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Attribution of APs

  • An attribution involves an adjective phrase (AP) that is attributed of a noun (N), and usually precedes the noun, as in this example:
    'n rooi sonsondergang
    a red sunset
  • The adjective will inflect or not, depending on the phonological shape of the word.

    Polysyllabic stems:

    Polysyllabic stems, as in the example of arrogant below, normally inflect before all nouns.

    a. Die vent is arrogant.
    the bloke be.PRS arrogant
    The bloke is arrogant.
    b. 'n arrogant·e vent
    an arrogant·ATTR bloke
    an arrogant bloke
    Exceptions to this rule are adjectives ending in -er or -e, which normally do not receive the inflecting suffix (or a further suffix) -e :
    haar suiwer stem
    her pure voice
    die beskeie man
    the modest man

    Monosyllabic stems:

    Monosyllabic adjectives (and compound adjectives that end in a monosyllabic stem) may or may not inflect, depending on the auslaut of the stem.

    For instance, if the adjective ends in a sonorant, such as /n/, /m/, /l/ or /r/, plus /d/, inflection is mandatory, as in this example:

    groot rond·e kase
    large round·ATTR cheeses
    large round cheeses
    A second environment which induces inflection is a vowel (high or long), such as /u/ or /a:/, followed by /x/.

    When the schwa is added, a sound change takes place, in that the /x/ is deleted between the two vowels. Such intervocalic elision occurs, for example, when the adjective moeg tired is used attributively, and is inflected:

    a. Die reisigers is moeg.
    The travellers are tired.
    b. moe·ë reisigers (< moeg·e)
    tired·ATTR travellers
    tired travellers

    Note that after the delection of the intervocalic letter g (i.e. the sound /x/), the letter e (i.e. the schwa) which now starts a new syllable, is written with a diaeresis, as ë, to indicate the start of the syllable, as is shown by the example above.

    In the case of closed syllables which are written with a double vowel, such as vaag vague, the deletion of /x/ results in an open syllable, and the vowel is represented by a single lettter, as in this example:

    a. Die beeld is vaag.
    The image is vague.
    b. va·e beelde (< vaag·e)
    vague·ATTR images
    vague images

    The two factors mentioned above often combine, so that the orthographic result of /x/ deletion and a consequent open syllable has to be reflected, as in this example:

    a. My lippe is droog.
    My lips are dry.
    b. dro·ë lippe (< droog·e)
    dry·ATTR lips
    dry lips

    A number of monosyllabic adjectives ending in /d/ also undergo intervocalic consonant deletion, with the same orthographic result, as in

    a. Sy invloed strek wyd.
    his influence stretches wide
    His influence extends far.
    b. Hy het 'n wy·e invloed. (< wyd·e)
    he has a wide·ATTR influence
    He has a wide influence.
  • A noun may be omitted following an adjective and other prenominal elements. Such so-called noun ellipsis may result in the transfer of noun-like qualities to the relevant adjectives, so that nominalisation can be said to have occurred. Compare the sentences below:
    a. 'n blou vlag en 'n geel vlag
    a blue flag and a yellow flag
    b. 'n blou vlag en 'n gel·e (< geel·e)
    a blue flag and a yellow·NMLZ
    a blue flag and a yellow one
    c. Die gel·e is goedkoper as die blou·e. (< geel·e)
    the yellow·NMLZ is cheaper than the blue·NMLZ
    The yellow one is cheaper than the blue one.
  • The attributive construction may contain a list of several APs. Such a stacking construction differs from coordination, and it exhibits characteristic orderings among the adjectives involved, depending on their morphonological or semantic type Emphatic inflection and semantic distinction. This is exemplified below:
    die smaaklik·e kou·e rou vis (< koud·e)
    the tasty·ATTR cold·ATTR raw fish
    the tasty cold raw fish


The use of attributive adjective inflection was unmarked in incipient Afrikaans during the 18th and 19th centuries, and based on (however, not consistently) the gender-based inflection of adjectives before masculine and feminine nouns in Dutch. In time, the system of inflection shifted to the phonological structure of the adjective itself. Raidt (1983) provides a well-structured framework to categorise the various environments determining attributive inflection. (Raidt, E.H. 1983)

Inflection of attributive adjectives – polysyllabic stems

The general rule is that the attributive formant -e is suffixed to polysyllabic adjectives, more specifically adjectives containing a grammatical morpheme. Some examples:

'n verstaanbar·e vraag (< verstaanbaar·e)
an understandable·ATTR question
an understandable question
heerlik·e kos
delicious·ATTR food
delicious food
vinnig·e motors
fast·ATTR cars
fast cars

Exceptions are those already ending in -e, such as eie own in the example below.

a. Die keuse is my eie.
the choice be.PRS my own
The choice is my own.
b. Dit is my eie keuse.
it be.PRS my own choice
It is my own choice.

Adjectives ending in -er whether it forms part of the stem or represents a grammatical morpheme (such as the comparative suffix), do not, by default, inflect (whether is it a grammatical morpheme or not), as illustrated by the examples below:

Ostrander studente
clever students
'n lekker gesprek
a pleasant conversation
ou·er vroue (< oud·er)
old·CMPR women
older women

There are some exceptions to the -er rule, where forms with -er have the status of collocations as part of fixed (inherited from 17th century Dutch) expressions, and are inflected, as in:

'n verder·e vraag
a far·CMPR.ATTR question
a further question
by nader·e ondersoek
at close·CMPR.ATTR investigation
on closer investigation

In addition, adjectival compounds based on an uninflectable monosyllabic stem do not inflect, for example an intensive form such as 'n spierwit landskap a muscle.white landscape a snow-white landscape, or a compound of two lexical morphemes, such as goedkoop groente good.buy vegetables cheap vegetables But note that adjectives ending in -er ,

Various exceptions to the default apply to both polysyllabic (as above) and monosyllabic stems. Those applicable to monosyllabic stems are discussed under the heading where the relevant phonological process is categorised.

Monosyllabic stems

While it is extremely difficult to make provision for all possible phonological forms, certain regularities regarding monosyllabic adjective stems can be identified. Monosyllabic adjective stems receive the attributive formant -e, inter alia, in the following cases:

  • If the stem ends in a consonant cluster which consists of a sonorant plus /d/ (-md, -nd, -ld and -rd )

'n vreemd·e geluid
a strange·ATTR sound
a strange sound
'n wild·e jaagtog
a wild·ATTR chase
a wild chase
  • If the stem ends in a vowel plus /x/
la·e klanke (< laag·e)
vague·ATTR promises
low tones
dro·ë bestanddele (< droog·e)
dry·ATTR ingredients
dry ingredients
moe·ë reisigers (< moeg·e)
tired·ATTR travellers
tired travellers
rui·e wenkbroue (< ruig·e)
bushy·ATTR eyebrows
bushy eyebrows

Note that the intervocalic deletion of /x/ can bring about spelling changes, as illustrated in some examples above.

  • After a long or high vowel (or diphthong) plus /d/
wred·e aanvallers (< wreed·e)
cruel·ATTR attackers
cruel attackers

While this group is relatively restricted, some adjectives ending in /d/ under similar phonological (and orthographic) changes as in the case of invertocalic /x/ deletion, undergo intervocalic /d/ deletion, causing the concomitant spelling changes, as discussed above. Orthographically, an important difference is that (except for breed broad, of which the attributive form is breë (<breed·e)), the schwa is never represented by means of a diaeresis ( ë) in the case of /d/ deletion. Adjective stems ending in -d include also dood dead, goed good, goud golden, koud cold and wyd wide.

'n wy·e verskeidenheid (< wyd·e)
a wide·ATTR variety
a large assortment
kou·e water (< koud·e)
cold·ATTR water
cold water

Note that, phonologically, /d/ elision causes glide insertion, leading to forms such as [vəijə] and [kəuwə].

'n gou·e medalje (< goud·e)
a gold·ATTR medal
a gold medal
'n dooi·e perd (< dood·e)
a dead·ATTR horse
a dead horse

An example of an exception is oud old, of which the attributive form is ou, as in die Ou Testament the Old Testament, where /d/ deletion does take place, but no inflection. This is one of a few cases where the distinction between the attributive and predicate/adverbial forms are marked in a different way than by means of the schwa suffix. Two examples in this regard are jonk young and lank long, of which the attributive forms are jong, as in 'n jong meisie a young girl, and lang, as in 'n lang reis a long journey, respectively.

Returning to intervocalic /d/ deletion: Also note that inflection without /d/ deletion does occur in the case of some adjective stems containing a short vowel such as glad smooth, but that the vowel quality is retained by doubling the consonant in the spelling:

gladd·e bande (< glad·e)
smooth·ATTR tyres
smooth tyres

Other verb stems with short vowels and different auslaut consonants are facultative, and may or not inflect, as in the case of dor arid and fel severe, as in the following examples:

'n dor/dorr·e landskap
an arid/arid·ATTR landscape
an arid landscape
fel/fell·e kritiek
severe/severe·ATTR criticism
severe criticism
  • If the stem ends in a vowel plus /f/

Note that intervocalic voicing of /f/ occurs in all cases, as well as consonant doubling in the spelling where the quality of short vowels has to be maintained.

'n doww·e pyn (< dof·e)
a dull·ATTR pain
a dull pain
Die waarskuwing was nie om dow·e neute nie. (< doof·e)
the warning was not about deaf·ATTR nuts
The warning was not for nothing.
styw·e spiere (< styf·e)
stiff·ATTR muscles
stiff muscles
  • If the stem ends in a voiceless obstruent plus underlying /t/

Diachronically, the deletion of /t/ in syllable-final consonant clusters can be said to have taken place during the evolution of Afrikaans from 17th century Dutch; however, the /t/ reappears when the syllable structure is altered as a result of inflection, and /t/ starts the final syllable.

'n sagt·e teiken (< sag·e)
a soft·ATTR target
a soft target
'n vast·e inkomste (< vas·e)
a fixed·ATTR income
a fixed income
stipt·e gehoorsaamheid (< stip·e)
strict·ATTR obedience
strict obedience

Exceptions in colloquial language occur in the case of some items, for example 'n sleg vent a nasty character/fellow, but then with added emotive content.

  • If the stem ends in the rounded front vowel /y/, with epenthesis of /v/

This phenomenon is comparable to the syllable-initial realisation of cluster-final /t/ in adjective stems, except that its origin, evident from the spelling in Dutch, apparently represented a glide, and not an obstruent.

ruw·e berge (< ru·e)
rough·ATTR mountains
rough mountains
die sluw·e jakkals (< slu·e)
the wily·ATTR jackal
the wily jackal

Possibly as a result of the low frequency of this combination, the uninflected form is found often in examples like the following:

'n kru woord
a coarse word
  • If the stem ends in a consonant cluster, with final /s/.
'n wulps·e blondine
a voluptuous·ATTR blonde
a voluptuous blonde
met rats·e bewegings
with swift·ATTR movements
with swift movements
mals·e plantegroei
luxuriant·ATTR vegetation
luxuriant vegetation
  • If the stem ends in a vowel plus /s/
wys·e woorde om in gedagte te hou
wise·ATTR words for.COMP in thought PTCL.INF keep.INF
wise words to keep in mind
bos·e geeste (< boos·e)
evil·ATTR spirits
evil spirits

In this category, various exceptions occur, which in many cases correlate with semantic nuances, such as grys hare grey hair, but tot die gryse ouderdom until the grey age until old age, los buie loose showers scattered showers, but losse sedes loose morals. In many cases, inflection also correlates with a figurative connotation, or emphasis .

Adjectival inflection in Cape Vernacular Afrikaans (Kaaps)

The inflectional patterns occurring in Standard Afrikaans, exemplified in examples (18) to (53), do not fully represent the Afrikaans diasystem. An analysis which is restricted to this variety would obfuscate linguistic phenomena which occur in colloquial varieties and are exposed much more to language contact (and possibly creolisation). In this section, the spotlight is turned to primary data which were collected during the 1980s among the speakers of Cape Vernacular Afrikaans (generally known as Kaaps), and particularly in the Malay, or Cape Muslim community. A few more recent and comparable examples will also be included.

The reason for selecting this variety is that the sociolinguistic circumstances which influenced the development of Kaaps during its period of formation strongly favoured the retention of features which were the result of the contact situation. Hence present-day Kaaps would form an excellent testing ground to determine whether the expected results of grammatical gender loss led to a regular, simplified adjectival system. The importance of taking note of both the morphonological rules for adjectival inflection in Standard Afrikaans as in the combined system is underlined by the fact that variants from Kaaps have increasingly been used in normative contexts such as the electronic and print media since 1994, when the first democratic elections took place in the country.

A comparative diachronic study which was undertaken on the basis of the data referred to above (Kotzé 1984:41-73) points to some interesting differences between Kaaps (K-Afr.) and the standard variety (SAfr.) in relation to adjectival inflection. In some respects, Kaaps has remained a more conservative dialect, in that monomorphemic adjectives retained an attributive formant in a relatively consistent fashion, as in the following examples, which show that regularisation has indeed occurred in this variety:

K: Saoedi-Arabië was 'n arm·e land.
Saudi Arabia was a poor·ATTR country
SV: Saoedi-Arabië was 'n arm land.
K: 'n ryk·e man
a rich·ATTR man
SV: 'n ryk man
K: jou ou·e lesse (< oud·e)
your old·ATTR lessons
SV: jou ou lesse
K: 'n klein·e bietjie
a small·ATTR bit
a little bit
SV: 'n klein bietjie
K: 'n kort·e distansie
a short·ATTR distance
SV: 'n kort distansie
K: lekker vars·e snoek
tasty fresh·ATTR snoek (barracouta)
SV: lekker vars snoek

These examples from Kaaps are a reflection of the general situation in late 18th century Cape Afrikaans (Raidt 1994:80). This pattern is also manifested in the attributive form of the possessive pronoun ons our, as in

K: baie manne van ons·e mense
many men of our·ATTR people
SV: baie manne van ons mense
K: hy sal nooit in ons·e pad staan nie
he will.AUX never in our·ATTR path stand
he will never stand in our way
SV: hy sal nooit in ons pad staan nie

The examples of this category also reflect the situation in the 19th century (Raidt 1994:280) in all varieties of Afrikaans. On the basis of the comparison, one will be able to conclude that the inflected form of monomorphemic attributive adjectives in present-day Kaaps forms a larger category than in the standard variety, in which the process of regularisation (i.e. through generalisation of -e suffixing) was reversed somehow or other before the the present pattern became fixed. On the other hand, the phonological processes in Kaaps which are linked to the inflectional patterns are largely the same, and the default categories in which inflection in Standard Afrikaans is compulsory are identical to those in Kaaps. Examples from the data are:

K: 'n mens wat doen goei·e ietse (< goed·e)
a person that.REL does good·ATTR somethings
someone who does good things
SV: 'n mens wat goeie dinge doen

The rule according to which intervocalic /d/ is deleted (See heading 2 under Monosyllabic stems in the Read more section) is applicable in the example above.

In the example below, taken from a written Cape Muslim Afrikaans text, the inflectional rule applicable to polysyllabic stems (geestige (< geestig)), as well as that referring to intervocalic /x/ (hoë (< hoog)) deletion apply.

K: die geestig·e gemeenskap met Sy ho·ë baas (< hoog·e)
the spiritual·ATTR communion with his high·ATTR master
SV: die geestelike gemeenskap met sy hoë meester
Examples of Attributive Adjective Inflection
Table 1: Examples of Attributive Adjective Inflection
Afrikaans adjective Attr. inflection English translastion Restricted use Unmarked Marked/Alternative Example
absoluut ...lute absolute
agterdogtig ·e suspicious
bedremmeld ·e sheepish, embarrassed
behoorlik ·e properly, proper
beteuterd ·e downcast, embarrassed
aaklig ·e awful, terrible
aamborstig ·e short-breathed, asthmatic
aangeklam ·de tipsy
aangenaam ..name pleasant
aangenome adopted
aanhoudend ·e continuous, continuously
aanloklik ·e attractive, alluring
aanlyn online
aanstaande coming, next ATTR
aansteeklik ·e contagious, catching
aanstellerig ·e affected, full of airs
aanstootlik ·e offensive, obnoxious
aantreklik ·e attractive
aanvaarbaar ...bare acceptable
aanvallend ·e aggressive
aanvallig ·e charming
aanwesig ·e present
abnormaal ...male abnormal
adellik ·e noble
afdraand ·e down-hill
afgunstig ·e jealous, envious
afskuwelik ·e horrible, detestable
afsonderlik ·e separate
afstootlik ·e repulsive
afsydig ·e aloof
afwesig ·e absent
aggressief ...siewe aggressive
agtelosig ·e careless
agterbaks ·e sly, underhand
agterlik ·e backward
agtermekaar neat
agterstallig ·e overdue
agterste hind, hindmost
agterstevoor wrong way round
al ·le all, every ATTR
algemeen ...mene general
alleen –, PRED alone ADV, PRED
allerbeste very best ATTR
allergies ·e allergic
amptelik ·e official
ander other ATTR
anders ·e different
angstig ·e fearful, terrified
apart ·e separate
arm poor arm en ryk mense ·e die arme drommel
arrogant ·e arrogant
astrant ·e cheeky
asvaal pale
avontuurlik ·e adventurous
baie many, much
bak cupped
bakleierig ·e quarrelsome
bang afraid, fearful 'n bang mens ·e hierdie bange nag
bankrot bankrupt, insolvent
basies ·e basic, basically
beangs ·te fearful
bedagsaam ...same considerate
bedek ·e concealed
bedompig ·e sultry, stuffy
bedonderd ·e mad, crazy
bedorwe spoilt
bedrywig ·e active, busy
beduiweld ·e eccentric, difficult [person]
bedwelmd ·e drugged, intoxicated
beeldskoon ...skone a real looker
been-af in love
begeerlik ·e desirable
behoeftig ·e needy, destitute
bejaard ·e elderly
bek-af down-hearted
bekend ·e known
bekoorlik ·e charming
bekwaam bekwame capable
belaglik ·e ridiculous
belangrik ·e important
beleefd ·e polite
bemoedigend ·e encouraging
benoud ·e stuffy
bepaald ·e certain, particular
bereid –, PRED prepared, willing
bergagtig ·e mountainous
beroemd ·e famous
berug ·te notorious
beseer ·de injured
besig ·e busy
besimpeld ·e silly
beskaafd ·e civilized
beskeie modest
beskikbaar ...bare available
beskonke under the influence
besope drunk
betalend ·e profitable
beter better 'n beter kans ·e na betere oorde verhuis
betrokke overcast, involved, relevant
betroubaar ...bare reliable
bevorderlik (~ vir) ·e beneficial, conducive
bevredigend ·e satisfactory
bewerig ·e shaky, trembling
bewolk ·te cloudy, overcast
bewus ·te conscious
bewusteloos ...lose unconscious
billik ·e fair, reasonable
bitter bitter 'n bitter pil ·e tot hulle bittere ontnugtering
blank ·e white [people]
blanko blank
bleek pale
bles bald
blind ·e blind
blink shining, bright
blitsig ·e quick as lightning
blitsvinnig ·e double quick
bloeddorstig ·e blood-thirsty
bloederig ·e smeared with blood
bloedig ·e bloody
bloedjonk ...jong very young
bloedmin very few, precious little
bloedrooi blood-red
daagliks ·e daily
danig, danig met ·e quite, fond of
dankbaar ...bare grateful
dapper brave almal dappper soldate ·e 'n dappere houding
deeglik ·e thorough
deeltyds ·e part-time
definitief ...tiewe definite
deftig ·e stylish, smart
deksels ·e jolly, damn
delikaat ...kate delicate
demokraties ·e democratic
desperaat ...rate desperate
destyds ·e then
deurmekaar mixed-up, confused
deurnat soaking wet
deurskynend ·e transparent
diep deep diep spore ·e diepe teleurstelling
diepgaande profound, radical
dierbaar ...bare dear, beloved
dierlik ·e animal, brutal
dieselfde the same
dig ·te dense, close, tight
digterlik ·e poetic
dik thick dik matte ·ke die dikke boek deurgelees
dikbek sulky
dikmond sulky
dikvellig ·e thick-skinned
direk ·te direct
disnis out cold PRED
dodelik ·e deadly
doelbewus ·te deliberate
doelloos ...lose aimless, goalless
doeltreffend ·e effective
doenig ·e busy
doenlik ·e feasible
dof dowwe dim
dol crazed, hectic dol honde ·le 'n dolle jaagtog
dolleeg ...leë completely empty
dom dim-witted, stupid dom keuses ·me domme dinge wat ek gesê het
donker dark 'n donker wolk ·e 'n donkere wanhoopsnag
donkerrooi dark red
dood dooie dead
doodbang petrified, scared to death
doodeerlik ·e downright honest
doodernstig ·e deadly serious
doodgewoon ...gewone quite common
doodmaklik ·e dead easy
doodmoeg ...moeë dead beat, dead tired
doodonskuldig ·e quite innocent
doodreg ·te dead right
doodsbleek deathly pale, ashen
doodsiek fatally ill, moribund
doodstil motionless, deadly quiet
doodtevrede perfectly content
doof dowe deaf
doofstom deaf and dumb
dooierig ·e listless, sluggish
dor arid 'n dor land ·re net dorre vlaktes
dors thirsty
dowerig ·e slightly deaf
draagbaar ...bare portable
draaglik ·e bearable
draderig ·e thready, fibrous
dragtig ·e gravid, with young
dreigend ·e menacing, threatening
driehoekig ·e triangular
drietalig ·e trilingual
driftig ·e passionate
dringend ·e urgent
drinkbaar ...bare potable
droewig ·e sad, dismal
dronk drunk
droog droë dry
druk busy, heavy
drukkend ·e oppressive