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The unproductive suffix -(t)me is closely related to -te, although they are not completely interchangeable. Both are used to derive nouns from adjectives. Where the derivations with -te are normal (though unproductive) in the oral and written language, -(t)me exclusively belongs to the written language and elevated style. Examples are sykte/syktme illness (< siik ill) or stilte/stiltme silence (< stil silent). In most cases, the form with -(t)me has an abstract or majestic meaning. It cannot be used as a noun indicating a measure.

[+]General properties

Although the origin of the suffix has to be sought in Old Frisian -ma, in most attestations we now see the insertion of /t/, hence -tme as the commonest form of the suffix. We still find -me in brekme lack and brûkme custom, which might not be a coincidence since the Old Frisian suffix -ma primarily had a verbal base. For stems ending in /t/, it cannot be decided whether we have the variant -tme or -me, for instance in grutme greatness. Although the orthography always shows a single <t>, this is not decisive.

The suffix -(t)me is used in a fixed number of words. The largest category is formed by nouns with an adjectival base:

Table 1
Adjectival base Derivation with -(t)me
drok busy droktme activity, overcrowding
grut big grutme greatness
kâld cold kjeltme coldness
koel cool kuoltme chilliness
siik ill syktme illness
skien beautiful, pure skjintme beauty
sterk strong sterktme power
stil silent stiltme silence

Next to these derivations with an adjectival base, there are forms based on nouns:

Table 2
Nominal base Derivation with -(t)me
berch mountain berchtme mountains
sjocht illness sjochtme illness
slachte gender slachtme gender

The nominal base itself may also be a nominalization of a verb:

Table 3
Verbal base Nominalization Derivation with -(t)me
brekke to break brek shortage brekme shortage
eangje to be afraid of eang-st fear eangstme fear
brûke to use gebrûk custom brûkme custom
langje to desire lang-st derire langstme desire

Here we see derivations with the suffix -st and a conversion of verb to noun in the case of brek. The idea of the form gebrûk as a base for a derivation with -(t)me may be somewhat controversial.

[+]History and use

Whereas in Oldfrisian -ma, the predecessor of -(t)me, was a common suffix, it was ousted from the oral language during the 17th century. Nowadays, words ending in -(t)me exclusively belong to the written language, most of the times as stylistic variant of -te. "Most of the times", since not all of the examples given above have equivalents in -te. The nouns with an adjectival base all have it, and the derivations of -(t)me in these cases are merely a stylistic strengthening of their equivalents ending in -te. The same effect is at play with respect to the derivations of a nominal base.

These days, -tme is more and more under pressure of the suffixes -te and -heid or -ens, but also of the prefix ge- (for instance slachtme gender versus geslacht gender).

[+]Semantic properties

In the previous section it was noted that not every derivation of -(t)me has an equivalent in -te. Likewise, not all the derivations of -te have equivalents in -(t)me. This follows from a restriction on derivations of -(t)me: they have to be abstract. Words like grutme greatness, droktme activity, overcrowding, brûkme custom and syktme illness are used in a ceremonial context or in the most general meaning. To illustrate the contrast, Sytstra (1931:93) gives the following examples:

Example 1

a. De greatte fen in pounsmiet
the size of a pounsmiet
The size of a pounsmiet (= Frisian square measure)
b. Gods greatme yn de natûr
God's greatness in the nature
God's greatness in the nature
Example 2

a. Ik scil der gjin gebrûk fen meitsje
I will there no use of make
I will not use it
b. De seden en brûkmen der âlde Friezen
the traditions and customs the.GEN old Frisians
The traditions and customs of the old Frisians
Example 3

a. Der is in nije sykte opkommen
there is a new disease emerged
A new disease has emerged
b. Yn tiden fen syktme rekket men wol ris oan it neitinken
in times of sickness reckons one well once on the thinking
In times of sickness, one sometimes starts to think

The examples above show that the derivations of -(t)me in the b-sentences are used in a solemn context (Gods greatme God's greatness) or indicate a general concept (brûkmen customs or syktme sickness). The following example shows that -(t)me cannot be used as a variant for a concrete, measurable derivation of -te:

Example 4

a. De breedte fan dizze planke is tsien sintimeter
the width of this shelf is ten centimeter
The width of this shelf is ten centimeters
b. *De breedtme fan dizze planke is tsien sintimeter
the width of this shelf is ten centimeter
The width of this shelf is ten centimeters
[+]Phonological properties

The suffix -(t)me follows stressed monosyllabic adjectives: SYKtme illness, STERKtme power, DROKtme activity, overcrowding. The suffix does not change the stress pattern of the base form. The suffix may cause breaking of the stem vowel: koel [ku.əl] cool > kuoltme [kṷoltmə] coolness and skien [ski.ən] beautiful, pure > skjintme [skjɪntmə] beauty.

As in derivations with -te, derivations with -(t)me are always common nouns. They therefore take the definite article de. The plural form ends in -en, for instance syktmen illnesses. The newly formed nouns do not allow diminutives: *syktmetsje illness-DIM small illness. In case of compounds, the assumption is that the derivations of -te are preferred to the derivations of -(t)me: syktefersom/?syktmefersom sickness absence.

[hide extra information]

This topic is mainly based on Hoekstra (1998:114). Brouwer (1963:251-255) provides a historical overview, and an inventory of attestations.

  • Brouwer, Jelle H1963Sötma - swietmeIt Beaken25251-255
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Sytstra, Onno H1931WirdfoarmingFryslân1292-95