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Constructions with APs

Adjectives can fulfil a variety of syntactic roles, such as (a) determining a noun in the attributive (or prenominal) position, as in:

Example 1

die lang gedig
the long poem

or (b) as an essential part of the predicate (i.e. as complementive predicative), as in:

Example 2

Die gedig is lank.
The poem is long.

or (c) as a nonessential part of the predicate (i.e. as supplementive predicative), as in:

Example 3

Hy kom gereeld kuier.
he comes regularly visit
He regularly comes on a visit.

or (d) complementing a preceding indefinite pronoun (i.e. partitive), as in:

Example 4

iets lekkers
something tasty

and (e) acting as an adverb (i.e. an adverbial function), which may overlap with (c) above, as in:

Example 5

Sy hardloop vinnig.
She runs fast.
[+] Read more

An adjective can firstly be used attributively, in other words to determine or describe a following noun, as in this construction:

Example 6

die uiters koue toestande in Brittanje
the extremely cold conditions in Britain

It should be noted that most polysyllabic adjectives and various groups of monosyllabic adjectives (phonologically determined) are inflected attributively by means of the suffix -e, as in interessante gesprekkeinteresting.ATTR conversations and snaakse geluidefunny.ATTR sounds. In the case of certain monosyllabic adjectives, the addition of -e leads to phonological processes, such as intervocalic /d/-deletion, as exemplified by kouecold in example (6) above, where the attributive is formed from the predicative koud, which is also the adverbial form. This topic is discussed more extensively in the Extra section below.

[+] Complementive predicative

When forming an essential part of the predicate, the construction is known as a complementive predicative, as in this sentence:

Example 7

Die luggie is koud saans.
the air.DIM is cold evenings
The light breeze is cold in the evening.

The copula requires the complement koudcold, while the supplementive adverb saans, although not required as part of the predicate, also requires the presence of the complementive predicative here.

[+] Supplementive predicative

When the adjective is an optional part of the predicate, and can be deleted without affecting the grammaticality of the sentence, it is known as a supplementive predicative, or adjunct:

Example 8

Hy draai verleë weg.
he turns embarrassed away
He turns away, embarrassed.

The optionality of the adjective is illustrated by either substituting another adjective:

Example 9

Hy draai woedend weg.
he turns furious away
He turns away, furious.

or by way of deletion:

Example 10

Hy draai weg.
He turns away.
[+] Partitive

An indefinite pronoun can co-occur with a following adjective, which is in a partitive (or genitive) relation to the pronoun, and is hence called the partitive. Indefinite pronouns can be classified as assertive (such as something), negative (such as nothing), universal (such as everything), personal (such as someone), etc. An example of an assertive pronoun in a partitive construction is:

Example 11

iets onbekends of iets vreemds
something unknown.PTV or something strange.PTV
something unknown or something strange

while a negative pronoun occurs in this example:

Example 12

Sy kan aan niks beters dink nie.
she can at nothing better.PTV think NEG
She cannot think of anything better.
[+] Adverbial

An adjective can also modify a predicate, and then has an adverbial function, or functions as an adjunct, as in this sentence:

Example 13

Hy het goed gedoen in die 100 meter.
he has well done in the 100 meters
He did well in the 100 meters.

In most cases, the adverbial form of the adjective is the same as the predicative form, but there are some instances of the suffix -lik, which indicates adverbial use, as in

Example 14

Genadiglik sien ek haar min genoeg.
graciously see I her little enough
By the grace of God I see her seldom enough.
[hide extra information]
x ExtraAttributive declension of adjectives

Grammatical gender is not a feature of the Afrikaans nominal lexicon, and nouns therefore do not require the declension of adjectives when they occur in an attributive position, as in Dutch or Frisian. However, unlike other Germanic languages, adjectives in Afrikaans are declined in this position, not on the basis of the following noun, but on the basis of the phonological form of the adjective itself. It is therefore in principle possible to divide all adjectives into two categories, namely those that are declinable and those that are not.  Exceptions are determined by (a) morphological and (b) semantic considerations, as will be explained below.

[hide extra information]
x Polysyllabic adjectivesMonosyllabic adjectivesAttributive declension patterns in Cape Vernacular Afrikaans

Declension takes place by the addition of the suffix -e to all polymorphemic, and in fact, all polysyllabic, adjectives. Two examples of such adjectives are verstaanbaarunderstandable and heerlikdelicious, which are declined as follows:

Example 15

'n verstaanbare vraag
an understandable.ATTR question
Example 16

heerlike kos
delicious.ATTR food

Polysyllabic adjectives that end in -er (including comparative forms) are generally not declined, as in

Example 17

'n groter stuk
a larger piece


Example 18

skrander studente
intelligent students

Certain exceptions to this rule are fixed expressions, such as tot nadere kennisgewinguntil further notice, and comparative forms which could stylistically be regarded as relatively formal, as in 'n verdere vraaga further question. The informal pendant of this expression would be nog 'n vraaganother question.

It should further be noted that polysyllabic adjectives that include undeclined monosyllabic stems form compounds which may or not be declined, since declension is dependent on the final component, as in spierwitmuscle-whitesnow-white (undeclined because the final component ends in /t/) and yskoueice-cold (which is declined because the final component ends in /d/).

By default, monosyllabic adjectives are not declined, except in the following phonological environments:

1. If the undeclined form ends in a consonant cluster consisting of a sonorant plus /d/, as in:

  • -md: vreemd, as in 'n vreemde geluida strange.ATTR sound
  • -nd: rond, as in 'n ronde figuura round.ATTR figure
  • -ld: wild, as in 'n wilde diera wild.ATTR animal
  • -rd: hard, as in Ons kou harde bene.we chew hard.ATTR bonesWe are having a hard time.

2. If the undeclined form ends in a vowel plus /d/ (Note that intervocalic syncope deletes stem-final /d/, with some exceptions, such as wreedcruel, e.g. 'n wrede strafa cruel punishment and gladsmooth, e.g. 'n gladde tonga smooth tongue):

  • wydwide wye reaksiewide reaction
  • koudcold koue weercold weather
  • dooddead dooie pluimveedead poultry
  • goedgood goeie vorderinggood progress
  • breedbroad 'n breë glimlaga broad smile

3. If the undeclined form ends in a long, or non-low, vowel plus /x/ (Note that intervocalic syncope deletes stem-final /x/, and that the resultant open syllable causes the doubled vowel letter, where applicable, to be written as one to retain the vowel quality):

  • vaagvague vae beloftesvague promises
  • laaglow lae pryselow prices
  • droogdry 'n droë seisoena dry season
  • moegtired moeë reisigerstired travellers
  • ruigbushy ruie wenkbrouebushy eyebrows

    In the case of a short low vowel, such as logclumsy, cumbersomesy logge liggaamhis clumsy body, the vowel quality is retained by duplicating the consonant.

    4. If the undeclined form ends in a vowel plus /f/ (Note that intervocalic voicing affects the stem-final /f/, and the voiced consonant is duplicated to retain the quality of the short vowel, as in the case of log above):

  • dofdim dowwe straatligtedim streetlights
  • doofdeaf die dowe en blinde gemeenskapthe deaf and blind community
  • gaafpleasant 'n baie gawe mana very pleasant man
  • styfstiff 'n stywe neka stiff neck

    5. If the undeclined forms ends in a voiceless obstruent plus (historically) underlying /t/:

  • sag(t)soft sagte materiaalsoft material
  • vas(t)fixed 'n vaste inkomstea fixed income
  • onbeskof(t)rude 'n onbeskofte antwoorda rude answer
  • geblus(t)slaked gebluste kalkslaked lime

    The undeclined forms mostly correspond to a Dutch equivalent which also ends in /e/, such as sagzachtsoft.

    6. If the undeclined form ends in the rounded high front vowel /y/:

  • slusly sluwe taktieksly tactics
  • rurough 'n ruwe diamanta rough diamond

    Some variation with undeclined pendants does occur (e.g. ru/ruwe natuurskoonrough scenic beauty). A lexical exception is krucrude, uncouth, as in kru taalcrude language for which only the undeclined form (i.e. not *kruwe) seems to be in use.

    7. If the undeclined form ends in a consonant cluster, with final /s/:

  • slaafsslavishdoglike met slaafse gehoorsaamheidwith doglike devotion
  • wulpsvoluptuous wulpse ontkleedansvoluptuous striptease
  • ratsswift ratse reaksiesswift reactions
  • malslush malse groen wingerdelush green vineyards

    8. Finally, if the undeclined form ends in a vowel plus /s/, in some cases:

  • wyswise drie wyse mannethree wise men
  • boosevil bose bedoelingsevil intentions
  • losloose losse sedesloose morals

    Various exceptions occur, in many cases correlating with semantic nuances (such as figurative meaning), for instance

    grys haregrey hair, but die gryse ouderdomgrey old age

    los buieloose showers, but losse sedesloose morals (as above).

    These variants also occur in the case of stems ending in a single sonorant, e.g. 'n vol bekera full mug, but die volle tydperkthe full period.

It should be noted that the patterns of attributive declension as demonstrated in General Afrikaans above do not represent the whole Afrikaans diasystem. In a variety such as Cape Vernacular Afrikaans, or CVA (popularly known as Kaaps), some important differences can be pointed out.

Compared to 17th century Cape Dutch, CVA, as far as attributive declension is concerned, remained fairly conservative in that monosyllabic adjectives rather consistently retained the attributive suffix, regardless of the gender distinctions that applied to 17th century Dutch. Compare examples like the following (Kotzé, E.F. 1984):

  • 'n ryke mana rich.ATTR man

    (undeclined in General Afrikaans)

  • jou oue lesseyour old.ATTR lessons

    (undeclined in General Afrikaans)

  • 'n kleine bietjiea small.ATTR bita little bit

    clined in General Afrikaans)

In certain cases, where a choice for the declined variant in General Afrikaans marks the distinction between a literal and a non-literal interpretation, only the declined variant is chosen in CVA, such as in

  • Saoedi-Arabië was 'n arme land.Saudi Arabia was a poor.ATTR country.

While the use of the attributive suffix in arme in General Afrikaans adds the connotation 'unfortunate', 'pitiable', and the undeclined variant arm denotes 'destitute', 'with limited means', both meanings apply in the case of CVA.

A comparable semantic distinction is applicable to the adjective vol full, which denotes 'entire' when declined in General Afrikaans, as in die volle tydperkthe full period. However, when undeclined, it means 'busy', '(jam-)packed', as in

  • Ek het 'n vol program vandag.I have a full programme today.Taalkommissie
In CVA, the declined variant is utilised for both meanings, as in
  • Krieket het 'n volle jaar in 2017.Cricket has a full year in 2017.A lot of cricket will be played in 2017.TV commentary


  • my volle aandagmy full attentionall my attention

Additional examples recorded in Kotzé (1984) of default declension which can be distinguished from General Afrikaans in the study are:

  • 'n orraite geaardheidgood-natured
  • die korte distansiethe short distance
  • spierewitte kleremuscle.white clothespure white clothes
  • lekker varse snoektasty fresh snoek (barracuda)

This is a reflection of the general situation in late 18th century Cape Afrikaans ((Raidt, E.H. 1984:280); (Raidt, E.H. 1994)).

This tendency is also apparent in the attributive form of the possessive pronouns onsour, as in:

  • baie manne van onse mensemany men of our.ATTR people
  • Ons het onse dokters gehad.we have our.ATTR doctors hadWe had our doctors.
  • according na onse prysaccording to our.ATTR price
  • Hy sal nooit in onse pad staan nie.he will never in our.ATTR way stand NEGHe will never stand in our way.

    The last examples also reflect an earlier situation, namely that of the 19th century (Raidt 1994:280), in all varieties of Afrikaans. On the basis of the comparison one could come to the conclusion that the declined form of monosyllabic attributive adjectives in present-day CVA forms a larger category than in General Afrikaans, where the process of regularisation (i.e. by generalising the -e suffix), was reversed somehow or other before the current pattern became fixed. On the other hand, the phonological processes in CVA which coincide with the patterns of declination in General Afrikaans are largely identical, and the default categories in which declension in General Afrikaans are compulsory, are identical with those in CVA, as in:

  • 'n mens wat doen goeie ietsea person who does good.ATTR somethingsa person who does good things

  • gemeenskap met sy hoë baascommunion with his high bosscommunion with his exalted master

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