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Complementation of the PP

Depending on the position (or presence) of the complement, four types of adpositions can be distinguished.

  • Adpositions taking a complement on the right – prepositions
  • Adpositions taking a complement on the left – postpositions
  • Adpositions occurring in tandem, one preceding and one following the complement – circumpositions
  • Adpositions which occur without complements – intransitive adpositions

In the following section, these categories are dealt with in turn.


The first type of adposition, prepositions, takes a complement on the right. Prepositions can take complements that are noun phrases (NP), clauses or adposition phrases (PP). An example of a complement of the category NP (in square brackets) is given below:

Example 1

in [die tuin]
in the garden
in the garden

Group adpositions form a category composed of a preposition, followed by a set complement, and another prepositional phrase in which the complement (typically a noun or adverb) represents a variable element. In the example below, the group adposition phrase is marked by square brackets:

Example 2

a. Jy kan hierdie databasis [aan die hand van 'n aantal indekse] deursoek.
you can.AUX.MOD this database [at the hand of a number indices] search
You can search this database on the basis of a number of indices.
VivA-KPO (adapted)

The two prepositions (aan at and van of) are each followed by a NP (die hand the hand and 'n aantal indekse a number of indices), respectively.

A second type of adposition, postpositions, take a complement on the left. Postpositions generally take noun phrases or adverbial phrases as complements. Postpositions may denote a relation, as in the case of prepositions, or locality. Two examples have been given below, in which the complement has been bracketed:

Example 3

a. [die inflasionêre toestande] ten spyt
[the inflationary conditions] at.the spite
despite the inflationary conditions
b. [Kaap se kant] toe
[Cape PTCL.GEN side] to
in the direction of Cape Town

Two adpositions may occur simultaneously, one in front of and another after the complement, which are mostly adverbs or noun phrases. Since they in fact surround the complement, they are called circumpositions. Examples of circumpositions, accentuated, with the complement in square brackets, are the following:

Example 4

van [nou] af
from [now ] off
from now on

As in the previous example, circumpositional phrases may be semantically denotative. This is also the case in the next example, in which the complement is a noun phrase:

Example 5

onderhandelings wat van [verlede maand] af aan die gang is
negotiations that.REL from [last month] of on the course be.PRS
negotiations which have been conducted since last month

However, a number of circumpositional phrases represent idiomatic expressions, as in this example:

Example 6

Op [die oog] af lyk dinge nog kalm.
on [the eye] off look things still calm
From all appearances, things still seem to be calm.

Intransitive adpositions
Lastly, there are adpositions which apparently do not take a complement, also called intransitive adpositions. In Afrikaans, certain prepositions have an isomorphic equivalent in the form of an adverb, as in the following two examples, in which the preposition bo above occurs in (7a), and the adverb in (7b).

Example 7

a. Die son is bo [die horison].
the sun be.PRS above [the horison]
The sun is above the horizon.
b. Die son is bo.
the sun be.PRS above
The sun is above.

This phenomenon is particularly evident in phrasal verbs, for example verby+skiet to shoot past. The adverbial use of verby past is illustrated firstly in (8a), followed by the prepositional use of the word in (8b), which is complemented by the NP.

Example 8

a. Etlike motors skiet verby.
Several cars shoot past.
b. Die vliegtuig skiet verby [die aanloopbaan].
The airplane shoots past the runway.

In the following sections, the various structural types of PP complements will be dealt with:

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Group adposition constructions

Group adpositions, also referred to as multi-word prepositions (see discussion in Prepositions) can be analysed into a prepositional phrase, which consists of a preposition plus a fixed complement, and another prepositional phrase in which the complement (typically a noun or adverb) represents a variable element.

In the table below, a number of group adpositions, accentuated, are listed:

Table 1
Group adposition phrase Translation
aan die hand van die voorbeelde on the basis of the examples
aan weerskante van die spoorlyn on both sides of the railway line
by gebrek aan iets beters for lack of something better
by wyse van 'n voorstel by way of a proposal
deur middel van kort kursusse by means of short courses
in aansluiting by jou voorstel further to your proposal
in antwoord op sy vraag in answer to his question
in die lig van die jongste ooreenkoms in (the) light of the latest agreement
in oorleg met die bestuur in consultation with management
in plaas van 'n vakansie instead of a vacation
in samewerking met die plaaslike bevolking in collaboration with the local population
in stede van 'n wins instead of a profit
in terme van hierdie besluit in terms of this decision
in verband met hierdie saak in connection with this matter
in vergelyking met sy vorige publikasie in comparison to his previous publication
in weerwil van die ondergrawery nothwithstanding the subversion
met behulp van 'n yspik with the help of an ice pick
met betrekking tot my opdrag with reference to my instruction
met verwysing na die ongeluksyfer with reference to the accident toll
na aanleiding van sy vorige aansoek arising from his previous application
na gelang van omstandighede in accordance with circumstances
op grond van goeie gedrag on the grounds of good behaviour
op krag van 'n amptelike dokument on the strength of an official document
te midde van die rumoer in the midst of (amid) the noise
ten bate van die Suiderkruisfonds on behalf of the Southern Cross Fund
ten behoewe van die kinderhospitaal on behalf of the children’s hospital
ten gevolge van hulle versuim as a result of their neglect
ten grondslag van die hele skema at the basis of the whole scheme
ten gunste van die beskuldigde in favour of the accused
ten koste van sy gesondheid at the expense of his health
ten nadele van sy gesin to the detriment of his family
ten opsigte van hierdie saak with regard to this matter
ten spyte van al sy pogings in spite of all his attempts
ten tye van die vertoning at the time of the performance
ter wille van beter verhoudings for the sake of beter relations
uit hoofde van sy posisie as direkteur by virtue of his position as director

In a restricted number of cases, the second component can be omitted when the complement is not relevant, resulting in a simplex PP:

Example 9

a. Ons doen dit uit verset teen die voorgestelde wetgewing.
we do it out resistance against the proposed legislation
We are doing it in resistance to the proposed legislation.
b. Ons doen dit uit verset.
we do it out resistance
We are doing it by way of resistance.

An interesting contrast is that between the group adposition phrase ter wille van hom for his sake and the reduced form (without the second PP) ter wille, as illustrated below:

Example 10

a. Sy het dit ter wille van hom gedoen.
she have.AUX it for.the sake of him do.PST
She did it for his sake.
b. om hom ter wille te wees
for.COMP him for.the sake PTCL.INT be.INF
to oblige him

In most cases, however, the adposition phrase requires a complement, as in these examples:

Example 11

a. Hy toets die hipotese by wyse van 'n eksperiment.
he test the hypothesis by way of an experiment
He tests the hypothesis by way of an experiment.
b. *Hy toets die hipotese by wyse.
he test the hypothesis by way
*He tests the hypothesis by way of.

In the following example, the requirement seems to be language-specific, so that, in comparison with the Afrikaans restriction, in English the omission is possible:

Example 12

a. Jy moet gesond eet in plaas van om jouself uit te honger.
you must.AUX.MOD healthily eat in place of for.COMP yourself out PTCL.INF hunger
You must eat healthily instead of starving yourself.
b. *Jy moet gesond eet in plaas.
you must.AUX.MOD healthily eat in stead
You must eat healthily instead.

The extent to which the first PP has either been (a) consolidated into a unit on the one hand, or (b) retain a prepositional relation with the noun complement on the other, will determine whether the relevant noun could accommodate a premodifier. Hence, in the case of (a) such expansions (in square brackets below) are possible:

Table 2
Expanded complement Translation
in [noue] samewerking met in [close] cooperation with
onder die [strenge] beheer van under the [strict] control of
in [die klaarblyklike] afwesigheid van in [the obvious] absence of
op [sterk] aandrang van at the [strong] insistence of
deur [die vriendelike] bemiddeling van through [the friendly] instrumentality of

Premodifiers are, however, not possible in strongly integrated PPs, alluded to in (b) above, which, although orthographically separated, form a semantic unit. In the table below, the ungrammatical insertion of premodifiers (in square brackets) are exemplified:

Table 3
Integrated PP With premodifier Translation
by wyse van *by [beproefde] wyse van *by [proven] way of
deur middel van *deur [goeie] middel van *by [good] means of
in weerwil van *in [onteenseglike] weerwil van *in [undeniable] spite of
op grond van *op [bewese] grond van *on the [established] grounds of
ten grondslag van ten [vaste] grondslag van *on the [solid] foundation of
in geval van *in [besliste] geval van *in [definite] case of
ten behoewe van *ten [uitsluitlike] behoewe van *on the [exclusive] behalf of

In English, univerbation (i.e. orthographic fusion) has indeed taken place in the case of instead (Afrikaans in stede van), while in certain cases, the preposition is omitted in Afrikaans colloquial speech, as in:

Example 13

Plaas van môre, kan jy vandag kom.
'stead of tomorrow can.AUX.MOD you today come
Instead of tomorrow, you can come today.

The separability of the first and second components of the group adposition phrase can be demonstrated by means of the insertion of sentential adverbs:

Example 14

a. ter wille dus van groter helderheid
for.the sake hence of greater clarity
hence, for the sake of greater clarity
b. by gebrek egter aan 'n presedent
by lack however at a precedent
however, for lack of a precedent
c. ten spyte dus van jou pogings
in spite, therefore, of your attempts

This can be corroborated by the presence of R-pronouns (the pronominal hier/daar here/there) between the first and second components:

Example 15

a. ter wille hiervan
for.the sake R·of
for the sake of this
b. by gebrek daaraan
by lack R·to
for lack of that
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