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Middle formation

The middle voice is a construction type which differs from the active voice and passive voice in form and function. Its main function is to characterise or qualify an entity, such as hierdie mes this knife in (1), with reference to the action expressed by a verb, such as slyp sharpen in (1), rather than describing the action or activity as such, as would be the case in regular active or passive declaratives. As the subject of a middle verb construction refers to an entity which is qualified and therefore differentiated from other entities, it is contrastive in nature. Thus hierdie mes this knife in (1) contrasts with other knives, whereas (2) is devoid of meaning in as far as knives are usually sharpened.

Example 1

Hierdie mes slyp maklik.
this knife sharpen.PRS easily
This knife is easy to sharpen.
Example 2

?Messe slyp maklik.
knives sharpen.PRS easily
Knives sharpen easily.

The entity to be characterised is expressed by the grammatical subject of the clause, and the semantic relationship between entity and action is usually defined further by an evaluative modifier, such as maklik easily in (3). The modifier assists in adapting the verbal action to its function as qualifier in the middle construction. Thus sy handskrif his handwriting is qualified not only in regard to the act of reading (lees), but in particular in regard to the ease of reading (maklik), i.e. its readability.

Example 3

Sy handskrif lees maklik.
his handwriting read.PRS easily
His handwriting is easy to read.

In order to distinguish between the thematic role of a middle subject, which resembles the role of a direct object in an active sentence, and the role of the subject of an ergative verb when used intransitively, a distinction needs to be made between the thematic role of patient, indicating that an entity undergoes the action stemming from an agent, and that of theme, indicating that an entity is merely involved in an action. The object of a transitively used ergative verb, as in (4), corresponds to the subject of the same verb when used intransitively, as in (5). (5) is a middle construction because the subject, die ligte stoele the light chairs, has the role of patient. (6), however, is a regular intransitive construction, and die stoele the chairs has the role of theme. The intransitive clause (7) cannot be a middle construction, as the subject is agentive, rather than patient or theme. Middle constructions usually require an evaluative modifier, such as maklik easily. Therefore, if maklik is omitted in (5), a middle reading is unlikely.

Example 4

Hulle skuif die stoele in nuwe rye.
they shift.PRS the chairs in new rows
They are shifting the chairs in new rows.
Example 5

Die ligte stoele skuif maklik.
the light chairs shift.PRS easily
The light chairs are easy to shift.
Example 6

Die stoele skuif rond tydens die aardbewing.
the chairs shift.PRS around during the earthquake
The chairs move around during the earthquake.
Example 7

Die leeu brul in die bos.
the lion roar.PRS in the bush
The lion is roaring in the bush.

The subject of a middle verb construction need not only have the thematic role of patient, as in (8), but may also be instrument, or have locative or temporal reference, as in (9), (10) and (11), respectively. The subject of a middle verb may therefore be typified as non-agentive.

Example 8

Die vars brood sny lekker.
the fresh bread cut.PRS nicely
The fresh bread cuts nicely.
Example 9

Die nuwe mes sny lekker.
the new knife cut.PRS nicely
The new knife cuts nicely.
Example 10

Daardie pad ry moeilik.
that road drive.PRS with.difficulty
That road is difficult to drive on.
Example 11

Sondae skou beter as jy jou huis wil verkoop.
Sundays show.PRS better if.CNJ you.2SG your house want.to.AUX.MOD sell.INF
Sundays are better show days if you want to sell your house.

Therefore, if a middle construction requires a non-agentive subject, a verb expressing action or activity and in most cases an evaluative modifier, such a construction may be schematised as follows:

[S[NP[- agentive]]] [VP [V[ + action] (modifier)]]

For a middle construction, such as (12a) and (12b), to be recognised as such rather than as an active construction, the thematic role of the subject needs to be differentiated clearly from the subject role expected in a corresponding active construction. For a given verb the thematic role of a middle subject may, however, not be restricted to one possibility. Thus, die koek the cake in (12a) has the role of patient as it has in its active correlate (12ai), while die mes the knife in (12b) has the role of instrument as it has in its active correlate (12bi). In both cases the middle subject may be described as non-agentive.

Example 12

a. Die koek sny vinnig.
the cake cut.PRS quickly
The cake can be cut quickly.
a.' Die kok sny die koek vinnig.
the cook cut.PRS the cake quickly
The cook is cutting the cake quickly.
b. Die mes sny vinnig.
the knife cut.PRS quickly
The knife slices quickly.
b.' Die kok sny vinnig met die mes.
the cook cut.PRS quickly with the knife
The cook is cutting quickly with the knife.

A middle verb construction usually – but not always – requires an evaluative modifier to mediate semantically between the entity to be characterised and the verbal action by which it is qualified. Given that wissel change is a transitive verb, a construction such as (13a), with a non-agentive subject, is marked. However, a middle interpretation becomes possible when a modifier is added. Two types of modifier may be distinguished, one which merely modifies the action expressed by the verb, and another which also makes reference to subjective evaluation by an implied agent. Thus, while vinnig quickly in (13b) merely refers to the efficiency with which the gears are changed, maklik easily in (13c) refers to the subjective evaluation of the process by an implied agent.

Example 13

a. *Die ratte wissel.
the gears change.PRS
To mean: The gears are changing.
b. Die ratte wissel vinnig.
the gears change.PRS quickly
The gears can be changed quickly.
c. Die ratte wissel maklik.
the gears change.PRS easily
It is easy to change the gears.

The difference between the two types of modifier is reflected in corresponding "easy to please" constructions, in that only the subjective evaluation produces an acceptable utterance:

Example 14

a. *Dit is vinnig om die ratte te wissel.
it is fast for.COMP the gears PTCL.INF change.INF
To mean: The gears can be changed quickly.
b. Dit is maklik om die ratte te wissel.
it is easy for.COMP the gears PTCL.INF change.INF
It is easy to change the gears.

In some cases the use of the verb as only complement is sufficient to indicate the successful completion of the action signalled by the verb. This interpretation may be strengthened by stressing the verb.

Example 15

a. Hierdie kaartjies verkóóp.
these tickets sell.PRS
These tickets are selling well.
b. Daardie deur slúit.
that door lock.PRS
That door can be locked.

A number of constructions, for instance the passive voice as in (16a), resemble the middle verb construction to a greater or smaller extent. The middle construction differs from the passive in having a non-agentive subject, not employing a periphrastic passive verb form, and in not expressing an agent explicitly by means of a deur-phrase, as in (16b).

Example 16

a. Hierdie soort moord word moeilik opgelos.
this kind murder be.AUX.PASS.PRS difficult.ADV up.solve.PST.PTCP
This kind of murder is difficult to solve.
b. Hierdie soort moord los moeilik op (*deur die polisie).
this kind murder solve.PRS difficult up by the police
This kind of murder is difficult to solve (by the police).

In the first section, Construction and function, the basic constituents of the middle construction and their interrelated functions are described. The middle voice is a construction whose main function is to characterise or qualify a sentential subject with reference to a verbal complement. A modifier is usually employed to specify the intended relationship between the verbal qualifier and the nominal being qualified. Thus in (17), where die nuwe boek the new book is qualified by the action lees to read, the adverbial lekker nicely indicates that the intended attribute is 'readability' rather than the process of 'reading' as such.

Example 17

Die nuwe boek lees lekker.
the new book read.PRS nicely
The new book is nice to read.

The role of the middle subject is discussed in the second section, namely The subject of the middle construction. The subject is characterised as basically (i) non-agentive and (ii) contrastive, and may have various roles in common with non-subject roles of active sentences. These may be (iii) thematic roles, e.g. patient, theme, instrument and even locative and temporal indications. In the section Middle, ergative and intransitive constructions the focus is on the relationship between subject and verb, and it is pointed out that the latter two construction types cannot be equated with the middle. The following section, Evaluative modification, highlights the role of the modifier in linking verbal action to the nominal it characterises or qualifies. Next, reference is made to the role of an implied or overt experiencer. Finally, a number of constructions which partially resemble the middle construction are compared and contrasted with it, e.g. the passive, topicalised actives, the easy/hard to please construction, derivations with -baar -able as suffix, and attributive present participles and past participles .

[+]Construction and function

The middle voice is a construction type differing from the active voice, on the one hand, in not admitting an agentive subject, and from the passive, on the other hand, in not employing verbal periphrastic forms or admitting an agentive deur by-phrase. From a functional point of view, the middle construction is employed primarily in a characterising or qualifying role rather than expressing an action, and the entity referred to by the subject is characterised as being amenable to the action expressed by the verb. Van Schoor (1983:188-189) describes the process as one where a predication consisting of a transitive verb and its object, as in (18a), relinquishes its secondary position to become the focus point of a new predication in which the subject position is appropriated or seized and an adjunct of manner or adjuct of comparison attains primary importance. In (18b) lekker nicely predicates boek book, but only in regard to the reading thereof.

Example 18

a. Dié skoene dra.PRS besonder gemaklik.
these shoes wear extremely comfortably
These shoes are extremely comfortable to wear.
b. Hierdie boek lees.PRS lekker.
this book read easily
It is easy to read this book.

However, in view of the fact that more than just transitive verbs are involved as grammatical sources, this analysis should be extended further. Apart from being theme or patient, the subject of a middle verb may also fulfill the thematic role of instrument, or have locative or temporal reference. The verb, usually with the aid of an evaluative modifier of the verbal action such as maklik easily, moeilik with difficulty, goed well or swak/sleg badly, depicts a property or characteristic of the subject referent such as the readability of hierdie boek this book in (19a), and the enjoyability of Piazzola se musiek Piazzola's music in (19b). While hierdie boek in (19a) derives from the direct object of the transitive verb lees read, as in (19ai), Piazzola se musiek in (19b) stems from the prepositional object of the verb luister listen in (19bi).

Example 19

a. Hierdie boek lees maklik.
this book read.PRS easily
This book is easy to read.
a.' Die mense lees hierdie boek.
the people read.PRS this book
People read this book.
b. Piazzola se musiek luister lekker.
Piazzola POSS music listen.PRS nicely
Piazzola's music is nice to listen to.
b.' Mense luister graag na Piazzola se musiek.
people listen.PRS gladly to Piazzola POSS music
People like to listen to Piazzola's music.
[+]A semantic triad

Semantically, employing a verb in middle verb function involves three elements which usually find formal expression: (i) an entity to be qualified (the grammatical subject), (ii) the verb itself and (iii) further evaluative modification serving to explicate the way the verbal action is suited to qualifying the entity in question, for example onderhoudend engaging in (20ai). The modification may also involve subjective evaluation by an implied experiencer, as for example in the case of maklik easily in (20a), gemaklik easily in (20ai) and lekker enjoyable in (20b).

Example 20

a. Miller se teks lees maklik en sonder fieterjasies.
Millar POSS text read.PRS easily and without frills
Millar's text reads easily and without frills.
a.' Dit maak dat hierdie resensie gemaklik en onderhoudend lees.
this make.PRS that.COMP this review easily and engaging.ADV read.PRS
This review is therefore an easy and engaging read.
b. Hierdie vertellings lees lekker.
these stories read.PRS enjoyably
These stories are enjoyable to read.
b.' 'n Mens lees so lekker aan sy vertellings en mymeringe.
a person read.PRS so enjoyably on his stories and ruminations
His stories and ruminations are so enjoyable to read.
[+]The subject of the middle construction

(i)The subject as non-agentive

The use of a verb in its middle function is recognisable through the discrepancy between the action described by the verb and the lack of an agentive subject preceding the verb, for after all webpages, as in (21a) cannot – or should not – download of their own accord; sand, as in (21b) cannot compact itself; and paper, as in (21c), is not typically used as a cutter. The discrepancy brought about by the subject relinquishing its usual role of agent or theme, gave rise to the term usurpation used by De Villiers (1975:186-187) and others in describing this construction. The middle verb construction depends on the subject referent's capability of supporting a non-agentive interpretation, typically as patient in relation to the action specified by the verb. In the following examples the webblad web page (21a), sandgrond sandy soil (21b) and papier paper (21c) are all thematically interpretable as patient in relation to the action specified by the verb.

Example 21

a. Om te kyk of die webblad gemaklik aflaai en vertoon.
for.COMP PTCL.INF look.INF if.COMP the web.page easily download and display
To see whether the web page is easy to download and display.
VivA-KPO, adjusted
b. Sandgrond kompakteer baie maklik.
sand.soil compact.PRS very easily
Sandy soil compacts very easily.
c. Papier sny maklik en is boonop goedkoop.
paper cut.PRS easily and is also cheap
Paper is easy to cut and is also cheap.
TK, adjusted

A middle construction may therefore be schematised as follows:

[S[NP[- agentive]] [VP [V[ + action] (modifier)]]]

(ii)The subject as contrastive

In view of their characterising function, middle constructions are usually contrastive in nature. The subject may refer to an individuated entity in a class, or – in the case of generic reference – to a subclass within a wider category of classes. Thus in (22a) the subject refers to an individual flat in the category of flats (even a single sale), while in (22b) the subject refers to flats in contrast to other dwellings.

Example 22

a. Daardie ou woonstel verkoop verbasend maklik.
that old flat sell.PRS surprisingly easily
Selling that old flat is surprisingly easy.
b. Woonstelle verkoop maklik.
flats sell.PRS easily
Flats are easy to sell.

In the following, fully generic reference is excluded in (23aii) and (23bii) for lack of contrast, as sweeping is usually done with brooms and no tennis player can serve without a racket.

Example 23

a. Skoonmakers vee lekker met grasbesems.
cleaners sweep.PRS well with grass.brooms
Cleaners sweep well with grass brooms.
a.' Grasbesems vee lekker.
grass.brooms sweep.PRS easily
It is easy to sweep with grass brooms.
a.'' *Besems vee lekker.
brooms sweep.PRS easily
To mean: brooms sweep easily
b. Sy slaan maklik af met dié raket.
she serve.PRS easily off with this racket
She serves easily with this racket.
b.' Dié raket slaan maklik af.
this racket serve.PRS easily off
This racket is easy to serve with.
b.'' *Rakette slaan maklik af.
rackets serve.PRS easily off
To mean: Serving with rackets is easy.

Comparative constructions are favoured by middle verbs as they also entail contrastive reference:

Example 24

a. Hy loop beter met hierdie skoene.
he walk.PRS beter with these shoes
He walks better with these shoes.
b. Hierdie skoene loop beter as daardies.
these shoes walk.PRS better than those
These shoes are better to walk with than those.

(iii)Thematic roles

The subject of the middle construction may have several thematic roles in relation to the verb, such as patient, theme or instrument, and may even be a locative or temporal expression. When in the role of patient, it may correspond to the object of a transitive construction, as in (25a), or to the role of theme, as in (25b) or that of instrument, as in (25c), when corresponding to a prepositional object. When locative, as in (25d), or temporal, as in (25e), as expressed by an adjunct referring to 'place' or 'time', respectively, it may characterise a certain location or time as suitable for an action to take place. These roles can all be subsumed under non-agentive usage.

Example 25

a. Die beeste kou die knolle.
the cattle chew.PRS the bulbs
The cattle are chewing the bulbs.
a.' Die knolle kou maklik.
the bulbs chew.PRS easily
The bulbs are easy to chew.
b. Hulle luister na die musiek.
they listen.PRS to the music
They are listening to the music.
b.' Dié musiek luister lekker.
this music listen.PRS pleasantly
This music is nice to listen to.
c. Hy loop beter met hierdie skoene.
he walk.PRS better with these shoes
He walks better with these shoes.
c.' Hierdie skoene loop beter as daardies.
these shoes walk.PRS better than those
These shoes are better to walk with than those.
d. Die passasiers sit op die agterskottels.
the passenges sit.PRS on the rear.bucket.seats
The passengers are sitting on the rear bucket seats.
d.' Die agterskottels sit ewe gemaklik as die voorstes.
the rear.bucket.seats sit.PRS equally comfortable than the front.ones
It is equally comfortable to sit in the rear bucket seats than the front ones.
e. Ons reis makliker in die vakansies.
we travel.PRS easier in the holidays
We travel easier during the holidays.
e.' Die vakansies reis vir ons makliker.
the holidays travel.PRS for us easier
It is easier for us to travel during the holidays.

In some instances a distinction between subject-as-object (the transitive middle) and subject-as-prepositional-object does not seem relevant, as the source could have been either:

Example 26

a. Die ooms luister (na die) boeremusiek.
the uncles listen.PRS to the folk.music
The uncles are listening to the folk music.
a.' Boeremusiek luister lekker.
folk.music listen.PRS pleasantly
It is nice to listen to folk music.
b. Die bouers bou (aan die) huis.
the builders build.PRS on the house
The builders are building the house.
b.' Die huis bou maklik.
the house build.PRS easily
The house is easy to build.

A middle verb may be related to its subject in more than one way. Die nuwe saag the new saw in (27b), for instance, functions as an instrument, while die brandhout the firewood in (27c) undergoes the action and is therefore a patient.

Example 27

a. Hy saag die brandhout met 'n nuwe saag.
he saw.PRS the firewood with a new saw
He saws the firewood with a new saw.
b. Die nuwe saag saag lekker.
the new saw saw.PRS well
The new saw saws well.
c. Die brandhout saag lekker.
the firewood saw.PRS easily
The firewood is easy to saw.
[+]Middle, ergative and intransitive constructions

Verbs like beskadig damage, skuif shift/move, breek break, verkleur discolour and brand burn, be on fire may be described as ergative verbs – "denoting verbs which can be used both transitively and intransitively to describe the same action, with the object in the former case being the subject in the latter, as in I boiled the kettle and the kettle boiled" (Kavanagh 1999). In order to differentiate between a middle construction, an ergative construction and a regular intransitive construction, a distinction will be made here between the terms patient and theme as thematic roles. The patient role will be understood to refer to an entity undergoing action implying an agent, while theme will only refer to an entity involved or participating in some action or activity. (28a) would be interpreted as a middle construction, because beskadig damage is a transitive verb, with pewter as direct object in the role of patient in (28ai). On the other hand, verteer digest, which could be transitive, as in (28bi), or intransitive, as in (28bii), is probably a regular intransitive in (30b) as it is unlikely that the athletes consciously partake in the digestive process.

Example 28

a. Pewter beskadig maklik as dit nie versigtig hanteer word nie.
pewter damage.PRS easily if.CNJ it not carefully handle.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.PRS PTCL.NEG
Pewter is damaged easily if it not handled with care.
a.' Mense beskadig pewter maklik as hulle dit nie versigtig hanteer nie.
people damage.PRS pewter easily if.CNJ they it not carefully handle.PRS PTCL.NEG
People damage pewter easily if they don't handle it with care.
b. Ons eet kos wat maklik verteer voordat ons hardloop.
we eat.PRS food which.REL easily digest.PRS before.CNJ we run
We eat food which digests easily before we run.
b.' Die vlamme verteer die rietdakhuis.
the flames consume.PRS the thatch.roof.house
The flames are consuming the thatched roof house.
b.'' Komkommerslaai verteer nie goed nie.
cucumber.salad digest.PRS not well PTCL.NEG
Cucumber salad does not digest well.

The difference between beskadig as middle verb in (28a) and verteer as regular intransitive in (28bii) only resides in the fact that the thematic role of pewter is patient in the context of (28a), but that of verteer is theme in the context of (28b). In (29a) and (29ai) below, it is unlikely that break functions as a middle verb, since the action is a spontaneous (and unwanted) event rather than an action purposely performed with that effect in mind. Maklik easily is furthermore optional in (29a) and (29ai), while middle verbs are usually accompanied by an evaluative modifier. Pannekoeke pancakes and naels nails are therefore theme rather than patient. (29aii) and (29b) are also clearly intransitive rather than middle constructions, since adverbials such as vanself by themselves and outomaties automatically indicate that no external agentivity is involved. Similarly, verkleur fade, discolour in (29bi) can only be intransitive, even though verkleur can be used transitively, as in (29bii) and (29biii).

Example 29

a. Pannekoeke breek maklik as dit omgekeer word.
pancakes break.PRS easily if.CNJ it over.turn.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.PRS
Pancakes break easily when they are turned over.
Leipzig corpus 1.0, adjusted
a.' Is jou naels los en breek dit maklik?
be.PRS your nails loose and break.PRS it easily
Are your nails loose and do they break easily?
Leipzig corpus 1.0
a.'' Jou pannekoeke breek vanself.
your pancakes break.PRS of.self
Your pancakes break by themselves.
b. 'n sonbril wat outomaties verkleur
(a) sunglasses which.REL automatically discolour.PRS
sunglasses which discolour automatically
b.' Lucinda verkleur net so 'n klein bietjie.
Lucinda discolour.PRS just such a little bit
Lucinda loses colour just a little bit.
b.'' Bewondering verkleur sy oë na helder silwer.
admiration discolour.PRS his eyes to bright silver
Admiration makes his eyes change colour to bright silver.
b.''' 'n Ligte blos verkleur haar satynsagte vel.
a light flush discolour.PRS her satin.soft skin
A light flush makes her satin soft skin change colour.

Intransitives with agentive subjects are excluded as a source of middle constructions as such constructions require non-agentive subjects:

Example 30

Die leeus brul weer.
the lions roar.PRS again
The lions are roaring again.

Sentences (31) and (32) below have all the makings of middle constructions. (31) is ambiguous between active and middle voice for semantic reasons: The thematic roles of agent and instrument, both of which may describe the subject die mes the knife, are both sufficiently agentive to weaken the required contrast between a middle verb and its (non-agentive) subject. However, as (31) and (32) are excerpts from narratives in the historical present, they represent once-off events, which disqualifies them from being middle constructions. The subjects are simply involved in the action, as instrument in the case of (31) and as theme in the case of (32), and no information is divulged about characteristics of the mes knife and houtdeur wooden door, respectively.

Example 31

Die mes sny maklik deur die kabelbinder.
the knife cut.PRS easily through the cable.tie
The knife cuts through the cable tie easily.
NWU Lapa corpus 1.2
Example 32

'n Dubbele houtdeur skuif maklik oop en sy staan in 'n reusevertrek.
a double wood.door slide.PRS easily open and she stand.PRS in a giant.room
A double wooden door slides open easily and she stands in a gigantic room.
NWU Lapa corpus 1.2
[+]Evaluative modification

When an action is predicated to an entity, as typically happens in the middle construction, it may not be clear in what way the action is intended to qualify the subject referent. How is rye bread able to perform slicing, as in (33a), or a rural road able to drive, as in (33b)? Further qualification is usually required in the form of an evaluative modifier. The addition of maklik easily in (33ai) makes it clear that the bread is associated with ease of slicing, and lekker pleasantly in (33bi), indicates that the road makes for good driving.

Example 33

a. *Die rogbrood sny.
the rye.bread slice.PRS
To mean: The rye bread can be sliced.
a.' Die rogbrood sny maklik.
the rye.bread slice.PRS easily
The rye bread is easy to slice.
b. *Die plaaspad ry.
the farm.road drive.PRS
To mean: It is possible to drive on the farm road.
b.' Die plaaspad ry lekker.
the farm.road drive.PRS pleasantly
It is pleasant to drive on the farm road.

An important distinction to be made is between modifiers relating the process to an implied experiencer, such as fantasties fantastic, in (34a), and those which merely modify the process, such as vinnig swiftly in (34b). Sometimes an ambiguity may arise, as maklik easily in (34c) may either refer to the user's experience of using the knife, or the knife's cutting ability.

Example 34

a. Hierdie mes sny fantasties.
this knife cut.PRS fantastically
This knife is fantastic to cut with.
b. Hierdie mes sny vinnig.
this knife cut.PRS swiftly
This knife cuts swiftly.
c. Hierdie mes sny maklik.
this knife cut.PRS easily
This knife is easy to use, or: This knife cuts easily.

In some cases the mere success (or failure) of the action expressed by the verb vis-à-vis the entity it is predicated to is sufficient to characterise the entity in question. The relevance of the verb as qualifier is enhanced by positive or negative polarity (wel indeed or nie not) or by simply placing emphasis on the verb. What is accomplished by the modifier goed well in (35a), is also accomplished by merely stressing the verb, as in (35ai). In (35b) and (35c) the polarity introduced by wel indeed, beslis definitely or emphasis is sufficient to bring about a middle interpretation, as are nooit never in (35d) and ook also in (35di).

Example 35

a. Kaartjies vir die Drienasiereeks verkoop goed.
tickets for the Three Nations Series sell.PRS well
Tickets for the Three Nations Series are selling well.
a.' Hierdie kaartjies verkóóp.
these tickets sell.PRS
These tickets are selling well.
b. Daardie deur sluit wel.
that door lock.PRS indeed
That door can indeed be locked.
b.' Daardie deur slúit.
that door lock.PRS
That door can indeed be locked.
c. Jou ou pen skryf beslis.
your old pen write.PRS definitely
Your old pen can definitely write.
c.' Jou ou pen skryf!
your old pen write.PRS
Your old pen is definitely writing.
d. Kwaliteitsporselein beskadig nooit.
quality.porcelain damage.PRS never
Quality porcelain never gets damaged.
d.' Kwaliteitsporselein beskadig ook.
quality.porcelain damage.PRS also
Quality porcelain also gets damaged.
[+]The experiencer

Given its function as characteriser or qualifier, the middle construction always implies an experiencer. This role is overtly present in (36a) and (38b). In (36a) vir Jan for Jan points to Jan's evaluation of the truth of the statement, i.e. Jan is convinced of the truth of the characterisation embodied in the proposition. In (36b) the characterisation of the music is rendered subject to Jeanette's opinion.

Example 36

a. Hierdie boek lees vir Jan makliker as die vorige.
this book read.PRS for Jan easier than the previous
Jan finds this book easier to read than the previous one.
b. Dié tipe musiek luister.PRS vir Jeanette lekker.
this type music listen for Jeanette pleasant
Jeanette finds this kind of music pleasant to listen to.
[+]Constructional variants

The passive
Middle constructions differ from the passives, as in (37a) and (37b), in not having passive verbal periphrasis as well as in precluding reference to an agent in the form of an agentive deur-phrase, as in (37ai) and (37bi). The latter constraint follows from the fact that middle constructions are focused on characterisation and qualification rather than on action stemming from an agent.

Example 37

a. Die ratte word maklik (deur Marie) gewissel.
the gears be.AUX.PASS.PRS easily (by Marie) change.PST.PTCP
The gears are easily changed by Marie.
a.' Die ratte wissel maklik (*deur Marie).
the gears change.PRS easily (by Marie)
The gears are easily changed by Marie.
b. Sandgrond word baie maklik (deur bouers) gekompakteer.
sand.oil be.AUX.PASS.PRS very easily (by builders) compact.PST.PTCP
Sandy soil can be compacted (by builders) very easily.
b.' Sandgrond ... kompakteer baie maklik (*deur bouers).
sand.soil compact.PRS very easily (by builders),
Sandy soil can be compacted (by builders) very easily.

The thematic relationship of a middle construction subject to the verb is similar to that of a passive construction subject to the verbal periphrasis, cf. (38a), where dit it refers anaphorically to pewter. Beskadig damage appears in a passive construction in (38b), and as transitive verb in (38c). In example (38b) beskadig is used in a passive construction incorporating the modal verb kan can. Kan's reference to 'capability' or 'ability' suggests a semantic correlation with the middle use of beskadig through its constructional meaning of 'characterisation'.

Example 38

a. Pewter beskadig maklik as dit nie versigtig hanteer word nie.
pewter damage.PRS easily if.CNJ it not carefully handle.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.PRS PTCL.NEG
Pewter is easily damaged if it is not handled with care.
b. Plastiek bied goeie sig maar kan maklik beskadig word.
plastic offer.PRS good vision but.CNJ can.AUX.MOD easily damage.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.INF
Plastic offers good vision, but can be damaged easily.
c. Sigaretrook beskadig die lugblasies.
sigarette.smoke damage.PRS the follicles
Sigarette smoke damages the follicles.

The middle construction is closely related to transitive or prepositional object constructions with topicalised subjects. Topicalised constructions resemble the middle construction in that in both cases the focus on a preposed constituent invites characterisation by the rest of the proposition. The use of the nominativehy he in (39ai) and sy she in (39bi) makes it clear that sandgrond sandy soil and hierdie mes this knife are topicalised objects rather than middle subjects. The stranded preposition mee with in (39bi), which would be excluded in a middle construction, indicates that constructions such as (39ai) and (39bi) cannot be considered to be middle constructions, in spite of the fact that the topicalised object is in a way also qualified by the rest of the sentence. However, when topicalisation is reversed and the subject is clearly agentive, as in (39c) and (39ci), these sentences are more likely to express action issuing from the subject referent than having a characterising or qualifying function.

Example 39

a. Sandgrond kompakteer maklik.
sand.soil compact.PRS easily
Sandy soil is easy to compact.
a.' Sandgrond kompakteer hy (die bouer) maklik.
sand.soil compact.PRS he (the builder) easily
He (the builder) compacts sandy soil easily.
b. Hierdie mes sny lekker.
this knife cut.PRS nicely
This knife cuts nicely.
b.' Hierdie mes sny sy lekker mee.
this knife cut.PRS she nicely with
She enjoys cutting with this knife.
c. Hy kompakteer.PRS sandgrond maklik.
he compact sand.soil easily
He compacts sandy soil easily.
c.' Sy sny.PRS lekker met hierdie mes.
she cut nicely with this knife
She enjoys cutting with this knife.

"Maklik/moeilik om te V" (Easy/hard to please)
Another construction resembling the middle construction, is the Maklik/moeilik om te V Easy/hard to V, construction, the subject of which is non-agentive as in the case of middle verbs:

Example 40

Die program is maklik om te installeer.
the program is easy for.COMP PTCL.INF install.INF
The program is easy to install.

In this construction the verb usually expresses a useful outcome or desired result, cf.

Example 41

a. E-boeke is maklik om te lees.
E-books be.PRS easy for.COMP PTCL.INF read.INF
E-books are easy to read.
b. ?Pewter is maklik om te beskadig.
pewter is easy for.COMP PTCL.INF damage.INF
Pewter is easy to damage.

As used in (42a), breek break seems a useful action and breek readily functions as middle verb. In (42b) breek is degenerative, and a middle interpretation unlikely.

Example 42

a. Sandsteen bou maklik want dit breek maklik.
sandstone build.PRS easily because.CNJ it break.PRS easily
Sandstone is easy to build with as it breaks easily.
b. Bros bene breek maklik en groei moeiliker weer aan.
brittle bones break.PRS easily and grow.PRS with.greater.difficulty again on
Brittle bones break easily and join again with greater difficulty.

Adjectival derivations with the suffix -baar -able, as in leesbaar readable and invulbaar able to be filled out closely resemble the usage of lees read and invul fill out as middle verbs:

Example 43

a. maklik leesbare feiteblaaie
easily readable spreadsheets
spreadsheets which can be read easily
a.' Die feiteblaaie lees.PRS maklik.
the spreadsheets read easily
The spreadsheets are easy to read.
b. 'n maklik invulbare vormtestament
an easily completeable form.will
a will form which is easy to complete
b.' Die vormtestament vul maklik in.
the form.will fill.PRS easily out
The will form is easy to fill out.

Several of the -baar derivations listed by Combrink and Dodds (1984) Combrink and Dodds seem amenable to being used in middle constructions. In many cases these verbs may be typified as 'producing a useful or desired result in an appropriate context'. This, in turn, may indicate that middle verbs are, in their characterising or qualifying function, resultative in nature. Examples: oorreedbaar able to be convinced, smeebaar forgeable, verskuifbaar moveable, ploegbaar ploughable, skeibaar separable, drinkbaar drinkable, verhandelbaar negotiable, telbaar countable, herstelbaar reparable, verkoopbaar sellable, etc.

Attributive present participles
Verbs may function as middle verbs when attributively used as present participles, e.g.

Example 44

Die skoene loop lekker: die lekker lopende skoene
the shoes walk.PRS comfortably: the comfortably walking.PRS.PTCP.ATTR shoes
The shoes are comfortable to walk with: the shoes comfortable to walk with

This format is, however, seldom used, as noun phrases are not easily extended to include an evaluative modifier, such as lekker in the above, and because the head is typically in an agentive relationship with the participle. A middle interpretation is possible in the following cases:

Example 45

a. Die fiets ry lekker: 'n lekker ryende fiets
the bicycle ride.PRS comfortably: a comfortably ride.PRS.PTCP.ATTR bicycle
The bicycle is comfortable to ride on: a bicyle which rides comfortably
b. Die vliegtuig hanteer maklik: 'n maklik hanterende vliegtuig
the aeroplane handle.PRS easily: an easily handle.PRS.PTCP.ATTR aeroplane
The aeroplane is easy to handle: an aeroplane which is easily handled
c. Die geweer skiet akkuraat: 'n akkuraat skietende geweer
the rifle shoot.PRS accurately: an accurately shoot.PRS.PTCP.ATTR rifle
The rifle shoots accurately: a rifle which shoots accurately
d. Die huise verkoop goed: die goed verkopende huise
the houses.PRS sell well: the well sell.PRS.PTCP.ATTR houses
The houses sell well: the houses which sell well

Verkoop sell is one of a few verbs that may be used as a middle verb without an evaluative modifier. Therefore:

Example 46

Die huise verkoop: die verkopende huise (is in die minderheid)
the houses sell.PRS: the sell.PRS.PTCP.ATTR houses (be.PRS in the minority)
The houses are selling: the houses which sell (are in the minority)

The following seem doubtful:

Example 47

a. Die ratte wissel: ?die maklik wisselende ratte
the gears change.PRS: the easily change.PRS.PTCP.ATTR gears
The gears change: the gears which change easily
b. Die motor bestuur maklik: ?die maklik besturende motor
the car drive.PRS easily: the easily drive.PRS.PTCP.ATTR car
The car is easy to drive: the car which is easy to drive

Attributive past participles
Middle verbs in attributive past participle constructions are restricted to instances where the head is in an object or prepositional object relation to the action expressed by the participle, e.g.

Example 48

a. Die huise verkoop goed: die goed verkoopte huise
the houses sell.PRS well: the well sell.PST.PTCP.ATTR houses
The houses sell well: the houses which were sold well
b. Die bome verplant maklik: die maklik verplante bome
the trees transplant.PRS easily: the easily transplant.PST.PTCP.ATTR trees
The trees are easily transplanted: the trees which were easily transplanted
c. Die boek lees maklik: 'n maklik gelese/geleeste boek
the book read.PRS easily: an easily read.PST.PTCP.ATTR book
The book is easy to read: a book which was read easily

However, while the head of the participial construction may reflect the subject-verb relationship of the middle construction, the adverbial qualifier of the former relates differently to the head. In the middle construction in (48a) the evaluative modifier goed qualifies the sellability of the houses (hinting at the number of houses sold), whereas goed in the participial construction suggests that the houses were sold at a good price. While maklik in the participial construction in (48b) and (48c) modifies the action of transplanting and reading, respectively, it mainly characterises bome and boek in respect to verbal action in the middle construction. While the middle verbs verkoop, verplant and lees in (48a), (48b) and (48c), respectively, qualify their subjects, the corresponding participles mainly describe completed action with the head undergoing the action. This accords with Butler's (2016:83) view "that the participle form only profiles all the states of the process as they unfold". It seems that 'n maklik gelese/geleeste boek a book which was read easily may be understood both in the participial sense of 'a book that was easy to read', with a perfective interpretation matching the middle function, and in the passive sense of 'a book that is easily read'. The verb lees read differs from verkoop sell and verplant transplant in being aspectually durative, while they are terminative.

The reflexive middle
The reflexive middle construction ((49a) in Dutch (cf. Broekhuis et al. 2015) is mainly used in Afrikaans in reflexive constructions with human referents, as in (49b) and (49c).

Example 49

a. De oplossing laat zich gemakkelijk raden.
the solution let.LINK itself.REFL easily guess.INF
It is easy to guess what the solution is.
b. Gertjan laat hom teësinnig ompraat.
Gertjan let.LINK him.REFL reluctantly persuade.INF
Reluctantly, Gertjan allows himself to be persuaded.
c. Karl laat hom nie so maklik afsit nie.
Karl let.LINK him.REFL not so easily dissuade.INF PTCL.NEG
Karl is not dissuaded so easily.

The impersonal middle
The Dutch impersonal middle(cf. Broekhuis et al. 2015), as in (50a), is not used in Afrikaans.

Example 50

a. Het zit gemakkelijk op deze stoel.
it sit.PRS easily on this chair
This chair is easy to sit on.
b. *Dit sit gemaklik op hierdie stoel.
it sit.PRS easily on this chair
To mean: This chair is easy to sit on.
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
  • Butler, A2016Die deelwoord as 'n ánder vorm van die werkwoord.Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe5681-101,
  • Combrink, J.G.H. & Dodds, R.McD1984Retrograde woordeboek van Afrikaans.
  • De Villiers, M1975Die semantiek van Afrikaans.HAUM
  • Kavanagh, K1999South African Concise Oxford DictionaryOxfordOxford University Press
  • Van Schoor, J.L1983Die grammatika van standaard-Afrikaans.Lex Patria
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