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The productive prefix ûn- derives adjectives on the basis of adjectives. Its semantics is negative, the derived form referring to the opposite of the base form. Examples are beret decisive > ûnberet non-decisive and brekber fragile > ûnbrekber nonbreakable. The prefix ûn- can also derive an adjective from a past participle (when used as an adjective), with the insertion of a linking element -ge-, for instance in molken milked > ûngemolken not milked.

The prefix ûn- can also take nominal bases.

[+]General properties

The productive Germanic prefix ûn-, related to Dutch on- and English and German un-, derives adjectives on the basis of adjectives. It refers to the opposite of the base form. Examples of formations with ûn- are given in the table below:

Table 1
Base Derivation
dúdlik clear ûndúdlik unclear
echt real ûnecht false
einich finite ûneinich infinite
ferstannich wise ûnferstanninch unwise
geef complete ûngeef incomplete
gelyk same ûngelyk not the same
hillich holy ûnhillich unholy
ytber edible ûnytber inedible
jildich valid ûnjildich non-valid
krekt precise ûnkrekt not precise
lêsber readable ûnlêsber unreadable
mooglik possible ûnmooglik impossible
noflik pleasant ûnnoflik unpleasant
ôfhinklik dependent ûnôfhinklik independent
partidich biased ûnpartidich unbiased
stjerlik mortal ûnstjerlik immortal
suver pure ûnsuver impure
tankber thankful ûntankber ungrateful
wier true ûnwier untrue
wis certain ûnwis uncertain
gefallich graceful ûngefallich ungraceful
foech delicate ûnfoech indelicate
gesellich sociable ûngesellich unsociable
bedreaun adept (in/at) ûnbedreaun unskilled (in/at)
brûkber usable ûnbrûkber not usable
freonlik friendly ûnfreonlik unfriendly
beskamsum shameful ûnbeskamsum impudent
ynteressant interesting ûnynteressant uninteresting

As can be seen, prefixation with ûn- primarily involves scalar adjectives. Material adjectives cannot be prefixed, e.g. houten wooden > *ûnhouten. In the normal case, relational adjectives are also excluded, for example

Example 1

Hy hat in *ûnfryske frou
he has an un-Frisian wife
His wife is not Frisian

Here, an alternative formation of a compound with the negative adverb net not is required, a solution that is available anyway in those cases in which the prefix ûn- is excluded. We then get in net-Fryske frou a not-Frisian wife a non-Frisian wife. If relational adjectives are prefixed with ûn-, then they are immediately forced to a scalar interpretation. For example, in ûnfrysk boek an un-Frisian book that has a low degree of "Frisianness" in that it greatly lacks the features that are so typical of Frisian books.

[+]Opaque bases

There are some historical ûn- derivations which have a base form that is not present (anymore) in modern Frisian. Examples are:

Table 2
Opaque base Derivation
*hjirmlik ûnhjirmlik unbearable
*huer(ich) ûnhuerich dirty
*noazel ûnnoazel foolish
*sjoch ûnsjoch unsightly
*bidich ûnbidich touchy
*dogens ûndogens naughty
*behouwen ûnbehouwen coarse
*lijich ûnlijich unquiet

There is also a group of ûn- derivations which ends in one of the suffixes -ber or -lik. In theory, these might be possible base forms in Frisian, but in practice they don't exist as baseforms. Some examples are given in the table below:

Table 3
Opaque base Derivation
*úteachber ûnúteachber immense
*útbrûkber ûnútbrûkber inexhaustible
*dwêstber ûndwêstber inextinguishable
*kearber ûnkearber irresistible
*oerwinlik ûnoerwinlik invincible
*ferbetterlik ûnferbetterlik incorrigible
*ferjitlik ûnferjitlik unforgettable

A derivation with ûn- from adjectival bases is sometimes blocked by the fact that such adjectives already have an antonym that represents the opposite meaning itself. For example, droech dry does not become *ûndroech because it already has wiet wet as its antonym, and waarm hot does not become *ûnwaarm because it has the antonym kâld cold.


Some of the potential forms that are blocked by an antonym can nevertheless come into existence when they are used in litotes constructions. Take as an example sêft soft, which has hurd hard as its antonym. Therefore, the formation ??ûnsêft un-soft is weird. Nevertheless one can encounter somewat amusing formulations like hy kaam ûnsêft del he landed roughly.

Another situation in which such formations can become possible is in a negative-polarity construction with net notûn-. Examples are netûnaardich not un-nice not bad, netûnkreas not un-pretty not ugly or netûnwiid not un-wide not narrow. The intention of the speaker using such constructions is to express something positive, but the use of the double negation results in an understatement. This way of speaking is quite frequent in Frisian.

[+]Past participles and the insertion of -ge-

The prefix ûn- can also derive an adjective from a past participle (when used as an adjective). In that case, a linking element -ge- is inserted between the prefix and the adjectively used participle. In this way, an example like in makke bêd a made bed results in a negated in ûngemakke bêd an unmade bed, instead of *ûnmakke. More examples are given in the table below:

Table 4
Base Derivation
noade invited ûngenoade uninvited
skyld peeled ûngeskyld unpeeled
sean boiled ûngesean unboiled
skeind damaged ûngeskeind undamaged
strutsen ironed ûngestrutsen unironed
troud married ûngetroud unmarried
wosken washed ûngewosken unwashed
stimpele stamped ûngestimpele unstamped
winske wanted ûngewinske unwanted
frege asked ûngefrege unasked (for)
dien done ûngedien undone
murken noticed ûngemurken unnoticed
treast comforted ûngetreast uncomforted

Some of these forms are strongly lexicalized. Examples are ûngemurken unnoticed, as in ûngemurken wer fuortgean leave without being noticed, or ûngewosken unwashed in immen ûngewosken de wierheid sizze give someone a piece of one's mind.

If the past participle is complex, the augment -ge- may not be added:

Table 5
Complex base Derivation Ungrammatical derivation
beslipe sharpened ûnbeslipe unsharpened *ûngebeslipe
trochtocht well thought-out ûntrochtocht thoughtless *ûngetrochtocht
taret prepared ûntaret unprepared *ûngetaret
ynfolle filled in ûnynfolle blank *ûngeynfolle
útiten finished ûnútiten unfinished *ûngeútiten
feroare changed ûnferoare unchanged *ûngeferoare
beëdige sworn ûnbeëdige unsworn *ûngebeëdige
ûntwikkele developed ûnûntwikkele undeveloped *ûngeûntwikkele
ûnderskreaun subscribed ûnûnderskreaun unsubscribed *ûngeûntskreaun
ferljochte lighted ûnferljochte unlighted *ûngeferljochte
In the case of past participles displaying the non-germanic suffix -ear, the augment -ge- is not obligatory. For example: datearre (out)dated > ûndatearre undated or ûngedatearre undated, skansearre damaged > ûnskansearre undamaged or ûngeskansearre undamaged and frankearre stamped > ûnfrankearre unstamped or ûngefrankearre unstamped.
[hide extra information]
Dutch influence?

Derivations with this linking -ge- have sometimes been considered as 'bad Frisian', because it is thought that such forms are used under influence from Dutch. The reason is that in general Dutch past participles are prefixed with ge-, where Frisian past participles are not. There is indeed a good chance that -ge- was imported from Dutch historically, but the forms with ûnge- are so strongly rooted in the Frisian language that they can barely be seen as a synchronic influence from Dutch. Nowadays, the sequence -ge- is nothing more than a linking element between the prefix ûn- and the past participle.

The linking element -ge- is also added to three adjectives which are not derived from past participles. These are sûn healthy > ûngesûn unhealthy (*ûnsûn), maklik comfortable > ûngemaklik uncomfortable (*ûnmaklik) and lokkich happy > ûngelokkich unhappy (*ûnlokkich).The forms without -ge- are ungrammatical.

[+]Phonological properties

The prefix ûn- is pronounced as [un] in the west, in accordance with the standard spelling ûn-. In the east, however, the pronunciation is [on]. In the dialect of the island of Schiermonnikoog, the vowel is fronted to the diphthong [ɛʷ]. The phoneme /n/ of the suffix is subject to processes like assimilation and nasalization. Stress is on the base form: ûnWIER, ûnNOAzel, ûnferJITlik. This also applies to forms with ûnge- [unɡə], for example in ûngeFREge or ûngeDIEN. However, for prosodic reasons the stress may fall on the prefix if the derived form is used attributively, for example in in ÛNwier ferhaal an untrue story.

[hide extra information]

This topic is mainly based on Hoekstra (1998:76-78). On the issue of understatement, see Hoekstra (1987).

The intrusion of -ge- before adjectively used past participles is noticed in Tamminga (1963:231) and criticized by De Jong (1967). It is defended as being an integrated element by Hoekstra (1987) and De Haan and Hoekstra (1993:24-26). A comparable intrusion of ge- in the Dutch dialect West-Fries (north of Amsterdam) is mentioned in Pannekeet (1977:91).

For the dialectical distribution of the variants /un/ and /on/, see Hof (1948:103-104). A map, drawn on the basis of his data, is presented in Van der Veen et al. (2001:194). For the form in the dialect of the island of Schiermonnikoog, see Visser and Dyk (2002).

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