It's a weird idiomatic expression. To me it looks like an abbreviated form of an idiomatic expression that exists in German. In German you can say the following:
- "Sie halten viel von Büchern." (They think a great deal of books.) - Literal Dutch translation: "Zij houden veel van boeken."
It can also be negated:
- "Sie halten wenig von Büchern." (They don't think much of books.) - Literal Dutch translation: "Zij houden weinig van boeken."
The Dutch idiom looks as if it just dropped veel from the (first) German one as if it was understood. There are some instances of the 'complete' idioms in older books, but not so many that they seem to support my theory. Maybe the German idiom is actually derived from the Dutch one.
The point of my explanation was that the two idioms were clearly once related, and since the German one is slightly less weird and random it can help some learners to accept the Dutch one. It is not logical as it is today, but by going through German we can see that ultimately it's probably derived from something that made sense.
It is not uncommon for a meaning of a verb to change completely when prepositions are added to it. Neither in German, nor in English.
Dutch etymology books give the following explanation: De uitdrukking houden van betekende in het middelnederlands ‘iets in leen hebben van’, ‘iemands vazal zijn’, vandaar ‘om iemand geven’ en ten slotte ‘iemand beminnen’.
Thanks, that's a fascinating explanation and perfectly logical. Now an intriguing question (for me at least) is whether this is a case of accidental convergence or whether the German expression has the same origin. Unfortunately its etymology is not covered in my source for German etymology (Kluge).
The Van in names often points to someone's geographical background at the time they were given surnames, thus: "originating from". For example, my guess is that Van Nistelrooy's family came from Nistelrode, a small place in the south of The Netherlands. Likewise, the humanist Desiderius Erasmus' full name is Desiderius Erasmus van Rotterdam. Note that the capital V changes to lower case when it follows a first name (Ruud van Nistelrooy, Louis van Gaal).
It's like the 'of' or 'from' particles you see in other surnames, like 'de' in French names (de Gaulle), von in German names (von Braun), del in Italian, or o' in Scottish names (but not the O' in Irish names, which is apparently a corruption of the Gaelic patronymic marker 'Ó').
"graagen" as a word or verb does not exist. Even if it did exist, the words' sequence in the sentence would have been "zij graagen boeken". "Graag" exist as an adverb, e.g. "Ik lees graag". In this example "graag" supplies additional information about the verb "lees" Ik hoop dat dit helpt.
In French "houden" means "tenir" (to hold/keep) just as in Dutch. But once it's used with the preposition "à", so "tenir à", its meaning also turns to a somewhat affective one. For instance "je tiens à toi" means "I care for you" and is so quite similar to the "ik houd van je"
Wrong verb form. The reason Dutch can share a single personal pronoun zij between third person plural and feminine third person singular without causing confusion is that normally you can tell by the verb which is meant:
- Zij houdt van boeken. = She likes books.
- Zij houden van boeken. = They like books.
This would work even in English. Suppose English had a single personal pronoun shey meaning either she or they, depending on context. You would still be able to tell the difference:
- Shey likes books. = She likes books.
- Shey like books. = They like books.
There is only one major difference between Dutch and English that you need to keep in mind to use this in practice: Dutch verbs have a plural conjugated form that is always identical to the infinitive, that always ends in -en (e.g. wij/jullie/zij houden). It is always different from the singular conjugated forms, which have either no ending (e.g. ik houd) or end in -t (e.g. jij/hij/zij houdt).