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Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstratives are words that refer to an entity by singling out a particular referent among a set of possible referents. They can appear as attributes to nouns or as free pronouns, serving anaphoric or deictic purposes. There are also some expressions in which the demonstratives are substantivized.

The most common demonstratives are dizze this.C.SG and dy that.C.SG for common singular words and dit this.N.SG and dat that.N.SG for neuter singular words. Dizze and dy also serve as plural forms. While dizze and dit have proximal reference, i.e. they refer to persons or objects near the speaker, dy and dat have distal reference, i.e. they refer to persons or objects further away from the speaker.

In addition to the four basic demonstratives, there are demonstratives with -selde same and -jinge one, and finally the indefinite demonstratives sok(ke) such (a), sa'n such a can be found.


As shown in the table below, demonstrative pronouns distinguish singular and plural, and within the singular category, there is a split between common and neuter gender. In both singular and plural, the pronouns have two "distance" forms, expressing conceptual closeness (proximal) or distance (distal), very similar to the English this versus that and the Dutch dit and dat (see demonstrative pronouns in Dutch). The table below shows the basic demonstratives:

Table 1
Gender Singular:proximal Singular:distal Plural:proximal Plural:distal
Common dizze dy dizze dy
Neuter dit dat dizze dy
Case is not marked on demonstratives, with the exception of fixed expressions by dizzen hereby and yn dizzen concerning this (see Hoekstra (2013:2).

Hoekstra (2013:2) notes that in combination with nouns like kant side; direction, kear time, turn and tiid time, dizze can undergo truncation, i.e. deletion, of the final -e:

Example 1

Sille wy diskant mar út?
shall we this.DEM.C.SG.side.C.SG but out
Shall we go this way?
Diskear sil ik foarsichtiger wêze
this.DEM.C.SG.time.C.SG shall I careful.COMP be
This time I will be more careful
Der binne om distiid fan it jier gjin ierdbeien
there are on this.DEM.C.SG.time.C.SG of the year no strawberries
There are no strawberries at this time of the year

Next to truncation, Hoekstra (2013:3-4) also shows that to dit and dat the emphatic suffix -e can be added. The emphatic demonstratives ditte and datte can only be used without an overt noun:

Example 2

Wennet se yn dit hûs of datte?
lives she in this.DEM.N.SG house.N.SG or that.DEM.N.SG.EMP
Does she live in this house or in that one?
< Pakst even dat blauwe boek? > Ditte?
get.PRES.2SG just that blue book? This.EMP?
Could you please fetch that blue book? This one?

These forms only function in deictic reference.

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The dialect of Schiermonnikoog

In the Frisian dialect of the island of Schiermonnikoog the distinction between masculine and feminine has been preserved Visser and Dyk (2002:xl-xli). There, the basic demonstratives are:

Table 2
Gender Proximal Distal
masculine deze dy
feminine dees
neuter dit dat

The form dees lacks a final schwa. This is due to the fact that it is inflected in the same way as adjectives, which do not show an ending before feminine nouns either (see the topic adjective in prenominal position).

The form /jɔ/ derived from Old Frisian female singular nominative thio by regular phonological changes. There is also a residue of this form in the dialect of Hindeloopen. However, in Hindeloopen it is restricted to refer to female persons: [i̯ɔ wi:f] that woman or [i̯ɔ fa:n] that girlDe Boer (1950:127-128). The difference may be related to the fact that Hindeloopen lost its three gender system. In the dialect of Schiermonnikoog, with its three grammatical genders, may be used with all feminine nouns, for example in an expression like jò tjark that.FEM.SG church.FEM.SG that church.

For distal plural nouns, Schiermonnikoogs has a different form as well: , which stems from Old Frisian nominative/accusative thâ.

[+]Attributive use

Demonstrative pronouns can be used attributively, i.e. when they determine a noun. When they are used attributively, demonstratives are quite similar to articles: they occur before the noun, either immediately or with one or more adjectives in between. The functional difference between the two sets of words is that demonstratives highlight a particular referent amongst several. The examples in (3) contrast indefinite articles (a), definite articles (b), proximal demonstratives (c) and distal demonstratives (d).

Example 3

a. in man/in hûs/boek-en
a man.C.SG.INDF/a house.N.SG.INDF/book-PL.INDF
a man/a house/a book
b. de man/it hûs/de boek-en
the man.C.SG.DEF/the house.N.SG.DEF/the books.PL.DEF
the man/the house/the books
c. dizze man/dit hûs/dizze boek-en
this.PROX.C.SG man.C.SG/this.PROX.N.SG house.N.SG/these.PROX.PL books.PL
this man/this house/these books
d. dy man/dat hûs/dy boek-en
that.DIST.C.SG man.C.SG/that.DIST.N.SG house.N.SG/those.DIST.PL book.PL
that man/that house/those books

The choice between proximal and distal forms depends on the communicative intention. The appropriate number and gender is a matter of agreement of the demonstrative with the noun it belongs to. Thus, in (c) for instance, dit hûs is chosen, because hûs house has the properties "neuter gender" and "singular".

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Hoekstra (2013:13) notes that the distal demonstratives dat and dy can be used affectively too, as is shown in (4). There the demonstratives are chosen to utter indignation (4a) or astonishment (4b). The demonstratives are not necessarily stressed.

Example 4

a. Dat sleauwe fanke! No hat se de kaai wer fergetten
that.DEM.N.SG stupid girl.N.SG! now has she the key again forgotten
That stupid girl! She has forgotten the key once again.
b. Dy Piter, net! In heal miljoen wûn!
that.DEM.C.SG Piter, not! a half million won
That Piter! Won half a million!
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Hoekstra (2013:5) shows that sometimes demonstratives can be intensified by the deictic local adverbs hjir(re) here or dêr(e) there:

Example 5

a. Dizze blommen hjir(re) kostje tsien euro
these.DEM.PL flowers.PL here cost ten euro
These flowers over here cost ten euros
b. Dat boek dêr(e) haw ik al lêzen
that.DEM.N.SG book.N.SG there have I already read
That book over there I've already read
[+]Anaphoric use

As free pronouns, demonstratives serve anaphoric or deictic purposes. Example (6)-(8) illustrate anaphoric demonstratives; they refer to an earlier mentioned noun. Unlike demonstrative pronouns in Dutch, in Frisian only the distal form is allowed when the demonstrative serves an anaphoric purpose:

Example 6

a. De doar... dy slút net goed
the door.C.SG...that.DEM.C.SG closes not good
The door... it does not close well
b. *
De doar...dizze slút net goed
the door.C.SG...this.DEM.C.SG closes not good
The door... it does not close well
Example 7

a. It hûs... dat stiet leech
the house.N.SG...that.DEM.N.SG stands empty
The house... it stands empty
b. *It hûs... dit stiet leech
the house.N.SG...this.DEM.N.SG stands empty
The house... it stands empty
Example 8

a. De kninen.... dy hawwe de tún fernield
the rabbits.PL...those.DEM.PL have the garden destroyed
The rabbits...they have destroyed the garden
b. *De kninen...dizze hawwe de tún fernield
the rabbits.PL...these.DEM.PL have the garden destroyed
The rabbits...they have destroyed the garden

In this usage, demonstratives resemble third person pronouns. In most cases, they refer to a person or an object mentioned in the previous discourse. The referent is first introduced by a noun called the antecedent and later picked up by the pronoun. In example (9) the referent, a car, is first introduced by the noun auto car and then referred to by a demonstrative (dy that). The demonstrative agrees with the antecedent noun in gender (common) and number (singular).

Example 9

Ik ferkeapje myn auto salang't dy noch wearde hat
I sell my car.C.SG as long as that.DEM.C.SG still value has
I am selling my car while it is still valuable
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Demonstratives with an anaphoric function that precede rather than follow the noun, are called cataphoric demonstratives. An example is

Example 10

Doe't dy iten hie, gie Jos wer oan it wurk
When he had eaten, Jos went back to work

The distal demonstrative can interchange with personal pronouns. A condition seems to be that the pronoun has to be in focus-position:

Example 11

Is Frank der al? Nee, mar hy/dy soe al komme
is Frank there already? no, but he/that.DEM.C.SG would certainly come
Is Frank there? No, but he was going to come
Example 12

Der stiet in man. Ik haw him/*dy al ris earder sjoen
there stands a man. i have him/that.DEM.C.SG already once before see
A man is standing over there. I have seen him before
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Supporting pronouns

Sometimes demonstratives are used right after their antecedent in what looks like a redundant construction. These pronouns are called supporting pronouns. In this situation, there is never stress on the demonstrative.

Example 13

Geart dy wie der juster wer
Geart that.DEM.C.SG was there yesterday again
Geart, he was back yesterday

Demonstratives are sometimes preferred when there are two available referents one can refer to. Then the demonstrative can be used to disambiguate between the two: personal pronouns usually refer to the first-mentioned referent, while the demonstrative picks out the second-mentioned referent, as in (14a). Demonstratives can also be used to promote a referent to the new topic, as can be seen in (14b).

Example 14

a. Jan socht syn freon op foar't dy him misse soe
Jan searched his friend.C.SG up on before.that that.DEM.C.SG him miss would
Jan went to visit his friend before he (i.e. the friend) would miss him (i.e. Jan)
b. Myn freon is amtner. Hy wurket by de oerheid. Dy hat de lêste jierren in protte nije minsken oansteld
my friend is clerk. he works at the government.C.SG. that.DEM.C.SG has the last years a.lot new people hired
My friend is a clerk. He's working for the government. They have hired a lot of new staff recently
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Hoekstra (2013:3) notes that the demonstrative pronoun dizze cannot be used pronominally anymore. A relic of its pronominal use is found in the expression dizze en jinge some people from a bigger group, which rather functions as an indefinite pronoun.

[+]Deictic use

The demonstrative pronouns dit, dat, and dy can also be used to introduce a new discourse referent directly, without an antecedent noun. This usage is called deictic. In contrast to the anaphoric use, demonstratives that serve as deictics can have both proximal and distal forms and meanings.

Singling out the intended referent normally requires a pointing gesture. An example is: Dit/dat is myn nije buorman This/that one is my new neighbour. It can be used without a noun as well, like the example in Hoekstra (2013): Dy sûpt himsels noch ris dea that drinks himself still once dead That guy is going to drink himself to death.

Even though deictic reference does not involve an overt antecedent, the deictic pronoun needs to agree in gender with an implicit noun that describes the intended referent. For example, while pointing at some water (in Frisian wetter, a neuter gender noun) it only works when the pronoun has neuter gender: Dit/dat is noch waarm this.DEM.N.SG/that.DEM.N.SG is still warm It is still warm. Furthermore, when pointing at oranges, one can say: Dizze/dy binne goedkeaper these.DEM.PL/those.DEM.PL are cheaper These/those are cheaper. In such elliptic contexts, where the head noun of the nopun phrase is left out, the plural demonstrative forms dizze and dy may also receive a plural ending -en, because they refer to more than one object. We then get the forms dizzen and dyen; see Hoekstra (2013:2) and Dyk (2013).

As can be seen in the following example, dit and dat can function as the object of a directional postposition too (see Hoekstra (2013:5). In this case they have the meaning this/that way, direction.

Example 15

Se binne dat út gien
they are that.DEM.N.SG out went
They have gone in that direction
Kinne wy dit ek del?
can we this.DEM.N.SG also along
Can we also go along there?
[+]Fixed expressions

Demonstrative pronouns are easily open to forming fixed expressions. Demonstratives can be coordinated by en and or of or; then they form expressions that refer to something not known by the hearer, but not exactly by the speaker either:

Example 16

a. Jan sei, hy soe dy en dy wolris in pak op 'e bealch jaan
Jan said, he would those.DEM.PL and those.DEM.PL PRT a packet on the bully give
Jan said that he would give some people a good hiding
b. Betink ear'tst nei de winkel giest: dat en dat moat der komme
consider before-you to the shop go: that and that should there come
You should think about what to buy before you go to the shop

These expressions tend to function as indefinite pronouns, as does the following, in which the proximal and distal pronoun are connected :

Example 17

Ik moat noch dit en dat regelje
I must still this and that arrange
I still have to arrange some things

Some of these expressions show plural and/or diminutive endings:

Example 18

a. Wat ditsjes en datsjes
what this-DIM.PL and that-DIM.PL
Some small things
b. In soad ditten en datten hawwe
a lot of this.DEM.C.SG-PL and that.DEM.C.SG-PL have
be hard to please
c. Gjin ditsje of datsje
no this.DEM.C.SG-DIM or that.DEM.C.SG-DIM

That a demonstrative pronoun may act as a noun is also shown in the following expression, where it is preceded by the indefinite article:

Example 19

Der is in dat oan
there is a that.DEM.SG.EMP on
There is something wrong

There are also expressions in which the demonstratives function as quantifiers: dy en dy or dy of dy that.DEM.C.SG or that.DEM.C.SG, which refer to one or more persons (whom you do not mention further) and dit en/of dat this.DEM.N.SG and/or that.DEM.N.SG which means some things.

Finally, Frisian also shows an interesting associative construction in, for example, Jan-en-dy Jan and those, which refers to Jan and his family or Jan and his friends. There are good reasons for assuming that this construction developed into a suffix, and therefore it is dealt with in word formation.

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More details about the constructions with coordinated demonstratives can be found in Hoekstra (1991). He also points to the fact that other deictic categories like local dêr there, temporal doe then c.q. dan then or manner sa so may show a similar behaviour.

[+]Demonstratives with -selde and -jinge

The demonstrative element selde same can be preceded by the definite articles de (common singular/plural) and it (neuter singular), but also by the demonstratives dat, dit and dy. It can also be preceded by dizze, but then it is written in two words. The following examples (see Hoekstra (2013:7)) show the use of the element -selde:

Example 20

a. Sy hawwe deselde noas
They have the same nose
b. Do hast itselde wurk as ik
You have the same work as me
c. Dyselde nachts stoar har heit
That very night her father died
d. Ik hearde hieltyd datselde lûd
I heard that same noise all the time
e. Ha jim ek in broek yn dizze selde kleur?
Do you have trousers of the same colour?
f. < Bedoelst dizze selde? > Nee, dyselde
< Are you referring to this one? > No, that one

As can be seen in (20f) a demonstrative with -selde can be used as a free demonstrative too (dyselde that one). It should be mentioned that not all dialects know this usage.

There is no agreement on whether -selde can be preceded by the indefinite article in or not. Popkema (2006:173) mentions inselde as one of the possible demonstratives, while Hoekstra (2013:7) writes:

Dutch zelfde may appear after the indefinite article, which is impossible in Frisian
. According to Hoekstra, in such a case, Frisian has to resort to the use of krekt sa'n a similar: Hy hie krekt sa'n burd as syn broer He had a beard similar to his brother's

In addition to -selde, Frisian has the demonstrative element -jinge. Hoekstra (1991) explains that we nowadays have dizze (proximal) and dy (distal), but in earlier times a third grade existed, informally to be described as "very distal". For this purpose, jinge was used. -jinge can be preceded by a definite article - not by an indefinite article (*injinge) - or by a distal definite demonstrative: dejinge/dyjinge the one (person) and it/datjinge the one (thing).

The element -jinge often occurs in combination with a restrictive relative clause and it only exists as a free demonstrative, not attributively (*dyjinge minsken those one people). In example (21) the demonstratives function as announcing pronouns in (a) and (b), since they announce a person. Both -selde and -jinge can be used. As can be seen from (b) the plural announcing pronouns take the ending -n. Example (c) shows that dyjinge and dyselde can also occur without a relative clause. Then the combination with a definite article is no longer possible. See for a detailed overview of -selde and -jinge in Hoekstra (2013:6-10).

Example 21

a. Deselde/Dejinge dy't der as lêste ynkomt...
the.same.DEM.SG/the.one.DEM.SG that.REL there as last in.comes
The one who comes in last...
b. Dyselden/dyjingen dy't de measte punten hawwe...
those.same.DEM.PL/those.one.DEM.PL that.REL the most points have
Those who have the most points...
c. Ik ha dyjinge/dyselde/*dejinge/*deselde juster belle
I have that.one.DEM.SG/that.same.DEM.SG/the.one.DEM.SG/the.same.DEM.SG yesterday called
I've called that person yesterday
[+]Indefinite demonstrative sok(ke) and sa'n

Next to the four basic demonstratives, the indefinite demonstratives sok(ke) such and sa'n such a can be used. Hoekstra (2013:11) gives the following table:

Table 3
Gender Singular:count noun Singular:mass noun Plural noun
Common sa'n sokke sokke
Neuter sa'n sok sokke

Example (22) shows the attributive use of sok(ke) within sentences. The demonstrative sokke thus appears with mass nouns like wetter water or huning honey in (a) and (b), and plural nouns like bergen in (c). In other words, sok(ke) appears before those nouns that may not be preceded by the indefinite article. There is a gender differentiation between sok (neuter) in (22a) and sokke (common) in (22b). The demonstrative therefore inflects in the same way as do Frisian adjectives:

Example 22

a. sok wetter
such.DEM.N.SG water.N.SG
such water
b. sokke huning
such.DEM.C.SG honey.C.SG
such honey
c. sokke bergen
such.DEM.PL mountains.PL
such mountains

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Effects on inflection

If one adds an adjective to a neuter noun preceded by sok, the adjective is not inflected. If, on the other hand, the noun is preceded by the demonstratives dat or dit, this inflectional -e is added, as expected. Hence we have sok helder wetter such clear water vs. dat heldere wetter that clear water.

The demonstrative sa'n is a contraction of the adverbial sa such and the indefinite article in a. As can be seen in the table above, the form occurs before both neuter and common singular count nouns. The following example shows this attributive use of sa'n:

Example 23

a. sa'n hûs
such.a.DEM house.N.SG
such a house
b. sa'n bedelte
such.a.DEM valley.C.SG
such a valley

Since sa'n is a contraction with in an, one would assume that sa'n could only be used in combination with a singular count noun, indeed. However, in exclamative sentences it may also be followed by a mass noun and even by a plural noun:

Example 24

Sa'n wetter hawwe wy yn jierren net hân!
such.a.DEM water.N.SG have we in years not had
We have not had so much rain (lit. water) in years
Example 25

Moatst ris sjen, sa'n boeken!
must.2SG once see, such.a.DEM books.PL
Look, how many books!

In these examples with the mass noun wetter water and plural noun boeken books, sa'n receives the interpretation of high quantity. This is in contrast with the use of sokke in exclamative sentences, which the refers to a salient property of the noun with regards to size, form, beauty, etcetera:

Example 26

a. Moatst ris sjen, sokke bergen!
must.2SG once see, such.a.DEM mountains.PL
Look, how high are the mountains!
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Affective use

Hoekstra (2013:13) notes that the indefinite demonstrative sa'n can be used affectively too, as is shown in the following example. The demonstrative is not stressed here.

Example 27

Soenen je sa'n famke net?
would you such.a.DEM girl.N.SG not
Wouldn't you do something to such a girl?

In addition to the attributive use of sok(ke), as may be seen in example (28a) below, it can be used as a free anaphoric pronoun too. The form sa'n only occurs attributively, but when followed by -(en)ien, -en, -t, -ent or -tes it can be used freely. These variants all refer to countable single nouns Popkema (2006:174), with the meaning one like that, one such as that (28b). cannot be followed by -(en)ien; as a free anaphoric pronoun it becomes Sok(ke)soks such a thing/something like that (28c), where the suffix -s indicates that it was a genitive in earlier times, according to Hoekstra (1989).

Example 28

a. Wolsto dizze blommen of leaver sokke?
want.2SG you these flowers.PL or rather such.DEM.PL
Would you like these flowers or rather those?
b. < Hoe'n blom wolsto? > Ik wol it leafst sa'nien/sa'nen/sa'nt(es)/sa'nen(t)/sa'nenien/*sokkenien
< how.a flower.C.SG want.2SG.you? > I want the most.preferably such.a.one.DEM.SG
< Which flower do you want? > I prefer this one
c. < Wat foar in boek wolsto? > Ik wol it leafst soks as dit
< wat for a book.N.SG want.2SG.you? > I want the preferable such.DEM as this.DEM.N.SG
< What kind of book do you want? > I prefer something like this

The demonstratives sa'n and sokke can also occur in purely pronominal use Hoekstra (2013:12). In that case, the special forms mentioned above are required again:

Example 29

a. Ik lit my net troch sa'nien kommandearje
I let me not by such.a.one.DEM command
I won't take orders from someone like that
b. Sokken moasten se fuort oppakke
such.DEM.PL must.PST.PL they immediately pick.up
People like that should be run in right away
c. Ik ha noch nea soks meimakke
I have still never such.DEM experienced
I have never experienced anything like that

A synonym for soks in the last example is sokssawat such-so-what anything like that.

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  • Hoekstra, Jarich1991Dy en dyFriesch Dagblad26-01Taalsnipels 172
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2013Demonstrative Pronoun
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