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The productive suffix -er is mainly used to derive nouns from verbs. These nouns can refer to personal or impersonal agents, instruments and patients, but can also be action nouns.

Furthermore there is a small group of derivations with a different base: there are a few numerals, some nouns, a couple of adjectives, and also phrases. All derivations, independent of the category of their base, are nouns of common gender, and their plurals always end in -s.

It should be noted that this suffix is also involved in the formation of synthetic compounds, in combination with a noun and a verb, and with a numeral and a noun.


The suffix -er can be used to build nouns from verbs, nouns, adjectives, numerals and also phrases. All these derivations, independent of their base form category, are nouns of common gender, and their plurals always end in -s.

When they refer to a person - for instance lêzer reader - the nouns are often not gender specific: they can refer to both men and women. Still, in some cases in which women are involved one rather would use a feminine form. An example is skriuwer writer (in general) versus skriuwster female writer. See the corresponding link for information about the feminine suffix -ster.

Finally, there is also a suffix -er which forms inhabitant names from a geographical proper noun.

[+]Verb as base

The suffix -er is mainly used to derive nouns from verbs. These nouns can be personal or impersonal subjects, instruments, objects or action nouns. All have common gender.

Firstly, examples of personal subjects are:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
bakke to bake bakker baker
lêze to read lêzer reader
lige to lie liger liar
beheare to manage behearder manager
tsjoene to conjure tsjoender wizard
stypje to support stiper supporter
dreame to dream dreamer dreamer
skriuwe to write skriuwer writer
In the table above the base forms are only simplex, but bases can also be complex. Examples are listed below:

  • noun + verb + -er: fioele-bouw-er violin-build-SUFF violin maker, boek-bin-er book-bind-SUFF bookbinder;
  • adverb + verb + -er: bûten-stean-der outside-stand-SUFF outsider, dom-prat-er stupid-talk-SUFF fool;
  • particle + verb + -er: yn-brekk-er in-break-SUFF burglar, oer-sett-er over-set-SUFF translator.

These formations need not necessarily to be considered as synthetic compounds, as the relevant complex verbs do exist in Frisian. Phrasal bases also occur; these will be discussed below in phrase as base.

Verbs with stem allomorphy often show two forms. For example, the verb oankleie to accuse has two derivations: oankleier accuser and oanklager accuser. For more information about these forms, see irregular weak verbs belonging to class II.

Quite common is the use of -er in the following expressions, where the derivation in -er denotes a guest by indicating the reason for visiting:

Example 1

a. Wy krije moarn in kofjedrinker
we get tomorrow a coffee.drink.SUFF
Tomorrow a guest will come for a coffee
b. Us heit makket it bêd klear foar de slieper
our father makes the bed ready for the sleep.SUFF
My father prepares the bed for our guest
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Dutch -ende and Frisian -er

A difference with Dutch is the fact that the latter has two suffixes deriving agent nouns: -er and -ende, the latter with a formal and collective connotation. In Frisian, the original verbal ending -ende is not used for this purpose. Hence, we see that corresponding Dutch words with -ende often end in -er in Frisian. Examples are:

Table 2
Dutch Frisian
belangstellende someone who is interested nigethawwer someone who is interested
inzittende passenger ynsitter passenger
woningzoekende house hunter wenningsiker house hunter
omwonende neighbour omwenner neighbour
overlevende survivor oerlibber survivor
langstlevende longest liver langste libber longest liver
hoogstbiedende highest bidder heechste bieder highest bidder

More information on this contrast can be found in De Haan and Hoekstra (1993:19-21) and Hoekstra (1987).

Secondly, as in other Germanic languages, the suffix -er also builds impersonal agent names from verbs. Examples are:

Table 3
Base form Derivation
wize to point wizer pointer
kuolje to cool kuoller cooler
printsje to print printer printer
rutewiskje to wipe the windows rutewisker screenwiper
pakjedrage to carry packets pakjedrager carrier
bommesmite to throw bombs bommesmiter bomber

Thirdly, next to the impersonal subject names there are instrument names, i.e. things that one can use to perform something. Examples are:

Table 4
Base form Derivation
stekke to stab, to put, to prick stekker plug
bjinne to scrub bjinder scrubber
klopje to knock, to beat klopper door knocker
skroevedraaie to screw skroevedraaier screwdriver
túnklauwe to rake the garden túnklauwer rake

Fourth, object names may be derived with the help of -er, although this pattern is not quite widespread:

Table 5
Base form Derivation
ite to eat iter a potato that is grown for consumption
ompartsje to part omparter handout
oanhingje to hang, be attached to something oanhinger trailer
oerstrûpe to change clothes oerstrûper blouse

Other suffixes that create object names are -sel and -ing.

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Homonymous derivations

Sometimes, one derivation can have two meanings, because it may function both as an object noun and as a subject noun. The following example illustrates this. In the first sentence the derivation is an object noun, while in the second sentence the same word has been used as a personal subject:

Example 2

a. Ik ha de oanhinger al oan 'e wein keppele
I have the trailer already on the car connected
I've attached the trailer to the car
b. Sy is in oanhinger fan dy nije politike partij
she is a supporter of that new political pary
She is a supporter of the new political party

Finally, the suffix can create action nouns, often derived from impersonal verbs. Here are some sentences illustrating this:

Example 3

a. It sil fan 'e middei wol in reinder wurde
it shall of the afternoon well a rain-SUFF become
It will probably rain this afternoon
b. Krekt foar't wy thús wienen, krigen wy noch in bêste snjitter
just before we home were, got we still a best spout-SUFF
Just before we got home, we got quite a shower
c. Wy hienen in bêste skower yn 'e wyn op
we had a best shove-SUFF in the wind on
It was quite hard to cycle against the wind
d. Hy hat noch krekt in skamper fan 'e gryp meikrigen
he has still just a scuff-SUFF of the flu got
He was infected by a residue of the flu

Many of these derivations have something to do with the weather. Below, base forms and exact meanings are given:

Table 6
Base forms Derivations
reine to rain reinder long lasting shower
snjitte to spout snjitter quick heavy shower
driuwe to float driuwer gentle breeze, just enough to be able to sail
stowe to drizzle stower drizzle
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More examples of this kind can be found in Tjepkema (1978:51).

[+]Noun as base

The suffix -er can also follow other word classes than verbs. For instance, it can be attached to nouns:

Table 7
Base form Derivation
skip ship skipper captain
mûne mill mûnder miller
die(d) deed, act dieder perpetrator

In line with the core of the verbal bases, these derivations more or less carry an idea of agentivity. For example, a mûnder miller lets a mill function in its proper way.

There are also examples where the noun is followed by the allomorph -ner. This especially occurs after dental stops:

Table 8
Base form Derivation
keunst art keunstner artist
amt office amtner public servant
skuld debt, guilt skuldner debtor
klûs hermitage klûzner hermit

The noun widner widower seems to have been derived from female widdo widow with truncation of the final segment /o:/.

The nominal base is often complex, as for example haad-fak head-subject major subject > haadfakker major student. Acronyms can be input as well: FNP Frisian National Party > FNP'er FNP.SUFF supporter or member of the Frisian National Party.

[+]Adjective as base

There are only a few adjectives that can be followed by -er. One is frijwillich voluntary > frijwilliger volunteer.

There are also two predicatively used adjectives that can take -er. One example is the univerbation útfanhûs out-of-house staying as visitor. From this can be derived útfanhuzer, as in:

Example 4

Us heit makket it bêd klear foar de útfanhuzer
our father makes the bed ready for the out.of.house.SUFF
My father prepares the bed for our guest

The other predicatively used adjective is fuort away, which becomes fuorter someone who likes to go out. This fuorter is a negative polarity item:

Example 5

Ik bin net sa'n fuorter
I am not such.a away.SUFF
I do not like going out
[+]Numeral as base

Decades can be followed by -er as well. Examples are tachtich eighty > tachtiger person in his/her eighties and twintich twenty > twintiger person in his/her twenties. Again, these nouns always have common gender. (Another suffix -er that takes the same numeral bases but rather forms adjectives is dealt with in -er forming adjectives out of numerals).

[+]Phrase as base

Sometimes, the suffix -er may also take phrasal bases. An example is twaddeklasser second-class-SUFF person belonging to the second class. The suffix -er even functions in very complex constructions, for example in:

Example 6

Dat is sa'n bern-bûten-op-'e-dyk-omrinnelitter
that is such.a child-outside-on-the-road-araound-walk.INF-let.SUFF
That is a parent who leaves his children walking outside, without paying attention to them

Hoekstra (1987:11-23) analyses this kind of constructions from a syntactic point of view.

[+]Phonological properties

In the case of stems ending in [-r], like behear, a segment [d] has to be inserted: behearder manager. If the stem ends in [-l] or [-n], the insertion is optional. An example is hurdrin(d)er runner. For d-insertion, see /d/-insertion in the sequences /nər/, /lər/, and /rər/.

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A meaning difference between forms with or without [d]-insertion

In the case of the verb bjinne to scrub the derivation can be either bjinner scrubber or bjinder scrubber. The form with the inserted [d] can refer to both the acting person and the instrument, while the form without the [d] can only refer to a person.

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This topic is mainly based on Hoekstra (1998:96-98).

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