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The Germanic suffix -sel derives neuter nouns. The derivations represent the Theme role, i.e. the direct object of transitive verbs ( betinke to invent > betinksel invention) or the subject of an ergative verb (bloeie to bloom > bloeisel blossom). Usually, they denote the product or result of the action performed by the verb. This meaning aspect has such an impact that it is not necessarily so that the derived noun is an argument of the verb. An example is neuksel sperm (from the verb neuke to fuck). There are also some instrument names, like droechsel desiccant from droegje to dry.

[+]General properties

Where derivations with the suffix -er refer to the agent of a verb, it is rather the verb's patient or theme that is referred to by -sel. The suffix also exists in Dutch, German and the Scandinavian languages. Derivations are object names, with the exception of skepsel creature, which can denote a person. All derived words have neuter gender, although stisel starch and sprusel bit, scrap shifted to the common nouns; for more background, see gender change by opacity of a suffix.

[+]Base forms

Most words ending in -sel are derived from transitive verbs. They denote the result of the action as described by the verb:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
skeppe to create skepsel creature
betinke to invent betinksel invention
ôftrekke to extract ôftreksel extract
oerprintsje to reprint oerprintsel reprint
bakke to bake baksel baking
minge to mix mingsel mix
skriuwe to write skriuwsel scribblings
slypje to grind slypsel grindings
úttrekke to (make an) excerpt (from) úttreksel summary, excerpt

These derivations can both refer to a concrete (cf. baksel baking) or an abstract entity (cf. betinksel invention).

Some intransitive verbs may also be the origin of derivations with -sel, and hence it seems as if -sel may also derive subject names:

Table 2
Base Derivation
besakje to settle down besaksel sediment, dregs
bloeie to bloom bloeisel blossom
ferskine to appear ferskynsel phenomenon
ynslûpe to sneak in ynslûpsel interference
oerbliuwe to be left oerbliuwsel relic, remnant
útspuie to vomit útspuisel vomit

To be more precise, these intransitive base verbs can be characterized as ergative. This results in a common feature with the transitive verbs above, i.e. that the derivation with -sel refers to a Theme role.

The nouns derived from ergative verbs can be quite abstract, and then the relation with the verb may be relatively far-fetched. Examples are ferskynsel or oerbliuwsel above.

[+]Semantic properties

The semantic contribution of the suffix can be characterized as 'product or result of the action denoted by the verb'. For example, baksel baking is the result of the action of the transitive verb bakke to bake. In a way, this can be transferred to ergative verbs. The result of a verb like bloeie to bloom is bloeisel blossom. The focus on result has the effect that we also find derivations which do not directly reflect the direct object of the verb, but are rather a result or product in a somewhat wider sense. For example, neuksel sperm can be a result of the action denoted by the verb neuke to fuck, but the concept of 'sperm' cannot act as the direct object of this verb. Other derivations in the same vein are slypsel grind(ings) (from slypje to grind), mingsel mix (from minge to mix) or skraabsel scrapings (from skraabje to scrape).

In addition, some derivations with -sel fulfill the role of instrument. Here are some examples:

Table 3
Base form Derivation
swartsje to blacken swartsel carbon black
smarre to spread smarsel ointment
fersiere to decorate fersiersel decoration
útwine to excuse útwynsel excuse

For example, one cannot execute the action of the verb smarre to spread with a smarsel ointment as a result. Rather, one needs the result of the derivation smarsel (the object, material) to execute the action of the verb: one needs ointment in order to spread, one needs carbon black in order to blacken, etcetera.

Quite some derivations can have a pejorative character, as is illustrated in the following examples:

Example 1

Ik ha gjin goed wurd oer foar dy skriuwsels fan him
I have no good word left for those scribblings of him
I have nothing good to say about his scribblings
Example 2

Dy nije cd is gewoan in slop ôftreksel fan 'e foarige
that new CD is just a lame infusion of the previous
That new CD is just a pale shadow of the previous one

In this pejorative use the suffix is particularly productive.

[+]Phonological properties

The suffix -sel bears no stress, since it is pronounced with a schwa: [səl]. A phonological restriction is the condition that the stem of the base verb may not end in [s] or [z]. For example, from sketse to sketch one cannot derive *sketssel sketch and a verb like lêze to read can not be the basis foar *lêssel. The restriction does not apply to gearmjuksel hotchpotch, coming from the verb gearmjuksje to mix. As a second restriction, the base verb may not end in a syllable with a schwa, for instance *teken-sel < teken-je to draw or *timmersel from the verb timmerje to hammer.

[+]Morphological potentials

Suffixation with -sel may result both in mass nouns and count nouns. The latter can regularly be pluralized with the suffix -s, for example betinksel invention > betinksels inventions. Many count nouns also have a diminutive form (cf. -DIM). Examples are skepsel creature > skepseltsje small creature or smarsel ointment > smarseltsje ointment.

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This topic is primarily based on Hoekstra (1998:102-103). See also Tamminga (1987), in particular for pejorative connotations.

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1987It bysûndere efterheaksel '-sel'De Pompeblêden58104