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Show all regular middle construction

Subsection I discusses a number of properties of the regular middle construction, such as the fact that the middle verb must be derived from a transitive verb. If the middle verb is related to a transitive verb that also has an unaccusative counterpart, the regular middle and unaccusative construction can easily be confused, and Subsection II will therefore develop a number of tests for distinguishing the two, subsection III concludes by comparing the regular middle constructions with a number of constructions that are semantically close to it.

[+]  I.  Properties of regular middles

This subsection discusses a number of properties of regular middle constructions, subsection A starts with a discussion of the verb types that can be used as input for regular middle formation, subsection B characterizes the meaning of the regular middle and shows that the verb phrase in this construction normally functions as an individual-level predicate, subsection C discusses the evaluative modifier that is typically found in this construction, and subsection D discusses a number of properties of the subject of the middle construction. It is often assumed that the subject must be an internal argument of the middle verb: subsection E argues on the basis of the acceptability of so-called resultative middles that this assumption is incorrect, subsection F concludes with a discussion of a special case in which the verb phrase in the regular middle normally functions not as an individual-level but as a stage-level predicate.

[+]  A.  The input verb is transitive

Verbs in regular middle constructions are related to transitive verbs. The examples in (152) show that regular middles are like regular passive constructions in that the direct object of the corresponding transitive verb surfaces as the subject. This is clear from the form of the pronoun in the (a)-examples and subject-verb agreement in the (b)-examples.

a. De jongens verven die muur/hemacc.
  the boys  paint  that wall/him
  'The boys are painting that wall/it.'
a'. Die muur/Hijnom verft gemakkelijk.
  that wall/he  paints  easily
b. Jan leest die dissertaties.
  Jan reads  those theses
  'Jan is reading those theses.'
b'. Die dissertaties lezen gemakkelijk.
  those theses  read  easily

The examples in (153) show that the regular middles in (152) differ from passives in that they do not allow expression of the subject of the corresponding transitive verb by means of an agentive door-phrase. Nevertheless, the notion of agent still seems to be implied in the middle constructions given that the implied experiencer of the evaluative modifier is typically interpreted as the agent; we will return to this in subsection C.

a. * Die muur/Hijnom verft gemakkelijk door de jongens.
  that wall/he  paints  easily by the boys
b. * Die dissertaties lezen gemakkelijk door Jan.
  those theses  read  easily  by Jan

      Regular middle formation sometimes has subtle side effects. The examples in (154) show, for example, that the regular middle construction licenses the use of the particle weg'away', which seems to be used especially in contexts of (excessive) consumption; see also the discussion of example (197c) in subsection E. To our knowledge such side effects have not been investigated so far and we therefore leave them to future research.

a. Jan leest die thrillers (*weg).
  Jan reads  those thrillers   away
  'Jan is reading those thrillers.'
b. Die thrillers lezen lekker (weg).
  those thrillers  read  nicely  away
  'Those thrillers make easy reading (can be consumed in large quantities).'

      Intransitive (PO-)verbs like lachen'to laugh' and wachten (op)'to wait (for)' in the examples in (155) cannot undergo regular middle formation, which shows that the verb must have a nominal complement that can surface as the subject of the middle construction (although Section will show that under specific strict conditions impersonal middles may nevertheless arise).

a. Jan lacht.
intransitive verb
  Jan laughs
a'. * Het/Er lacht gemakkelijk.
  it/there  laughs  easily
b. Jan wacht op de post.
intransitive PO-verb
  Jan waits  for the post
b'. * De post wacht gemakkelijk (op).
  the post  waits  easily   for

      The examples in (156) show that monadic unaccusative verbs like vertrekken'to leave' and undative verbs like weten/kennen'to know' also resist regular middle formation. This shows that the verb must have an external argument in order to allow regular middle formation, and that it is not sufficient for a verb to have an internal theme argument; it must also be possible to realize this argument as a direct object–in fact, Subsection E will argue that it is not the term internal argument that is relevant for middle formation but the term direct object.

a. Marie vertrekt vroeg.
  Marie  leaves  early
a'. * Het vertrekt gemakkelijk vroeg.
  it  leaves  easily  early
b. Jan weet het antwoord op deze vraag.
  Jan knows  the answer  to this question
b'. * Het antwoord op deze vraag weet gemakkelijk.
  the answer  to this question  knows  easily

      The above has established that regular middle formation requires the verb to be transitive. This leads to the expectation that ditransitive verbs also allow regular middle formation, but example (157b) shows that this expectation is not borne out: regular middle formation is excluded if the input verb takes a nominal indirect object. The primed (b)-example is added to show that regular middle constructions in which the indirect object is promoted to subject are excluded as well.

a. Jan gaf de kar een zet.
  Jan gave  the cart  a push
b. * Zoʼn zet geeft de kar gemakkelijk.
promotion of direct object
  such a push  gives  the cart  easily
b'. * De kar geeft gemakkelijk een zet.
promotion of indirect object
  the cart  gives  easily  a push

The examples in (158) show that regular middle formation is blocked not only in double object constructions but also in constructions with a periphrastic indirect object; regular middle constructions such as (158b) are marginally acceptable at best with the aan-PP present.

a. Marie vertelt altijd lange verhalen aan kinderen.
  Marie  tells  always  long stories  to children
b. Lange verhalen vertellen niet gemakkelijk (*?aan kinderen).
  long stories  tell  not easily  to children
  'It isnʼt easy to tell long stories to children.'

Indirect objects are never promoted to subject, not even in cases in which some speakers allow them to be promoted in passive constructions, like with the verb verzoeken when it takes an infinitival direct object clause, as in (159).

a. Jan verzocht de leveranciersi [om PROi de waren snel te leveren].
  Jan requested  the suppliers  comp  the goods  soon  to deliver
  'Jan asked the suppliers to deliver the goods soon.'
b. % De leveranciersi werden verzocht [om PROi de waren snel te leveren].
  the suppliers  were  requested  comp  the goods  soon  to deliver
  'The suppliers were asked to deliver the goods soon.'
c. * De leveranciersi verzoeken gemakkelijk [om PROi de waren snel te leveren].
  the suppliers  requested  easily  comp the goods soon  to deliver
[+]  B.  The meaning of the regular middle construction

The meaning expressed by the regular middle is rather complex. The construction as a whole refers to some inherent property of the subject referent; example (160a), for instance, expresses that the wall has the property that it can be painted. The adverbially used adjective gemakkelijk'easily' functions as an evaluative modifier of this property ascribed to the subject of the clause: the implicit experiencer of the adjective functions as a universal quantifier that ranges over all relevant entities in the domain of discourse. All in all, this means that the meaning of example (160a) can be paraphrased as in (160b).

a. Die muur verft gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints  easily
b. Die muur kan door iedereen gemakkelijk geverfd worden.
  that wall  can  by everybody  easily  painted  be
  'That wall can easily be painted by everybody.'

Another example is given in (161a). The proper noun Vergilius refers to a body of literary work that has the inherent property that it is easy to translate (for those that have sufficient knowledge of Latin). The meaning of this example can therefore be paraphrased as in (161b).

a. Vergilius vertaalt gemakkelijk.
  Vergil  translates  easily
b. Vergilius kan door iedereen gemakkelijk vertaald worden.
  Vergil  can  by everybody  easily  translated  be
  'Vergil can easily be translated by everybody (who knows Latin).'

In short, regular middle constructions are generic in nature; the verb phrase functions as an individual-level predicate in the sense that it does not refer to a specific state of affairs but describes an inherent property of the subject of the construction. This receives more support from the following facts.

[+]  1.  Time adverbs

Since the use of punctual time adverbs like gisteren'yesterday' in (162b) is incompatible with the generic interpretation of the clause, it normally yields a marginal result (see subsection F for a more detailed discussion). The use of an adverb like altijd'always' in (162c), on the other hand, is fully compatible with such a generic interpretation and consequently gives rise to a fully acceptable result. The examples in (163) show the same thing as those in (162).

a. Jan verfde gisteren de muur.
  Jan painted  yesterday  the wall
b. ?? Die muur verfde gisteren gemakkelijk.
  that wall  painted  yesterday  easily
c. Die muur verft altijd gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints  always  easily
a. Jan vertaalt Vergilius.
  Jan translates  Vergil
b. ?? Vergilius vertaalde gisteren gemakkelijk.
  Vergil  translated  yesterday  easily
c. Vergilius vertaalt altijd gemakkelijk.
  Vergil  translates  always  easily
[+]  2.  The position and interpretation of indefinite subjects

The examples in (164) show that indefinite plural subjects in regular middle constructions are incompatible with insertion of expletiveer'there'. They therefore do not receive a non-specific but a generic interpretation.

a. Deuren verven gemakkelijk.
  doors  paint  easily
b. * Er verven deuren gemakkelijk.
  there  painted  doors  easily

This is consistent with the assumption that predicates of regular middle constructions are individual-level predicates, given that the examples in (165) show that the same thing holds for adjectival individual-level predicates like voedzaam'nutritious'.

a. Bonen zijn voedzaam.
  beans  are  nutritious
b. * Er zijn bonen voedzaam.
  there  are  beans  nutritious
[+]  3.  The progressive aan het + infinitive construction

Since regular middle constructions do not refer to specific events, they are not compatible with the progressive aan het + infinitive construction. Compare the ungrammatical progressive middle construction in (166b) with the equally ungrammatical English gerund *The wall is painting easily.

a. Jan is de muur aan het verven.
  Jan is the wall aan het  paint
  'Jan is painting the wall.'
b. * De muur is gemakkelijk aan het verven.
  the wall  is easily  aan het  paint
[+]  4.  Regular middles cannot be the complement of a perception verb

The contrast between the two examples in (167) shows that regular middles differ from their corresponding transitive constructions in that they cannot function as infinitival complements of a perception verb. This is due to the fact that the complement of the perception verb is dependent on the tense of the higher verb: it must refer to an event that applies simultaneously with the event referred to by the verb in the main clause and this is incompatible with the generic meaning of the regular middle construction.

a. Ik zag Marie de muur verven.
  saw  Marie the wall  paint
b. * Ik zag de muur gemakkelijk verven.
  saw  the wall  easily  paint
[+]  5.  Pseudo-cleft construction

The examples in (168) show that, in contrast to transitive verbs, regular middle verbs cannot occur in pseudo-cleft constructions. This is probably due to their non-eventive nature: the verb doen forces an activity reading on the middle verb, and thus an agentive reading on its subject die muur'that wall'.

a. Wat Jan deed was de muur verven.
  what  Jan did  was  the wall  paint
  'What Jan did was paint the wall.'
b. * Wat die muur deed was gemakkelijk verven.
  what  that wall  did  was  easily  paint

The contrast between (168a) and (168b) is replicated in (169a) and (169b), in which the verb gebeuren likewise forces an eventive interpretation on the preceding sentence.

a. Jan verfde de muur. Dat is gisteren gebeurd.
  Jan  painted  the wall.  that  is  yesterday  happened
  'Jan painted the wall. That happened yesterday.'
b. Die muur verfde erg gemakkelijk. *Dat is gisteren gebeurd.
  that wall  painted  very easily.   that  is  yesterday  happened
[+]  C.  The evaluative modifier

Regular middle constructions generally contain an adverbial phrase like gemakkelijk'easily' or moeilijk'difficult' that functions as an evaluative modifier of the property expressed by the middle verb. In (170) we provide a small sample of adjectives that can occur as adverbial modifiers in regular middles.

Adjectives that can be used as evaluative modifiers of regular middle constructions: fantastisch'fantastic', gemakkelijk'easily', heerlijk'lovely', lastig'difficult', lekker'nicely', moeilijk'difficult', moeizaam'laborious', plezierig'pleasantly', prettig'pleasantly', probleemloos'without any problem'Adjectives that can be used as evaluative modifiers of regular middle constructions: fantastisch'fantastic', gemakkelijk'easily', heerlijk'lovely', lastig'difficult', lekker'nicely', moeilijk'difficult', moeizaam'laborious', plezierig'pleasantly', prettig'pleasantly', probleemloos'without any problem'

The adjectives in (170) are all predicative and able to be predicated of an embedded clause, as is clear from the fact that they can all be used as the complementive in a copular construction. It seems that this option is a prerequisite for entry into the middle construction; the (b)-examples in (171) show that adverbial phrases like met gemak'with ease', which cannot be used in copular constructions, cannot be used in middles either.

a. Die muur verft gemakkelijk.
  that wall paints easily
b. Het is gemakkelijk [om PRO die muur te verven].
  it  is easy  comp  that wall to paint
  'It is easy to paint that wall.'
b'. * Die muur verft met gemak.
  that wall paints with ease
b''. * Het is met gemak [om PRO die muur te verven].
  it  is with ease comp  that wall to paint

The evaluation expressed by the adjective can be positive, as in (172a), or negative, as in (172b).

a. Die muur verft gemakkelijk/lekker/probleemloos.
  that wall  paints  easily/nicely/without.any.problem
b. Die muur verft moeilijk/moeizaam.
  that wall  paints  with difficulty/laboriously

The default interpretation is that the evaluation given is that of the speaker, but the examples in (173) show that this can be overridden by adding a PP headed by volgens'according to'.

a. Deze muur verft volgens Peter gemakkelijk.
  this wall  paints  according.to Peter  easily
b. Vergilius vertaalt volgens Peter gemakkelijk.
  Vergil  translates  according.to Peter  easily

      Adjectives like gemakkelijk belong to a set of adjectives that optionally take an experiencer voor-PP, which is taken as the norm for the assessment expressed by the adjective; cf. Deze som is gemakkelijk voor Jan'this calculation is easy for Jan'. However, this experiencer voor-phrase normally cannot be overtly expressed in middle constructions.

a. Zoʼn muur verft gemakkelijk/moeilijk/plezierig (*voor Jan).
  such.a wall  paints  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly     for Jan
b. Zoʼn boek vertaalt gemakkelijk/moeilijk/plezierig (*voor Jan).
  such.a book  translates  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly     for Jan

This may be related to the fact that the experiencer of the adjective is interpreted as coreferential with the implied agent of the transitive verb that served as the input for middle formation. As a result, the restriction expressed by the experiencer PP voor Jan in (174) may be incompatible with the generic interpretation of the middle construction as a whole: if a wall paints easily or if a book translates easily, this is claimed to hold for all possible agents, not only for Jan. This account of the unacceptability of the voor-phrases in (174) seems to be supported by the fact that the results improve considerably if we replace the complement of the voor-PPs by a generic noun phrase.

a. Zoʼn muur verft gemakkelijk/moeilijk/plezierig (voor ervaren schilders/?een ervaren schilder).
  such.a wall  paints  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly  for experienced painters/an experienced painter
b. Zoʼn boek vertaalt gemakkelijk/moeilijk/plezierig (voor ervaren vertalers/?een ervaren vertaler).
  such.a book  translates  easily/with.difficulty/pleasantly for experienced translators/an experienced translator

Note in passing that example (174a) also improves if the voor-PP is placed in a position preceding the adverb, as in (176a), if it is assigned contrastive accent, as in (176b), or if it is preceded by the focus particle zelfs'even', as in (176c). These examples no longer have a generic interpretation: it is only for Jan that the wall is said to be easy to paint. It is, however, not clear whether we are dealing with an experiencer voor-phrase in these examples given that voor-PPs can also be used as restrictive adverbial modifiers; cf. Section N2.2.1 for discussion.

a. dat <voor Jan> zoʼn muur <voor Jan> gemakkelijk <*voor Jan> verft.
  that    for Jan  such a wall  easily  paints
b. Deze muur verft voor Jan gemakkelijk.
  this wall  paints  for Jan  easily
c. Deze muur verft gemakkelijk, zelfs voor amateurs.
  this wall  paints  easily  even for amateurs

      That we are dealing with adverbial phrases is clear from the fact illustrated by (177) that the adverbs in the regular middle construction allow modification. If the degree modifier te'too' is used, the experiencer can be optionally expressed as a dative phrase; since the experiencer in (177c) is also taken as the agent of the input verb, the construction is not necessarily interpreted generically.

a. Die muur verft erg gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints  very easily
b. Die muur verft niet gemakkelijk genoeg.
  that wall  paints  not  easily  enough
c. Die muur verft (mij) te gemakkelijk.
  that wall  paints   me  too easily
  'That wall paints too easily for me.'

The examples in (178) show that the adverb can also appear as an equative, a comparative or a superlative.

a. Deze muur verft even gemakkelijk als die deur.
  this wall  paints  as easily  as that door
b. Die muur verft gemakkelijker dan die deur.
  that wall  paints  more easily  than that door
c. Zoʼn gladde muur verft het gemakkelijkst.
  such a smooth wall  paints  the easiest

      There is a smaller subset of regular middles that need not contain a modifier of the type in (170). First, there is a small set of adjectives that can be used in regular middles despite the fact that they normally do not select an experiencer voor-PP, including snel'quickly', traag'slowly', licht'without difficulty' and zwaar'with difficulty'. Like the adjectives in (170), they express some inherent property of the subject from the perspective of the speaker or some other entity in the domain of discourse.

a. Deze muur verft snel/traag.
  this wall  paints  quickly/slowly
  'Painting of this wall proceeds quickly/slowly.'
b. Deze muur verft licht/zwaar.
  this wall   paints  without/with difficulty
  'Painting of this wall takes little/much effort.'

Second, regular middles may contain the negative adverb niet'not'. In such cases it is expressed that the subject of the sentence lacks the property denoted by the verb phrase. In example (180b) negation is expressed by means of the idiomatic phrase voor geen meter'hardly at all'.

a. Deze muur verft niet.
  this wall  paints  not
b. Die muur verft voor geen meter.
  that wall  paints  hardly

The evaluative modifier can also be absent if the evaluation is expressed by some other means. In (181a), the contrastive accent on the verb expresses that the subject exhibits the property denoted by the verb to a high degree. In (181b), the evaluation is expressed by means of comparison; the thesis is claimed to be very exciting and highly readable. The comparison is sometimes idiomatic in nature; an example is given in (181c), in which the phrase als een trein'like a train' expresses that the thesis has the property that it can be read very fast.

a. Deze muur VERFT! Pfff!
  this wall  paints  phew