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Adjectives do not always show up in the same shape. For example, the Frisian adjective hurd hard may also be observed in the forms hurde, hurder, hurdste, hurden, hurdenien and hurds. In the topics on adjectival inflection the question will be dealt with where and when these forms appear. Five areas of inflection will be distinguished: prenominal inflection (e.g. the form hurde), degree forms (comparative hurder and superlative hurdste), the partitive construction (hurds), nominal ellipsis (hurden and hurdenien) and emphasis (hurden and hurde).


The most common manifestation of adjectival inflection is an instance of agreement if the adjective is in attributive position. It occurs if the adjective is part of a noun phrase. The choice of possible endings is rather restricted: it is either the suffix -e or a zero-suffix, i.e. the lack of an overt inflectional ending. An example is de hurde stien the hard-INFL stone.C the hard stone. In prenominal position, the Frisian adjective agrees both with the head noun of the noun phrase in gender and with the determiner in definiteness. We do not find inflection in predicative position: de stien is hurd/*hurde the stone is hard/hard-Infl the stone is hard. Frisian prenominal inflection resembles the Dutch system to a high degree, although there are some minor differences. Within West Germanic, the two languages occupy a middle position between English, which lacks this type of adjectival inflection altogether, and German, which has a much more complicated system. Prenominal adjectival inflection in Frisian will be dealt with in the topic prenominal position.

Traditionally, also the forms of the comparative and the superlative, marked by the suffixes -er and -ste, are subsumed under inflection. They represent a higher and the highest degree, respectively, cf. the English forms harder and hardest. The Frisian version of inflection of the degrees of comparison is described in degree.

Frisian adjectives may also occur in a special partitive construction, in which they are preceded by a quantificational element. This is morphologically relevant because the adjectives invariably show a suffix -s in this construction. An example is wat hurds something hard. As may be detected from the translation, English has a comparable construction, but without a special morphological marking. The same construction also exists in Dutch, as in iets hards, again with a suffix -s. The adjectival inflection in the partitive construction will be discussed in the topic partitive construction.

More specific to Frisian are the special forms of the adjective that may show up when the following noun is elided, for example in in sêfte stien en in hurden a soft-Infl stone and a hard-ELL --- a soft stone and a hard one. The dashes in the gloss stand for the elided noun (here stien stone), and ELL is shorthand for the special suffix in this elliptical context. The typical suffixes in this respect are -en and -enien. Next to the broad syntactic context of nominal ellipsis, their appearance in this construction is also dependent on the property of indefiniteness of the noun phrase which the adjective is part of. The morphology of the adjective in the context of nominal ellipsis will be treated in nominal ellipsis.

Frisian also has special inflectional means to express emphasis. There are two suffixes, -e and -en. which only occur attributively; and this is not the only restriction that applies.

[+]Contextual versus inherent inflection

An important distinction in the area of inflection is between contextual and inherent inflection. Inherent inflection adds morphosyntactic properties with an independent semantic value. Contextual inflection, on the other hand, is rather dependent on the syntactic context, but it does not directly add information. Verbal inflection as a result of agreement between finite verb and subject is a core example of contextual inflection. Also the prenominal inflection of the adjective is a typical instance, which has no semantic effect whatsoever. More or less the same could be claimed of the ending in nominal ellipsis: the addition is fully dependent on the syntactic context, hence, also this instance of inflectional is contextual. The same could be said of the suffix -s in the partitive construction.

The situation is different where the degree suffixes of the comparative and the superlative are concerned: they add a specific semantic value to the basic adjective, and this addition has no direct syntactic restrictions or effects. Degree suffixes are clear examples of inherent inflection. The suffixes that function as emphatic markers are a little less straightforward in this respect. It is clear that they bear a specific semantic value, but on the other hand, they are also subject to some syntactic restrictions. The most important is that the two suffixes, -e and -en, are only allowed in attributive position.

Inherent inflection is more similar to derivation than contextual inflection. As a rule, derivational suffixes are closer to the base form of a word than inflectional ones. In the same vein, inherent suffixes are closer than the contextual ones. We now have the following hierarchy: derivation > inherent inflection > contextual inflection. The first two stages may be illustrated by the pair readiger red-SUFF-COMP more reddish versus *readerich; the ungrammatical example has the wrong order: inherent inflection derivation. With respect to the inherent degree suffixes we may observe that these always appear before the contextual ones. For comparative -er we have: hurd-er-e (prenominal inflection), hurd-er-en(ien) (nominal ellipsis) and hurd-er-s (partitive construction). The opposite order is out: *hurd-e-er, *hurd-en(ien)-er and *hurd-s-er. The same effect may be observed with the superlative suffix: for instance, in combination with prenominal inflection the outcome is hurdste hard-SUP-INFL hardest, with fusion of the final schwa of the superlative suffix -ste and the schwa of the inflectional suffix -e. The opposite order results in ungrammatical *hurdeste.

The status of the emphatic suffixes as inherent inflection remains undecided if we apply these ordering tests, simply because emphatic forms are not involved in prenominal inflection. We can speak of in hurden slach a hard-EMP blow a hard blow, but the adjective should actually be inflected in this example before the common noun slach. That yields an ungrammatical result, however: *in hurdene slach. We may assume that the same restriction applies to the emphatic marker -e, although this cannot be determined because of the potential merger of the emphatic suffix and the phonologically identical prenominal one.

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On the distinction between inherent and contextual inflection, see for instance Booij (1996) and Booij (2002:19-20). Dyk (2011) argues that the special endings of nominal ellipsis are an instance of contextual inflection.

  • Booij, Geert1996Inherent versus contextual inflection and the split morphology hypothesisBooij, Geert & Marle, Jaap van (eds.)Yearbook of Morphology 1995Dordrecht / BostonKluwer1-16
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Dyk, Siebren2011The morphology of Frisian nominal ellipsis