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Number
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Nouns bear the grammatical feature number, which has two values in Frisian: singular and plural. Actually, dealing with number boils down to a treatment of the plural; the singular is always morphologically unmarked, since as a rule the bare stem and the singular of Frisian nouns have the same form. It is worth mentioning that Modern West Frisian does not show any sign of a dual. This is different for North Frisian, spoken in the north of Germany, at least with respect to pronouns. For some information, see the extra The North Frisian dual.

The plural is primarily expressed by suffixation. There are two regular and productive suffixes: -en and -s, which are usually distributed according to the criterion whether or not the final syllable of the singular bears stress. Examples are parpear > parren and apelapple > apels. The criterion also holds for complex words, although some suffixes select their own plural ending. It is tempting to assume that also the final schwa of so many Frisian nouns belongs to this stock. These nouns show the otherwise unexpected ending -en, for example in tsjerkechurch > tsjerken. Some historical phonological processes caused a vowel change in the stem: breaking (e.g. foetfoot > fuotten) and shortening (e.g. lânland > lannen) in particular have left their marks on Frisian plural formation on a fairly large scale. Lengthening is rare, and can be attributed to Dutch influence. To some extent, there is variation between the regular suffixes. The noun earmarm, for example, can both have earmen and earms as its plural form. The latter plural is impossible in Dutch; the differences with Dutch are summarized in a special section.

Another peculiarity of Frisian is the possibilty of double plurals, although this only happens to a limited extent. An example is red-en-s, of the singular reedskate. The suffix -e (i.e. beanbean > beane) and what could be called a zero suffix (skiepsheep > skiep) also belong to the irregular plural formation. Also vowel change is possible: kocow > kij. As can be seen, part of these irregular plurals resemble the English cognates, and there are more examples of this kind. More irregularity can be found in the plurals of the words manman and frouwoman and their compounds, which may show a plural element -lju (next to regular -en).

Loans partly form a separate system in plural formation, since they may inherit endings from their Greek, Latin or French origin. Separate systems can also be found in minor Frisian varieties; the dialect of the island of Schiermonnikoog is especially interesting since it has maintained the older three-way gender system.

Finally, some typical uses will be discussed. One of them is measure nouns, which sometimes do not show a plural ending although this could be expected on semantic grounds. An example is trije mingel/*mingels molkethree litres of milk. Something comparable is the collective use of singular nouns referring to animals, for instance in der rôt sit yn 'e weetthe rat.SG sit-3SG in the wheatthere are rats in the wheat. Another peculiarity are the socalled pluralia tantum, i.e. plurals without a singular, as mûzelsmeasles (cf. *mûzel). Finally, some attention will be paid to the formation of singulatives from mass nouns, for example by way of diminutive formation, as in arktools > arkjetool.

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x The North Frisian dual

Most of the North Frisian varieties had a dual which was in use up to the 19th century. The variety of Heligoland and the southern varieties on the mainland do not have this (at least, there is no record of its existence). On the other hand, in some areas the dual persisted up to the mid 20th century, especially in Sölring, the variety of the island Sylt. (See Hoekstra (2011) for myths around the dual in its final period). The general form of the dual was the following:


Table 1
Person Nominative dual Object dual
1 wat onk
2 jat   jonk

(with possible alternation of the vowel throughout the varieties, for example unk/junk for Sölring object forms).

The dual was also used in an 'inclusory construction' as in Wat an Carlinewe.two and CarlineCarline and me). Sölring had a third-person dual form, which led to a slightly different paradigm and obviously was a rather recent innovation:


Table 2
Person Nominative dual Object dual
1 wat unk
2 at junk
3 jat -

Hoekstra (2011) gives a detailed overview of the dual in North Frisian, including a discussion about the origin of the Sölring third-person dual. He also mentions some myths that emerged around the phenomenon, probably due to its curiosity.

[This extra is written by Hauke Heyen (Kiel)]

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[+] Regular plural formation

The regular plural is formed by adding one of the suffixes -en or -s to the noun. The general rule for the distribution of these endings is as follows: the suffix -s appears after nouns ending in an unstressed vowel or a syllable consisting of a schwa plus sonorant (-el, -er, -en, -em). The plural suffix -en appears elsewhere.

The following examples with the ending -s all have more than one syllable, with stress on the first one:


Table 3
Singular with unstressed final syllable Plural with -s
tubatuba tubas
jierdei[jIdi]birthday jierdeis
domenyvicar domenys
autocar auto's
oehoeeagle owl oehoes
Aldegea(name of a village) Aldegeas
merjemare merjes
rûzjefight rûzjes
leppelspoon leppels
sipelonion sipels
fitershoe string fiters
otterotter otters
kokenkitchen kokens
rekkenbill rekkens
biezembroom biezems
lichembody lichems
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x Exceptions

The nouns kristenchristian and heidenheathen have a plural ending -en (kristenen, heidenen), possibly under the influence of the language of the Church, which is almost exclusively Dutch. If heiden means gipsy; uncultivated, bad person, then it has a regular plural heidens.

A few nouns, in which final -je derives from the suffix -inge historically, may have kept the original ending -en, sometimes next to the synchronically regular ending -s: penjepenny > penjen/penjes; skeljeshilling > skeljen/skeljes; dealjeplank, deal > dealjen/dealjes. Compare also the following pluralia tantum with a similar historical background: skealjen/skealjesscales; twiljentwins; raanjentricks, pranks; AlderheljenAll Saints, All Hallows.

Furthermore, the word widdowidow has widdo's as well as the plural form widdowen. In the South-East of the language area the plural of hynderhorse is hyns (with truncation of -er).

After a stressed syllable, the ending is -en:


Table 4
Singular with stressed final syllable Plural
kriecrow krieën
aaiegg aaien
liuwlion liuwen
boerfarmer boeren
tsjilwheel tsjillen
soksock sokken
rútwindow-pane ruten
ringring ringen
kerscandle; cherry kersen
skúfslide skuven

Thus far, the examples presented nicely fit the main pattern that -en follows stressed syllables and -s is attached to unstressed ones. However, there is a class of exceptions. In contrast to nouns ending in schwa plus sonorant, which regularly take -s, nouns with a final schwa plus obstruent take -en:


Table 5
Singular with final schwa + obstruent Plural
jilmesalms jilmesen
soksessucker soksesen
trekpot[trɛpət]teapot trekpotten[trɛpətən]
andertanswer anderten
swédrikthymus swédriken
estrikfloor tile estriken

In fact, this patterns with the stress criterion, which can also be translated into an instruction that addition of a plural morpheme may not lead to a constant or even higher sonority. After an obstruent, the sonority would not decrease by a following /s/, however. That may be the reason why -en is selected instead.

[+] The plural of complex words

Prefixed and compound nouns have the same plural ending as their head, i.e. as their right-hand element. Suffixations usually form their plural according to the same rules as simplex words. Some suffixes may, however, select a plural ending contrary to the general rule.

The idea of such a selection is significant in order to explain an otherwise important exception to the stress rule. This exception is the many nouns that have a final schwa (but not those ending in -je): one would expect the suffix -s, but they rather take -en:


Table 6
Singular ending in -e `Plural
tsjerkechurch tsjerken
râneedge rânen
hikkegate hikken
tinetooth (of a fork) tinen
loddespade lodden
bokse(trouser-)leg boksen
tyngemessage tyngen
hollehead hollen

This behaviour may be explained if it is assumed that the ending -e has suffix-like properties. It also seems to determine the gender of these nouns, which is common, and as a suffix it might also select the plural ending -en. That -e selects the plural ending -en and is not simply truncated before the plural suffix (as, for example, in the case of diminutive formation), is shown by an example as rigelerow, line > rigelen. If -e had been truncated here, the plural ending would have been -s.

Loan words with a final schwa which have become naturalized get the ending -en as well. Others keep the ending -s with which they are imported, and there is also a large mixed category where speakers waver:


Table 7
Loans with final schwa Plural
masinemachine masinen
balladeballead balladen
metoademethod metoaden
fitaminevitamine fitaminen
kassettecassette kassetten/kassettes
antinneaerial, antenna antinnen/antinnes
sonatesonata sonaten/sonates
kojoatecoyote kojoates
filetraffic jam files
damelady dames

Proper names that end in a schwa, such as Jelle or Oebele, when used as count nouns, get the plural ending -s, in accordance with the general rule:

Example 1

Wy ha trije Jelles / Oebeles yn 'e famylje
we have three Jelle-PL / Oebele-PL in the family
Our family counts three members with the name Jelle / Oebele

The kinship terms pakegrandfather and beppegrandmother, that function as proper names as well, waver between -s and -en, if they are used as count nouns: paken/pakes and beppen/beppes. Another exception is jongeboy, which has jonges as plural form, possibly under influence of Dutch jongen-sboy-PL, or under analogical pressure of famkegirl > famkes.

Most other suffixes ending in a schwa select the plural ending -en as well, but a few also irregularly take the suffix -s:


Table 8
Suffix Reference Singular Plural
-e -e deadedead man/woman deaden
-te -te sykteillness sykten
-tme -tme berchtmemoantain range berchtmen
-ske -ske kammeraatske(girl)friend kammeraatskes
-ert -ert leffertcoward lefferts
-e -e fioelistefemale violin player fioelistes

In the last case, the ending -s may have been chosen for semantic reasons; the plural ending -en would obscure the difference between male fioelist and female fioeliste.

The suffix -ier takes the irregular plural -s if it denotes a human being, but has the regular ending -en if it refers to a thing. Compare:


Table 9
Singular Plural
bankierbanker bankiers
koeriercourier koeriers
portierporter, doorkeeper portiers
portierdoor portieren
fisiervizier fisiers
fisiervisor fisieren
formulierform formulieren

An exception is ofsierofficer > ofsieren.

The final conclusion can be that most Frisian plurals form a trochaic pattern. Striking exceptions are nouns ending in a schwa plus obstruent, as exemplified above.

[+] Vowel changes in the stem

A considerable number of nouns having a centralizing diphthong as their stem show breaking of this vowel in the plural form ending in -en. Breaking refers to the transition of /iə/ to /jI/, of /Iə/ to /jɛ/, of /uə/ to /wo/ and /oə/ to /wa/. Furthermore, there is the single case /yə/ > /jö/ in fluesmembrane; fleece > fljuzzen.

In the table below some examples of the main patterns will be given. Breaking is reflected in the orthography in the case of /uə/ > /wo/, spelled as <oe> - <uo>. If the broken vowel is followed by a single consonant, this is doubled in the spelling of the plural. Below, the broken vowel is emphasized:


Table 10
Breaking Singular Plural
/iə/ > /jI/ trie(d)thread triedden
priemknitting needle priemmen
trientear triennen
hierhair hierren
kiesmolar kiezzen
/Iə/ > /jɛ/ heakhook heakken
pealpole peallen
beamtree beammen
teantoe teannen
feartcanal fearten
sleatditch sleatten
/uə/ > /wo/ hoedhat huodden
stoelchair stuollen
spoenchip of wood spuonnen
toertower tuorren
goesgoose guozzen
foetfoot fuotten
/oə/ > /wa/ koalcabbage; cole koallen
hoarnhorn hoarnen
soanson soannen
doardoor doarren
hoasstockings hoazzen
/yə/ > /jö/ fluesmembrane; fleece fljuzzen

It should be noted that breaking is not applied consistently. Shortening, by which long vowels may turn into short ones, again before -en, is irregular in a similar fashion. A selection follows below; all possible changes are represented, as are the possible final consonants, which was also the case in the table of breaking above:


Table 11
Shortening Singular Plural
/u:/ > /u/ (or /y/) mûsmouse mûzen
hûshouse huzen
/e:/ > /I/ beestbeast; animal; cow bisten
/ɛ:/ > /ɛ/ mêsknife messen
heakhook (dial.) heakken
/ɔ:/ > /ɔ/ hânhand hannen
stôkstick stokken
rôtrat rotten
/a:/ > /a/ kaamcomb kammen
slaabbib slabben
baarchpig bargen

The pronunciation /hɛ:k/ for heakhook can be found in the east of the language area (more details can be found in shortening).

Dutch had a historical rule of lengthening in open syllable which in a number of words of that language has led to a vowel alternation in the plural form. Usually, the Frisian vowel is left unchanged in comparable cases. For example, the plural of Dutch dak/dak/roof is lengthened to daken/da:kən/, where the plural of the homophonous singular remains short in Frisian: dak/dak/ > dakken/dakŋ̩/.

Still, a few nouns in Frisian show lengthening of the stem in the plural:


Table 12
Lengthening Singular Plural
/I/ > /e:/ lidmember leden
/ɛ/ > /e:/ gebedprayer gebeden(s)
/ɔ/ > /oə/ godgod goaden
gebodcommand geboaden(s)

These lengthenings must have occurred under Dutch influence (note the religous or administrative context of the concepts involved). It also applies to foreign, and expecially scientific, words like neutronneutron > neutroanen, demondemon > demoanen or gengen > genen. On the plural of foreign words ending in -or, see point 4 in the list below.

Finally, it should be stressed that the vowel changes dealt with above have an additional feature: they occur as a side-effect of the marking of the plural by a plural suffix. This is different with a few (rare) cases in which vowel change is the sole marker of plurality. These will be dealt with in the section on irregular plural formation below.

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x The plural of lid

The plural of the noun lid only lengthens to leden if it has the meaning member, clearly under Dutch influence. There is another word lidlid, cover that pluralizes in a regular way: lidden. The word lid can also mean part of the body, limb. In that case, the plural is also irregular, i.e. lea, a contraction of Old Frisian litha (in those days a regular plural of singular lith).

[+] Variation of -en and -s

Nouns ending in a liquid (/l/ or /r/) plus /m/ may take the plural -en as well as -s. The former occurs more in the West of the province, the latter more in the East. Compare:


Table 13
Singular Plural
swolmulcer swolmen/swolms
psalmpsalm psalmen/psalms
helmhelmet helmen/helms
skelmrascal skelmen/skelms
earmarm earmen/earms
stoarmstorm stoarmen/stoarms
noarmnorm noarmen/noarms
foarmform foarmen/foarms
termintestine termen/terms
wjirmworm wjirmen/wjirms
skermscreen skermen/skerms
bermverge, roadside bermen/berms

This variation is due to the fact that nouns ending in -lm and -rm may undergo schwa insertion; more information on its phonological aspects can be found in schwa insertions in coda clusters and especially in word-final sequences of a liquid and a nasal. The result of this process may have been lexicalized in the East, thus leading to underlying forms like /swoləm/ for swolmulcer or /tɛrəm/ for termintestine. As a consequence, like all nouns ending in schwa + sonorant, they get the plural ending -s.

A similar variation between the two plural endings is found with nouns ending in the sequence -eil:


Table 14
Singular Plural
neilnail neilen/neils
fleilflail fleilen/fleils
dweilmop dweilen/dweils
seilsail seilen/seils

Again, the eastern variants with -s may have undergone schwa insertion between the glide, i.e. the second part of the diphthong /ai/ and /l/.

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x Metathesis

Fleilflail has a variant flalje, with metathesis of /j/ and /l/. The same metathesis is also found in raljesrails.

Another case of variation is to be found in nouns of more than one syllable ending in -ing. They can take the plural -en or -s. Compare:


Table 15
Singular in -ing Plural
hjerringherring hjerringen/hjerrings
ferieningclub, organization ferieningen/ferienings
kettingchain kettingen/kettings
riedlingriddle riedlingen/riedlings
feroaringchange feroaringen/feroarings
oersettingtranslation oersettingen/oersettings

This variation can probably be ascribed to a conflict between a morphological criterion (the suffix -ing, or -ling, selecting the ending -en) and the regular phonology-based rule of adding -s to an unstressed syllable. If -ing itself is preceded by an unstressed syllable, i.e. if it gets secondary stress, it always has a full vowel underlyingly. Nouns in which -ing appears in this stress configuration then appear to have a strong preference for the plural ending -en:


Table 16
Singular Plural
iepeningopening iepeningen
tekeningdrawing tekeningen
wrakselingstruggle wrakselingen
uteringutterance uteringen

In these examples, the syllable with -ing is always preceded by a syllable containing a schwa, cf. tekening/te:kənIŋ/drawing.

A semantic exception to the possibility of variation are those nouns that denote a human being or an animal. These always take the plural ending -en. Compare:


Table 17
Singular Plural
keningking keningen
wytsingviking wytsingen
haadlingchieftain haadlingen
learlingpupil learlingen
deadelingwet, wimp deadelingen
hoklingyearling (heifer/calf) hoklingen
wezelingweasel wezelingen

A few, mostly archaic, nouns have the suffixal variant -inge. These nouns invariably take the plural ending -en. Examples are printingeprinting > printingen and rispingeharvest > rispingen.

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x Wavering

It should be noted that the -s-plural with nouns ending in -ing is in a state of flux, so that for some speakers the stress condition (no secondary stress) and the semantic condition (no human reference) may be less rigid than described here. Moreover, in Standard Frisian the -s-ending is sometimes preferred to the -en-ending, because of the fact that Dutch always has the plural ending -en in these cases.

There is some debate about the linguistic background of the variation. Veen (1984-2011: -ing I, II; -ling I) ascribes it to a different pronunciation of the suffix, as [Iŋ] or [əŋ], respectively. The former would opt for -en, the latter for -s (see also Riemersma (1979:33)). This is criticized by Hoekstra (2011:288), who states that the suffix builds an unstressed syllable anyway. As an alternative, he assumes that the plural ending -en is selected by the suffix.

The uncertainty about the choice of the plural ending can also be read off from the two dialect maps in Paardekooper (1992:62). Both endings can be found across the whole language area, possibly with a slight bias for -en in the west and -s in the east.

[+] Some differences with Dutch in the choice of the plural ending

Dutch has the same two plural suffixes -en and -s and the same major distribution rule as Frisian. Nevertheless, the two languages show a number of differences in the choice of the plural ending:

  1. A number of nouns ending in a schwa + sonorant in Dutch can have the ending -en, mostly next to regular -s. The two plural forms often show stylistic or semantic differentiation. The Frisian counterparts invariably have the ending -s. Compare:
    Table 18
    Frisian singular Frisian plural Dutch singular Dutch plural
    wûndermiracle wûnders wonder wonderen
    middelmeans; medicine middels middel middelen
    mokselmussel moksels mossel mosselen/mossels
    apelapple apels appel appelen/appels
    artikelarticle artikels artikel artikelen/artikels
    tekensign tekens teken tekenen/tekens
  2. Many nouns ending in -e in Dutch can take both -en and -s in the plural, although the -s-plural is often preferred in the spoken language. The Frisian counterparts always take -en. Compare:
    Table 19
    Frisian singular Frisian plural Dutch singular Dutch plural
    bindegang binden bende benden/bendes
    boademessager boaden bode boden/bodes
    sykteillness sykten ziekte ziekten/ziektes
    grientevegetable grienten groente groenten/groentes
    gemeentemunicipality gemeenten gemeente gemeenten/gemeentes
  3. A number of nouns in Dutch take a plural ending in -eren. This element is lacking in Frisian:
    Table 20
    Frisian singular Frisian plural Dutch singular Dutch plural
    kealcalf keallen kalf kalveren
    laamlamb lammen lam lammeren
    lietsong lieten lied liederen
    rêd(cog)wheel rêden rad raderen
    aaiegg aaien ei eieren
  4. Loan-words ending in -or can take both -en and -s in Dutch. In the former case, the vowel undergoes lengthening in open syllables (see also at the end of the section on vowel changes in the stem above). The Frisian counterparts, in which -or is often pronounced with a schwa, can only have the plural ending -s. Compare:
    Table 21
    Frisian singular Frisian plural Dutch singular Dutch plural
    professorprofessor professors professor professoren/professors
    radiatorradiator radiators radiator radiatoren/radiators
    projektorprojector projektors projector projectoren/projectors
    faktorfactor faktors factor factoren/factors

    In fully naturalized words, the spelling -or has been replaced by -er, thereby indicating the reduction to schwa better. Examples are dokterdoctor and motermotor. A further adaption to the Frisian phonological system is the variant perfester/pərfɛstr̩/professor, of course again with plural -s.

  5. A number of loan-words ending in (unstressed) -ie in Dutch take the plural ending -en or sometimes have -en next to -s. The Frisian counterparts which end in -je always take the plural ending -s (as do native words ending in -je, see the table above). Compare:
    Table 22
    Frisian singular Frisian plural Dutch singular Dutch plural
    baktearjebacterium baktearjes bacterie bacteriën
    poarjepore poarjes porie poriën
    gemikaaljeschemicals chemicaliën
    finânsjesfinances financiën
    koloanjecolony koloanjes kolonie koloniën/kolonies
    provinsjeprovince provinsjes provincie provinciën/provincies
    evangeeljegospel evangeeljes evangelie evangeliën/evangelies
  6. In the cases discussed in a preceding section (see the section above: variation between -en and -s), in which Frisian may have -en or -s, Dutch always takes the plural ending -en. Examples are Dutch armarm (Frisian earm), with its plural armen, or Dutch haringherring (Frisian hearring), which has haringen as its plural form.
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x Dutch influence

Because of the heavy influence of Dutch on many speakers of Frisian, one can come across endings that originally were not acceptable in Frisian. This is especially the case with the nouns ending in -e, and then foremost in words that have a direct counterpart in Dutch. Examples are dutchified forms like *gemeentesmunicipalities or *boadesmessagers. This even extends to nouns that differ formally to a much greater extent. Examples are *kroades (from kroadewheelbarrow; Dutch kruiwagen) or *widzes (from widzecradle; Dutch wieg).

One can also encounter Dutch influence in most other cases above. Examples are *artikelen instead of artikelsarticles (case 1), *faktoaren instead of faktorsfactors (case 4) and *baktearyen instead of baktearjesbacteria (case 5; but also with the Dutch ending /i/ in the singular). As far as is known, the Dutch ending -eren (case 3) is never taken over, but this is a marked ending in Dutch anyway.

[+] Double plurals

Besides variation between the suffixes -en and -s, Frisian can also use them both. We then get the ending -ens, historically a double plural of -en + -s. We find double plurals in particular with nouns whose referents naturally occur in groups or pairs:


Table 23
Singular Double plural
learsboot learzens
reedskate redens
boeihandcuff boeiens

Most nouns with a double plural also occur with a single one:


Table 24
Singular (Double) plural
gebodcommand geboaden(s)
gebedprayer gebeden(s)
weiway wegen(s)
weachwave weagen(s)
gebeartgesture gebearten(s)
trekfeature trekken(s)
miedemeadow mieden(s)
pokken(s)smallpox
galgen(s)braces, suspenders

Sometimes, a new singular was formed on the basis of an original double plural form. A clear example is the singular treppenstaircase, from double pluralic treppens, which is based on singular trep. Another example is singular wolkencloud from double plural wolkens, in itself based on singular wolk. For completenesss' sake, the pairs trepSG - treppenPL and wolkcloud.SG - wolkencloud.PL also exist.

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x Frisian influence

Double plurals are rare in Dutch. Nevertheless, in the diaries of the Frisian farmer Lieuw Jans de Jong (1825-1855), written in Dutch, several double plural forms can be observed. Hoekstra (1999:114) analyzes them as cases of interference from Frisian. An example is wegens, from Dutch wegroad. Interestingly, one can also come across double plurals that do not have a Frisian counterpart. A few of them contain a suffix -te: groentens (from Dutch groentevegetables), vlaktens (from vlakteplain) and ziektens (from ziekteillness). Other examples are schadens (from schadedamage and uiens (from uionion). However, as to the latter, see also the plural in some minor Frisian varieties for an example from the dialect of Hindeloopen.

[+] Irregular plural formation

Next to the regular plural formation with the suffixes -en and -s we can find irregular pluralization that makes use of other means.

Firstly, we have some zero plurals, that is, we see no change at all. The most important are bernchild.SGchild, which has the same form bernchild.PL as its plural. The same behaviour can be observed with skiepsheep.SGsheep, with its identical plural skiepsheep.PL.

The words redenreason and lúsjefersmatch may either have a zero plural or a regular plural -en:

Example 2

a. Om twa reden(en) haw ik nee sein
for two reason-(PL) have I no said
I have said no for two reasons
b. Der leine twa ôfbaarnde lúsjefers(en) op 'e flier
there laid two off-burned match-(PL) on the floor
There were two burnt matches lying on the floor
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x Lúsjefersmatch(es)

Historically, the word lúsjefersmatch must be a plural of lúsjefer (cf. Dutch lucifer), a form that can also be found in older texts. However, a new singular form lúsjefers developed. Verdenius (1947) explains this as follows. The word mainly occurred in the plural, which is pronounced, with R-deletion, as [lysjəfɛs]. From the surface form, one could infer a hypothetical singular [*lysjəfɛ], which, however, does not obey the phonotactics of Frisian. Hence, the plural form lúsjefers was also taken to be the singular form. On the basis of this singular, a new, and actually double, plural lúsjefersen could emerge.

A few words have no ending either, but they do show vowel change. The most important is ko/ko:/cow, which has kij/kɛi/ as its plural form. Obsolete are goes/ɡuəs/goose > gies/ɡiəs/ and foetfoot > fiet (although gies was still observed at the end of the 20th century). Nowadays, their common plurals are guozzen and fuotten, both with a broken vowel (see Vowel changes in the stem above).

Consonant change can be observed in the pair weiway > wegen and deiday > dagen. The original guttural fricative still occurs in the plural form, but has been palatalized and has merged with the original vowel into a diphthong in the singular. As the second element of a compound, dei is phonetically reduced in middeiafternoon, jierdeibirthday and the days of the week, as moandeimonday etc., leading to the pronunciation [di] (in the north) or [djə] in the south. In both cases, the regular plural is -s: jierdeisbirthdays, etc.

Two nouns show a plural morpheme -e. These are eartpea > earte and beanbean > beane. Both nouns also show the regular plural -en, however, and the latter suffix is gaining ground. The ending -e is mainly restricted to the north of the language area, where some speakers also begin to use the form with -e as singular. It should be noted that in some minor Frisian varieties the suffix -e is more common; see the plural in some minor dialect varieties for more information.

Finally, some irregular plurals that do not fit in any of the categories above should be mentioned:


Table 25
Singular Plural
âlderparent âlden
skoechshoe skuon
deihierday's wage dagen hier
-heid -heden
-ichheid -ichheden

The word deihier, with stress on the second element, can be seen as a univerbation. The plural, apparently with a less strict cohesion, shows the suffix attached to the first element. The irregularity in the productive suffixes -heid and -ichheid have a significant effect in actual language use, since both are productive and relatively frequent.

The plurals of the words manman and frouwoman deserve special attention. In the unmarked case, they become pluralized by addition of the element -lju: manljumen and frouljuwomen. This element exists as an independent word in the form ljupeople. Regular plural formation with the suffix -en exists as well, however with a restricted application. The regular plural frouwen is only used for froumistress and frouqueen (cards). The plural mannen has a special connotation of familiarity and intimacy, for example in:

Example 3

No mannen, tiid foar in glês bier!
Well, lads, time for a glass of beer!

Compounds with man as head, which often might be better analysed as derivations with a suffixoid -man, behave differently. Some only have -en. This choice in cases like krystmannenSanta Clauses or brêgemannenbridegrooms might be due to the fact that the plural of these nouns is infrequent anyhow. In other cases the special connotation of the plural form mannen might be the reason, as in bakjemannenhawkers, pedlars or foaroanmannenleaders. Other nouns only take -lju, in this case however replacing the full second member of the compound, as in seemansailor > seelju or sportmansportsman > sportlju.

There is also a category with two possibilities, with -lju or with -en. In this case the plural with -mannen is a count noun, whereas the plural with -lju is only used in a collective sense (just as ljupeople itself). Compare:

Example 4

a. Der binne twa grientemannen yn ús doarp
There are two greengrocers in our village
b. De grientelju kinne net út tsjin 'e supermerken
The greengrocers cannot compete with the supermarkets

Other examples of this category are timmermannen/timmerljucarpenters or plysjemannen/plysjeljupolicemen.

[+] The plural of loanwords

Loanwords often have the plural ending -s, also in cases where -en would be required if the word were native. Compare:


Table 26
Singular Plural
kafeepub kafees
burodesk buro's
sirkwycircuit sirkwys
wigwamwigwam wigwams
kajakkajak kajaks
konsulconsul konsuls
fanfan fans
goalgoal goals

Others have -en in accordance with the rule for native words:


Table 27
Singular Plural
ideeidea ideeën
parapluumbrella parapluën
kersjetcorset kersjetten
kanoncanon kanonnen
demokrasydemocrasy demokrasyen

Some Latin and Greek loanwords may retain their original plural ending. Thus loanwords ending in -us that refer to persons normally change the ending in -y in the plural:


Table 28
Singular Plural
promovendusPhD-student promovendy
kritikuscritic kritisy
akademikusacademic akademisy

Loanwords on -um often have the native plural ending -s next to the learned plural ending (-um > -a). Examples are museummuseum > museums/musea or sintrumcentre > sintrums/sintra.

Note that most loanwords enter Frisian through Dutch, so that the plural ending is often similar to the one in Dutch.

[+] The plural in some minor Frisian varieties

The plural formation as described above is valid for the standard variety of Frisian. However, the language has a few outlying and rather deviating dialects which potentially could have their own characteristics. This applies in a structural sense to the variety of the island of Schiermonnikoog, first of all as this dialect still displays a three gender system. At the end of this section we will provide a brief sketch of the plural morphology of East- and North-Frisian varieties spoken in Germany. But first the dialects of Hylpen and Terschelling will be examined.

The Frisian varieties as spoken in the small town of Hylpen and on the island of Terschelling both follow the main distribution of the plural suffixes -en and -s. Both only take the suffix -en after nouns ending in -ing. Neither dialect shows breaking, but shortening does occur in Terschelling /fɔ:lə/foal > /fɔlən/ or /hɔ:n/hand > /hɔnən/ and in Hylpen dôr/dɔər/door > dorrendɔrən. Furthermore, in a few cases qualitative differences between the stem vowel of singular and plural show up where standard Frisan has breaking. Examples from Terschelling are /stu:l/chair > /stolən/ or /tri:d/thread > /trIdən/. From Hylpen: foet/fuət/foot > futten/føtən/ or sôl/sɔ:l/sole > söllen/sʌlən/.

Both dialects also show some additional irregular forms. Terschelling has the same singular and plural form in the word hòshorse(s). In contrast to standard Frisian, it has vowel change in /sxe:p/sheep.SGsheep > /sxi:p/sheep.PLsheep. A now obsolete vowel change can be found in Hylpen skip/skIp/ship > skyp/skip/ship.PLships. Hylpen also shows the phenomenon of double plurals. Extra beyond the set of standard Frisian are kiuwegill > kiuwens and öieonion > öiens. An interesting fact about Terschelling is the development of an extra plural marker -s after the plural element -joed/ju:d/, for singulars with -man as second element (cf. standard Frisian -lju and the description of the relevant pattern in irregular plural formation). The result is a double plural. An example is timmermancarpenter. The original plural is timmerjoed. Nowadays, this form is extended to the double plural timmerjoeds.

The dialect of the island of Schiermonnikoog is particularly interesting because of the fact that it still has three grammatical genders. The deviation in plural formation is found in the nouns with feminine gender, at least as far as its members do not denote female human beings. This set has its own plural suffix, i.e. -e, pronounced as schwa. Examples are daardoar > dare, deusbox > deuze and tjarkchurch > tjarke. Also animals (not necessarily female) can be feminine and take -e, as airkmale duck > airke, filbutterfly > fele or katcat > kôte. Fele and kôte also show vowel lengthening. This may occur when the stem vowel of the plural ends up in an open syllable. However, this lengthening is not a regular process, as there are many exceptions: dodwheelbarrow > dodde or wykweek > wyke are cases in point. There are also a handful of masculine nouns that take -e, plus some ten or so neuter nouns (a remnant of an older ending -u). However, the great majority of masculine and neuter nouns regularly follows the same pattern as standard Frisian. The standard rule also applies to female human beings, like prinsesprincess > prinsessen or nonnun > nonnen, nouns that have feminine gender.

[hide extra information]
x Plural inflection of nouns in East and North Frisian

Modern East Frisian mostly has -e for marking masculine and neuter plural and -(e)n for marking feminine plural, whereas -e has become the main plural ending in Mainland North Frisian. Due to a general apocope of final schwa in Insular North Frisian which also affected the historical plural ending -e, the regular plural endings here are -er (mostly masculine) and -en, while the use of -s increased in all Frisian varieties due to influence of Dutch and Low German – especially in now extinct varieties (varieties of Wangerooge and Südergoesharde), though it is not as widespread as in West Frisian (but see Heligoland (Krogmann (1957:47-48)). The North Frisian variety of the Halligen also knows -ens. See (Hoekstra (2001:777) for a general overview.

A broader overview of noun inflection (including lists of irregular forms) for the mainland varieties can be found in Wilts (1993) (Wiedingharde), Wilts (1995) (Bökingharde), Wilts (1995) (Nordergoesharde), Wilts (1997) (Halligen) and Hoekstra (2014) (Südergoesharde).

For a broader overview for the insular varieties see Wilts (1995) (Föhr), Wilts (1995) (Amrum), Wilts (1995) (Sylt), and see Borchert et al (1987) for a more recent overview than Krogmann of Heligoland.

For East Frisian see the grammatical overview in Fort (1980:192-193).

[This extra is written by Hauke Heyen (Kiel)]

[+] The plural of measure nouns

Many measure nouns show no plural marking if they are preceded by a cardinal number or by the quantifiers in peara few, hoefollehow many and safolleso many. Obviously, this is due to the semantics of these elements: measure nouns denote entities that have no reason of existence apart from the fact that they can be counted, which makes it more or less superfluous to distinguish a singular and a plural. Compare the following cases:

Example 5

twa kilo sûker two kilo's of sugar
trije mingel/liter molke three litres of milk
in pear kúb sân a few cubic meters of sand
fjouwer pûnsmiet greidlân four acres (4 x 36 are) of grassland
twa pear skuon two pairs of shoes
hoefolle gûne how many guilders
tsien oere ten hours
tolve jier twelve years
safolle kear so many times
trije tûzen three thousand
fyftich persint fifty percent
hûndert man hundred people

An impression of other measure nouns that may appear without plural marking in Frisian follows below:


Table 29
Field Measure noun
weight: gramgram
ûnsounce
pûnpound
tonton
length: millimetermillimeter
sintimetercentimeter (etc.)
streepmillimeter
trêdapproximately one meter
jellenyard
fiemfathom
foetfoot
tommethumb
volume: muddehectoliter (potatoes)
area: kante metersquare meter
areare
hektarehectare (etc.)
bunderhectare
amount: tona hundred thousand guilders/euro's
time: kertierquarter
number: hûnderthundred
miljoenmillion
miljardbillion

Several, now obsolete, measure nouns could be added to this list.

However, not all measure nouns show this behaviour. The following nouns always take a plural ending:

Example 6

twa stuorren 2 x 5 cents
tweintich sekonden twenty seconds
in pear menuten a few minutes
fjirtjin dagen fourteen days
hoefolle graden how many degrees

A few cases differ from the usage in Dutch:


Table 30
Frisian Dutch
tsien sintenten cents tien cent
acht wikeeight weeks acht weken
njoggen moannenine months negen maanden

In certain cases some of these words may have a plural. First, if the particular entities are not presented as a whole but separately in order to emphasize duration, etc.:

Example 7

Ik ha wol trije oeren wachte
I have waited for three hours

Secondly, if they have a special, not specifically measuring sense:

Example 8

a. twa kilo's sûker
two kilopacks of sugar
b. Der leine sân gûnen op 'e tafel
There were seven guilder coins on the table
c. Wy ha hjoed mar trije oeren
We have only three hours (periods) today

And thirdly, if they are not preceded by a cardinal number or one of the quantifiers mentioned above for example, if they appear "bare" in emphatic sentences like

Example 9

a. Der kamen hûnderten minsken nei de útstalling
Hundreds of people came to the exhibition
b. Hy hat der jierren foar sparre
Hy has saved money for it for many years
c. Wy ha yn 'e fekânsje kilometers rûn
We have walked many kilometers during our holidays

or if they are modified by other elements

Example 10

a. de lêste meters
the last meters
b. de noflike wiken op Malta
the nice weeks on Malta
c. de njoggentiger jierren
the ninety-SUFF years
the nineties
d. alle kearen
all time-PL
every time
[+] Collective use of singular nouns

Singular nouns, especially nouns referring to animals (vermin), are sometimes used in a collective sense. Compare:

Example 11

a. De wjirm sit yn it hout
The wood has worm
b. De rôt sit yn 'e weet
There are rats in the wheat
c. De rûp is yn 'e koal
There are caterpillars in the cabbages
d. De slak sit yn 't slaad
There are snails in the lettuce
e. Wy ha de mûs yn 'e greiden
We have mice in the meadows
f. De granium sit ûnder de lûs
The geranium is covered with lice

Compare further the following expressions from technical languages (beekeepers, fishermen):

Example 12

a. De bij swarmet
The bees are swarming
b. De iel rint
The eels are running
[+] Pluralia tantum

Pluralia tantum are nouns that appear in the plural form (or at least trigger plural agreement), but that, unlike normal plurals, are mass nouns. They refer to a collective. Consequently, they can not be preceded by numerals (cf. *trije kleanthree clothes).

In origin, many pluralia tantum are normal plurals which have semantically, and sometimes formally, dissociated themselves from their former base. The plurale tantum kleanclothes, for example, is the former plural of Old Frisian klath, kletharticle of clothing (Modern Frisian klaadgown; kleedcloth, carpet, curtain).

Not all pluralia tantum derive from normal plurals, however. Quite a number of them have been formed by adding the plural ending to a mass noun, in order to emphasize the fact that these mass nouns do not refer to a homogenous whole, but to a collective of items. Compare, for example, the plurale tantum túchenweeds, which derives from the synonymous túchweeds, and the plurale tantum bouwen(parcels of) farmland from boufarmland.

A third historical source for pluralia tantum are originally singular words, which due to their collective meaning triggered plural agreement. An example is ljupeople, which derives from the Old Frisian singular noun liodepeople. Synchronically, the origin of pluralia tantum is often unclear.

Some other pluralia tantum in Frisian are:

Example 13

lea body [historically the plural of lidlimb]
moanjes mane
skealjen/skealjes scales
âldfaars ancestors
mûzels measles
pokken smallpox
simmels bran
sjudden flax waste
imen bees [cf. bijbee - bijenbees]
(grutte) spitsen (close) friends
kornútsjes friends (connections)
midsieuwen Middle Ages
tûkelteammen hindrances, obstacles
gritsen tricks; whims
kluchten nonsense
nuvere oanslaggen silly whims
rare minen meitsje make faces
meneuvels gestures
omkriten surroundings
omkanten contours, outlines
ynkomsten income
machten testicles
ynhouten frame-timbers of a ship; constitution
omballingen side-issues
rarichheden bad things, bad news
finânsjes finances
gemikaaljes chemicals

The following pluralia tantum derive from a mass noun:

Example 14

kosten costs, expenses [cf. kostliving; boarding; fare]
fruchten crops [cf. fruchtcrops]
legen lowlands [cf. leechlowland]
weten wheat (fields) [cf. weetwheat]
hjouwers oat (fields) [cf. hjouweroat(s)]
kjitten weeds [cf. kjitteweeds; mud]
bloeisels blossoms [cf. bloeiselblossoms]
(yn 'e) reiden (in the) reed [cf. reidreed]
ûngânzen afterbirth [cf. ûngânsafterbirth]
yngewanten bowels [cf. yngewantbowels]

Compare also toponyms like

Example 15

De Wâlden S.-E. part of Fryslân
De Bjirmen the villages Pitersbierrum, Seisbierrum and Easterbierrum
De Legeaen the villages Tersoal, Sibrandabuorren, Gau, Goaiïngea and Loaiïngea
De Flieterpen the villages Jislum, Ginnum, Reitsum and Lichtaard

If a plurale tantum is used as the base of a derivation or as the first element of a compound, the formal plural ending is truncated. Compare:

Example 16

simmelbôle bran bread
machtbreuk scrotum rupture
midsieusk mediaeval
kornútsjepolityk favouritism
wâldreis delivery [literally: trip to De Wâlden]
wâldsjer inhabitant of De Wâlden
Legeaster inhabitant of De Legeaen
[hide extra information]
x Harsens

The original plurale tantum harsensbrain(s) is a singular noun in the present-day language, unlike its Dutch counterpart hersenen. In the spoken language it is usually used as a coarse word for head. It is always pronounced as [hasəs], i.e. it has lost the nasalized /n/, which shows that it is not felt as a complex word anymore. Further, it has developed a new plural. Compare:

Example 17

Gean der mei jim grouwe harsensen foarwei!
Get out of the way with your big heads!

If the word is used as a medical term in the standard language, it is singular as well. Compare:

Example 18

De harsens bestjoert it lichem
the brain.SG control-3SG the body
The brain controls the body

The final -s is not truncated if the word constitutes the first element of a compound (cf. harsensoperaasjebrain surgery). Due to its common use as a coarse word for head, however, harsens competes with breinbrain(s) as a technical term in Standard Frisian.

[+] The formation of singulatives

In Frisian there are a number of ways to turn mass nouns into singulatives, i.e. nouns denoting a countable unit of the relevant substance. First, a singulative can be formed by change of gender, i.e. neuter turns to common. An example is it triedthe thread (mass) ~ de triedthe thread (thing). More examples can be found in the topic on gender.

Another way to form singulatives is to add the diminutive suffix to a mass noun:


Table 31
Mass noun Singulative
arktools arkjetool
praattalk praatsjechat
reauequipment, utensils reaukecup and saucer
túchdust túchjespeck of dust
sukeladechocolate sûkelaadsje(piece of) chocolate
grúsgrit grúskepiece of candy (in coffee ot tea)
krytchalk krytsjepiece of chalk
swilkoil-cloth swilkjetable oil-cloth
houtwood houtsjedraughtsman, checkerman
learleather learkeleather strap; washer

Finally and most productively, the semantically empty measure noun stikpiece may join up with a mass noun complement to form a singulative expression:

Example 19

stik klean piece of clothing
stik ark tool, piece of equipment
stik tou piece of rope, cord, string
stik fee head of cattle
stik lân piece of land
stik húsrie piece of furniture
stik bôle piece of bread
stik wurk piece of work
[hide extra information]
x Literature

This topic is greatly indebted to an unfinished grammar of Frisian, written in English by Jarich Hoekstra.

A short overview of Frisian plural formation can be found in Folkertsma (1950) or De Haan (1995:78-80). For the plural of some individual words, see Kalma (1952:91). Some data from the oldest Frisian grammar (about 1600) are mentioned by Kalma (1938:8).

For a general treatment of plural formation in Frisian, see also Hoekstra (2011). More specifically, he pays attention to singular nouns ending in a schwa, and analyzes their plural ending -en by giving the ending -e the status of a suffix that can select its own plural form. For this idea see also Visser (1994), who bases himself on an original observation by Tamminga (1985:132-134). The plural of nouns ending in -ing is dealt with briefly by Hoekstra (1990).

Hoekstra (2011:296-298) also has a special subsection on Dutch influence on the plurals of nouns ending in -e. On Dutch influence see also Breuker (1984:224) andDe Haan (1997:72). A contrastive overview of the differences between Dutch and Frisian pluralization can be found in Hoekstra (1982:51-54). On (the lack of) vowel lengthening, and the plural of lid in particular, see Hoekstra (1989).

Frisian double plurals are discussed in Tiersma (1982), an article that explores the consequences for those nouns that have their plural as the unmarked form. See also Tiersma (1993).

On the historical development of irregular plurals see Versloot (2005) and Versloot (2005). On the irregular ending -e, see Versloot (2001). On the plural of manman and frouwoman see Hoekstra (1987) and Hoekstra (1987).

The data for the dialect of Terschelling have been drawn from Knop (1954:145-146). For Hylpen: De Boer (1950:115-116) and (Blom 1981). For Schiermonnikoog: Fokkema (1969:19-22) and Visser and Dyk (2002:xxxi-xxxii). The history of ending -e after neuter nouns in this dialect is dealt with by Versloot (1996) and Versloot (2007).

On the plural of measure nouns see Hoekstra (1988). On pluralia tantum see Hoekstra (1990) and Hoekstra (1990).

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