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Adjectivising conversion

Adjectivising conversion is the morphological process whereby a word from a different part-of-speech category is used as an adjective, without overt morphological marking. The base and resulting adjective have identical forms, as illustrated in the following prototypical examples:

Input category: noun
... preserveermiddels in wyn, soos tannien, suur en natuurlik die alkohol.
... preservatives in wine, like tannin, acid and naturally the alcohol
... preservatives in wine, like tannin, acid, and of course, alcohol.
Output category: adjective
Bok+melk het 'n effens suur smaak ...
goat+milk have a slightly sour taste ...
Goat's milk has a slightly sour taste ...

Details regarding each input part-of-speech category are discussed in the sections below.

[+]Adjective/adverb-to-adverb/adjective conversion

  • In Afrikaans, like in other Germanic languages except English, there is in principle no formal distinction between adjectives and (manner) adverbs. In this regard, Hummel (2014:35) points the following out: “Hengeveld (1992:68-69) classifies English typologically as a “specialized language” (“differentiated” in Hengeveld et al. 2004) because this language has a word-class for both adjectives and manner adverbs, English having developed the adverbial suffix -ly. This feature distinguishes English from other Germanic languages, where the unmarked (e.g. Dutch snel, German schnellfast) or neuter (e.g. Swedish roligtfunny) form of the adjective is used for adverbial functions (and some suffixes for specific functions). To put it in the words of Hengeveld (1992:65), Dutch (and other Germanic languages) “combines the functions of adjectives and manner adverbs”.” [my emphasis]
  • Compare the figure below, which depicts Kempen's (1969:49) view that three categories of adjectives and adverbs should be distinguished:
    1. ADJ: Adjectives that can't function as adverbs, e.g. Stellenbosse related to the town Stellenbosch; goue golden.
    2. ADV: Adverbs that can't function as adjectives, e.g. gister yesterday; oorkant opposite.
    3. A: Words that are in all respects exactly the same, and which therefore should belong to a single part-of-speech class, e.g. groot big; hard hard; loud.
Figure 1: Overlap between adjectives and adverbs
[click image to enlarge]
  • Unlike Hengeveld (1992), Kempen (1969) does not specify that the overlap pertains only to manner adverbs, although he does call them (i.e. adverbs) "quality words" (Kempen 1969:49).
  • This viewpoint is also held by, among others, Van Schoor (1983:59-62, 110) and Diepeveen and Van de Velde (2010), and the former refers to this phenomenon as grammatical homonymy. We can therefore conclude that most adjectives and adverbs belong to the same category (i.e. "A").


Linguists like Le Roux (1923) and Royen (1947-54) are of opinion that the process of ADV-to-ADJ conversion in Dutch and Afrikaans is not completed yet. They cite examples like 'n af been a off bone a broken bone and oop oë open eyes as examples. Kempen (1969:54) notes that this proposition should be investigated further.

[+]Input category: noun

  • Nouns can be converted into colour adjectives, depending on whether colour is a prominent feature of the instantiation domain of the noun. Compare for instance:

a. avokado+slaai
avocado salad
["Avokado" is used as a noun, and is therefore stylised conjunctively in a compound.]
a.' avokado gordyne
avocado curtains
avocado (coloured) curtains
["Avokado" is used as a colour adjective, and is therefore stylised disjunctively in a word group.]

Note that in Dutch an aluminium fiets aluminium bicycle is a bicycle made of aluminium; in Afrikaans the same word group would refer to an aluminium coloured bicycle. In contrast, an aluminiumfiets in Afrikaans would refer to a bicycle made of aluminium. Also see Kempen (1969:56).
  • A few nouns depicting bodily sensations (i.e. die honger the hunger and die dors the thirst) are also used as adjectives (i.e. honger hungry and dors thirsty). To this group also belongs the illness verkoue cold, which can be used as an adjective in Afrikaans (as in example (4) below). From a diachronic viewpoint, these adjectives were originally nouns in Dutch (cf. Ik heb hongerI have hungerI am hungry, vs. *Ik ben hongerI am hunger), but are now used frequently in Afrikaans as both adjectives and nouns. Hence, these adjectives can be inputs for the similative suffix -ig (honger·ig hungry·ish; dorst·ig thirsty-ish), while their derived counterparts in Dutch are pure (non-similative) adjectives.

Hy is verkoue en 'n bietjie knieserig ...
he is cold and a bit mopish ...
He has a cold and is a bit mopish ...
Huisgenoot Digitaal, 2010/05/28

  • Many nouns related to sensory states (e.g. sout salt; suur acid; pekel pickle; peper pepper) can be used as adjectives with the meaning [taste/smell/feel/look/sound like SEM(N)](A). The same applies to a number of nouns that are used metaphorically (e.g. pap porridge; kaas cheese (only used predicatively); toiings rags (only used predicatively)).
  • There are numerous nominal compounds that function as adjectives, e.g. die kaal+voet seuns the bare+foot boys the shoeless boys. This is such a productive process that there is even a dedicated rule for it in the Afrikaans orthography (AWS-11, rule 15.31). See list of examples below.

    Most of these phrasal compounds are based on prepositional phrases, mostly with the preposition met with, where the preposition is omitted in the compound (see Kempen (1969:63-68) on preposition displacement and/or deletion in constructions like these). The basic structure of these compounds is:

    • [[a](ADJ)[b](N)](A) < [met(PREP) [a](ADJ)[b](N)](PP) ↔ [with SEM(ADJ) SEM(N)]

    For example, die kaal+voet seuns can be paraphrased as die seuns met kaal voete the boys with bare feet. While prepositional phrases can be incorporated prenominally in Dutch (e.g. de met blote voeten jongensthe with bare feet boysthe shoeless boys), it is less common in Afrikaans (perhaps more so in literary texts), with the exception of archaic phrases like in ag genome in attention taken considering, and voor die hand liggend before the hand lying obvious.

    In addition to the postnominal paraphrasing test, one can also test whether the adjective (i.e. nominal compound) can be used predicatively, e.g. die kaal+voet seuns > die seuns is kaal+voet the boys is bare+foot the boys are shoeless.

    These adjectives also typically don't take degrees of comparison, e.g. *die kaal+voet·ste seun the bare+foot·SUPL boy the most shoeless boy.

    List with examples (also see AWS-11, rule 15.31)

    Table 1
    Afrikaans Gloss English
    aan+lyn on+line online
    dik+bek thick+mouth sulky
    druip+stert droopy+tail embarrassed; crestfallen
    groot+bek big+mouth loud-mouthed
    haas+bek hare+mouth gap-toothed
    harde+gat hard+ass stubborn
    harde+koejawel hard+guava hard-bitten
    kaal+voet bare+foot shoeless
    kort+asem short+breath pursy, scant of breath
    plat+sak flat+pocket broke, poor

  • AWS-11, rule 15.28.b mentions a special category of nouns that are increasingly being interpreted by users as adjectives, and are therefore being written disjunctively as a word group, instead of conjunctively as a compound. Some examples include:
    • gunsteling favourite in gunsteling+liedjie favourite+song (increasingly being written as ?gunsteling liedjie favourite song)
    • hout wood in hout+speelgoed wood+toys (increasingly being written as ?hout speelgood wooden toys)
    • reuse giant in reuse+vertrek giant+room (increasingly being written as ?reuse vertrek gigantic room)
    • standaard standard in standaard+koevert (increasingly being written as ?standaard koevert standard envelope)


Constructions like English New York State of Mind (a 1976 song by Billy Joel) are impossible in Afrikaans. Of course, it is not impossible to express this kind of meaning in Afrikaans, e.g. by turning the noun into an adjective by means of suffixation ('n Pretoria·s·e somer·s+dag a Pretoria·ADJZ·ATTR summer·LK+day a Pretorian summer's day), or by means of compounding ('n Pretoria+reën+bui a Pretoria+rain+shower a Pretoria rain shower).

[+]Input category: verb

  • Verbal stems cannot be used adjectivally; most present and past participles can.
  • Present participles of most verbs can be used as adjectives, mainly prenominally as attributive adjectives, but not predicatively. Compare for instance:

Present participle: attributive (prenominal) vs. *predicative adjective
a. brek·end·e branders
break·PTCP.PRS·ATTR waves
breaking waves
a.' *Die branders is brekend.
The waves are breaking.

  • Such present participles can often also be used postnominally as attributive adjectives, or as adverbs. Compare for instance:

Present participle: attributive (prenominal) adjective vs. attributive (postnominal) adjective vs. adverb vs. *predicative adjective
a. spel·end·e honde
play·PTCP.PRS·ATTR dogs
playing dogs
a.' Die honde spel·end om hulle ...
the dogs play·PTCP.PRS around them ...
The dogs playing around them ...
a.'' ... terwyl hy spelend aan sy ouers se hande swaai.
... while he play·PTCP.PRS on his parents PTCL.GEN hands swing
... while he swings playfully on his parents hands.
a.''' *Die honde is spelend.
The dogs are playing.

  • A number of these present participles have lexicalised into "normal" adjectives that can also be used predicatively.

Lexicalised present participle: attributive vs. predicative adjective
a. 'n dring·end·e aansoek
a urge·PTCP.PRS·ATTR application
an urgent application
a.' Die aansoek is dring·end.
the application is urge·PTCP.PRS
The application is urgent.

Smessaert (2013: 84) observes that meaning specialisation can go hand in hand with change of the stress pattern, another sign of lexicalisation, e.g. aanhóúdend continuous (< áánhou to persist, to arrest); opvliéënd quick-tempered (< ópvlieg to fly up).

  • Weak and strong past participles of transitive and ergative verbs freely function as adjectives, both attributively (pre- and postnominally) and predicatively. However, such weak past participles rarely function as adverbs, while strong past participles do. Compare for example:

Weak past participle: attributive (prenominal) adjective vs. attributive (postnominal) adjective vs. predicative adjective vs. *adverb
a. 'n ge·breek·t·e speelding
a broken toy
a.' Pluimvee verkies geel+mielies, ge·breek sowel as heel, bo hawer en gars.
poultry prefer yellow+maize, PTCP.PST·break both as whole, above oats and barley
Poultry prefer yellow maize, both crushed and whole, to oats and barley.
a.'' ... nou is my geliefkoosde speelding ge·breek!
... now is my beloved toy PST.PTCP·break
... now my beloved town is broken!
a.''' *Sy speel gebreek met die speelding.
She plays broken with the toy.
Strong past participle: attributive (prenominal) adjective vs. attributive (postnominal) adjective vs. predicative adjective vs. adverb
a. my gebroke hart
my break.PST.PTCP heart
my broken heart
a.' ... sou ek, gebroke en gebrekkig, vanuit die bos wou bid ...
will.PRT I, break.PST.PTCP and flawed, from the bush want.to.PRT pray ...
... I, broken and flawed, would have wanted to pray from within the bush ...
a.'' Ek was ge·skok en gebroke.
I be.PRT PST.PTCP·shock and break.PST.PTCP
I was shocked and broken.
a.''' ... as sy jou ... bel en gebroke aan jou die nuus oordra ...
... if she you ... call and break.PTCP.PST to you the news convey ...
... when she ... calls you and conveys the news brokenly ...

  • Although rare in everyday usage, it is possible to carry verbal arguments over into the adjective phrase. This construction is seen mostly in literary or poetic language use. Compare for instance:

... die met ontelbare sterre ge·vul·d·e hemel ...
... the with infinite stars PTCP.PST·fill·PTCP.PST·ATTR heaven ...
... the heaven, filled with infinite stars ...

  • Participles of intransitive verbs cannot function as adjectives, for example:

*die asemgehaalde lug
the breathed air
  • Diepeveen, Janneke & Velde, Freek van de2010Adverbial morphology. How Dutch and German are moving away from English.Journal of Germanic Linguistics22389-413
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
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