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The suffix -e occurs in adjectival synthetic compounds, after an adjective plus a noun. It derives adjectives and is unproductive. An example is bliereage glad-eye-SUFF with glad eyes. Most of the -e formations have a synonymous derivation with the suffix -ich, for example bliereagich friendly, with glad eyes. It should be noted that there is a similar pattern, also with the suffix -e. The difference is the first member, which is a numeral.

[+]General properties

The pattern A + N + suffix -e is unproductive. It derives adjectives. Examples are rêdskonke fast-leg-SUFF with fast legs and rearute red-check-SUFF red-checked. Such synthetic compounds with the suffix -e mostly occur in fixed collocations containing a noun: in langskonke mich long-leg-SUFF a long-legged fly, in langsturte mies long-tail-SUFF a long-tailed tit or in breedskade hoed broad-shadow-SUFF a broad-brimmed hat. They also occur in sayings like the following:

Swiergatte memmen meitsje lichtgatte bern en lichtgatte memmen meitsje swiergatte bern
heavy-ass-SUFF mothers make light-ass-SUFF children and light-ass-SUFF mothers make heavy-ass-SUFF children
Lazy mothers make active children, and the active mothers make lazy children
Fleane as in ieneage hûn
fly like a one-eye-SUFF dog
To go about something rashly

The semantics is additional. So, in langskonke mich is a fly which is equipped with long legs.

[+]Phonological and morphological properties

Diminutive nouns may also occur in the base, given examples like fyntriedsje spek fine-thread-DIM-SUFF bacon fine-threaded bacon or readwankje apels read-cheek-DIM-SUFF rosy-cheeked apples. Diminutives also occur in the adverbials bleatspoatsje bare-leg-DIM-SUFF with bare feet (with the intrusion of /s/) and loshantsje loose-hand-DIM-SUFF (ride) with no hands. Note that the suffix -e is not expressed phonetically in these cases, as it is absorbed by or is merged with the final schwa of the diminutive suffix. We see the same effect when the noun itself already ends in a schwa, for example in in koartbokse broek a short-legged trouser (from bokse trouser-leg) and in readpanne dak a red-tiled roof (from panne tile).

As the function of the suffix in these examples does not seem to be truly diminutive, one might alternatively also assume that the building suffix of these synthetic compounds is not -e, but rather the diminutive suffix -DIM itself.

Origin of the suffix

The origin of the suffix has led to some discussion. According to Sytstra and Hof (1925:94), the second lexical part in this type of compounds is actually an adjective, formally identical to a noun or a verbal stem. Hence, in their opinion, the suffix -e would not be derivational but rather inflectional. However, Hoekstra (1998:131) argues that in an example like in bliereage famke a friendly looking girl it is very clear that -e is a derivational suffix. In this context, after an indefinite determiner and in front of a neuter noun, the inflectional ending of an adjective should be zero, as in in blier famke a glad girl (see adjectival inflection). If one applies this inflectional rule to the current derivation, one would get *in bliereach famke. As this is ungrammatical, the conclusion has to be that the schwa in in bliereage famke is a derivational suffix.

It was Faltings (1996) who argued that the origin should be found in an Old Germanic suffix, in Old Frisian manifesting itself as -ad or -ed. Later, the final /d/ deleted, but it is still preserved in weakskylde beantsjes soft-peel-SUFF bean.DIM.PL French beans and (with an initial numeral) in in twaearde potsje a two-ear-SUFF pot.DIM a jar with two ears (handles). This same /d/ is also present in a few derivations from simplex nouns. Examples are blier blister > blierd with a blaze (on a cow), blês blaze > blêsd blazed and blom flower > blomd flowered.

In Dutch, this pattern is possibly somewhat more common than in Frisian, compare Dutch gespierd muscular with Frisian spiersterk muscular, Dutch gearmd arm in arm with Frisian earmke-yn-earmke arm in arm, Dutch geblokt chequered with Frisian blokkich chequered and Dutch bejaard elderly with Frisian jierrich elderly. As can be seen, Frisian often prefers -ich derivations with the suffix -ich or other phrases in such cases.


This topic is mainly based on Hoekstra (1998:131). The pattern under discussion seems to have been noticed for the first time by Sytstra and Hof (1925:94). They stress its archaic character. (Paardekooper 1990) gives an overview of this pattern in Dutch coastal dialects. Faltings (1996) places the topic in a wider West Germanic context, however, with a focus on North Frisian.

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Paardekooper, P.C1990Een uitstervend morfologisch ingweonisme: het type platboomdLeuvense Bijdragen79279-299
  • Sytstra, Onno H. & Hof, Jan J1925Nieuwe Friesche SpraakkunstLeeuwardenR. van der Velde
  • Sytstra, Onno H. & Hof, Jan J1925Nieuwe Friesche SpraakkunstLeeuwardenR. van der Velde
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