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Beginner level: cycle 2
Les 8 ~ Lesson 8
Er en de bijwoordelijke voornaamwoorden ~ Er and the adverbial pronouns
|• Koffie zetten|
|• Grammar: Pronominal replacement|
|• Grammar: Use of the locative er|
|de broodtrommel||bread box|
|vlak||plane, level; right|
|het pak||pack, package; suit|
Grammatica 8 ~ Er and the adverbial pronouns
The word er is one of the most ubiquitous words in the Dutch language and often rather hard to translate, because it does not have an exact counterpart in most other languages, French being an exception with the words y and en. Compare:
|Type||Pronoun||Locative adverb||Pronoun||Locative adverb|
Er relates to more specific indications of place like here, there, where, or somewhere in a similar way as the word it does to the more specific this, that or what. The word is a kind of locative wildcard.
- In computer terms you could say that er is *ere, with * being a wildcard for h-,th- or wh-.
- Another way of putting it is that er is a clitic (weak) form of hier or daar. Indeed it never carries emphasis. Historically, however, the word only partly originated as a weakening of hier or daar. In part it also reflects an old genitive of the pronoun "het". The two sources have coalesced so strongly that they cannot be distinguished anymore.
In many cases where Dutch uses er, English will resort to a more specific there:
- Is er koffie - Is there coffee?
- Ken je Londen? Ja, ik ben er geweest. - Do you know London? Yes, I have been there
This is also true in the relatively few cases that English uses words like like thereof, therefore, thereafter etc. Dutch will distinguish a more general (clitic) ervan, ervoor, erna from a more specific (accentuated) daarvan, daarvoor and daarna. In most grammars they are called "pronominal adverbs", because they have a dual nature: they share characteristics of adverbs as well as pronouns. The name is somewhat unfortunate however. Pronouns play a major role in a language's grammar and syntaxis; they are the main course of it. Adverbs are more likes spices added to the course. Added to a sentence they play a minor grammatical role at best. Words like "ervan" etc. however do play a major role in Dutch grammar. It is therefore better to invert the name "pronominal adverbs" and call them "adverbial pronouns" instead.
In English adverbial pronouns like therein or hereby are a remnant from the past. They are quite old and occur in most Germanic languages, both of the Western and the Northern (Scandinavian) group. However, adverbial pronouns are much more prominent in Dutch than in English or the other Germanic languages. Their formation is still an active mechanism: they are productive. If anything their use is actually increasing (probably due to the gender problem). They form an important part of the grammar and have to be mastered to speak the language properly.
Adverbial pronouns are commonly used in Dutch to replace the combination of preposition + pronoun, particularly if the latter is an inanimate it or them:
- of it → thereof = ervan
- for it → therefore = ervoor
Notice how the elements swap place: the prepositional part moves to the end. This is true in both languages.
While rare in English, in Dutch this replacement/swap is not just common, in many cases it is mandatory .
In the written language it is considered incorrect, even somewhat disrespectful to apply pronominal replacement to people (animate nouns), but in the spoken language it is already quite common:
- after her = na haar (instead of erna)
- for them = voor hen (instead of ervoor)
In all other cases pronominal replacement is frequent or even mandatory. It is a major way of avoiding m/f gender references for inanimate nouns, because er is genderless. This means that replacement can also be applied to common gender words that do not really have a personal pronoun to refer them by.
The most common pronominal replacements (from the table above) are:
|pers.||van het huis||→ (van het)*|
|dem. prox.||van dit huis||→ van dit, van deze|
|dem. dist.||van dat huis||→ van dat, van die|
|interrog.||van welk huis||→ (van wat)*, van welk(e)|
|relat.||van het huis dat..||→ (van hetwelk(e))*|
|indef.||van een ding||→van iets||→ ergens van|
|negat.||van geen ding||→van niets||→ nergens van|
|univers.||van alle dingen||→van alles||→ overal van|
- (...)*: In this case the replacement is so common that not using the replacement is simply bad Dutch.
Notice that if the replaced pronoun is personal (het), demonstrative (dit, dat) or interrogative/relative (wat) the resulting adverbial pronoun is written as one word (ervan, hiervan, daarvaan, waarvan). In other cases an adverbial expression with two separate adverbs results.
Drill 8-1. Pronominal replacement
Translating its by replacement
In English it is common to use the possessive pronoun its to refer to a noun that indicates a thing. In Dutch, an adverbial pronouns like ervan is used instead, again representing a convenient way to avoid the gender issue:
- This tale is nice. Its beginning is spectacular.
- Deze vertelling is leuk. Het begin ervan is spectaculair. (Yes, please..)
- Deze vertelling is leuk. Haar begin is spectaculair. (No, please..)
Yes, in principle the latter is correct. A word in -ing is feminine, but who remembers? Occasionally a writer will try to dazzle the reader with this kind of superior knowledge, often only to get it wrong... Please use the adverbial ervan, especially if the noun is inanimate. This is true for neuter nouns as well
- Dit verhaal is leuk. Het begin ervan is spectaculair (Yes, please..)
- Dit verhaal is leuk. Zijn begin is spectaculair. (No, please..)
The latter is strictly speaking correct Dutch, but a neuter (inanimate) possessive zijn is so uncommon that it is better avoided. Possessives like zijn and haar are more and more reserved for animate masculine and animate feminine nouns (person, pets) and indicate natural rather than grammatical gender, just like the personal pronouns hij and zij.
Formation: prepositional adverbs
An adverbial pronoun is formed from the locative adverb that corresponds to the replaced pronoun + the preposition in adverbial form in reverse order.
- preposition+pronoun → [locative adverb+prepositional adverb] = Adverbial pronoun.
Usually the adverbial form of the preposition or prepositional adverb is identical to the preposition itself:
- (van het)* → ervan
- (tussen het)* → ertussen
But this is not always the case:
- (met het)* → ermee (arch. ermede)
- (tot het)* → ertoe
Adverbial pronouns can be formed from most prepositions. Words like ertussenin (lit. thereinbetween) or ergens achter (lit. somewhere behind: behind something) or nergens onderuit (lit. nowhere from under out) or nergens anders mee (lit. nowhere else with: with nothing else) do not raise any eyebrows in Dutch.
A few prepositional adverbs do not have a corresponding prepositions:
- eraf (off of it)
- erheen (expresses a direction: to)
Conversely, some prepositions (like via, behalve, sinds etc.) do not have a corresponding prepositional adverb. This makes it difficult to use them in relative clauses or in combination with it. Compare:
- Dit is de weg waarlangs ik naar huis fiets.
- Dit is de weg via dewelke ik naar huis fiets.
- This is the road along which I ride my bike on the way home.
Because via does not have a prepositional adverb one is forced to use a relative pronoun like dewelke that is more and more experienced as awkward and archaic, because in most constructions it is replaced (langs dewelke → waarlangs).
Prepositional adverbs also play a major role in the formation of separable verbs as we shall see in lesson 10.
To further confuse the enemy, adverbial pronouns are usually split apart in the sentence. Compare:
- He has a remedy for it.
- Hij heeft een remedie *(voor het).
- Hij heeft een remedie ervoor.
- Hij heeft er een remedie voor.
The first translation is unacceptable. The second one is awkward, the third one is what most people would say.
In the case of the preposition van (of), the van-part may be omitted, giving the word er a partitive flavor:
- He has seven of them.
- Hij heeft zeven *(van ze).
- Hij heeft zeven ervan.
- Hij heeft er zeven van.
- Hij heeft er zeven.
The four translations are unacceptable, awkward, reasonable and most common respectively.
The partitive flavor extends to the negative:
- Is er koffie - Is there coffee?
- Ik heb er nog geen (van) gezet - I have there(of) yet none made - I haven't made any yet.
Sometimes the two parts of the adverbial pronoun can end up quite far apart. Notice what happens to "by it" (door *het) => "erdoor":
- Lance Armstrong heeft kanker gehad.
- Lance Armstrong had cancer.
- Hij heeft
er , zijn zeven in de Tour de France, als door .
- However, given his seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France, he did not in any way allow himself to be thwarted by it in his career as the world's strongest cyclist.
Getting used to understanding such sentences, let alone producing them in speech, takes a lot of practice.
Replace the object by a adverbial pronoun:
e.g. Het boek ligt in de kast → Het boek ligt erin.
Translate the above sentences into English in both forms.
Other uses of "er"
Impersonal passives and indefinite nouns
Many Dutch verbs can be used in the passive voice, which we'll discuss in lesson 12 in greater detail. In fact in Dutch the passive voice is more recognizable and more common than in English. It uses the verb worden.
- Ik bak het brood - I bake the bread
- Het brood wordt door mij gebakken - The bread is baked by me.
Here "het brood" is a definite noun and the passive centers around it as the object.
In more indefinite cases Dutch often uses an impersonal passive initiated with the adverb er.
- Er wordt hier brood gebakken - (There is bread baking going on here)
- Er worden pannenkoeken gebakken - (Pancakes are baked here)
- Er werd een eend gezien - (A duck was seen)
Notice, the indefinite "brood" "pannenkoeken" and "een eend" instead of the definite "het brood, de pannenkoeken, de eend". In an impersonal "er" construction the definite articles "de, het" cannot be used. For nouns of a collective nature like bread, grain, water etc. or for plurals there is no article at all. (If definite and indefinite nouns present a problem because they are not part of your mother tongue, you could review: Dutch/Lesson 4/Use of articles).
The active forms of these sentences are not very common in Dutch. They involve the indefinite pronoun men (people, they, one) that is seldom used anymore.
- Men bakt hier brood - (People bake bread here)
- Men bakt pannenkoeken - (People are baking pancakes)
- Men heeft een eend gezien - (People saw a duck)
English will opt for the active form more readily in this case, but in Dutch the passive sounds much more natural. In fact the active sentences involving the pancakes or the duck sounds very artificial, like badly translated French: on a vu un canard. Colloquially people would rather use a clitic third person plural ze:
- Ze bakken hier brood - (They are baking bread here)
- Ze bakken pannenkoeken - (They are baking pancakes)
- Ze hebben een eend gezien - (They saw a duck)
In the negative the negative indefinite article geen is used.
- Er wordt hier geen brood gebakken
- Er worden geen pannenkoeken gebakken
- Er werd geen eend gezien
Impersonal passives can even be formed from many verbs that do not have an object:
- Er werd gelachen - (Laughter erupted, people laughed)
Notice that in this sentence there is no subject if we continue to call er an adverb. Some grammars will therefore call it a dummy subject, but most do not.
English does not really have a direct equivalent of this type of sentence. It necessitates either an active translation or some other creative rendition. This adds to the fact that the use of the word "er" is a considerable difficulty for people learning Dutch, because such sentences are quite common in it.
In the negative niet is used in this case
- Er werd niet gelachen - (Nobody laughed)
Woordenschat 8: prepositions and their adverbs
These are some of the most common prepositions and their adverbial forms. Have a close look at the examples to get a gist of how they are used. Unfortunately the use of prepositions is usually hard to compare from one language to the other. Which preposition to use when is often pretty idiomatic and best learned by looking at larger utterances. We will expand on this topic in Les 17
|off||van het dak af - off of the roof|
|(indicates direction)||waar gaat dat heen? - where (whither) is that going?|
|with||met melk - with milk|
|to, till, until||tot maandag - till Monday|
|of, from||twee van hen - two of them|
|by, through||door hem gemaakt - made by him|
door het raam - through the window
|for, before||voor het concért - for the concert|
vóór het concert - before the concert
|behind||achter zijn rug - behind his back|
|between||tussen twee bedrijven - between two act|
|under, beneath||onder de dekens - under the blankets|
|over||over het hek - over the fence|
|on, upon||op de tafel - on the table|
|above||boven het water - above the water|
|after||na het skiën - after skiing|
|to||naar Amerika - to America|
|without||zonder suiker - without sugar|
|―||since||sinds de oorlog - since WW II|
|―||because of||vanwege ziekte - because of illness|
|―||via||via Amsterdam - via Amsterdam|
|―||except||behalve in dat geval - except in that case|
Dutch prepositions are clearly a mixed bag. The older prepositions like "op", "van" etc. may very well have developed from their corresponding adverbs, in some cases getting altered in the process (mede -> met). A few like "af" and "heen" never underwent this process. The newer prepositions were either borrowed as such, like "via" from Latin or formed from a noun like "vanwege" = "van" + "weg" with a dative ending -e. They never underwent the reverse process to form an adverb and cannot undergo pronominal replacement. "Zonder" is an interesting exception. In Flanders adverbial pronouns like "waarzonder" are quite acceptable, but in the North they are not (yet?).
There also exist compound prepositional adverbs, their adverbial pronouns can at times split in up to three parts. They will be covered in lesson 23.
|het koekje||cookie (loanword of New York/Dutch origin)|
|koffie zetten||to make coffee|
|weerhouden||to keep from, to thwart|
|behalen||to score, to obtain|
|even||quickly, with no effort, even|
|nog niet||not yet|
|geen enkel||not a single|
The vocabulary of the lesson can be trained at Quizlet (47 terms)
If you have studied this lesson well you should
- to able to understand and use Dutch adverbial pronouns
- know a number of basic prepositions and prepositional adverbs
Cumulative term count
- Cycle 1 : 579 terms
- Lesson 5 : 87
- Lesson 6 : 124
- Lesson 7 : 163
- Lesson 8 : 47
- Total number 1000 terms
Congratulations! You have reached the mark of one thousand vocabulary terms!
- In case you like baking here is a recipe
- Actually in Flanders people remember quite well whether a word is masculine or feminine and there haar could very well be used.