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Measure nouns of low quantity

The only noun of low quantity that can be used with persons and non-persons is the noun in bytsje a bit. There are more measure nouns of high quantity than of low quantity.


An example of a partitive construction involving a measure noun of low quantity is given below:

Example 1

In bytsje flikken
a bit chocolate.drops
A small number chocolate drops

The word bytsje bit does not preserve its literal, referential meaning. Etymologically, the word goes back to the meaning an amount of food that can be taken in the mouth. However, the word developed into a quantifier denoting a low amount, which does not in itself refer to food or mouths or anything referential. So the partitive construction in which it occurs can also refer to people:

Example 2

In bytsje minsken
a bit people
A small number of people

The quantifier has recently become negatively polar, so that it must be accompanied by the negative adverb mar just, but, only:

Example 3

Mar in bytsje minsken
just a bit people
Only a small number of people

The measure noun is not itself specified for singular or plural. In this respect, measure nouns differ from referential nouns, which do determine number. Number is determined by the content noun, as is shown by the contrast below:

Example 4

a. Der wie mar in bytsje wetter
there was.SG just a bit water
There was just a little bit of water
b. Der wienen mar in bytsje minsken
there were.PL just a bit people
There were just a few people

In case the content noun can be recovered from the context, it can be left out:

Example 5

Ik ha mar in bytsje hân
I have just a little had
I've had just a little bit

In this case, the antecedent must be a mass noun such as water water. The sentence above cannot refer to a count noun like apples. In that case, the quantifier in pear a few must be used:

Example 6

Ik ha mar in pear hân
I have just a few had
I've had only a few

Since persons are by definition denoted by count nouns, in bytsje a few cannot refer back to persons. Instead, a pear a few must be used. To sum, the following facts may be noted:

  1. Although in bytsje a bit can be combined with a following count noun, it cannot of itself take a count noun as its antecedent.
  2. In contrast to the low quantity quantifier, the high quantity quantifier in soad a lot can take for its antecedent both a count noun and a non-count noun. Attention should be drawn to the presence of the indefinite article, which is present even if the construction as a whole is plural, as is clear from the examples above. The low degree quantifier, like the high degree quantifier, can also be preceded by sa'n such a and gjin no, as the following examples show:

Example 7

a. Hja is fan gjin bytsje ferfeard
she is of no bit fearful
She is not easily scared
b. Ik ha wol wat te dwaan, en gjin bytsje ek
I have DcP something to do and no bit also
I have things to do, and quite a few of them
c. Hja klage dat er mar sa'n bytsje klean oan hie
she complained that he but such.a bit clothes to had
She complained that he was so scantily dressed
d. Ik ken it wol sa'n bytsje
I know it DcP such.a bit
I know it more or less