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The partitive adjective construction

The term partitive is normally used in grammar and semantics to refer to a part or quantity of a larger identified collection, such as sommige van my vriende some of my friends, or baie van daardie boeke many of those books. In such cases, the partitive refers to nouns. However, with reference to adjectives, partitives reflect a subset of all entities possessing a quality indicated by the adjective. In grammatical terms, it could be described as a postnominal relative adjective phrase. In inflectional languages, this mostly takes the form of a genitive, marked in Romance languages by the possessive preposition de or di, of, such as the French quelque chose de petitsome thing of smallsomething small or the Italian qualchecosa di bellosomething of beautifulsomething beautiful, and in the Germanic languages by the suffix -s, such as etwas schönessomething beautiful·PTV.GENsomething beautiful in German, and iets interessants something interesting·PTV.GEN something interesting in Dutch. In Afrikaans, as in Dutch, the adjective suffix -s is likewise used, predominantly in conjunction with the indefinite pronouns iets something and niks nothing. An example of each is given below:

Iets vreemd·s het gebeur.
something strange·PTV.GEN has happened
Something strange (has) happened.
Dis niks vreemd·s nie.
It.is nothing strange·PTV.GEN PTCL.NEG
It is nothing strange.

As demonstrated elsewhere, the partitive also occurs in the case of comparative adjectives. It should also be noted that certain speakers do not add the suffix, in which case the formal distinction between adverbial and partitive use of the adjective falls away:



The partitive adjective construction consists of an indefinite nominal quantifier, such as iets something, enigiets anything, veel much, baie much, min little, iemand someone, niemand no-one, etc., followed by a partitive adjective. The partitive adjective is marked with an -s suffix, unless, of course, the adjective already ends in an -s, as in iets snaaks something funny. The construction as a whole can function as a nominal argument to verbs and prepositions, as in these examples:

Dit is iets nuut·s vir my.
this is something new·PTV.GEN for me
This is something new to me.
om as tweetal hulle visie van iets veel beter·s te bewaarheid
for.COMP as a twosome their vision of something much good·CMPR.PTV.GEN PTCL.INF realise.INF
as a pair, to realise their vision of something much better
onbekwaam tot enigiets goed·s
incapable to anything good·PTV.GEN
incapable of anything good


The partitive adjective may be modified, though quantitatively less so than adjectives which occur in adverbial, attributive or predicative positions. Some examples of partitive adjectives accompanied by adverbial modifiers:

Dit was iets baie goeds en heeltemal niks sleg·s nie.
it was something very good·PTV.GEN and totally nothing bad·PTV.GEN PTCL.NEG
It was something very good, and not bad at all.
iets buitengewoon goed·s
something exceptionally good·PTV.GEN
something exceptionally good
of iets ewe aaklig·s
or something equally horrible·PTV.GEN
or something equally horrible

Quantifiers and pronouns

While partitives used in conjunction with nouns refer primarily to quantifiers, a distinction could be made between the use of quantifiers and prononimal partitives when it comes to adjectives. This is clear when considering the following adjectives in which indefinite quantifiers are used:

Mediabronne voorspel nie veel goed·s nie.
media.sources predict not much good·PTV.GEN PTCL.NEG
Media sources do not predict much that is good.
stede waarin ek soveel goed·s gedoen het
cities in.which I so.much good·PTV.GEN done have
cities in which I have done so much good
waardeur ek al baie goed·s en kosbaar·s verwerf het
through.which I already much good·PTV.GEN and precious·PTV.GEN acquired have
by means of which I have already acquired much which is good and precious
Hy het min goeds te sê oor die drama.
he has little good·PTV.GEN to say about the play
He has little to say which is good about the play.
Dis al goed·s wat ek oor die song kan sê.
this.is all good·PTV.GEN that.REL I about the song can.AUX.MOD say
That is the only good I am able to say about the song.

It has been noted elsewhere that adjective partitives are mostly used in conjunction with the indefinite inanimate pronouns iets something and niks nothing:

om sommer iets·ie goed·s te doen
for.COMP just something·DIM good·PTV.GEN PTCL.INF do.INF
just for the sake of doing a little something good
Daar is niks beter·s as 'n warm stort nie.
there is nothing better·PTV.GEN than a hot shower PTCL.NEG
There is nothing better than a hot shower.

However, in corpus data indefinite animate pronouns such as iemand someone or niemand nobody also crop up, as can be seen below:

iemand slim·s, iemand wat kan lei
someone clever·PTV.GEN, someone that.REL can.AUX.MOD lead
someone clever, someone who can lead
Daar was niemand beter·s om hierdie rol te vervul nie.
there was nobody better·PTV.GEN for.COMP this role PTCL.INF fulfil.INF PTCL.NEG
there was nobody better to fulfil this role

Anders 'other', 'else'

The adjectival partitive anders other, else, as in Ek het iets anders gehoor I have something else heard I have heard something else, is homomorphic to the adjective anders different, as in Sy is anders as die res She is different from the rest.. However, the structural context, consisting of the indefinite nominal quantifier (or pronoun) and the partitive form of the adjective will always disambiguate the semantic interpretation of the adjective, as in this example:

Niemand ander·s is beseer nie.
nobody else be·AUX.PASS.PST injured PTCL.NEG
Nobody else was injured.
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