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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 watwhatsomething or net follenot much and it receives the ending -s. English has a comparable construction without inflection of the adjective however. Frisian examples are wat moaiswhat beautiful-PARTsomething beautiful or net folle nijsgjirrichs not much interesting-PARTnot much of interest. Historically, the construction is related to a construction with a noun bearing genitive case. An example is in oere tiidsan hour time-GENan 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 aapsnot much ape-GENsomething 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 moaissomething 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 dronkenssomething drunk; *wat hastichssomething hasty. However, in (1) it is perfectly alright:
    Example 1

    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 reinichssomething rainy; wat sinnichssomething sunny.
  • Adjectives that take a nominal complement, as in (it paad) bjuster(the path) offlosing one's way or (it geseur) ba(the moaning) sicksick of the moaning. We do not have *wat bjusters or *wat bas.
  • Adjectives in the superlative: *wat hurdst(e)swat hardest; *wat moaist(e)ssomething most beautiful. Nor in a description with meast: *wat meast yngewikkeldssomething most complicated. On the other hand, the comparative is fine: wat hurderswhat hard-COMP-PARTsomething 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 kreaspretty occurs in the partitive construction, it keeps the form of its base, i.e. wat kreassomething 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 fêstfixed or drystreckless. 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-ssomething 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 oranjessomething orange, ?wat priveessometing private, *wat prima'swhat prime-PARTsomething excellent. On the other hand, an expression like wat ekstra'swhat extra-PARTsomething 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 ferskimmelemouldy, from the verb ferskimmeljebecome mouldy, we cannot build *wat ferskimmeles. Another example is *wat útdroegeswhat out-dried-PART, from the verb útdroegjedry 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 útbakkebake is ?wat útbaktswhat out-baked-PARTsomething fried up. Participles from strong verbs, ending in -n/n/ fare better, as can be seen in wat bedoarnswhat rotten-PARTsomething rotten, from the strong verb bedjerredecay, 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 baktswhat baked-PARTsomething baked is pretty bad, while ?wat opbaktswhat up-baked-PARTsomething refried is - apart from the pronunciation difficulties - much more acceptable. Wat útseanswhat out-cooked-PARTsomething boiled down, from the strong verb siedeboil, cook is fine, where ??wat seanswhat boiled-PART is questionable.

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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 fêstichssomething fixed, wat oranjichssomething orange, and also wat kreazichssomething pretty. This possibility is not open for adjectively used past participles of verbs of the second weak class, as wat *ferskimmelichssomething mouldy and wat útdroegichssomething dried out shows. However, basic forms like *ferskimmelich or *útdroegich do not exist either.

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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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