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Partitive construction

Frisian adjectives may occur in a special construction which syntactically functions as a Noun Phrase (NP). The adjective always follows a quantificational element, like wat what something or net folle not much and it receives the ending -s. English has a comparable construction without inflection of the adjective however. Frisian examples are wat moais what beautiful-PART something beautiful or net folle nijsgjirrichs not much interesting-PART not much of interest. Historically, the construction is related to a construction with a noun bearing genitive case. An example is in oere tiids an hour time-GEN an hour. Traditionally, this construction is called the "partitive genitive". Semantically, the element "hour" in this example is part of the wider notion "time". The construction with a noun is now obsolete, apart from a few lexicalized residues, as net folle aaps not much ape-GEN something without much value. The construction with an adjective is still fully productive, however. Although for adjectives a qualification for the ending -s as "genitive" is possibly a misnomer, the semantic idea remains: wat moais something beautiful is a part of the whole set of beautiful things.

This topic is primarily devoted to the formal, especially morphological, properties of the adjective. Other, especially syntactic and semantic aspects of the partitive construction are described in the topic the partitive adjective construction.


Historically, the suffix -s derives from a genitival construction; for the genitive in present-day Frisian, see case. In general, qualitative adjectives may be input for the partitive construction. There are, however, some restrictions:

  • adjectives indicating properties of living creatures: *wat dronkens something drunk; *wat hastichs something hasty. However, in (1) it is perfectly alright:
    Hy hie wat hastichs oer him
    he had what hasty over him
    He gave the impression of being hasty
  • Adjectives that describe a propery of the weather: *wat reinichs something rainy; wat sinnichs something sunny.
  • Adjectives that take a nominal complement, as in (it paad) bjuster (the path) off losing one's way or (it geseur) ba (the moaning) sick sick of the moaning. We do not have *wat bjusters or *wat bas.
  • Adjectives in the superlative: *wat hurdst(e)s wat hardest; *wat moaist(e)s something most beautiful. Nor in a description with meast: *wat meast yngewikkelds something most complicated. On the other hand, the comparative is fine: wat hurders what hard-COMP-PART something harder.

The suffix -s is the only ending available for the partitive construction. Moreover, its addition is obligatory. Adjectives with a base form ending in the same segment s do not show a double s after suffixation, neither in the orthography nor in the pronunciation: if an adjective like kreas pretty occurs in the partitive construction, it keeps the form of its base, i.e. wat kreas something pretty.

Addition of -s /s/ complicates the coda of the adjective phonologically, the reason that the suffix is not easily attached to adjectives ending in the cluster -st. Examples are the adjectives fêst fixed or dryst reckless. Partitive formations like ?wat fêsts or ?wat drysts are not easily made. Something comparable happens with the final cluster -sk, as in ?wat Amerikaansks (what) American-sk-s something American. In speech, the latter problem can be circumvented by invoking -sk's variant -s. In that case, the net result is wat Amerikaans.

For some obscure reason some adjectives with a final vowel do not accept the partitive ending so easily: ?wat oranjes something orange, ?wat privees someting private, *wat prima's what prime-PART something excellent. On the other hand, an expression like wat ekstra's what extra-PART something extra is quite common.

The difficulties of forming a partitive construction on the basis of adjectives ending in a vowel could possibly be the reason why adjectively used past participles of the second weak class, i.e. those with an infinitive ending in -je, do not accept partitive -s. Such participles inherently end in a schwa: on the basis of ferskimmele mouldy, from the verb ferskimmelje become mouldy, we cannot build *wat ferskimmeles. Another example is *wat útdroeges what out-dried-PART, from the verb útdroegje dry out. Adjectively used participles from the other weak class are not excluded on principals, but they may suffer from the circumstance that the complex consonant cluster meets pronunciation difficulties. An example from the verb útbakke bake is ?wat útbakts what out-baked-PART something fried up. Participles from strong verbs, ending in -n /n/ fare better, as can be seen in wat bedoarns what rotten-PART something rotten, from the strong verb bedjerre decay, rot. It should be noted that participles of the first weak class and those of strong verbs both are having trouble in attaching the suffix -s if this is done on the basis of the basic form. Such formations can be rescued, so to say, if a preverbal element, a prefix or a particle, is added. Thus ??wat bakts what baked-PART something baked is pretty bad, while ?wat opbakts what up-baked-PART something refried is - apart from the pronunciation difficulties - much more acceptable. Wat útseans what out-cooked-PART something boiled down, from the strong verb siede boil, cook is fine, where ??wat seans what boiled-PART is questionable.

Addition of the suffix -ich

The problems in pronunciation may be circumvented by adding an intermediate suffix -ich. This hardly changes the semantics, and has the advantage that the sequence vowel plus /x/ plus /s/ is phonetically fine. It may result in for instance wat fêstichs something fixed, wat oranjichs something orange, and also wat kreazichs something pretty. This possibility is not open for adjectively used past participles of verbs of the second weak class, as wat *ferskimmelichs something mouldy and wat útdroegichs something dried out shows. However, basic forms like *ferskimmelich or *útdroegich do not exist either.


The difficulty of adding certain suffixes to Frisian past participles is described in De Haan and Hoekstra (1993:22-24).

  • Haan, Rienk de & Hoekstra, Jarich1993Morfologyske tûkelteammen by de leksikale útwreiding fan it FryskIt Beaken5514-31
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