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In prenominal position

The position of an adjective is in front of a noun, it is inflected. This position, also called attributive is essential. For instance, inflection applies if the adjective lulk angry is in attributive use, as in the word group de lulke bolle the angry bull. If the adjective is used predicatively, as in de bolle wurdt lulk the bull gets angry, the adjective lulk does not show the inflectional suffix -e.

In adjectival inflection, there is a choice between two possibilities only: we can choose between the inflectional element -e or zero: the two possible forms are either lulk-e or lulk. In actual language, the form lulke is the most frequent variant. Zero-suffixation only occurs if three conditions are met: (i) the Noun Phrase (NP) in which the adjective occurs is indefinite, (ii) the following noun has neuter gender and (iii) the noun is non-plural. The adjective swier heavy is not inflected in the wordgroup in swier skip a heavy ship since it is preceded by the indefinite article in and followed by the neuter noun skip.

It is not only the category of adjectives that obeys the rules of adjectival inflection. Some quantifiers, for instance elts every, follow the rules as well. On the other hand, not all adjectives in prenominal position follow the rules. There are some idiosyncretic exceptions, but most deviations have a clear phonological or semantic background. Furthermore, the conservative dialects of Hindeloopen en Schiermonnikoog have their own inflectional systems. However, some reminiscenses of an older inflectional system have survived in standard Frisian as well.


As in other Germanic languages, the Frisian adjective is inflected in prenominal position. Apart from zero inflection, the only inflectional suffix is -e, which is pronounced as a schwa. Hence, this suffix only appears if the adjective is in attributive position, as in it swarte hynder the black horse where a suffix -e has been attached to the adjective swart. In predicative position, the adjective remains uninflected:

Example 1

it hynder is swart / *swarte
the horse is black / *black-I
the horse is black

In the case that the adjective is used adverbially, inflection is not allowed either, as in (2):

Example 2

hy seach swart / *swarte
he saw black
he looked angry

The adjectival inflectional paradigm consists of only two elements: the ending -e or zero ending. In most cases, the adjective is inflected with -e. The adjective is not inflected (or gets a zero inflection) if three conditions are fulfilled at the same time:

  1. the NP in which the adjective occurs, is indefinite
  2. the NP is singular
  3. the head noun of the NP has neuter gender
Schematically, the inflectional paradigm for adjectives can be summarized as follows:
Table 1
Definite Indefinite
singular common -e -e
singular neuter -e -
plural -e -e
This implies that all plural NPs have the -e-ending, as shown in (3):

Example 3

a. grutte tafels
large-INFL table.PL
large tables
b. de grutte tafels
the large-I table.PL
the large tables
c. dy grutte tafels
those large-I table.PL
those large tables
d. guon grutte tafels
some large-I table.PL
some large tables
e. alle grutte tafels
all large-I table.PL
all large tables

In all NPs with a common singular noun, the adjective receives the ending -e as well:

Example 4

a. de grutte tafel
the large-INFL table.SG
the large table
b. in grutte tafel
a large-INFL table.SG
a large table
c. dy grutte tafel
that large-I table.SG
that large table
d. eltse grutte tafel
every-I large-I table.SG
every large table
e. mannich grutte tafel
many large-I table.SG
many a large table

Definite NPs contain a definite article or a demonstrative pronoun. Such NPs also feature the inflectional ending -e, irrespective of the gender of the head noun. Compare the nouns skip ship, which is neuter, and the noun boat boat, which is common.

Example 5

a. de swiere boat the heavy-INFL boat.C the heavy boat
b. it swiere skip the heavy-I ship.N the heavy ship
Example 6

a. dy swiere boat that heavy-INFL boat.C that heavy boat
b. dat swiere skip that heavy-I ship.N that heavy ship

Only in indefinite NPs do we see a less uniform picture. Under the category indefinite are subsumed: NPs with the indefinite article (in Frisian always in a), its negative counterpart gjin no, the numeral ien one, demonstratives as sa'n such and sok such, interrogatives as hok which, hoe'n what kind of and wat what kind of, and indefinite pronouns like elk/elts each, ider every and mannich many. An NP with no determiner at all also counts as indefinite. In table (2) we list a number of examples with the neuter noun hynder horse in an indefinite context in which the adjective swart black remains uninflected, compared to its behaviour in the context of ko cow, a common noun.

Table 2
in swart hynder a black horse.N a black horse in swarte ko a black-INFL cow.C a black cow
ien swart hynder one black horse.N one black horse ien swarte ko one black-INFL cow.C one black cow
gjin swart hynder no black horse.N no black horse gjin swarte ko no black-INFL cow.C no black cow
sa'n swart hynder such=a black horse.N such a black horse sa'n swarte ko such=a black-I cow.C such a black cow
elts swart hynder every black horse.N every black horse eltse swarte ko every-I black-I cow.C every black cow
mannich swart hynder manny black horse.N many a black horse mannich swarte ko many black-INFL cow.C many a black cow
hokker swart hynder which black horse.N which black horse hokker swarte ko which black-I cow.C which black cow
hoe'n swart hynder how=a black horse.N what kind of black horse hoe'n swarte ko how=a black-I cow.C what kind of black cow
wat swart hynder what black horse.N what kind of black horse wat swarte ko what black-INFL cow.C what kind of black cow
oh, swart hynder! oh black horse.N oh, black horse! oh, swarte ko! oh black-I cow.C oh, black cow!

Compare also the examples in (7) with the neuter mass noun guod stuff. The context counts as indefinite, and hence the adjective goed good is not inflected:

Example 7

a. sok goed guod such good stuff.N such good stuff
b. goed guod good stuff.N good stuff

In addition, also possessive contexts count as indefinite in Frisian, at least as far as the inflection of the adjective is concerned: after possessive pronouns and before neuter nouns, the adjective does not receive an ending: it is myn swart hynder my black horse.N my black horse and not *myn swarte hynder. Other possessive contexts show this behaviour as well, for instance in genitives:

Example 8

a. Janboers swart hynder
Jan.PR-farmer-GEN black horse.N
the horse of farmer Jan
b. Jelle-en-dy's âld hûs
Jelle.PR-and-those-GEN old house.N
the old house of Jelle and his relatives

Compare also the behaviour of the genitive form waans whose of the interrogative pronoun wa who as in (9):

Example 9

Waans âld hûs is dat?
who-GEN old house.N is that?
Whose old house is that?
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Dutch influence

The behaviour of the adjective in possessive contexts is the main difference with the Dutch inflectional system. As a result, the Frisian system is under pressure at this point: fairly regularly adjectives with -e after possessives are heard.

[+]Minor categories

It is not only adjectives that obey the rules of prenominal inflection. A few quantifiers do so as well. Compare elts every or its variant elk in elts hynder every horse with eltse ko every cow, where the word hynder is neuter and cow is common. Also the quantifiers sommige some and its synonym somlik must be involved in adjectival inflection, although this cannot be shown by a formal contrast, since these quantifiers are always accompanied by plural nouns. Hence, they always end in a schwa, which means that we only find the forms sommige, somlike. This is somewhat different for the quantifier al all. This seems to have been levelled to alle, hence even in a position where ordinary adjectives lack an ending. Compare in this respect alle iis all-I ice.N.SG all ice with glêd iis slippery ice.N.SG slippery ice.

It should be noted that proper names also govern the inflection of a possible adjective. Consider earme Froukje poor Froukje next to earm Grou poor Grou. Froukje is a girl's name. Names of persons have common gender, hence we see the inflected form earme. Place names are neuter; as a result the adjective is not inflected in this context. Normally, names occur without article, but gender can come to the surface when some qualification is added. For instance in de Froukje fan myn dreamen the Froukje of my dreams, where the article de points at common gender. This is in contrast with it Grou fan myn pake the Grou of my grandfather with the neuter article it.

[+]Phonological consequences

The lengthening of the adjectival stem with an ending -e, that is, with a schwa, has some phonological side-effects. One is that the final segment of the stem may have been subject of final devoicing. As a result, the adjectival stem ends in a voiceless consonant but this segment receives voice if the schwa ending is added. For example, the inflected form of the adjective kreas pretty is kreaze with the voiced segment /z/.

Another, though rather marginal, phonological process is d-rhoticism: a final underlying /d/ turns into /r/ in intervocalic contexts. For instance, for many speakers the pronunciation of the inflected form of âld old is [ͻrə], and not [ͻdə]. The adjective kâld cold may be affected similarly.

The segment /d/ is also involved in another marginal phonological process, i.e. final d-deletion. As a result, a final /d/ is deleted after a (long) vowel. It may have the odd effect that superficially it seems as if in an inflected adjective /d/ is inserted. Examples are dea dead - deade and kwea bad; angry - kweade. However, the peculiarity here is not in the inflected form, but rather in the base itself.

Frisian is well-known for its processes of breaking and shortening. Although the major condition for these processes, i.e. addition of a syllable to the base, seems to be present, these two phenomena are practically absent in adjectival inflection. There are two exceptions, and both of these concern frequently used adjectives. A case of breaking may be found in the inflected form moaie, from moai beautiful. The broken form can only be found in the eastern part of the language area, however. Shortening may be found in the inflected form grutte of the adjective grut big, at least in those (mostly northern) areas where this adjective is pronounced with a long vowel [grö:t] or centralized diphthong [grö.ət].

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The shortening in the case of the word grut is mentioned in Hoekema (1968).

[+]Lexical deviations

Frisian adjectives do not always satisfy the requirements of the inflectional rules. Often certain generalizations can be stated with respect to deviant behaviour. Such deviations can be phonological or semantic in nature; they will be dealt with in the subsections below. Other anomalies have a more accidental character and will be mentioned here. They seem to be purely lexical exceptions. Most of them belong to the non-native stratum. Among them are material names: plestik plastic, rubber rubber and aluminium aluminium. These names could be joined to platina platinum and mika mica, although these two words might also refuse inflection because they end in a full vowel. Another foreign word that does not inflect is oblong oblong. Native words resisting inflection are folbloed full-blood(ed) and healbloed half-bred.

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The material adjectives have the same form as their cognate material nouns. Some of them, especially plestik and rubber, may also participate in the rule for the derivation of adjectives by way of addition of the suffix -en. In that case, such a derivative may optionally inflect, along the lines of the other derivations with -en. The effect is that, for instance, the form *plestike is out, but the form plestikene is acceptable.

[+]Phonologically driven deviations

Inflection of the adjective implies phonologically lengthening of the stem by h a syllable that is made up of a schwa. A schwa is a vowel and adjectives with a stem ending in a vowel appear to have serious problems in accepting this adjacent schwa. This phenomenon will be described at the end of this subsection. Addition of a schwa also means that the stem is extended by a syllable without stress. For rythmic reasons, this may cause problems with those stems that already end in a stressless syllable. Too many stressless syllables in a row is unattractive; sometimes even two are too many.

Difficulties with two syllables without stress mainly manifest themselves in the case of stems ending in schwa plus /n/ or /r/. On the other hand, syllables with for instance final -el, -em or adjectives with the suffix -lik (all pronounced with a schwa) accept an extra inflectional schwa without any problem, as is clear from (10):

Example 10

a. de mûtel-e faam
the chubby maid
b. de stikem-e jonge
the sneaky boy
c. it foarlik-e bern
the precocious child

Inflection is even obligatory here, cf. *de mûtel faam etc.

The situation is more complex with those stems that end in -en /ǝn/. Such stems may accept an inflectional -e, but this is not obligatory, and we often see no inflection in these cases.

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Dykstra (1984) investigated inflection after the suffix -en building material adjectives. He found that in about 20% of actual language use such adjectives are inflected, and the percentage is even decreasing. The latter may be the influence of Dutch: in Dutch, we do not find inflection after -en at all.

Structurally, the final sequence -en may represent different elements. It may be part of the adjective stem, as in iepen open or rimpen hasty. Examples with and without inflection are provided in (11):

Example 11

a. it iepen(e) finster
the open window
b. de rimpen(e) direkteur
the hasty manager

There is one exception to this rule: the adjective eigen own, which is never inflected: it is syn eigen auto his own car and not *syn eigene auto.

Many adjectives ending in -en contain the suffix -en which build adjectives from nouns denoting a material or substance: from hout wood one can form houten wooden. Such adjectives may optionally inflect as well:

Example 12

a. it houten(e) stek
the wooden fence
b. in gouden(e) ring
a golden ring

That a rythmic factor is the main force behind the non-inflection of adjectives ending in -en can be seen from the behaviour of those material adjectives which have a nominal stem that also ends in a schwa syllable. Addition of inflectional -e would result in three syllables without stress: the final syllable of the stem plus the suffix -en plus inflectional -e. Thus from material nouns like koper cupper, izer iron or moarmer marble it is virtually impossible to build inflected adjectival forms like *koperene, *izerene or *moarmerene.

Verbal forms may also be used as adjectives. Infinitives and past participles are relevant here, the latter only the ones stemming from strong verbs since only these may end in a suffix -en. Here are two examples:

Example 13

a. de ferfallen(e) skuorre
the dilapidated barn
b. de útwosken(e) sokken
the washed socks

Modal infinitives may appear in prenominal position. Next to dat boek is [maklik te lêzen] that book is [easy to read] we also have dat [maklik te lêzen] boek. Nowadays, the infinitive is not inflected: *dat maklik te lêzene boek. It was different in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, where we can encounter citations like the following:

Example 14

a. dizze noait to forjittene jierdeifiering
this never to forget-I annual celebration
this celebration that we will never forget
T.G. van der Meulen, De Bye-koer (1852), p. 79
b. de net út to hâldene neargeastigens
the not out to hold-I gloominess
the unbearable gloominess
S.K. Feitsma, Forjit my net (1907), p. 66
c. de to settene nammen
the to set-I names
the signatures that have to be put
G.A. Wumkes, It Frysk réveil yn portretten (1911), p. 258

In principle, prenominal modal infinitives should be inflected, as can be detected from the members of a small group of monosyllabic infinitives. Examples are dwaan to do and sjen to see. As these infinitives consist of one syllable, they do not contain a final syllable without stress. Hence, we see obligatory inflection in this category, as shown in (15).

Example 15

a. de noch te dwane opjeften
the still to do-INFL tasks
the tasks that should still be done
b. it yn te sjenne hânskrift
the in to see manuscript
the manuscript to be consulted

In these examples non-inflection are unacceptable, i.e. *te dwaan or *yn te sjen.

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The inflection of prenominal modal infinitives is pointed out in the grammar of Van Blom (1889:128-129). He gives examples like it te lêzene boek the book to be read and de te gravene sleat the ditch to be digged. Later grammarians did not include this phenomenon, which also may point at its marginal position in the modern language.

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Besides inflectional -e a nominalizing suffix -e exists that forms nouns from adjectives. This nominalizing -e is never deleted, not even after the cluster /ən/. Consider this example:

Example 16

Hy hie twa soannen. Gurbe wie de iepene (*iepen), Lolle de slettene (*sletten)
He had two sons. Gurbe was the open one, Lolle the closed one

This even applies to the word eigen own, which in itself is never inflected. But compare a phrase like it Fryskeigene lit: the Frisian own, i.e. everything that is typical for Friesland.

In contrast to the final cluster -en, inflection after final -er /ər/ is in a stronger position. If -er is part of the adjectival stem, inflection follows the normal rules, as is clear from (17):

Example 17

a. de snippere famkes the charming-I girls the charming girls
      *de snipper famkes
b. de lekkere par the delicious-I pear the delicious pear
      *de lekker par

The rules for regular inflection - with one notable exception, see the section about pseudo-deviations - also apply to the comparative suffix -er: we have de gruttere auto's the larger cars and not de *grutter auto's. However, if the comparative suffix follows a syllable with a schwa, the tendency is to drop inflectional -e. Compare:

Example 18

a. *?in ûnbetrouberdere fint an unreliable-COMP-I guy a more unreliable guy
      in ûnbetrouberder fint
b. *?in foarsichtigere man a careful-COMP-I man a more careful man
      in foarsichtiger man

There is also a suffix -er that builds adjectives on the basis of geographical names. Such adjectives are never inflected:

Example 19

a. de Grinzer universiteit the University of Groningen
      de *Grinzere universiteit
b. Dimter koeke cake from Deventer
      *Dimtere koeke

The same restrtiction applies to allomorphs like -(e)mer and -ster:

Example 20

a. de Knypster famkes the girls of De Knipe
      de *Knypstere famkes
b. de Bûtenpostmer merke the Buitenpost fair
      de *Bûtenpostmere merke

Also the words lofter left and rjochter right, formed by a marginal suffix -er after the stems loft and rjocht, never show inflection:

Example 21

a. de rjochter skoech the right shoe
      de *rjochtere skoech
b. de lofter sok the left sock
      de *loftere sok
[+]Semantically driven deviations

In addition to lexical deviations and phonologically driven deviations, there are cases that do not obey the general pattern of adjectival inflection for reasons of semantics. We distinguish four cases; the first three types; the first three also occur in Dutch.

  1. Firstly, we have the case of adjectives denoting a quality or a geographical name. Such an adjective is not inflected if it occurs after an indefinite article and before a noun denoting a person. As to the indefinite article, not only the article in a is relevant, but also variants like gjin no, sa'n such a or hoe'n how a what kind of. We have seen in the section on the paradigm that adjectives are never inflected before neuter nouns and after such determiners. The special thing here is, that inflection is not found before common nouns either. A few examples:
    Example 22

    a. in lestich man
    a difficult man
    b. in Dútsk skriuwer
    a German writer
    c. hoe'n grut skilder
    how-a great painter
    how great a painter
    d. gjin grut strateech
    no great strategist
    e. in goed soldaat
    a good soldier

    it is not excluded that the adjective receives an inflectional ending -e. However, in that case the semantics is different. If there is no inflection, it is the function and the typical behaviour of the one described by the noun that is foregrounded. In this case, the adjective has a more adverbial function, so to say: in in grut skilder a great painter someone is described who is a great artist. On the other hand, in grutte skilder a tall-I painter a tall painter is someone who is a painter and a tall person at that. In goed soldaat a good soldier has good qualifications as a soldier, but in goede soldaat a good-INFL soldier a good soldier is someone who is a soldier and has a good character to boot. Sometimes the difference is difficult to describe, for instance in in lestich man a difficult man vs. in lestige man a difficult man, which may be due to the fuzzy semantics of man man in its functional interpretation.

    If the noun is interpreted as a function, the accompanying adjective necessarily has the "adverbial" interpretation too. This has the effect that in the case of two or more prenominal adjectives, all have to remain uninflected. Compare:
    Example 23

    a. in goed, dapper soldaat
    a good brave soldier
    a good, brave soldier
    b. *in goede, dapper soldaat
    a good-I brave soldier
    c. *in goed, dappere soldaat
    a good brave-I soldier
    Example 24

    a. in bang mar goed soldaat
    a scared but good soldier
    a scared but good soldier
    b. *in bange, mar goed soldaat
    a scared-I but good soldier
    c. *in bang mar goede soldaat
    a scaryedbut good-I soldier

    It is important to stress that non-inflection for this category only occurs after indefinite determiners. Therefore, an example like

    Example 25

    *de grut skilder
    the great painter
    the great painter

    is ungrammatical. The correct form de grutte skilder is ambiguous. The ambiguity might be expressed in English by the two adjectives tall and great, respectively.

  2. A second case of non-inflection as a result of a semantic influence is restricted to common nouns, i.e. those which take the definite article de. The noun should refer to a person who has a specific function in society. Here are some examples:
    Example 26

    a. dy sosjaal wurker
    that.c social worker.C
    that social worker
    b. dizze bûtengewoan heechlearaar
    this.c extraordinary professor.C
    this exrtraodinary professor
    c. de kontrolearjend genêshear
    the controlling physician.C
    the controlling physician
    d. de saaklik direkteur
    the commercial manager.C
    the commercial manager

    Non-inflection is independent of the kind of determiner in front of the adjective, and of singularity or plurality. In other words, the adjective is never inflected:

    Example 27

    a. in sosjaal wurker
    a social worker.SG
    a social worker
    b. de sosjaal wurkers
    the social worker.PL
    the social workers

    As in the former case, non-inflection is related to semantics. That is, the adjective does allow inflection, but then we see a shift in meaning. Non-inflection is typically related to the social function that is occupied by the person denoted by the noun. Thus a saaklik direkteur is a commercial manager, for instance in contrast to a wittenskiplik direkteur scientific director. Inflection implies a shift in meaning. Thus, a saaklike direkteur is not a commercial manager, but a manager who is down-to-earth. Hence, the perspective is on the person himself, and not on his function. Furthermore, this category is dependent on the combination of a specific adjective and a specific noun. For instance, non-inflected adjective saaklik may combine with the noun directeur, but not with the noun autohanler car dealer. Thus a *saaklik autohanler is impossible. On the other hand, inflected adjectives are possible throughout, as in in saaklike autohanler a practical car dealer. Not all adjectives are suitable; they should necessarily have a relation with the function. Therefore, *de aardich direkteur is out, while de aardige direkteur the nice manager is fully acceptable. Friendliness is not an integral aspect of the function of a manager.

    That the adjective and the noun do build a special combination may also be detected from the fact that the non-inflected adjective should be adjacent to the noun:

    Example 28

    de keal-e saaklik direkteur
    the bold-I commercial manager
    the bold commercial manager

    Note that this is an infringement on the rule that all adjectives should have the same inflectional ending. Moreover, the non-inflected adjective has a tight relationship with the noun, and they may therefore not be separated from each other:

    Example 29

    *de saaklik keal-e direkteur
    the commercial bold-I manager
    the commercial bold manager
  3. There is a third category in which for semantic reasons the adjective is not inflected, and where just as in the second category the adjective and the noun have a tight relationship. The restriction here is that the noun has neuter gender, and furthermore that it should (mostly) refer to abstract matters. Note that in the previous category common nouns and persons were involved. A further relevant point is that the determiner should be definite - we have seen that after indefinite determiners and before neuter nouns adjectives are not inflected anyway. Some examples are shown in (30):
    Example 30

    a. dat koart pleit
    that short lawsuit
    that restricted lawsuit
    b. it medysk bulletin
    the medical bulletin
    the medical bulletin
    c. it hillich fjoer
    the holy fire
    the enthousiasm
    d. it tapast ûndersyk
    the applied research
    the applied research

    Another difference between this and the previous category is the fact that if the noun is plural, then the adjective is inflected regularly. Thus we have de medysk-e bulletins the medical-I bulletins the medical bulletins. Non-inflection yields an unacceptable or hardly acceptable cluster: *?de medysk bulletins.

    If the noun is in the singular, most adjectives may be inflected as well, but then, as above, we get a meaning difference. For instance, it koart pleit is a specific kind of law-suit, where it koart-e pleit the short-INFL plea is a plea that does not last long.

    As above, the property of the tight relationship manifests itself in the fact that not every adjective is possible in this construction, in other words it should comply with the semantics. For example, in contrast to it medysk bulletin there is no non-inflected *it koart bulletin the short bulletin the short bulletin, in other words, the adjective should always get an inflectional ending in such an example: it koart-e bulletin the short-I bulletin the short bulletin. And again, the tight relationship is reflected in the order if there are more adjectives, that is, the non-inflected one should be adjacent to the noun:

    Example 31

    a. it koart-e medysk bulletin
    the short-I medical bulletin
    the short medical bulletin
    b. *it medysk koarte bulletin
    the medical short-I bulletin
    the medical short bulletin
  4. The three cases dealt with above in which an adjective is not inflected for semantic reasons also occur in Dutch. Next to these, there is a fourth type, which seems to be typical of Frisian. It is not quite easy to identify as such. In the literature it is mostly stated that adjective and noun represent one concept, or that the combination of adjective and noun is self-evident. Some examples are shown in (32):
    Example 32

    a. it moai guod
    the beautiful stuff
    the beautiful things, e.g. of a trousseau
    b. in fet ko
    a fat cow
    a fat cow
    c. in jong faam
    a young maid
    a young maid
    d. in lang piip
    a long pipe
    a church warden
    e. de âld man
    the old man
    the old man

    In the previous categories, the notion of "one concept" also played a role, but in those cases more specific or abstract adjectives and nouns were involved. The present category centers around quite common adjectives like goed good, kwea bad, jong young, and especially âld old. The literal meaning of these adjectives has been bleached somewhat, and a more affective meaning comes to the fore. The WFT (1984-2011) s.v. âld (I), 6 has a section especially devoted to this use of the word âld old. In it, we see examples like de âld bril the old glasses, which actually means 'the glasses that we know so well'. Or take de âld swarte the old black one, which refers to a stove that has served so well for so many years.

    The fact that the combination more or less denotes one concept, plus the lack of an inflectional element, causes the combination to be mearily interpreted as one word; see here for more information on this subject. According to the Frisian spelling conventions, the combination should be written without spacing: moaiguod, jongfaam, langpiip, âldman. Such AN-compounds show the same stress patterns as the phrasal combination, i.e. the main stress is on the noun. A relevant criterion could be whether the adjective is also inflected if the noun is plural. If this is the case, we could opt for a phrase, if not, then the choice for one word would be appropriate. Often, both options are open: there is quite some variation among speakers at this point: both de langpipen (one word) and de lang-e pipen the long-INFL-pipe-PL the church wardens (phrasal) can occur.

    [hide extra information]

    Hoekstra (2000) suggests that this category is related to the relatively long existence of the weak declension in Frisian, which in the singular shows no ending either (see archaic forms). For the relationship with AN-compounds, see also Hoekstra (1998:55-56).

[+]Dialectical deviations

The inflection of the adjective is essentially the same for the whole Frisian language area, including the Frisian dialects of the island of Terschelling, although it seems to be the case that adjectives ending in -en never show inflection there (as is also the case in Dutch). As we have seen in phonologically driven deviations, inflection after this cluster is variable in mainland Frisian.

However, there are two exceptions. In the dialects of the small town of Hindeloopen (Frisian: Hylpen or Hynljippen) and the island of Schiermonnikoog (Frisian: Skiermûntseach) we see stronger deviations of the common inflectional system. Let us start with Hindeloopen. The adjective is inflected differently in this dialect if it is positioned before a noun having common gender and after an indefinite determiner. In standard Frisian we have the ending -e in this configuration, but in Hindeloopen this is -en. Thus Frisian in âld-e man an old-INFL man an old man is in aald-en man in Hindeloopen. Other examples are:

Example 33

Before common nouns in the Hindeloopen dialect
in graet-en bolle a big-I bull a big bull
in jûng-en protter a young-I starling a young starling
gin nii-en serke no new-I church no new church

This results in the following paradigm for the inflection of the adjective in the Frisian dialect of Hindeloopen:

Table 3
Definite Indefinite
common singular -e -en
neuter singular -e -
plural -e -e
The inflectional suffix -en also occurs after a final cluster -en /ǝn/, either belonging to the stem or as a derivational suffix. Thus we have in gold-en-en ryng a gold-SUFF-I a golden ring. In the dialect of Hindeloopen, the inflectional ending -e after -en is far from uncommon, even after double occurrences of schwa-syllables. We may find forms like silver-en-e silver-SUFF-INFL silver (adj.) or izer-en-e iron-SUFF-INFL iron (adj.). In standard Frisian, such forms are non-existent.

The dialect of Hindeloopen has a special form for the adjectives derived from past participles of the second class of the weak verbs (those with an infinitive ending in -je). In standard Frisian, the verbal and the adjectival participle of this class both end in a schwa, for instance makke make-PTCP made of the verb meitsje to make, or ferve paint-PTCP painted from the verb fervje to paint. In Hindeloopen, the verbal participle likewise ends in a schwa, but in adjectival use it receives an extra /d/. So, the Hindeloopen verb mekje to make has a verbal past participle mekke, but an adjectival one mekked. Similarly, farve and farved from the verb farvje to paint. The stem ending in -ed regularly adopts the inflectional pattern. Examples are provided in (34):

Example 34

Adjectival past participles in the dialect of Hindeloopen
in mekked-en jurk a repaired dress
de farved-e dôr the painted doar
[hide extra information]
Origin of /d/

The ending -ed in de dialect of Hindeloopen and Schiermonnikoog is a remnant of the verbal inflection in Old Frisian. For example, the Old Frisian verb makia to make had the form makad as its past participle. See Steller (1928:67) or Bremmer (2009:80).

The dialect of the Frisian island of Schiermonnikoog deviates from mainland Frisian even more. This is especially due to the the fact that this dialect, as the only one, retained the three gender system as it existed in Old Frisian. Adjectives before plural and before neuter singular nouns behave in the same way as in mainland Frisian, but differences can be found before masculine and feminine singular nouns. Before the former, we encounter the ending -en in the context of indefinite determiners, just as is the case in Hindeloopen before common nouns. So we have the following examples:

Example 35

Before masculine nouns in the Schiermonnikoog dialect
in gotten man a tall man
gin heigen baim no high tree
in meujen taal a beautiful language

On Schiermonnikoog, adjectives in front of feminine nouns are never inflected:

Example 36

Before feminine nouns in the Schiermonnikoog dialect
jò heich túer that high tower
in meu tjark a beautiful church
de lytj fles the small bottle
syn got faam his big maid

The inflectional system of adjectives in the dialect of Schiermonnikoog can be summarized as follows:

Table 4
Definite Indefinite
masculine -e -en
feminine - -
neuter -e -
plural -e -e
If an inflectional ending -en is attached to another instance of -en, one of the two is deleted. We get in nejen heeuwten trap a new-I wood-en stairs a new wooden stairs. If inflected, the word heeuwten wooden would have been *heeuwtenen wooden-INFL, but this is ungrammatical.

As in the Hindeloopen dialect, the dialect of Schiermonnikoog has the ending -ed in the case of adjectively used past participles of the weak class II. Thus we get in opstop-ed-en kniin a stuff-PTCP-I rabbit.M a stuffed rabbit or de oonklog-ed-e man the charge-PTCP-I man.M the charged man. If a cluster of three schwa-syllables were to emerge in this way the middle schwa is deleted. So, theoretical *in mitsel-ed-en mieuwre a build-PTCP-INFL a built wall is pronounced as in mitselden mieuwre.

[hide extra information]

For the dialect of Hindeloopen: Boer (1950:118-119). For Schiermonnikoog: Fokkema (1969:23-24) and Visser (2002: xxxii-xxxiii). The inflection of the dialects of Terschelling is dealt with in Knop (1954:165-166).


Besides the deviations as presented above, there are departures from the rule of adjectival inflection that do not count as real exceptions. Most of them concern adjectives that inherently end in a schwa, and thus show a final element -e even in contexts in which normally an adjective is not inflected. One category consists of those adjectives in which this final schwa is not a conceivable suffix, and thus forms part of the stem. Mostly, adjectives from non-Germanic origin are involved, like timide timid or stupide stupid. But a native Frisian adjective like sljochtweihinne average is another good example. Hence the final schwa of the adjective in in sljochtweihinne hûs an ordinary house is not an inflectional element. Compare this to an âld hûs an old house, which shows no inflection either.

There are more adjectives that inherently end in a schwa, but then this schwa is (part of) another suffix. Take for instance the adjectively used past participles of the weak verbs of class II, the ones with an infinitive ending in -je: the participle of the verb tekenje to draw is teken-e draw-PTCP drawn. Of course, this does not hold for those conservative dialects which still have their adjectively used participle ending in -ed; see dialectical deviations. Another category consists of ordinal numerals. These are formed by adding a suffix -de or -ste after a cardinal number: we have in twadde hûs a second house', and not *in twad hûs. Something similar is the case with superlatives, which can be argued to end inherently in a schwa. The suffix for the superlative is -ste, although in some contexts -st also occurs (see degree). Hence we have jim âld-ste bern your.POSS old-SUPL child.N your eldest child. Finally, it can be defended that Frisian possesses a special suffix -e which expresses emphasis (see degree). As in the cases above, this schwa remains in contexts where otherwise an inflectional adjectival ending would be absent. So we have myn hiele libben my.POSS whole.EMP life.N my whole life or heit syn flinke man-tsje daddy his.POSS big-EMP man-DIM daddy's big boy.

On the other hand, there are two cases where an adjective is never inflected, hence never displays an inflectional ending. First, there are a few instances in which a noun semantically functions as an adjective, but remains a noun in a morphological sense. Examples are provided in (37):

Example 37

a. in baas rider
a boss skater
an excellent skater
b. earste keur jerappels
first choice potatoes
excellent potatoes

We cannot have *in baze rider a boss-INFL skater.

The second instance is a special construction containing a comparative, the bare comparative construction, as in:

Example 38

Sunny Boy kaam fan Skalsum en better bolle wie der net
Sunny Boy came from Skalsum and better bull was there not
Sunny Boy came from Skalsum and there has never been a better bull

Bare comparatives, as the term already indicates, are never inflected.

[hide extra information]

Tamminga (1963:89-92) mentions the ordinals as an exception, which is corrected by Hoekstra (1989) by considering them as pseudo-exceptions. For the emphatic -e, read the topic about emphasis.

[+]Archaic forms

Like other Old Germanic languages, Old Frisian had two declensions for adjectives: strong and weak. Even after the collapse of the three gender system at the end of the Middle Ages the weak declension survived for quite a long time. The result was that after indefinite determiners the adjective lacked inflection not only before a neuter noun (as in the present-day system, see the paradigm charter) but also before a singular common noun. Until the 19th century we could come across forms like the following (in older orthography):

Example 39

ien onwennich houn a homesick dog.C an unaccustomed dog
ien ryk boeredochter a rich farmer-daughter.C a rich farmer's daughter
ien wijt dweil a white mop.C a white mop

Nowadays this use is obsolete, with the exception of some fixed expressions, like

Example 40

In dea baarch komt it op in stek net oan
a dead pig comes it at a stab not on
Lit: another stab in a dead pig is irrelevant, i.e. said of somebody whose situation is hopeless
In hurd man op in weak tsiis
a hard man on a soft cheese
Someone who is courageous when there is no danger

In Frisian we also find a few cases of conversion of adjective to noun without showing a suffix after the noun. These formations are restricted in that they can only occur after indefinite articles. Examples are in frjemd a stranger. Such forms are mostly more deeply embedded in fixed expressions, like sûpe as in kreupel booze like a lame booze like a champion. Arguably, the source of these words can be found in the weak declension.

Next to the remnants of the weak declension some other archaic forms have survived, always in fixed combinations, and therefore often spelled as one word. Examples are given in (41):

Example 41

âld-er-wenst as usual
bleat-s-foet-s barefoot
blyn-s-each blindly
goed-er-jousk generous
willen-s-moed-s wilful

The elements -er and -s are remnants of older case suffixes. Note that also the noun has sometimes retained an old (genitive) ending, as in bleatsfoets and willensmoeds.

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