It is for example selected by perception verbs. The to-infinitive is actually a complex unity consisting of two elements: the infinitival marker tou ‘to’ followed by a gerundial infinitive.

[+]3. Constructions with verbs and verb clusters

Verbs may show up in various syntactic constructions, where constructions are defined in terms of their constituent elements. All agreement information shows up on the tensed verb. Tensed verbs do not make person distinctions in the plural, only in the singular. Infinitival verb forms are associated with their own constructions. Ordinary infinitives, gerunds and to-infinitives are quite similar. All three are final in the clause, they pattern similarly with respect to extraction, preposing, object incorporation and so on. The presence of an overt subject is characteristically associated with infinitives selected by the causative verb and those selected by verbs of perception. Special reference must be made to the verb cluster, the clustering of verbs at the end of the middle field. The verb cluster is head-final, that is, the main verb comes first and (in embedded clauses) the tensed verb comes last. Selected to-infinitives occur to the left of the tensed verb when there has been clause union. An example of the latter is given below:

Wanner die Stiern foar’t eerste Moal tou sjoon wezen waas.
when the star for.the first time to see be was
When the star could be seen for the first time.

The same facts hold of gerundial infinitives and ordinary infinitives, as shown below:

As iek dät dode Bäiden ap ’e Sträite läzen saach.
when I the dead child on the street lie saw
When I saw the dead child lying on the street.
Een Nood ... so as et noch neen moor reke skäl.
a trouble ... so as it yet none more give shall
A time of trouble ... like there shall not be ever again.

The examples show that the infinitive precedes the tensed verb in the verb cluster at the end of the clause in embedded clauses. In embedded clauses, the tensed verb hasn’t been placed in a position preceding the middle field.

Saterland Frisian does not exhibit the so-called Infinitivus-pro-participio (IPP), which is found in verb clusters of Dutch and German. IPP involves the occurrence of an infinitive where a particple would be expected. It is characteristally found with auxiliary verbs selected by the auxiliary of the perfect, in case these auxiliaries are accompanied by a main verb. The following example shows that Saterland Frisian does not have IPP.

Die Stiern, dän jo foar sik apgungen blouked hieden.
the star which they for REFL up.go seen had
The star which they had seen go up for themselves.

Here the auxiliary verb selected by häbe ‘to have’ (blouked ‘seen’) has the form of a perfect participle, as expected. If IPP would have applied, the infinitive would have appeared instead of the perfect participle blouked ‘seen’.

    printreport errorcite