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Characteristics and classification

The prominent characteristics of adjectives as a word class are discussed in this section, which include syntactic uses, structural properties in various positions, and semantic features on syntactic or morphological grounds.

Syntactically, adjectives in Afrikaans can be used both in pronominal attributive and in clause-final predicative position, while they are also used in partitive constructions with indefinite pronouns (specifically in post-pronominal position), marked as such by the suffix -s. Adjectives, and adjective phrases containing determiners, also function as adverbial modifiers.

Characteristics of adjectives which present morphologically (and in some cases syntactically), are (a) modification by means of an adverbial phrase of degree, and (b) comparative/superlative formation. However, these only have a bearing on the subset of gradable adjectives.

The features referred to above pertain predominantly to prototypical adjectives, and some more distinctive characteristics can be identified through a comparison with nouns and verbs.  While nouns (and noun phrases) may refer to the syntactic functions of subject, or direct/indirect object in a sentence, adjectives normally do not perform these functions – except for a relatively closed class which precede object nouns, another which are linked to nouns by prepositions, and a third group which combine with infinitive clauses. Verbs, on the other hand, which share with adjectives the property of being predicated of a noun phrase, can be disguished from the latter in that they can be morphologically (and syntactically) marked for tense. If an adjective is the predicative of the subject of a clause, it is not inflected in Afrikaans, and a copula must be inserted in order to express tense. Although deverbal adjectives (e.g. gerunds and past participles) contain aspectual characteristics, these mostly operate as attributive adjectives (unless nominalised to refer to entities), and never as infinitives, as in the case of English gerunds.

[+] Attributive and predicative

There are several features that are often considered characteristic of adjectives, but that are nevertheless insufficient to fully delimit the set of adjectives. For instance, many adjectives can be used both in prenominal attributive and in clause-final predicative position, as is illustrated for vinnigfast in, respectively, (1a) and (1a'). However, since this feature does not apply to all adjectives, the capacity to be used in these positions is not a necessary condition for a word to qualify as an adjective:vervlaksconfounded and kwaadangry in examples (1b) and (1c) are normally considered adjectives, despite the fact that the former can only be used attributively and the latter can only be used predicatively.

Example 1

a. die vinnige motor
the fast car
a.' die motor is vinnig
the car is fast
b. daardie vervlakste seun
that confounded boy
b.' *die seun is vervlaks
the boy is confounded
c. Jan is kwaad
Jan is angry
c.' *'n kwaad seun
an angry boy

In the case of indefinite pronouns, adjectives are used also in partitive constructions, in a post-pronominal position, and are marked as such by  the suffix -s, if the adjective itself does not end in -s, as in (2a) below.

Example 2

a. daar is niks snaaks daaromtrent nie
there is nothing funny about it
a.' ek het iets moois gehoor
I heard something beautiful

Some speakers omit the suffix in their speech, which could lead to ambiguity in certain contexts, since the adjective could be understood as having an adverbial function:

Example 3

as jy iets goed doen
if you do something good/well

As indicated above, adjectives (and adjective phrases containing determiners) also function as adverbial modifiers, as in (4) and (5). Because of this functional characteristic, adjectives used in such a way are often erroneously categorised as adverbs.

Example 4

hoe lank wag jy al?
how long have you been waiting?
Example 5

ons het baie ver geloop
we walked very far
Example 6

sy het die beste gepresteer
she performed the best

Two other features are often considered typical of adjectives: modification by means of an adverbial phrase of degree, such as baievery, heelquite or taamlik rather, as in (7), and comparative/superlative formation, as in (6), (9) and (10). The primed examples show, however, that these features pertain to only a subset of adjectives, namely the set of so-called gradable adjectives.

Example 7

baie/heel/taamlik gaaf
very/quite/rather nice
Example 8

*baie dood
very dead
Example 9

a. gawer
a.' *dooier
Example 10

a. gaafste
a.' *doodste

Since the properties discussed above only pertain to the most prototypical adjectives, another way of characterising this word class would be to compare it to verbs and nouns.

Verbs and (at least a subset of the) adjectives both have the property that they may be predicated of a noun phrase in the clause. The most conspicuous difference between the two categories is, however, that only the former can be marked for past tense, for most verbs in Afrikaans by means of the auxiliary verb hethas/have(active voice) and the past participle:

Example 11

ek stap/het gestap
I walk/walked

If an adjective is a predicative of the subject of the clause, it is not inflected in Afrikaans, and a copula must be inserted in order to express tense; cf.

Example 12

ek is/was siek
I am/was ill

Nouns are typically used to refer to an entity (or set of entities) in the domain of discourse. Due to this property, noun phrases may refer to participants in an event, and thus have the syntactic function of subject or direct/indirect object of a clause. In general, adjectives do not perform these syntactic functions (but see some exceptions to this characteristic below), and certainly not in those cases in which the clause is a projection of a main verb with descriptive content.

A number of fixed expressions (constituting adjective phrases) in Afrikaans consist of adjectives preceded by object nouns. If compared to other Germanic languages, the syntactic relation between adjective and noun could vary from genitive to dative (indirect object) to accusative (direct object), as could be illustrated by the examples below:

Example 13

hier is 'n mens jou lewe nie seker nie
here is a person your life not certain not
here one's life is not safe

In this example, the relation between adjective corresponds to genitive case in German:

Example 14

hier ist man seines Lebens nicht sicher
hier is 'n mens nie seker van jou lewe nie
here one is not certain of one's life
Example 15

hy is nie mense gewoond nie
he is not used to people
Example 16

hy is al sy geld kwyt
he is all his money lost
he has lost all his money
Example 17

sy is Frans magtig
she is French mastered
she has mastered French
Example 18

ek is haar 'n verskoning skuldig
I am her an apology indebted
I owe her an apology

A more common phenomenon is that of adjectives which are linked to nouns by means of prepositions, as in:

Example 19

sy is bang vir spinnekoppe
she is afraid of spiders
Example 20

hy is begaan oor jou veiligheid
he is concerned about your safety
Example 21

sy is gewoond aan 'n gerieflike lewe
she is accustomed to a comfortable life
Example 22

hy is van kleins af versot op krieket
He has been hung up on cricket since childhood

Lastly, some adjectives combine with infinitive constructions/clauses, as in:

Example 23

die watervlak is besig om te styg
the water.level is busy PART to rise
the water level is rising
Example 24

ons is nie juis lus om te gaan nie
we are not particularly keen to go

In this category, prepositional adjectives also combine with infinitives:

Example 25

sy is moeg daarvan om die hele dag te werk
she is tired of.it PART the whole day to work
she is tired of working all day
Example 26

sy is gewoond daaraan om alleen te wees
she is accustomed to.it PART alone to be
she is accustomed to being alone

In a few cases, the adjective is linked to a bare (short) infinitive by means of the conjunction en:

Example 27

sy was lus en gee hom 'n klap
she was inclined and give him a smack
she felt like giving him a smack
Example 28

hy is kapabel en kanselleer al ons verlof
he is capable and cancel all our leave
he might well cancel all our leave

Despite the fact that it is difficult to characterise the class of adjectives, as can be seen from the aforegoing discussion, the prominent properties of this word class will be discussed in the rest of this chapter. For each of the categories touched upon, a section is devoted, such as the syntactic uses and properties of prenominal/attributive adjectives. Another section will provide a semantic classification of the adjectives, which at least partly coincides with classifications that can be made on syntactic or morphological grounds.

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