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The productive prefix ge- derives nouns from verbs. An example is jeuzelje to nag > gejeuzel nagging. The meaning of a derivation with ge- can best be described as all the nagging or the constant nagging. As these translations show, derivations with ge- bear an iterative or collective aspect. As a result, the derivations often have a pejorative connotation, expressing irritation or impatience. The prefix ge- can only be attached to verbs that denote an action without an implicit endpoint. Next to these productive derivations with ge-, there are also 'fossilized' formations. An example is gebrûk use. These derivations do not show collective or iterative semantics. Another difference is the fact that they can often have a plural. All derivations with ge- have the common property of neuter gender.

[+]General properties

The prefix ge- is very productive. It derives action nouns from verbs by way of attachement to the stem of the verb. An example is jeuzelje to nag > gejeuzel nagging. The derived nouns always have neuter gender, and thus take the definite article it, for example in it gejeuzel the.N nagging the nagging. Here are some examples of prefixation with ge-:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
traapje to kick getraap kicking
skrieme to cry geskriem crying
fytse to cycle gefyts cycling
riddenearje to reason geriddenear reasoning
flokke to swear geflok swearing
fleane to fly geflean flying
skriuwe to write geskriuw writing
prakkesearje to brood geprakkesear brooding
nokkerje to giggle genokker giggling
[+]Semantic properties

The meaning of ge- formations can be described as "continuous V-ing". Thus gejeuzel is continuous nagging, gebid (from bidde to pray) is continuous praying and so forth. With inherent telic verbs, an aspect of iterativity is evoked, for instance in getraap constant kicking (from traapje to kick).

As a result of this aspect of continuation, derivations with ge- often have a pejorative connotation, expressing irritation, disapproval or impatience. Sometimes the negative connotation is already available in the base form, which might apply to eamelje to moan. In other cases, the negative connotation is not in the verb itself, so it can only be attributed to the addition of ge-. An example is prate to talk > gepraat (irritating) talking, for example in:

Example 1

Wat in gepraat ha dy minsken
what a PREF-talk have those people
O, the talking of those people

However, a derivation with ge- does not necessarily have to bear such a negative connotation. The derivation gepraat talking, for example, can also be used in a neutral context:

Example 2

Hja harke nei it gepraat fan 'e bern
she listened to the PREF-talk of the kids
She listened to the talking of the kids
[+]Input restrictions

Semantically, the prefix ge- can only be attached to verbs that allow a durational aspect. Stative verbs are excluded, e.g. witte to know > *gewit. The base form of a derivation with ge- must denote an action which has not ended yet, for example timmerje to build > getimmer the building. Verbs with an implicit endpoint are only permitted if they allow an iterative interpretation, for example tongerje to thunder cf. > getonger repeated thundering. Therefore, a formation like *gestjer (from stjerre to die) is odd, and could only be felicitous in the context of a rehearsal for a play. Compare also the contrast below:

Example 3

*Dat geskriuw fan syn dissertaasje
that writing of his dissertation
That writing of his dissertation
Dat geskriuw oan syn dissertaasje
that writing on his dissertation
That writing on his dissertation

The preposition fan of presupposes a terminal point, which is lacking with the preposition oan.

Morphologically, the prefix ge- cannot only be added to simplex verbs but to complex verbs as well. Examples of derivations with ge- from different sorts of complex verbs are listed below:

Table 2
Base form Derivation
snokkerje to sob (suffixed verb) gesnokker the sobbing
gnyskje to sneer (suffixed verb) gegnysk the sneering
útsykje to sort out (separable particle verb) geútsyk/útgesyk the sorting out
ôfblaze to fart (separable particle verb) geôfblaas/ôfgeblaas the farting
bierdrinke to drink beer (noun incorporation) gebierdrink the beer drinking
strôtskrabje to clear the throat (noun incorporation) gestrôtskraab the clearing of the throat
domprate to talk rubbish (adverb incorporation) gedompraat the talking of rubbish
fierljeppe to pole jump over ditches (adverb incorporation) gefierljep the pole jumping over ditches
If the root word is a separable particle verb, the prefix ge- can have two possible positions: before the verb, but also between the particle and the verb. An example is omdangelje to stroll around > geomdangel the strolling around (the prefix is placed before the complex verb). The alternative is omgedangel the strolling around (prefix is placed between the particle om and the verbal stem dangel). Two more examples, i.e. útgesyk and ôfgeblaas, are shown in the table above.

The prefix ge- can be accepted by prefixed verbs, but solely when the relation between the prefix and the base form is opaque. An example is bedjerre to spoil > gebedjer (constant) spoiling. If the relation between the prefix and the base form is transparent, derivation with ge- is not possible. An example is beprate to discuss > *gebepraat the discussing.

To some extent the prefix ge- can be combined with verb clusters. This is possible if the verb cluster consists of a verb and a prepositional phrase referring to a place. The prefix is then positioned between the prepositional phrase and the verb. Two examples are listed below:

Example 4

Dat nei de kroech gerin
that to the pub PREF-walk
That (constant) walking to the pub
Dat troch it sân gebûkel
that through the sand PREF-stumble
That (constant) stumbling through the sand

The prefix ge- cannot be combined with a verb cluster containing a prepositional phrase that does not refer to a place. The same applies to a verbal cluster with a noun phrase complement (b). This is shown in the examples below:

Example 5

a. ??Dat op 'e bus gewacht
that for the bus waiting
That waiting for the bus
b. ??Dat segaren gesmook
that cigars smoking
That smoking of cigars

Only PPs connected to particle verbs with om- denoting structureless activities are more tolerant:

Example 6

a. Dat opinoar omgeblaai
that on each other PTCL-PREF-slobber
That (constant) slobbering around on each other
b. Dat yninoar omgepraat
that in each other PTCL-PREF-talk
that continuous unclear talking with each other
[+]Phonological properties

The prefix is pronounced as [ɡə]. Hence, it does not bear stress (see schwa restriction). An example isgeSKRIUW writing).

[+]Morphological potential

Formations with ge- cannot be pluralized (gebalt shouting > *gebalten shoutings) or diminuated (*gebaltsje. Non-transparent derivations with ge-, which are no longer felt to be derivations, can often have a plural, however (see the non-productive derivations with ge- below).

[+]Non-productive derivations with ge-

As described above, derivations with ge- with a continuous meaning are productive in Frisian. But there are also derivations with ge- that are not formed by this productive process. These derivations are 'fossilized' words; derived from a verb, but not evaluated as a derivation anymore. These derivations do not bear a continuous meaning as the productive derivations with ge- do, and they can often have a plural. Some of these 'fossilized' nouns have a base form which is opaque. Examples are listed below:

Table 3
Base form Derivation Plural
fjochtsje to fight gefjocht the fight gefjochten fightings
bouwe to build gebou the building gebouwen buildings
brûke to use gebrûk the use gebrûken customs
skinke to give geskink gift geskinken gifts
dulde to tolerate geduld patience no plural
opaque base geroft rumour geroften rumours
Moreover, we also find derivations with an opaque base that do not allow a plural. Examples are gewisse conscience and gerak needs.

[hide extra information]
Distancing from Dutch

Frisian language users frequently interpret the prefix ge- as an element that has crept in from Dutch, because of the fact that Dutch past participles are introduced by ge-, whereas Frisian past participles are not. An example is the Dutch past participle gezien seen, in comparison with Frisian sjoen. As a result, conscious language users tend to avoid nouns starting with ge- and prefer a synonym which is considered more 'typical Frisian', even if this is an archaism or a neologism. Some examples are listed below:

Table 4
Noun with ge- Distancing synonym
geheugen memory ûnthâld memory
gehucht hamlet buorskip hamlet
geboarte birth berte birth
gesprek conversation petear conversation
gefoel feeling fieling feeling
gebrûk use brûkme use
gewoante habit wenst habit
geloof faith leauwe(n) faith

This tendency can only be observed in non-productive derivations, however, in particular those that are felt to be direct loans from Dutch. For example, the words geheugen, geboarte, gesprek and geloof are labeled as Dutchisms in the Frisian comprehensive dictionary Veen (1984-2011). In many of these cases the prefix ge- is not the only trigger leading to viewing the word as a Dutchism. The word gefoel feeling, for example, can be connected to a Dutch verb voelen, while its Frisian counterpart is fiele.

[hide extra information]

Good overviews are offered by Tamminga (1954), Tamminga (1963:230-232) and Hoekstra (1998:118-119). The distancing effect is dealt with most extensively in Tamminga (1954:95-96). See also Gildemacher (2004) and Tamminga (1963:232).

  • Gildemacher, Karel F2004GerakLeeuwarder Courant9-71
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1954'Né, net sa'n geoankrûp!' Eat oer it foarheaksel ge- foaral by haedwurdenDe Pompeblêdden: tydskrift foar Fryske stúdzje1593-97
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1954'Né, net sa'n geoankrûp!' Eat oer it foarheaksel ge- foaral by haedwurdenDe Pompeblêdden: tydskrift foar Fryske stúdzje1593-97
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1963Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IBoalsertA.J. Osinga
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1963Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IBoalsertA.J. Osinga
  • Veen, Klaas F. van der (ed.)1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske Taal - Woordenboek der Friese Taal