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Infinitive complement clauses: lexical and semantic associations

The most frequent use of the full infinitive complement clause is as object clause of a range of verbs. One major subset of verbs, like aansêtell, beveelcommand, smeekbeg, soebatbeg, vermaanadmonish, vraask, and waarskuwarn, introduces indirect commands, where the complement clause encodes the action that the subject directs the addressee to perform, as illustrated by example (1).

Example 1

Dlamini het motoriste gevra om op die uitkyk te wees vir konstruksiewerkers.
Dlamini have.AUX motorists PST.PTCP-ask COMP on the lookout to be.INF for construction-workers
Dlamini asked motorists to be on the lookout for construction workers.

The other major subset of verbs are mental verbs, where the complement clause encodes an irrealis proposition, not tied to a specific event. Typical verbs are dinkthink, onthouremember, and vergeetforget. This use is illustrated by example (2).

Example 2

Het sy onthou om badseep in te pak?
have.AUX she remember.PST.PTCP COMP bath-soap in to pack.INF
Did she remember to pack the bath soap?

When the full infinitive clause is used as subject or predicate clause, it combines with the copular verb weesbe in the vast majority of cases, as illustrated by example (3). A smaller number of idiomatic expressions also combine with subject clauses, such as [Dit neem TYD + Subject Clause]It takes TIME + Subject Clause, as illustrated by example (4), or [Dit kos GELD + Subject Clause]It costs MONEY + Subject Clause.

Example 3

Dit was regtig moeilik om haar te klop.
it be.PST really difficult COMP her to beat.INF
It was really difficult to beat her.
Example 4

Dit het lank geneem om die jagkonsessies gereël te kry.
it have.AUX long PST-PTCP-take COMP the hunting-concessions PST.PTCP-organise to get.INF
It has taken long to organise the hunting concessions.

The predicates that combine with subject clauses convey in the first instance, evaluative meanings, as illustrated by (5), but extends to other meanings, such as importance, as illustrated by (6). Typical adjectives that function as copular predicates are moeilikdifficult, maklikeasy, and lekkernice, while belangrikimportant, moontlikpossible, and onmoontlikimpossible are the most frequent adjectives that extend beyond evaluative meanings.

Example 5

Dis lekker om bietjie gepamperlang te word.
it-be.PRS nice COMP little PST.PTCP-spoil to be.INF
It's nice to be spoiled a bit.
Example 6

Dit is belangrik om die paaie in stand te hou.
it be.PRS important COMP the roads in condition to hold
It is important to maintain the roads.

Bare infinitives combine with aspectual verbs such as beginbegin, aanhoucontinue, and ophoustop. They also combine with causative verbs like helphelp, laatlet, and maakmake, where help allows combination with both bare infinitives and the full infinitive, as exemplified by (7).

Example 7

a. Die kinders sal ook moet help dra.
the children shall also must help carry.INF
The children will also have to help carry.
b. Parker moet hulle help om te verhuis.
Parker must them help COMP to move.INF
Parker must help them to move to the new house.

In addition, bare infinitives combine productively with linking verbs, of which Afrikaans distinguishes a set of indirect linking verbs, which take the pattern [VERB.link + en + (X) + VERB.inf] containing the conjunction enand, and direct linking verbs, which take the pattern [VERB.link + (X) + VERB.inf]. The most typical indirect linking verbs are lie, loopwalk, sitsit, and staanstand, which are all postural verbs, and often convey aspectual meanings too, as illustrated by (8).

Example 8

Hy kon skaars loop en praat.
he could barely walk and talk.INF
He could barely carry on talking.
TK, adjusted

The direct linking verbs are semantically more diverse. Ponelis (1979: 242) groups causative verbs with them, but the latter form a separate class with other semantic properties. The remaining verbs are especially komcome, illustrated by example (9), and gaango, but also includes such verbs as bastado not, leerlearn and probeertry.

Example 9

Klara kom vir Heidi kuier.
Klara come.PRS for Heidi visit.INF
Klara comes to visit Heidi.
[+] Introduction

Full infinitive object clauses serve two main functions, which are usually made clear by the complement-taking verb: indirect or reported commands dictated by verbs with directive meanings, or else mental verbs which allow the speaker or writer to introduce a complement clause that is not temporally or modally grounded, and there receives an irrealis reading. These two major functions and the verbs that encode them, are set out in more detail below.

Infinitive subject clauses in combination with a set of adjectival or nominal predicates encode evaluative meanings and meanings of the importance or desirability of the proposition contained by the infinitive complement clause. The semantic classes and the typical predicates are presented in more detail. Beside these, a number of idiomatic expressions also take subject clauses.

While the te-infinitive is of limited productivity, there are still a number of patterns and semantic associations that can be identified, ranging from expressions that function like complex prepositions to expressions closer to their verbal roots, conveying transactional or mental meanings. A number of verbs other than the verb isbe.PRS also take te-infinitive complements.

Finally, a number of verbs allow variability in the type of infinitive complement clause that they select – either the full infinitive or the bare infinitive, and in a few cases even the te-infinitive or the accusative and infinitive construction. The verbs that display such variability are certain aspectual and causative verbs.

[+] Reported speech and directive speech acts

The traditional view that complement clauses are used to encode reported commands is not the complete picture, as pointed out by Van Schoor (1983: 344). Very few of the observed instances in the Taalkommissiekorpus can be rewritten in such a way that a command sentence can be recovered from the full sentence containing a subject, the issuer of the command, a main verb that conveys something about the manner in which the commend was given, and then the actual command in the complement clause. It is possible, as shown by example (10), but quite rare, and links to a very small number of verbs, most particularly beveelcommand.

Example 10

Die rowers het die bestuurder van die restaurant beveel om hulle na die kluis te neem.
the robbers have.AUX the manager of the restaurant command.PST.PTCP COMP them to the safe to take.INF
The robbers commanded the manager of the restaurant to take them to the safe.
TK, adjusted

In combination with a much larger selection of verbs that convey a sense of command or request (functioning as performative verbs in terms of speech act theory), the infinitive object complement clause construction is used to encode the desired action to be performed. This is illustrated by example (11) and (12). The verbs that are used most often in the matrix clause to encode the directive meaning are: aanbeveelrecommend, aansêtell, afspreekarrange, beveelcommand, onthouremember, smeekplead, soebatcoax, vermaanadmonish, vraask, and waarskuwarn.

Example 11

’n Klousule in sy kontrak verplig SA rugby om eers met hom te onderhandel.
a clause in his contract oblige.PRS SA rugby COMP first with him to negotiate.INF
A clause in his contract obliges SA rugby to negotiate with him first.
TK, adjusted
Example 12

Ons het mense nou verbied om enigsins self besprekings te maak.
we have.AUX people now prohibit.PST.PTCP COMP at.all self bookings to make.INF
We have now told people not to make bookings themselves at all.

Some of the matrix verbs are more typically associated with finite complement clauses, such as dinkthink, vraask, or say, but when they combine with an infinitive complement clause, the construction as a whole changes from either an assertion or indirect question into a directive. The difference is illustrated by the contrasting pairs in example (13) and (14).

Example 13

a. Die veldkornet sê vir my om vir die man te gaan water skep in die rivier.
the field-cornet say.PRS for me COMP for the man to go.INF water scoop.INF in the river
The field-cornet tells me to go fetch water in the river for the man.
b. Hy sê dat hy dan maar sal opereer om die duif uit te haal.
he say.PRS COMP he then but will operate COMP the pigeon out to take.INF
He says the he will just have to operate to remove the pigeon.
Example 14

a. Elzette het haar gevra om na hom te kyk.
Elzette have.AUX her PST.PTCP-ask COMP after him to look.INF
Elzette asked her to look after him.
b. Ek het hom toe gevra hoe hy voel oor sy vrylating.
I have.AUX him then PST.PTCP-ask how he feel.PRS about his release
I then asked him how he felt about his release.
[+] Object clauses introduced by mental predicates

When mental verbs are used in the matrix clause, the complement clause does not usually encode a directive, but rather reports on a thought that the subject has. In many cases, the construction encodes the illocutionary effect of commissive, where the subject of the main clauses commits him/herself to realise the state of affairs encoded by the complement clause in the future. This is most transparently the case with the verb beloofpromise (variant belowe), as illustrated by example (15) and (16).

Example 15

Hulle het beloof [om my kind terug te bring] as ek die oorblywende geld sou betaal.
they have.AUX promise.PST.PTCP COMP my child back to bring.INF if I the remaining money would pay
They promised to return my child if I would pay the remaining money
Example 16

Die TAC het belowe om kommentaar te lewer.
the TAC have.AUX promise.PST.PTCP COMP commentary to give.INF
The TAC promised to comment on this.

Other mental verbs that are also frequently used with an infinitive complement clause include besluitdecide and vergeetforget. In the case of besluitdecide, as shown in example (17), there is a similar commissive reading. When negated, vergeetforget functions as synonym from the assertive onthouremember, to encode an indirect command, but when used in the positive sense, it indicates something that was actually forgotten, and may often refer to a desirable state of affairs that was not realised in the past. The contrast between the two uses of vergeetvergeet is shown in example (18).

Example 17

Ons het besluit om 'n lae profiel te handhaaf.
we have.AUX decide.PST.PTCP COMP a low profile to maintain.INF
We decided to maintain a low profile.
TK, adjusted
Example 18

a. Moenie vergeet om genoeg water te drink nie.
must.NEG forget COMP enough water to drink.INF NEG
Don't forget to drink enough water.
b. Ek het ook vergeet om my roepees te wissel.
I have.AUX also forget COMP my rupees to exchange.INF
I also forgot to exchange my rupees.
[+] Predicates of infinitive subject clauses

The most frequent semantic association of infinitive subject clauses is evaluative meanings. The infinitive clause presents a state of affairs, usually hypothetical, and the predicate of the copular verb encodes a particular evaluation of the state of affairs, as illustrated by (19) and (20). Frequent evaluative adjectives are moeilikdifficult, maklikeasy, nodignecessary, lekkernice and goedgood, as well as the related words inflected for degrees of comparison, such as beterbetter, moeilikermore difficult, or maklikereasier. In the analysed sample, the comparative form beterbetter, illustrated by example (21), is more frequent than the basic level adjective goedgood. Other comparative and superlative forms are less frequent than the uninflected adjective forms.

Example 19

Dis moeilik om nie met haar simpatie te hê nie.
it.is difficult COMP NEG with her sympathy to have.INF NEG
It's hard not to have sympathy with her.
Example 20

Dis tog so maklik om negatief en swartgallig te wees.
it-be.PRS after.all so easy COMP negative and pessimistic to be.INF
It's so easy, after all, to be negative and pessimistic.
Example 21

Dis beter om jou tot die werklikheid te beperk.
it-be.PRS better COMP you to the reality to limit.INF
It's better to restrict oneself to the reality.

A subset of uses of the infinitive subject clause is in combination with the predicate adjective belangrikimportant, illustrated by example (6), or in rare cases also the preposition phrase van belangof importance, as exemplified by (22).

Example 22

[Om mag en beheer oor sy metgesel uit te oefen], is vir die geweldenaar van wesentlike belang.
COMP power and control over his companion out to exercise.INF be.PRS for the tormentor of fundamental interest
To exercise control over his companion is of fundamental importance to the tormentor.

Epistemic predicates combine more frequently with finite subject clauses, but there are also cases with epistemic predicates, especially moontlikpossible and onmoontlikimpossible, used with the dit-extraposition variant, as exemplified by (23) and (24).

Example 23

Dit was nie vir ons moontlik om Wimpie se toergeld te betaal nie.
it be.PST NEG for us possible COMP Wimpie GEN tour-fee to pay.INF NEG
It was not possible for us to pay Wimpie's tour fee.
Example 24

Dit is onmoontlik om misdaadstatistieke by polisiekantore te bekom.
it be.PRS impossible COMP crime-statistics at police-offices to gather.INF
It is impossible to gather crime statistics from the police offices.
TK, adjusted

Two idiomatic expressions are also frequently found with the dit-extrapostion variant, although both of these should best be regarded as lexically specific constructions with some flexibility, and not as fully fixed idioms. These are the expressions [dit neem TYD + infinitive subject clause]it takes TIME + infinitive subject clause and [dit kos GELD + infinitive subject clause]it costs MONEY + infinitive subject clause. The range of available verbs is not very large, but the expression representing TIME and MONEY is more open-ended. Typical examples are given in (25) to (27), while example (28) shows that the constructions can also be used with the clause-initial variant.

Example 25

Dit neem 'n honderd jaar vir 'n eik om sy takke oor 'n werf te gooi.
it take a hundred year for an oak COMP its branches over a yard to cast.INF
It takes a hundred years for an oak tree to cover a yard with its branches.
Example 26

Dit vat hom nie lank om die trekker reg te maak nie.
it take him NEG long COMP the tractor ready to make.INF NEG
It does not take him long to fix the tractor.
Example 27

Dit kos deesdae R10 per dag om by die OR Tambo-lughawe in Johannesburg te parkeer.
it cost these-days R10 per day COMP at the OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg to park.INF
These days it costs R10 per day to park at the OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg.
Example 28

Om vandag een motor te bou wat met 'n waterstofgedrewe brandstofsel werk, kos meer as R7 miljoen.
COMP today one motor.vehicle to build.INF that with a hydrogen-driven fuel-system work cost more than R7 million
To build a car that runs on a hydrogen propelled fuel system today costs more than R7 million.

The clause-initial variant of the subject clause is syntactically much more flexible than the dit-extraposition variant. In many cases, such an initial infinitive clause is explained by the verb and predicate, with constructions taking a much wider array of main verbs. Among the most frequent choices are the verbs betekenmean, as exemplified by (29) and (30), which equates the subject clause with the verb predicate, and maakmake, as exemplified by (31), which introduces a resultative meaning. As also shown by examples (29) to (31), the subject clause in this type of copular construction is often complemented by a clausal predicate as well, finite as in (29) and (31), but also infinitive as in (30).

Example 29

Om dit te ondermyn beteken dat een van die pilare van die demokrasie ondermyn word.
COMP it to undermine.INF mean COMP one of the pilars of the democracy undermine.PST.PTCP become.AUX
To undermine this means that one of the pilars of democracy is undermined.
Example 30

Om ouer te word, beteken vir my om 'n beter sin vir proporsie te kry.
COMP older to become.INF mean.PRS for me COMP a better sense for proportion to get.INF
To become older to me means to get a better sense of proportion.
Example 31

Om 'n parodie te skryf, aldus Bakhtin, maak ons nie alleen linguisties bewus nie, maar beklemtoon ook dat ons binne-in 'n boek is.
COMP a parody to write.INF according.to Bakhtin make us NEG only linguistically aware NEG but emphasise also COMP we inside-in a book be.PRS
To write a parody, according to Bakhtin, not only makes us linguistically aware, but also emphasises that we are inside a book.
[+] Idiomatic expressions taking the te-infinitive

The infinitive form with particle te but without complementiser om is not a very productive construction in Afrikaans anymore, although it has not yet reached the point where it is impossible to use it with novel main verbs. A number of expressions using the te-infinitive function like complex prepositions rather than complement clauses, especially te danke (aan)thanks to and te wyte (aan)due to, as exemplified by (32) and (33), which form a neat contrasting pair with a positive and negative sentiment conveyed in the attribution of causality. These two verbs show the archaic Dutch infinitive inflection, spelled only with the letter [-e] in Afrikaans, rather than the Dutch [-en]. They are not used without the inflection.

Example 32

Die sterk geur van speserye is te danke aan vlugtige olies wat in dié plante aanwesig is.
the strong flavour of spices be.PRS to thank-INF to volatile oils that in these plants present be.PRS
The strong aroma of spices is thanks to volatile oils that are present in these plants.
Example 33

Die toename is te wyte aan ’n kombinasie van faktore.
the increase is to attribute-INF to a combination of factors
The increase is due to a combination of factors.

Other verbs forms that are frequently selected for this construction form two subsets. The first subset relates to acquisition of property or the use of property, such as koopbuy, huurrent, kryget, gebruikuse, and doenencounter, illustrated by example (34) and (35).

Example 34

Al hierdie werke is te koop teen baie redelike pryse.
all these works be.PRS to buy.INF at very reasonable prices
All these works are for sale at very reasonable prices.
TK, adjusted
Example 35

Seewaterlisensies is te kry by die naaste poskantoor.
sea-water-licences be.PRS to obtain.INF at the nearest post-office
Deep sea angling licences can be obtained at the nearest post office.

The second subset includes mainly mental verbs that either indicate understanding (siensee, verstaneunderstand, begrypegrasp, betwyfelbe doubted, bespeurbe noticed, blameerblame), exemplified by (36) and (37), or expectation (hopehope, verwagteexpect, verwelkomwelcome, wagtewait, bevraagtekenquestion), exemplified by (38) and (39). These forms usually also take the inflectional [-e], although a few exceptions are noted where the inflection is not added.

Example 36

Die oorsponklike een is te sien in die Skeepswrakmuseum op die nabygeleë Bredasdorp.
the original one be.PRS to see.INF in the shipwreck-museum at the nearby Bredasdorp
The original one can be seen at the Shipwreck museum in the nearby Bredasdorp.
Example 37

Of dit genoeg sal wees, is te betwyfel.
COMP it enough will be.INF be.PRS to doubt.INF
If it will be enough is doubtful
Example 38

Dit is te verwagte dat die grootste behoefte aanvanklik op grade 4-6 vlak sal wees.
it be.PRS to expect-INF COMP the greatest need initially on grades 4-6 level will be.INF
It is expected that the greatest need will initially be on grade 4-6 level.
Example 39

Dit is te hope dat hulle dit in die tweede beurt sal bybring.
it be.PRS to hope-INF COMP they it in the second innings will add
It is to be hoped that they will catch up in the second innings.
[+] Verbs taking te-infinitive complement clauses

Apart from the lexical options for main verbs in infinitive clauses, which typically combine with the copular verb isbe.PRS, a number of other verbs – copular, modal or aspectual, also take te-infinitive complements (Robbers 1997: 89).

The copular verbs blykappear and skynseem take either a finite complement clause with overt complementiser datthat (main option for blykappear) or ofif/whether (main option for skynseem), or else a te-infinitive complement clause, as illustrated by example (40) and (41). The combination with the infinitive is characterised as quite formal by Ponelis (1979: 248), as opposed to finite complementation, which is the more frequent and unmarked option.

Example 40

Dit blyk egter ’n druppel aan die emmer te wees.
it appear however a drop in the bucket to be.INF
It appears, however, to be only a drop in the ocean.
Example 41

Dit skyn juis genoeg te wees.
it seem exactly enough to be.INF
It does indeed seem to be enough.

The modal verbs behoortought (to) and hoefneed take the te-infinitive as well, as illustrated by example (42) and (43). The modal hoef typically collocates with contexts of negation, like its English equivalent need.

Example 42

Jy behoort die antwoorde te ken.
you ought the answers to know.INF
You ought to know the answers.
Example 43

Hulle hoef nie ver te soek nie.
they need NEG far to seek.INF NEG
They need not look far.

The aspectual verb beginbegin has as one of its complementation options the te-infinitive as well, as shown by example (44) although this verb is also found with bare infinitives, as in (45) or full infinitives, as in (46). The data from the Afrikaans Historical Corpus show that the te-infinitive is losing ground, with the bare infinitive increasing in frequency over time. The full infinitive with beginbegin seems like a low frequency variant throughout the 20th and 21st century.

Example 44

Sy tong begin al te sleep.
His tongue begin already to drag.INF
His speech is already beginning to slur.
AHC, adjusted
Example 45

Sy begin haar verdiep in haar werk.
She begin her immerse.INF in her work
She begins to immerse herself in her work.
AHC, adjusted
Example 46

Hulle het begin om hulle huise te herstel.
they have.AUX begin.PST.PTCP COMP their houses to repair.INF
They began to repair their homes.
AHC, adjusted
[+] Variability in infinitive complement clause selection

A number of verbs allow variability in the type of infinitive complement clause that they select – either the full infinitive or the bare infinitive, and in a few cases even the te-infinitive or the accusative and infinitive construction. Ponelis (1979: 254-256) points to ongoing grammaticalisation of these verbs in Afrikaans, where they take full infinitive clauses as their complements when they are still used as matrix verbs, but when downgraded to auxiliary status, they are complemented by bare infinitive clauses which function as the semantic heads of the [auxiliary + verb] construction.

Aspectual verbs that show variability in the type of infinitive clause they take are verbs like beginbegin, aanhoucontinue, and ophoustop. As shown in example (44) to (46), beginbegin allows for all three types of infinitive complements, while aanhoucontinue and ophoustop only take the bare infinitive or the full infinitive, as exemplified by (47) and (48).

Example 47

a. Ons kan nie aanhou koop nie.
we can NEG continue buy.INF NEG
We can't continue to buy.
b. Jy hou aan om jouself te bevraagteken.
you hold on COMP yourself to question.INF
You continue to question/doubt yourself.
Example 48

a. Nou kan ons maar ophou speel.
now can we but stop play.INF
We can just as well stop playing.
b. Ons moet ophou om die duisternis te vervloek.
we must stop COMP the darkness to curse.INF
We must stop cursing the darkness.

The aspectual verb helphelp and the verbs leerlearn and probeertry that are ambiguous between aspectual (inceptive) and causative readings also display similar variability, as shown in example (49) for probeertry. The historical trend, according to Ponelis (1979) is for the bare infinitive to become more dominant as grammaticalisation runs its course. However, the data in the Afrikaans historical corpus do not paint such a clear-cut picture. The bare infinitive is indeed on the rise with probeertry, but the full infinitive is on the rise as far as ophoustop and aanhoucontinue are concerned. There are also contexts where only one of the two variants appears to be idiomatic and the alternative variants seems unlikely, as is the case for the two instances of probeertry in (49). Broadly speaking, the bare infinitive usually conveys a sense of greater immediacy, while the two events, encoded by the finite verb and the infinitive clause, are still construed as separable with the full infinitive.

Example 49

a. Ek het regtig baie probeer bel, maar...
I have.AUX really often try.PST.PTCP phone.INF but
I have really tried to phone often, but
AHC, adjusted
b. Ons sal probeer om dit duidelik te maak aan ons lesers.
we shall try COMP it clear to make.INF to our readers
We will try to make it clear to our readers.
  • Anderson, Stephen R2011Cliticsvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology4: Phonological InterfacesWiley-Blackwell2002-2018
  • Anderson, Stephen R2011Cliticsvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology4: Phonological InterfacesWiley-Blackwell2002-2018
  • Anderson, Stephen R2011Cliticsvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology4: Phonological InterfacesWiley-Blackwell2002-2018
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