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Intermediate level: cycle 3
Les 12 ~ Lesson 12
De telefoon ~ De telephone
|• Grammar: worden|
|• Gammar: Transitives and passive voice|
|• Grammar: the auxiliary zijn|
|• Ergatives and inergatives|
Gesprek 12 De telefoon
|inschakelen||to switch on|
|opnemen||to pick up|
|bedoelen||to mean, to intend|
Grammatica 12-1. Worden and the Passive Voice
In most languages transitive verbs can be put in the passive voice. In English for example:
- Active: The cook prepares dinner.
- Passive: Dinner is prepared by the cook.
The object dinner of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive one. It is this 'transition' that makes the verb to prepare a transitive one.
The passive voice is formed by means of its own auxiliary worden in Dutch. It is a regular strong verb:
- worden – werd – geworden
Use as a copula
As we have seen the verb worden can also be used as a verb (copula) in its own right rather than as an auxiliary and then it translates into to become or to get. Compare:
- Ik word piloot
- I (will) become a pilot
- Hij werd zo rood als een kroot!
- He became as red as a beet (He blushed for shame).
- Je schilderij wordt erg mooi!
- Your painting is turning out very well!
- Niet kwaad worden!
- Don't get mad!
The perfect of worden
As worden describes a process rather than an action, it is itself an ergative verb. (More about those below). In Dutch that means that it takes the verb zijn in the perfect and not to have as in English.
- Hij is piloot geworden
- He has become a pilot.
Use of worden as an auxiliary
|to beat, defeat|
As an auxiliary + past participle worden expresses the passive voice:
- Hij verslaat me ==>Ik word door hem verslagen
- He beats me ==> I am beaten by him
Notice the change in word order:
- As in the case of the perfect tenses the past participle moves to the very end of the sentence.
- As in English the subject (he) and the object (me) swap places.
- The old subject becomes an expression with door (English: by)
The perfect tense of the passive
The perfect tense of the passive can cause some confusion because of the ergative conjugation with zijn and the fact that the participle geworden is usually omitted:
- Ik ben door hem geslagen
- Ik ben door hem geslagen
- I have been beaten by him.
Thus, in such cases ik ben does not translate into I am, but into I have been!.
Notice that this imparts to the verb zijn and its forms (ben, bent, is, was, waren etc.) three rather different roles:
- copula (the verbal equal sign =)
- active perfect auxiliary for ergative verbs, i.e. those of motion or those describing a process instead of an action.
- passive perfect auxiliary for transitive verbs.
- Ik ben piloot. (copula)
- Ik ben naar huis gelopen (ergative perfect of directed motion)
- Dit ongeluk is gisteren gebeurd (ergative perfect of a process)
- Ik ben door hem geslagen (passive perfect)
The latter sentense is a transipostion of:
- Hij heeft mij geslagen (active perfect)
Notice that the agent of the action ("hij") reappears as a prepositional object with door: "door hem" in the passive. The ergative perfects do not have such an agent. They also generally take "to have" in English.
Particularly in the imperfect tenses, the passive voice is quite common in Dutch, probably more so than in English because the auxiliary worden makes it easily recognizable. It often occurs without a clear subject in conjunction with the adverb er (8) to describe circumstance.
- Er wordt veel van je verwacht. (veel is subject)
- Much is expected from you.
- Er wordt van je verwacht dat je meedoet (dat je meedoet is subject)
- It is expected of you that you partake.
- Er wordt vaak om gelachen (no subject)
- It is often laughed at.
- Er is veel om die grap gelachen
- That joke has been much laughed at.
The active version of such expressions requires the use of the indefinite personal pronoun men that translates into one or an impersonal they (analogous to the French on or the Spanish se).
- men verwacht dat je meedoet
- lit. one expects that you participate – they expect you to participate
- men lacht erom / ze lachen erom
- they laugh at it
Definite versus indefinite objects
When transposing a sentence from an active to a passive voice it matters whether the object of the active sentence is indefinite or definite. Compare:
- Deze bakker bakt dat lekkere brood --> Dat lekkere brood wordt door deze bakker gebakken
- Deze bakker bakt een brood --> Er wordt een brood gebakken door deze bakker
- Deze bakker bakt brood --> Er wordt brood gebakken door deze bakker.
In other words: in passive sentences with an indefinite subject like 'een brood' or 'brood' the presence of the adverb er is required.
Indirect objects and ditransitive verbs
The transition to the passive construction normally involves the direct object. However for some verbs it is also possible to make the indirect object the new subject. Such verbs are usually called ditransitive.
In English the same auxiliary "be" or "have been" is used to construct the new sentence. In Dutch that is not the case: a different auxiliary is used krijgen instead of worden. Such a construction is usually called a pseudopassive construction. Compare the following sentence where "him" is the indirect and "house" the direct object:
|active||I give/donate a house to him||Ik schenk hem een huis.|
|passive||A house is given to him by me||Een huis wordt door mij aan hem geschonken.|
|pseudopassive||He is given a house by me||Hij krijgt van mij een huis geschonken.|
|active perfect||I have given him a house||Ik heb hem een huis geschonken.|
|passive perfect||A house has been given to him by me||Een huis is door mij aan hem geschonken.|
|pseudopassive perfect||He has been given a house by me||Hij heeft van mij een huis geschonken gekregen.|
The pseudopassive construction with krijgen is relatively rare in Dutch. Notice that the agent usually gets van rather than door in the pseudopassive.
Ergatives (+zijn) and inergatives (+hebben)
A verb that carries a direct object is called a transitive verb. In Dutch these verbs can usually form passive voice constructions, much like in English:
- De politieman ziet een inbreker ==> De inbreker wordt door de politieman gezien.
- The cop sees a burglar ==> The burglar is seen by the cop.
Verbs that do not have a direct object are often called intransitive in English, but there are really two kinds in Dutch.
There are the ergative verbs like gaan, komen, smelten, gebeuren, ontploffen and quite a few others. They take zijn as their auxiliary in the perfect and they have no passive voice at all.
- Ik ben gisteren gekomen – I have come yesterday.
- Dit is gisteren gebeurd – This has happened yesterday
Actually Shakespeare would have used is in English as well and fans of the books of J.R.R. Martin may still run into phrases like "it is come to this" etc. When Nancy Pelosi announced the passing of the Affordable Care Act she said "The bill is passed". In other words, English used to have the same and there are some faint echoes left.
Ergative verbs describe processes rather than actions.
A different group is called inergative (or 'unaccusative'). These verbs do take hebben in the active perfect, as English does. Take smoking:
- Hij rookt. - He smokes.
- Hij heeft vele jaren gerookt – He has smoked for many years.
These sentences -indicating that someone is a smoker- do not have a direct object. However, the verb does express an action much like in the case of most transitive verbs.
Impersonal passive voice: another use of "er"
In contrast to English intransitive verbs, Dutch inergatives such as "roken" can undergo the transition to a passive of sorts, but it is an impersonal passive usually initiated with er.
- Hij rookt -> Er wordt door hem gerookt.
Unfortunately, there is not really much of an English equivalent for this. Something like "smoking is done by him" is a clumsy rendering of the meaning of the impersonal passive sentence. In Dutch however such constructions are very common. Actually, the most common usage is to leave the actor out altogether:
- Er wordt hier gerookt -- People smoke here. ("smoking is being done here")
- Er wordt gebeld! -- Someone is calling. ("ringing is happening")
Neither sentence possesses a subject in Dutch. Some grammarians might call "er" a dummy subject, but most maintain that it is simply an adverb. A real direct translation does not really exist. English typically resorts to an active sentence using someone or uses an entirely different construction like:
- I hear the bell.
In Dutch, such impersonal passives are a very common way to indicate that it is not clear who the actor is or that the focus is not on the actor, but on the action. Impersonal passives emphasize that something is being done by parties unknown.
Impersonal passives are not limited to inergative verbs. Transitive verbs also form them:
- Er werd door de politieagent een inbreker gezien. - ("There was sighted a burglar by the cop")
In this case een inbreker is the subject, but there still is an element of generality: the identity of the burglar is not known. Notice that this sentence has the indefinite article een rather than definite de in the sentence above. A sentence like:
Er werd door de politieagent de inbreker gezien.
is not possible, because the impersonal passive expresses the idea that the identity of the burglar is either not known or not of interest. English would often use a word like some to emphasize the indefinite nature.
- Some burglar was seen by the cop.
In the definite case Dutch would use a personal passive:
- De inbreker werd door de politieagent gezien. - The burglar was seen by the cop.
When is a verb ergative?
Ergative verbs do not form passives at all, not even impersonal ones.
As we saw above ergatives take zijn (to be) in their perfect tense, where English takes to have:
- ik ben gekomen – I have come.
- het is gebeurd – it has happened.
The use of zijn presents a problem for native English speakers. (Germans have no problem, their language has a very similar situation.)
How do you know what to use? There are two main groups of verbs that are ergative:
- One is the verbs that express motion like coming, going, driving, floating etc.
- The other is verbs that express a process or event that happens autonomously (not: a deliberate action), without a clear party who is to blame for it like happening, melting, flowing, solidifying, sinking.
Obviously the examples floating and sinking show that the two groups overlap.
Verbs describing processes
Such verbs often only occur as ergatives:
- Stollen – to solidify
- ergative present: Het vet stolt- The grease solidifies.
- ergative perfect: Het vet is gestold – The grease has solidified.
Because this verb involves a process, not an action, Dutch uses "to be" to form the perfect, not "to have" as English does.
Sometimes however "process" verbs occur both in an ergative and in an active transitive form.
- Smelten – to melt
- active: Ik smelt het ijs – I melt the ice
- ergative: Het ijs smelt – The ice melts
Notice that in this case English has the same active – ergative switch. The subject of the latter (ijs/ice) is the object of the former. Ergativity itself is not the problem: English has that too. The problem only arises when putting the verb in the perfect, because Dutch opts for a different auxiliary:
- active: Ik heb het ijs gesmolten – I have melted the ice
- ergative: Het ijs is gesmolten – The ice has melted
Notice that the active can also be switched into a passive using "worden"
- passive: Het ijs wordt door mij gesmolten
- passive perfect: Het ijs is door mij gesmolten
As "geworden" is typically omitted in Dutch (in contrast to German "worden") the perfects of the ergative and the passive are very similar. The difference is the presence of an agent ("door mij").
Ergatives sometimes do have an expression that denotes the cause of the process (rather than agent). Such an expression often uses the preposition van, although door can also be used:
- De chocola is van de hitte van de zon gesmolten. - The chocolate has melted from the heat of the sun.
Verbs of motion
Verbs of motion are often more complicated, because can be used both as ergatives and as inergatives.
- Lopen – to walk
- ergative: Ik ben naar huis gelopen. - I walked home
- inergative: Ik heb vandaag veel gelopen – I have walked a lot today
- In general one can say that if the sentence focuses on a process of directional movement (e.g. "home") the verb of motion is ergative and takes zijn.
- If the focus is on the action (exercising in the park or so) the verb is inergative and takes hebben.
Of course, walking is both and an action and a process of transportation, but in a sense Dutch views "walking home" as a process (that 'just happens'), but "walking a lot" as an action (that the agent chooses to 'do').
The ergative version does not possess a passive, but the inergative version can have an impersonal passive, usually with "er":
- impersonal passive: Er wordt hier veel gelopen. - there is lot of walking here
Besides the ergative and inergative version there can also be a transitive variant as well for some verbs, in which case a personal passive can at times be formed:
- Rijden – to drive has all three varieties:
- ergative: Ik ben naar huis gereden – I drove home
- inergative: Ik heb vandaag veel gereden – I have done a lot of driving today
- transitive active: Ik heb hem naar huis gereden – I took him home in my car
- transitive passive: Hij is door mij naar huis gereden – He was taken home by me (in my car)
Ergatives and "er"
Ergative verbs can also be combined with "er" to convey an indefinite connotation:
- Een trein ontspoorde in Rotterdam – A train derailed in Rotterdam.
- Er is in Rotterdam een trein ontspoord. - There was a derailment in Rotterdam.
The use of the auxiliaries "hebben", "worden" and "zijn" can be summarized in the following table.
Notice that inergatives actually have more in common with transitives than with ergatives, even though in traditional grammars ergatives and inergatives are typically lumped together as 'intransitive verbs'. This obscures the fact that both transitive and inergative verbs are verbs of action, whereas ergatives are verbs of process or motion.
Notice also that all three groups can take the auxiliary "zijn". For ergatives it is mandatory.
A few small groups of verbs do exist in Dutch that cannot take "zijn", but only take "hebben".
- reflexive verbs (using "zich")
- impersonal verbs
- a few verbs that lack all passive forms either carrying a direct object or not
|in gebruik nemen||take into use|
|setback, misfortune, disappointment|
|met behulp van||by means of|
terugzetten, zette terug
|in de gaten houden||to keep an eye on|
aannemen – nam aan – aangenomen
doorzíén – doorzag – doorzien
winnen – won – gewonnen
lijden – leed – geleden
verwijten – verweet – verweten
vliegen – vloog – gevlogen
vergeten – vergat – vergeten