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The suffix -fol derives measure nouns from nouns. It is remarkable that it only combines with "container nouns", i.e. nouns that can contain something. Examples are the base forms glês glass which becomes glêsfol glassful and mûle mouth > mûlfol mouthful. The suffix originated from the adjective fol ful in a construction like in hân fol jild a hand full money a hand filled with money. This hân and fol merged into the univerbationhanfol and from then on -fol could become a suffix with its own gender (neuter). It also displays a plural form, as in hanfollen.

[+]Container nouns

The productive suffix -fol derives measure nouns from nouns. Examples are given below:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
glês glass glêsfol glassful (of)
panne pan panfol panful (of)
mûle mouth mûlfol mouthful (of)
kroade barrow kroadfol barrowful (of)
hús house húsfol houseful (of)
tsjettel kettle tsjettelfol kettleful (of)
sek bag sekfol bagful (of)
flesse bottle flesfol bottleful (of)
hân hand hanfol handful (of)
The suffix is semantically related to the adjective fol ful and the examples show that the suffix only follows container nouns, i.e. nouns that can contain something. Hoekstra (1998:90) mentions that there are primary and secondary container nouns. Primary container nouns are there for putting something in it (a glass, a bag, a kettle, etcetera), while for secondary container nouns like hûs house or hân hand this function is in the background.

A container noun of the first type, for instance kroade barrow, can be used with or without -fol. Sentence (a) shows a measure noun in -fol and in (b) it is shown that this suffix can also be left out.

a. in kroadfol dong
a barrowful dung
a barrow filled with dung
b. in kroade dong
a barrow dung
a barrow filled with dung
No adjective before the measure noun

That kroadfol and kroade in (1) are measure nouns and not just "ordinary" nouns, can be seen from the fact that they do not accept a preceding adjective:

a. *in houten kroadfol dong
a wooden barrowful dung
a wooden barrow filled with dung
b. *in houten kroade dong
a wooden barrow dung
a wooden barrow filled with dung

In contrast, a container noun of the second type can not be used without -fol:

a. in hanfol jild
a handful money
a lot of money
b. *in hân jild
a hand money
a lot of money

Some nouns of the second type are completely lexicalised forms, like the following:

a. in bekfol minsken
a mouthful people
several people
b. in mûltsjefol Frânsk prate
a mouth.DIM.ful French speak.INF
to speak some French
c. in bealchfol wurk
a bodyful work
a lot of work
d. in pypfol prate
a pipeful speak.INF
have a chat
[+]From fol to -fol

Historically, there was only fol as an adjective: in hân fol jild a hand full money a hand filled with money. Because the words hân hand and fol ful were always used in the same order, this phrase could become lexicalised into the univerbationhanfol handful. Three stages can be detected in the transition from fol to -fol; all of them can be heard in the current Frisian language:

Table 2
Stage Singular Plural
1 de hân fol jild the.C hand full money the hand filled with money de hannen fol jild the.PL hand.PL full money the hands filled with money
2 de hanfol jild the.C hand.full money the handful of money de hannenfol jild the.PL hand.PL.full money
3 it hanfol jild the.N hand.full money the handful of money de hanfollen jild the.PL hand.full.PL money
In the first stage the Noun Phrase (NP) is de hân, while in the second stage the NP has become the univerbation de hanfol (with vowel shortening in from [hɔ:n] to [hɔn]). More West-Germanic languages have reached the second stage, c.f. handvol in Dutch and Handvoll in German.

In the univerbations of the second stage, the final schwa in the first part is not truncated - panne [pɔnə] pan > pannefol [pɔnəfol] pan filled with - but when talking about the suffix -fol, it is: and flesfol [flɛsfol] bottleful (of) (cf. flesse bottle).

In the third stage is the element -fol really functions as a suffix, and it can then be considered to be a suffixoid. Where in the second stage the univerbation has the gender of the base form (de hân the.C hand > de hanfol the.C hand.full), in the third stage the noun ending in -fol selects its own determiner: it the.N, independently of the gender of the base form, so: it hús the house > it húsfol the houseful (of) but also de hân hand > it hanfol a handful (of). Moreover, these formations can be pluralized, i.e. hanfollen, and they can be followed by a diminutive suffix: hanfoltsje. An extra indication for the suffix-status is the fact that final schwa's of the nouns are truncated. So we have panfol [pɔⁿfol] panful (of) from panne pan, and flesse bottle gives flesfol. This third stage only occurs in Frisian and English, viz. pluralizations like spoonful > spoonfuls.


An extensive treatment, also of historical and syntactic aspects, is Hoekstra (1988:74-114). A good summary can be found in Hoekstra (1998:90-91).

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1988fol, fol en de syntaksis fan mjitteoantsjuttingenDyk, S. & Haan, G.J. de (eds.)Wurdfoarried en wurdgrammatikaLjouwertFryske Akademy74-114
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
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