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Plural formation of nouns ending in obstruents

Afrikaans nouns, like other Germanic languages, bear the grammatical feature  number viz. singular (SG) and plural (PL). While the singular is usually morphologically unmarked, the plural is normally expressed by suffixation, mostly by adding either the plural morpheme -e or -s to the stem. Elsewhere the focus was on the underlying principles of plural formation of nouns ending on sonorant segments (viz. vowels, diphthongs and sonorant consonants); here we concentrate on monomorphemic nouns that have obstruent consonants (plosives and fricatives) as coda. i.e singleton or complex.


The large majority of plural morphemes for this type of noun is -e, irrespective of where the stress lies. This will be demonstrated firstly with regards to monosyllabic nouns, and subsequently with regards to polisyllabic nouns.

[+]Monosyllabic noun plurals

By affixing -e to a monosyllabic noun, the regular trochaic plural pattern /⋃/ is created, just as is the case with plural formation of nouns ending in sonorant segments. This is particularly true in the case of practically all monosyllabic nouns, like the following representative examples:

Table 1: Short vowels in monosyllabic nouns
/i/ /u/ /y/ /ɑ/ /ɛ/ /ͻ/ /ə/ /œ/
p griep groep - grap skep kop klip drup
p - - - kramp hemp klomp skimp
k kriek boek truuk rak rek rok blik ruk
k kriek boek truuk rank tenk tronk sink
f brief proef - graf bef bof rif juf
s kies oes ekskuus jas res bos kis kus
s diens - - kans spens dons wins kuns
x vlieg ploeg spuug lag steg tog lig

Selfevidently, nouns ending on s will have -e as plural morpheme; not only in the case of monosyllabic nouns but also polisyllabic nouns.

A small number of monomorphemic nouns ending on obstruents have -s as plural suffix, mostly remnants of loan words, of which the most well-known are tjek-s checks, fliek-s bioscopes, kiosk-s kiosks, sjefs chefs, tenk-s tanks, tjop-s chops, flat-s flats, lift-s lifts and trust-s trust. The word maats, the plural of maat buddy, is the only native word among these, which probably is an abbreviation of the bisyllabic maters. In less educated use, the normal plurals are replacing these cases, especially tenke, but also flieke, lifte, tjekke and tjoppe; which are all in line with the native pattern /⋃/, seemingly English loan words.

Words with g /x/ as coda constitute a special category of which dae /daʱə/ probably is the most well-known and frequently used. Here the short a of the singular form dag /dɑx/ day is lengthened. Similarly, g is deleted in the plural form of the nouns like vlieg fly and ploeg plow, as well as in similar instances, e.g. oog, sog and weg again with elongated vowels. Notably the short /ɛ/ in weg way undergoes a change of vowel quality to long /e/ in the plural weë (viz. in /veə/ [viʱə]). Whenever an underlying t is present, g is not deleted, and short vowels stay short, e.g. in PLtogte < SGtog and PLligte < SGlig.

The plural suffix -e is present in the case of monosyllabic nouns that have long vowels and a diphthong as kernel, whereby again the regular trochaic plural pattern /⋃/ is created, as in the examples below.

Table 2: Long vowels
[a] [uə] [iə] [yœ]
p skaap loop streep -
k saak rook streek reuk
f naaf stoof neef gleuk
x saag boog steeg teug

Table 3: Diphthongs
[əi] [œy] [œu]
p pyp stuip
k ryk buik
f skyf snuif
s lys buis sous
x vyg tuig

Note the orthographic conventions in singular nouns spelled with double, identical vowels aa, oo and ee, that is written as a, o and e in the plural, e.g. skape < skaap, lope and strepe. In naaf and similarly other nouns ending on f is substituted by w, e.g. nawe < naaf. In such instances the singular f, i.e. voiceless fricative [f] corresponds with voiced fricative [v] ( w). Voiced obstruents in word- and syllable-final position are not allowed, due to the general phonological process of devoicing in these positions (see Final Devoicing). Word-final /x/ ( g) is deleted like in the case of nouns with short vowels (see above). The words lyste < lys acts similar to lig above.

[+]Polisyllabic nouns with obstruent codas

Monomorphemic noun plurals with codas as obstruents, consisting of two or more syllables follow the general trend of creating the trochaic pattern /(-) / ⋃/ by choosing -e in almost all instances, especially but not exclusively regarding nouns ending on stressed syllables in the singular form, e.g. agent; almanak; apostroof; barak; dosent; chirurg; fagot; grafiek; granaat; hotnotsgot; immigrant; komplot; labirint; oorlog; opponent; pondok; prostituut; rekruut; republiek; sersant; spinnekop; toilet; veldtog; viaduk; voorskot. Nouns with ment as final (stressed) constituent, e.g. apartement, always have an -e plural, e.g. in the following representative cases: argument; dokument; element; fragment; instrument; kompliment; ligament; monument; ornament; parlement; regiment; sediment; testament.

As to singular nouns ending in unstressed syllables -e is the preferred morpheme too, creating a dactylic metrical foot / ⋃ ⋃, e.g. in the plural form arende of the bisyllabic noun arend /'a.rənd/. Similar cases are: aambeeld; boodskap; biskop; bloedvint; bruilof; eiland; eland; gammat; hawik; hertog; honderd; hotnot; kajak; kalief; karaf; katarak; kiewiet; koevoet; kumkwart; leeurik; luiperd; maarskalk; malmok; moontheid; monnik; olifant; oorlog; oudit; oulap; patat; prefek; standerd; tabberd; wingerd.

In a few cases the presence of secondary stress on the final syllable of trisyllabic singular nouns creates a trochaic foot, as demonstrated above regarding monosyllabic nouns, viz. /(-) / ⋃ \ ⋃/, e.g. in alfabette (SGalfabet. Other examples are rather scarce, but include: bullebak; huwelik; katapult; katarak; olifant; sjibbolet; skobbejak. Monomorphemic pseudo-derivations on -heid (PL-hede ) and -skap (PL -skappe) eienskap, gemeenskap, gereedskap, rekenskap, geselskap follow this trend too, without exception. Some examples are: aangeleentheid, besonderheid, besigheid, geleentheid, klugtigheid, nywerheid, omstandigheid and owerheid. Examples of true derivations of this type, all with -e as plural morpheme, are plentiful. All of these plurals follow the same metrical pattern. Following are a few representative examples: aardigheid; besonderheid; gebeurlikheid; liefdadigheid; minderheid; moontlikheid; ongeregtigheid; onsekerheid; persoonlikheid; sekerheid; teenwoordigheid; vaardigheid; werklikheid and agentskap; beterskap; dronkenskap; leierskap; mentorskap; ouerskap; rektorskap; swangerskap; vaderskap; wetenskap.

  1. As in the case with monosyllabic plurals a historical remnant -t- surfaces, notably in: veldtog < veldtogte; bruilofte < bruilof; katarakte < katarak; this does not effect the metric pattern.
  2. In the plural of hertog and oorlog the /x/ codas of the final syllable are deleted, and the nucleus vowel /ɔ/ replaced by long /o/.
  3. Some nouns have double plurals, -e as well as -s, with a preference towards -e, e.g. gammat, hotnot, kajak, kalief, sjibbolet.
  4. Some of the examples of words ending on -heid and -skap are not strictly spoken monomorphemes, but still classified as such on the basis that the average user of Afrikaans would not be aware of this. Such nouns are aangeleentheid, aangeleentheid, klugtigheid and rekenskap.

Note here that the status of these nouns regarding stress placement is overridden by the coda class, contrary to the situation with sonorant codas. Apart from these instances a number of pseudo-derivations of this type follow this same trend.

In the following couple of nouns, mostly loan words with low frequency, -s functions as plural morpheme: kalief; seraf; sheriff as well as surnames when used in the plural form: Adendorff; Boshoff; Eloff; Gustaf; Huishoff; Koornhoffs; Nijhoff; Oosterhof; Pierneef all of these have non-final stress, and thus optimally retain the preferred metrical pattern. A few others, De Graaff, Retief and Verhoef with final stress also get -s in the plural, which are counterexamples.

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