• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
5.1.1. The inflectional paradigm

The factors determining attributive inflection on the adjective can be distributed into two groups. Those in the first group involve syntactic and semantic features of the noun (phrase), and the second involve phonological properties of the adjective itself. These two groups are discussed in Subsections I and II, respectively.

[+]  I.  Features of the noun (phrase)

The inflectional ending of an attributive adjective depends on the gender of the noun it modifies; cf. also Section 1.2. If the noun is masculine or feminine and thus belongs to the de-group, the adjective normally ends in -e (pronounced as schwa /), which means that the inflection is independent of the number and the definiteness of the noun phrase. If the noun is neuter and thus belongs to the het-group, the -e ending is absent in indefinite singular noun phrases. This is illustrated in Table 1, in which the single case of null inflection is given in a box with bold lines.

Table 1: The inflectional patterns of attributively used adjectives
  singular plural
  de-nouns het-nouns de-nouns het-nouns
definite de oude stoel
the old chair
het oude boek
the old book
de oude stoelen
the old chairs
de oude boeken
the old books
indefinite een oude stoel
an old chair
een oud- boek
an old book
oude stoelen
old chairs
oude boeken
old books

The paradigm in Table 1 can be described by assuming the rules in (2), in which the words between square brackets indicate the features of the noun (phrase).

Example 2
Inflection of attributively used adjectives
a. +neuter+indefinite+singular ⇒ adjective + -∅
b. otherwise: adjective + -e

Alternatively, we could assume the rules in (3). Although this set of rules may seem unnecessarily complex, we will take it as our point of departure for our exposition later in this chapter.

Example 3
Inflection of attributively used adjectives
a. -neuter ⇒ adjective + -e
b. -indefinite ⇒ adjective + -e
c. -singular ⇒ adjective + -e
d. otherwise: adjective + -∅

Although we do not intend to make any theoretical claim by adopting (3), we want to point out that this set of rules is superior to the set of rules in (2) in that it straightforwardly accounts for the fact illustrated in Table 2 that number is irrelevant in the case of non-count nouns: the attributive -e ending is lacking with indefinite noun phrases headed by a non-count noun. This would follow from (3), but not from (2), if we assume that the number feature is simply not present on non-count nouns; see Broekhuis (2007/2008: Section 4.2) for more discussion.

Table 2: The inflection of non-count nouns
  de-noun het-noun
definite de lekkere rijst
the tasty rice
het lekkere bier
tasty beer
indefinite lekkere rijst
tasty rice
lekker- bier
tasty beer

      The examples in (4) show that, if a noun is combined with more than one adjective, the inflectional ending appears on each of the adjectives. The (a)-examples involve the non-neuter noun stoel'chair', and the (b)-examples the neuter noun boek'book'.

Example 4
a. een oud-e fraai-e stoel
* een oud fraai-e stoel
* een oud-e fraai stoel
  'an old fine chair'
a'. een oud-e, maar fraai-e stoel
* een oud, maar fraai-e stoel
* een oud-e, maar fraai stoel
  'an old but fine chair'
b. een oud fraai boek
* een oud-e fraai boek
* een oud fraai-e boek
  'an old fine book'
b'. een oud, maar fraai boek
* een oud-e, maar fraai boek
* een oud, maar fraai-e boek
  'an old but fine book'

We will refer to this phenomenon as the concord constraint on attributive inflection, which is formulated in (5).

Example 5
Concord constraint on attributive inflection:
If a noun is combined with more than one attributive adjective, the inflectional endings on the adjectives are identical (unless the -e ending is not realized for phonological reasons):
* [NP .. ADJ- .. ADJ-e .. N]
* [NP .. ADJ-e .. ADJ- .. N]

The proviso between parentheses in (5) is needed, because the appearance of the -e ending is partly phonologically determined. As will become clear in Subsection II, this proviso will account for the apparent counterexamples in (6).

Example 6
a. de oud-e kaki- broek
  the  old  khaki  trousers
b. de blauw-e open- deur
  the  blue  open  door

Observe that the constraint in (5) does not apply to the examples in (7), in which the adjectives can be considered compound forms.

Example 7
a. de rood-wit-blauw-e vlag
  the  red-white-blue  flag
b. de rood-met-witt-e vlag
  the  red-with-white  flag
c. de kant-en-klar-e maaltijd
  the  instant  food
d. de Nederlands-Duits-e betrekkingen
  the  Dutch-German  relations
[+]  II.  Phonological constraints

The paradigm in Table 1 is typical for adjectives that end in a consonant (cf. the examples given in the previous subsection), but if the adjective ends in a vowel, the -e ending can sometimes be dropped. The pattern in (8) arises: short vowels are not mentioned because they only occur in closed syllables (= syllables that end in a consonant) in Dutch.

Example 8
a. long vowels:
i. /a/, /o/ or /i/: no inflection
ii. /e/, /y/ or /u/: -e inflection (with intervocalic /j/ or /w/ sound)
b. diphthong: -e inflection
c. schwa /ə/: no inflection
[+]  A.  Long vowels

The -e inflection is absent if the adjective ends in the long vowel /a/, /o/ or /i/, as in (9). The number of adjectives that belong to this group is quite small.

Example 9
Adjectives that end in /a/, /o/ or /i/
a. een prima- opmerking
  an  excellent  remark
b. een albino- muis
  an  albino  mouse
c. de kaki- broek
  the  khaki   trousers

If the adjective ends in /e/, /y/ or /u/, on the other hand, the inflection is realized with an intervocalic /j/ (or /w/) sound, which is sometimes orthographically represented by a dieresis on the inflectional ending (), as in (10a), or as an i preceding the schwa, as in (10c). In (10b) there is no orthographic representation of the intervocalic sound.

Example 10
Adjectives that end in /e/, /y/ or /u/
a. een gedweeë man
gedweeë = [xədwejə]
  docile  man
b. het continue gezeur
continue = [kɔntinywə] or [kɔntinyjə]
  the  continuous  moaning
c. de moeie man
moeie = [mujə]
  the  tired  man

It has been suggested that the difference between (9) and (10) is due to the word-internal prosodic structure: the -e ending can only appear if the long vowel carries stress. Whereas the adjectives in (10) have stress on the final syllable, the small number of Dutch adjectives that end in /a:/, /o:/ and /i/ have main stress on the penultimate syllable (indicated by small caps): e xtra, l i la'lilac', m i ca, n a ppa'leather', pr i ma'excellent', alb i no, fr a nco'post-free', k a ki'khaki', s e xy. However, the fact that the number of adjectives ending in a long vowel is quite small makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions.

[+]  B.  Diphthong

If the adjective ends in a diphthong, the -e ending is realized, as is demonstrated in (11).

Example 11
Adjectives that end in a diphthong
a. een vrij-e stoel
vrije = [vrεiə]
  free  chair
b. een lui-e student
luie = [lœyə]
  lazy  student
c. een blauw-e vaas
blauwe = [blɔue]
  blue  vase
[+]  C.  Schwa

If the adjective ends in a schwa, the -e inflection is absent, as is illustrated in the primeless examples in (12). The primed examples show that adjectives ending in -en (pronounced as schwa in Standard Dutch) also lack the -e inflection.

Example 12
Adjectives that end in a schwa ( -e or -en)
a. de beige-/oranje- ballon
  the  beige/orange  balloon
a'. de dronken- soldaat
  the  drunken  soldier
b. perfide- opmerkingen
  perfidious  remarks
b'. de open- deur
  the  open  door

A subclass of the adjectives characterized by ending in -en (schwa), and hence by not appearing in the inflected form, are the substance adjectives, such as ijzeren'iron', houten'wooden' and gouden'golden' in (13). Observe that the -en ending is an adjectivizing affix in these cases, and cannot be seen as the adjectival inflection -e, since it also shows up in the case of the indefinite singular neuter noun phrases. The affix -en is possibly an old genitive ending (Te Winkel 1849), which may still be syntactically active as such; cf. Section 1.3.3, sub V.

Example 13
Substance adjectives
a. een ijzeren- beker/hek
de beker/ het hek
  an  iron  mug/gate
b. een houten- lepel/mes
de lepel/ het mes
  wooden  spoon
c. een gouden- oorbel/oorbelletje
de oorbel/ het oorbelletje
  golden  earring/earringdim

Although the -e inflection is normally added to attributively used past/passive participles, as in (14a&b), it is absent if we are dealing with an irregular past/passive participle ending in -en, as in (14a'&b'). Similarly, the -e ending is absent in the case of attributively used modal infinitives such as (14c). The inflectional properties of participles and modal infinitives will be more extensively discussed in Section 9.1.

Example 14
a. de gepost-e brief
  the  posted  letter
a'. de geschreven- brief
  the  written  letter
b. de afgezett-e koning
  the  deposed  king
b'. de verdreven- koning
  the  dislodged  king
c. het te lezen- boek
  the  to read  book
  'the book to be read'

      The fact that the -e inflection cannot follow schwa can possibly be attributed to a phonological condition that prohibits two adjacent schwa-sounds, although it should be noted that the varieties of Dutch in which -en is pronounced as [(ə)n] do not realize the -e ending in the relevant cases either; appealing to a phonological condition to exclude the attributive -e is not possible in these cases, since /ən/ can be followed by schwa in cases like het opene van zijn karakter'the open nature of his character' and het geschrevene'what has been written'; see Section 5.4, sub II, for a discussion of examples like these.

  • Broekhuis, Hans2007Subject shift and object shiftJournal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics10109-141
  • Broekhuis, Hans2008Derivations and evaluations: object shift in the Germanic languagesStudies in Generative GrammarBerlin/New YorkMouton de Gruyter
  • Winkel, L.A. te1849Bijdrage tot de kennis van de geslachten der zelfstandige naamwoordenMagazijn van de Nederlandse Taalkunde3177-185
Suggestions for further reading ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
  • In prenominal position
    [93%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Adjectives
  • Ellipsis
    [89%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Adjectives
  • Cardinal numbers
    [89%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Numerals
  • Degree
    [89%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Adjectives
  • Case
    [89%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Nouns
Show more ▼
  • Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show more ▼
This topic is the result of an automatic conversion from Word and may therefore contain errors.
A free Open Access publication of the corresponding volumes of the Syntax of Dutch is available at OAPEN.org.