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Derivation is the formation of new lexemes, mainly by means of affixation, i.e. by attaching a bound morpheme to a free morpheme. An important difference with composition is the fact that only one free morpheme is involved. In the normal case, this free morpheme consists of a stem, the form of the word without inflectional morphemes. From the verb fervje to paint, for example, we derive ferver painter by adding the suffix -er. This nominalizing suffix is attached to the verbal stem ferv-, and not to the infinitival form fervje, which, after phonological adjustment, would have resulted in ungrammatical *fervjer.

The division into free and bound morphemes is not always easy. Some elements that also occur as independent words may nevertheless be considered as affixes if such elements frequently combine with a certain lexical category and moreover show a certain specialization. The transition to an affix can be considered an instance of grammaticalization. Good examples are the prefixes poer-, which narrowed to an intensifying meaning, or nij-, which only selects adjectives that have been formed from past participles.

Affixation can be divided into prefixation and suffixation, depending on the position of the affix in front of the stem (i.e. a prefix) or after the stem (a suffix). In addition, it could be argued that Frisian also shows a few infixes, but infixation is really a marginal phenomenon in the language. Circumfixes, as Dutch ge-te, do not occur.

Derivation can also take place without the addition of an affix to a free morpheme. This is the case with conversion. The free morpheme then turns into a different lexical category. The verb fervje to paint, for example, can be derived in this way from the noun ferve paint. Both have a stem ferv- in common. (The suffix -je is the inflectional marker for the infinitive, and is not an element of word formation).

However, a question could be asked about the identity of the final element -e of the noun ferve, phonetically a schwa. This element could be analyzed as a morpheme, however, without having a role in productive word formation. It has morpheme-like properties since it is typically attached to nouns, where it determines their common gender. Moreover, the element -e influences the choice of the plural morpheme. This -e could be analyzed as a stem extension. Such an extension has a marginal function, and can therefore easily be truncated. We see truncation not only in conversion operations, as above, but also in affixal derivation. The diminutive of skoalle school, for example, is skoaltsje school-DIM small school, again with deletion of the final schwa of skoalle.

What applies to stem extensions like -e usually also applies to real word formation affixes: they can determine properties of the base. The diminutive suffix, for example, always realizes a neuter noun. In this sense the affix functions as head of the complex word. This implies for some prefixations that the head is not on the right-hand side, which may cause a violation of the Right-hand Head Rule. In this aspect, Frisian is not different from Dutch.

Affixes may impose various input restrictions, semantic or phonological. As to the latter, the suffix -st, for example, only occurs after stems ending in a nasal consonant. Morphosyntactic restrictions are omnipresent, as there is no affix that may be attached to all lexical categories. Many only select just one, e.g. -st only occurs after verbs. We also see subcategorial restrictions. Productive suffixation with -ber, for example, can only take place with transitive verbs.

It should be noted that in those cases that a Frisian affix selects more than one lexical category, we have chosen to devote a separate topic to every single combination, in order to show which category is able to combine with which affix. Where the category of the base is less important, such topics are restricted to the main information; the rest is referred to and dealt with in the topic on the main category. In this way it may be seen that for example the suffix -ich may take verbs, adjectives and adverbs. In this case, the main treatment is to be found under the adjectival suffixes with a verbal base.


See for the status of the element -eVisser (1994) and Hoekstra (2011).


For more details on prefixation, infixation, suffixation and conversion, follow the corresponding links:

  • Hoekstra, Jarich2011Meervoudsvorming in het Westerlauwers Fries en het Nederlands (en patroniemvorming in het Noord-Fries)Taal en Tongval63281-301
  • Visser, Willem1994Schwa-appendixen in het FriesBooij, Geert Evert & Marle, J. van (eds.)DialectfonologieAmsterdamP.J. Meertens-Instituut116-137
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