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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:

Example 1

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 afmakento finish or aanzettento switch on and adverbial particles, such as napratento parrot or voorproevento pretaste. Some of the resultative particles can be used on their own as predicates in copular constructions; examples are het werk is afthe work is done, de melk is opthe milk is gone and het licht is aanthe light is on.

In some cases, the particle corresponds to a prefix of the same form in inseparable complex verbs. Compare, for example, doorlopenkeep walking and doorlopento 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, nalangsalong and tegen. The following particle verbs exemplify the use of these words as particles:

Example 2

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, ronduitand voorbij. Their use as particles is exemplified by the following particle verbs:

Example 3

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 meewith NP, and naar NP toe to NP. Mee and toeto are the postpositional allomorphs of the prepositions metwith and totto, respectively.

The following particle verbs exemplify particle verbs with postpositions:

Example 4

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: aanat, achterbehind, door through, mis mis-, om around, onderunder, 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 > aangeredenaan-ge-reden and the prefixed verb aanbidden to worship > aanbedenaan-beden.

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

Table 1
Particle verb Prefixed verb
aanrijdento collide aanbiddento worship
achterblijvento fall behind achterhalento recover
doorlopento keep walking doorlopento pass through
misgokkento gamble wrongly mislukkento fail
ombuigento bend omsluitento enclose
onderduikento submerge, to hide onderbrekento interrupt
overblijvento remain overdenkento ponder
volhoudento persevere volbrengento accomplish
voorkomento occur voorkomento prevent
weergevento represent weerhoudento 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 ondergaanto go down, the particle expresses a concrete locative meaning (though there is a second, metaphorical meaning: ondergaanto 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
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