Dutch/Lesson 23

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Advanced level: cycle 6

Les 23 ~ Lesson 23

Drievoudige scheidbaarheid ~ Triple separability


Three partsEdit

There are pronominal adverbs and even a few separable verbs in Dutch that can separate into three rather than two parts. This is an area where not all dictionaries and grammarians agree, particularly where it comes to decide whether to write the components as one word or separately.


The pronominal adverb erbovenop means "on top of it", both in the literal sense of sitting on op of a haystack and in the figurative, as in following something very attentively and interactively.


Hij zit al een uur boven op de hooistapel boven= adverb op=preposition
Hij zit er al een uur bovenop er=locative adverb replacing hooistapel bovenop =compound prepositional adverb
Hij zit erbovenop erbovenop = pronominal adverb replacing boven op de hooistapel

The above is the standard pattern. Compound prepositional adverbs like bovenop can be used to form pronominal adverbs just like other prepositional adverbs.

However, they cannot be used as prepositions. Instead they fall apart into a preposition (op) with a determining adverb (boven) in front of it.

Examples of triply separable pronominal adverbs that follow this basic pattern:


Relationship with separable verbsEdit

As we have seen the prepositional adverbs play a dual role in Dutch: they form both pronominal adverbs and separable verbs. This complicates matters when dealing with compound prepositional adverbs.

Take the sentence:

Hij sprong van de tafel af. - He jumped down form the table.

We could either consider af the separated adverb belonging to a separable verb afspringen, or part of a compound prepositional adverb vanaf

Hij sprong van de tafel af.
Hij sprong van de tafel af.

If we replace the noun tafel by the locative wildcard er and form a pronominal adverb, this would make a difference:

Hij sprong ervan af.
Hij sprong ervanaf

Actually even Onze Taal does not mention this particular case, but it does mention ervanaf vallen, so the second possibility is probably the right one. If that sounds iffy, then hopefully you will understand that mother tongue speakers don't always know how to look at this either. Although they would certainly agree that it is one triple word in:

"Ervanaf!" brulde hij woedend - "Get off of there!" he bellowed angrily.

There are cases here both possibilities exist, but mean something else:

Hij is ervanaf gevallen - He fell down from it (the roof e.g.)
Hij is ervan afgevallen - He lost weight from that.

Triple verbsEdit

The number of separable verbs with a compound prefix that can lead to triple separability is small. A good example is eruitzien. It means to look in the sense of to look good/bad/tired.

loc+pr-adv+verb Goed eruitzien heeft een hoge prioriteit voor haar Looking good has a high priority for her.
loc..pr-adv+verb Zij heeft er altijd goed uitgezien She has always looked good
verb..loc..pr-adv Hij ziet er niet goed uit. He doesn't look good
verb .. loc+pr-adv Wat zie je eruit! You look awful!

As you can see any combination is possible except *erzien

Other compoundsEdit

Dutch has a number of compound prepositions, such as

te midden van --- in the middle of, amid(st)
Te midden van al het lawaai bewaarde hij zijn kalmte -- Amid all the noise he kept his composure.

If such compounds contain a prepositional adverb like "van", they can also give rise to the formation of adverbial pronouns.

Te midden daarvan bewaarde hij zijn kalmte -- In the middle of that he kept his composure.