Les 8 ~ Lesson 8
Er en de voornaamwoordelijke bijwoorden ~ Er and the pronominal adverbs
|• Is there coffee?|
|• Grammar: Pronominal replacement|
|• Use of the locative er|
- Ja, wat is er?
- Is er al koffie?
- Nee ik heb er nog geen gezet.
- Nou, dan doe ik dat wel even. Zijn er zakjes?
- Ja, in de kast. Zie je de broodtrommel? Ze liggen er vlak onder.
- Heb je er ook nog een pak koekjes bij?
- Ja, er zijn er zelfs twee.
Grammatica 8 ~ Er and the pronominal adverbs
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 pronominal adverbs 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 English pronominal adverbs 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, pronominal adverbs are much more prominent in Dutch than in English or the other Germanic languages. Their formation is still an active mechanism. If anything their use is increasing (due to the gender problem). They form an important part of the grammar and have to be mastered to speak the language properly.
Pronominal adverbs 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 .
Although in the spoken language even this is slowly changing, it is uncommon, even somewhat disrespectful to apply pronominal replacement to people (animate nouns):
- after her = na haar (not erna)
- for them = voor hen (not 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:
- van het huis → (van het)* → ervan
- van dit huis → van dit,deze → hiervan
- van dat huis → van dat,die → daarvan
- van welk huis → (van wat)*, van welk(e) → waarvan
- van iets → ergens van
- van niets → nergens van
- 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 pronominal adverb 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, a pronominal adverb 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.
A pronominal adverb is formed from the locative adverb that corresponds to the replaced pronoun + the preposition in adverbial form. Usually this prepositional adverb is the same as the preposition itself
- (van het)* → ervan
- (tussen het)* → ertussen
But this is not always the case:
- (met het)* → ermee (arch. ermede)
- (tot het)* → ertoe
Pronominal adverbs can be formed from most prepositions. Words like ertussenin (lit. thereinbetween) or ergens achter (lit. somewhere behind) or even nergens onderuit (lit. nowhere from under out) do not raise any eyebrows.
A few adverbial forms do not have a corresponding prepositions:
- eraf (off of it)
- erheen (expresses a direction: to)
Conversely, some prepositions (like via, behalve, mits 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).
To further confuse the enemy, pronominal adverbs 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 pronominal adverb 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. As an exercise: identify all the parts of this sentence to see how different the word order is.
Replace the object by a pronominal adverb:
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"
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)
Notice, the indefinite "brood" instead of the definite "het brood".
The active form of this sentence is not very common in Dutch. It involves the indefinite pronoun men (people, they, one)
- Men bakt hier brood - (People bake bread here)
English will opt for the active form more readily in this case, but in Dutch the passive sounds much more natural.
Impersonal passives can even be formed from many verbs that do not have an object:
- Er werd gelachen - (There was laughter)
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, which adds to the fact that the use or the word "er" is a considerable difficulty for people learning Dutch.
van of, from met with door by, through voor for, before achter after, behind tussen between onder under, beneath over over boven above tot to, until na after naar to de overwinning victory de loopbaan career het koekje cookie (loanword of New York/Dutch origin) de wielrenner cyclist het wiel wheel de zak bag het zakje baggie de koffie coffee de wereld world zetten to put koffie zetten to make coffee weerhouden to keep from, to thwart schrijven to write behalen to score, to obtain
echter though, however even quickly, with no effort, even al already nog niet not yet geen no geen enkel not a single eenvoudig simple