• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all
Particle verbs

Particle verbs are a subcategory of separable complex verbs in which the first part is a word that also occurs as an adposition (a preposition as in (1a), a postposition as in (1c) or an item that can be used in both positions (1b)). The following particle verbs illustrate the different subtypes:

a. voorgaan
to precede, to lead (in prayer)
b. ingaan
to enter, to take effect
c. afgaan
to go down, to go off, to lose face

Particle verbs can have a wide range of meanings. Sometimes the meaning of the particle verb follows transparently from the meaning of the verb and the adposition, but in many cases it is quite opaque. In general, the particles can be subdivided into resultative particles, as in afmaken to finish or aanzetten to switch on and adverbial particles, such as napraten to parrot or voorproeven to pretaste. Some of the resultative particles can be used on their own as predicates in copular constructions; examples are het werk is af the work is done, de melk is op the milk is gone and het licht is aan the light is on.

In some cases, the particle corresponds to a prefix of the same form in inseparable complex verbs. Compare, for example, doorlopen keep walking and doorlopen to pass through, where the first is a separable complex verb, the second an inseparable complex verb (read more on the difference here).

[+]General information

Not all adpositions can function as particles; excluded are for instance: blijkens, met, naar, sedertte, tijdens, tot, van, vanaf, vanuit, volgens, wegens and zonder.

[+]Particle verbs with prepositions

Examples of prepositions that can also be used as particles are the following: bij, binnen, boven, buiten, nalangs along and tegen. The following particle verbs exemplify the use of these words as particles:

a. bijkomen
to recover
b. binnenkomen
to come inside
c. bovenkomen
to emerge
d. buitenkomen
to come outside
e. langskomen
to come past
f. tegenkomen
to come across
[+]Particle verbs with pre/postpositions

The following words can be used as prepositions, as postpositions, but also as particles (the list may be incomplete): in, langs, op, ronduit and voorbij. Their use as particles is exemplified by the following particle verbs:

a. inkomen
to understand
b. langskomen
to come round, to drop in
c. opkomen
to emerge
d. rondkomen
to make ends meet
e. uitkomen
to appear, to end up, to be disclosed, to come out right
f. voorbijkomen
to pass by
[+]Particle verbs with postpositions

The following (not necessarily exhaustive) list illustrates words that can be used as postpositions and as particles: af, mee, and toe. The words mee and toe can only function as a postposition in a PP in combination with a preposition, as in met NP mee with NP, and naar NP toe to NP. Mee and toe to are the postpositional allomorphs of the prepositions met with and tot to, respectively.

The following particle verbs exemplify particle verbs with postpositions:

a. afkomen
to get finished
b. meekomen
to come along, to keep up
c. toekomen
to be entitled to
[+]Particle verbs and prefixed verbs

A number of preverbs (mainly particles, but some adjectives and adverbs as well) correspond with prefixes in complex verbs of the same form. This applies to the following words: aan at, achter behind, door through, mis mis-, om around, onder under, over over, vol full, voor for, and weer again. The difference between these two types of verb can be seen in their syntactic, morphological, and phonological behaviour (Distinguishing particle verbs from prefixed verbs). Particles are separated from their verbs in main clauses, and carry main stress, whereas prefixes cannot be separated from their verbal stems, and do not carry the main stress of the word (which is located on the verb stem). The past participle of a prefixed verb does not have a prefix ge-, whereas ge- appears before the verbal stem in particle verbs; compare the past participles of the particle verb aanrijden to collide > aangereden aan-ge-reden and the prefixed verb aanbidden to worship > aanbeden aan-beden.

The following pairs of verbs illustrate the use of these morphemes as preverbs and as prefixes.

Table 1
Particle verb Prefixed verb
aanrijden to collide aanbidden to worship
achterblijven to fall behind achterhalen to recover
doorlopen to keep walking doorlopen to pass through
misgokken to gamble wrongly mislukken to fail
ombuigen to bend omsluiten to enclose
onderduiken to submerge, to hide onderbreken to interrupt
overblijven to remain overdenken to ponder
volhouden to persevere volbrengen to accomplish
voorkomen to occur voorkomen to prevent
weergeven to represent weerhouden to restrain
Historically, the use of these morphemes as prefixes derives from their use as preverbs in separable complex verbs. This can be considered a case of grammaticalization. If a morpheme is used both as a particle and as a prefix with the same verb, in most cases the prefixal use expresses a more abstract meaning than the use as particle. For instance, in the particle verb ondergaan to go down, the particle expresses a concrete locative meaning (though there is a second, metaphorical meaning: ondergaan to break down), whereas in the prefix verb ondergaan to undergo the prefix expresses the more abstract meaning that the subject is totally affected by some event. For more information see Blom and Booij (2003), Blom (2005), De Haas and Trommelen (1993) and Los (2012).

  • Los, Bettelou, Blom, Corrien, Booij, Geert, Elenbaas, Marion & Kemenade, Ans van (eds.)2012Morphosyntactic change: a comparative study of particles and prefixesCambridge University Press
  • Blom, Corrien2005Complex predicates in Dutch. Synchrony and diachronyAmsterdamFree University AmsterdamThesis
  • Blom, Corrien & Booij, Geert2003The diachrony of complex predicates in Dutch: a case study in grammaticalizationActa Linguistica Hungarica5061-91
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
printreport errorcite