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In prenominal position

The position of an adjective is in front of a noun, it is inflected. This position, also called attributive is essential. For instance, inflection applies if the adjective lulk angry is in attributive use, as in the word group de lulke bolle the angry bull. If the adjective is used predicatively, as in de bolle wurdt lulk the bull gets angry, the adjective lulk does not show the inflectional suffix -e.

In adjectival inflection, there is a choice between two possibilities only: we can choose between the inflectional element -e or zero: the two possible forms are either lulk-e or lulk. In actual language, the form lulke is the most frequent variant. Zero-suffixation only occurs if three conditions are met: (i) the Noun Phrase (NP) in which the adjective occurs is indefinite, (ii) the following noun has neuter gender and (iii) the noun is non-plural. The adjective swier heavy is not inflected in the wordgroup in swier skip a heavy ship since it is preceded by the indefinite article in and followed by the neuter noun skip.

It is not only the category of adjectives that obeys the rules of adjectival inflection. Some quantifiers, for instance elts every, follow the rules as well. On the other hand, not all adjectives in prenominal position follow the rules. There are some idiosyncretic exceptions, but most deviations have a clear phonological or semantic background. Furthermore, the conservative dialects of Hindeloopen en Schiermonnikoog have their own inflectional systems. However, some reminiscenses of an older inflectional system have survived in standard Frisian as well.


As in other Germanic languages, the Frisian adjective is inflected in prenominal position. Apart from zero inflection, the only inflectional suffix is -e, which is pronounced as a schwa. Hence, this suffix only appears if the adjective is in attributive position, as in it swarte hynder the black horse where a suffix -e has been attached to the adjective swart. In predicative position, the adjective remains uninflected:

it hynder is swart / *swarte
the horse is black / *black-I
the horse is black

In the case that the adjective is used adverbially, inflection is not allowed either, as in (2):

hy seach swart / *swarte
he saw black
he looked angry

The adjectival inflectional paradigm consists of only two elements: the ending -e or zero ending. In most cases, the adjective is inflected with -e. The adjective is not inflected (or gets a zero inflection) if three conditions are fulfilled at the same time:

  1. the NP in which the adjective occurs, is indefinite
  2. the NP is singular
  3. the head noun of the NP has neuter gender
Schematically, the inflectional paradigm for adjectives can be summarized as follows:
Table 1
Definite Indefinite
singular common -e -e
singular neuter -e -
plural -e -e
This implies that all plural NPs have the -e-ending, as shown in (3):

a. grutte tafels
large-INFL table.PL
large tables
b. de grutte tafels
the large-I table.PL
the large tables
c. dy grutte tafels
those large-I table.PL
those large tables
d. guon grutte tafels
some large-I table.PL
some large tables
e. alle grutte tafels
all large-I table.PL
all large tables

In all NPs with a common singular noun, the adjective receives the ending -e as well:

a. de grutte tafel
the large-INFL table.SG
the large table
b. in grutte tafel
a large-INFL table.SG
a large table
c. dy grutte tafel
that large-I table.SG
that large table
d. eltse grutte tafel
every-I large-I table.SG
every large table
e. mannich grutte tafel
many large-I table.SG
many a large table

Definite NPs contain a definite article or a demonstrative pronoun. Such NPs also feature the inflectional ending -e, irrespective of the gender of the head noun. Compare the nouns skip ship, which is neuter, and the noun boat boat, which is common.

a. de swiere boat the heavy-INFL boat.C the heavy boat
b. it swiere skip the heavy-I ship.N the heavy ship
a. dy swiere boat that heavy-INFL boat.C that heavy boat
b. dat swiere skip that heavy-I ship.N that heavy ship

Only in indefinite NPs do we see a less uniform picture. Under the category indefinite are subsumed: NPs with the indefinite article (in Frisian always in a), its negative counterpart gjin no, the numeral ien one, demonstratives as sa'n such and sok such, interrogatives as hok which, hoe'n what kind of and wat what kind of, and indefinite pronouns like elk/elts each, ider every and mannich many. An NP with no determiner at all also counts as indefinite. In table (2) we list a number of examples with the neuter noun hynder horse in an indefinite context in which the adjective swart black remains uninflected, compared to its behaviour in the context of ko cow, a common noun.

Table 2
in swart hynder a black horse.N a black horse in swarte ko a black-INFL cow.C a black cow
ien swart hynder one black horse.N one black horse ien swarte ko one black-INFL cow.C one black cow
gjin swart hynder no black horse.N no black horse gjin swarte ko no black-INFL cow.C no black cow
sa'n swart hynder such=a black horse.N such a black horse sa'n swarte ko such=a black-I cow.C such a black cow
elts swart hynder every black horse.N every black horse eltse swarte ko every-I black-I cow.C every black cow
mannich swart hynder manny black horse.N many a black horse mannich swarte ko many black-INFL cow.C many a black cow
hokker swart hynder which black horse.N which black horse hokker swarte ko which black-I cow.C which black cow
hoe'n swart hynder how=a black horse.N what kind of black horse hoe'n swarte ko how=a black-I cow.C what kind of black cow
wat swart hynder what black horse.N what kind of black horse wat swarte ko what black-INFL cow.C what kind of black cow
oh, swart hynder! oh black horse.N oh, black horse! oh, swarte ko! oh black-I cow.C oh, black cow!

Compare also the examples in (7) with the neuter mass noun guod stuff. The context counts as indefinite, and hence the adjective goed good is not inflected:

a. sok goed guod such good stuff.N such good stuff
b. goed guod good stuff.N good stuff

In addition, also possessive contexts count as indefinite in Frisian, at least as far as the inflection of the adjective is concerned: after possessive pronouns and before neuter nouns, the adjective does not receive an ending: it is myn swart hynder my black horse.N my black horse and not *myn swarte hynder. Other possessive contexts show this behaviour as well, for instance in genitives:

a. Janboers swart hynder
Jan.PR-farmer-GEN black horse.N
the horse of farmer Jan
b. Jelle-en-dy's âld hûs
Jelle.PR-and-those-GEN old house.N
the old house of Jelle and his relatives

Compare also the behaviour of the genitive form waans whose of the interrogative pronoun wa who as in (9):

Waans âld hûs is dat?
who-GEN old house.N is that?
Whose old house is that?
Dutch influence

The behaviour of the adjective in possessive contexts is the main difference with the Dutch inflectional system. As a result, the Frisian system is under pressure at this point: fairly regularly adjectives with -e after possessives are heard.

[+]Minor categories

It is not only adjectives that obey the rules of prenominal inflection. A few quantifiers do so as well. Compare elts every or its variant elk in elts hynder every horse with eltse ko every cow, where the word hynder is neuter and cow is common. Also the quantifiers sommige some and its synonym somlik must be involved in adjectival inflection, although this cannot be shown by a formal contrast, since these quantifiers are always accompanied by plural nouns. Hence, they always end in a schwa, which means that we only find the forms sommige, somlike. This is somewhat different for the quantifier al all. This seems to have been levelled to alle, hence even in a position where ordinary adjectives lack an ending. Compare in this respect alle iis all-I ice.N.SG all ice with glêd iis slippery ice.N.SG slippery ice.

It should be noted that proper names also govern the inflection of a possible adjective. Consider earme Froukje poor Froukje next to earm Grou poor Grou. Froukje is a girl's name. Names of persons have common gender, hence we see the inflected form earme. Place names are neuter; as a result the adjective is not inflected in this context. Normally, names occur without article, but gender can come to the surface when some qualification is added. For instance in de Froukje fan myn dreamen the Froukje of my dreams, where the article de points at common gender. This is in contrast with it Grou fan myn pake the Grou of my grandfather with the neuter article it.

[+]Phonological consequences

The lengthening of the adjectival stem with an ending -e, that is, with a schwa, has some phonological side-effects. One is that the final segment of the stem may have been subject of final devoicing. As a result, the adjectival stem ends in a voiceless consonant but this segment receives voice if the schwa ending is added. For example, the inflected form of the adjective kreas pretty is kreaze with the voiced segment /z/.

Another, though rather marginal, phonological process is d-rhoticism: a final underlying /d/ turns into /r/ in intervocalic contexts. For instance, for many speakers the pronunciation of the inflected form of âld old is [ͻrə], and not [ͻdə]. The adjective kâld cold may be affected similarly.

The segment /d/ is also involved in another marginal phonological process, i.e. final d-deletion. As a result, a final /d/ is deleted after a (long) vowel. It may have the odd effect that superficially it seems as if in an inflected adjective /d/ is inserted. Examples are dea dead - deade and kwea bad; angry - kweade. However, the peculiarity here is not in the inflected form, but rather in the base itself.

Frisian is well-known for its processes of breaking and shortening. Although the major condition for these processes, i.e. addition of a syllable to the base, seems to be present, these two phenomena are practically absent in adjectival inflection. There are two exceptions, and both of these concern frequently used adjectives. A case of breaking may be found in the inflected form moaie, from moai beautiful. The broken form can only be found in the eastern part of the language area, however. Shortening may be found in the inflected form grutte of the adjective grut big, at least in those (mostly northern) areas where this adjective is pronounced with a long vowel [grö:t] or centralized diphthong [grö.ət].


The shortening in the case of the word grut is mentioned in Hoekema (1968).

[+]Lexical deviations

Frisian adjectives do not always satisfy the requirements of the inflectional rules. Often certain generalizations can be stated with respect to deviant behaviour. Such deviations can be phonological or semantic in nature; they will be dealt with in the subsections below. Other anomalies have a more accidental character and will be mentioned here. They seem to be purely lexical exceptions. Most of them belong to the non-native stratum. Among them are material names: plestik plastic, rubber rubber and aluminium aluminium. These names could be joined to platina platinum and mika mica, although these two words might also refuse inflection because they end in a full vowel. Another foreign word that does not inflect is oblong oblong. Native words resisting inflection are folbloed full-blood(ed) and healbloed half-bred.


The material adjectives have the same form as their cognate material nouns. Some of them, especially plestik and rubber, may also participate in the rule for the derivation of adjectives by way of addition of the suffix -en. In that case, such a derivative may optionally inflect, along the lines of the other derivations with -en. The effect is that, for instance, the form *plestike is out, but the form plestikene is acceptable.

[+]Phonologically driven deviations

Inflection of the adjective implies phonologically lengthening of the stem by h a syllable that is made up of a schwa. A schwa is a vowel and adjectives with a stem ending in a vowel appear to have serious problems in accepting this adjacent schwa. This phenomenon will be described at the end of this subsection. Addition of a schwa also means that the stem is extended by a syllable without stress. For rythmic reasons, this may cause problems with those stems that already end in a stressless syllable. Too many stressless syllables in a row is unattractive; sometimes even two are too many.

Difficulties with two syllables without stress mainly manifest themselves in the case of stems ending in schwa plus /n/ or /r/. On the other hand, syllables with for instance final -el, -em or adjectives with the suffix -lik (all pronounced with a schwa) accept an extra inflectional schwa without any problem, as is clear from (10):

a. de mûtel-e faam
the chubby maid
b. de stikem-e jonge
the sneaky boy
c. it foarlik-e bern
the precocious child

Inflection is even obligatory here, cf. *de mûtel faam etc.

The situation is more complex with those stems that end in -en /ǝn/. Such stems may accept an inflectional -e, but this is not obligatory, and we often see no inflection in these cases.


Dykstra (1984) investigated inflection after the suffix -en building material adjectives. He found that in about 20% of actual language use such adjectives are inflected, and the percentage is even decreasing. The latter may be the influence of Dutch: in Dutch, we do not find inflection after -en at all.

Structurally, the final sequence -en may represent different elements. It may be part of the adjective stem, as in iepen open or rimpen hasty. Examples with and without inflection are provided in (11):

a. it iepen(e) finster
the open window
b. de rimpen(e) direkteur
the hasty manager

There is one exception to this rule: the adjective eigen own, which is never inflected: it is syn eigen auto his own car and not *syn eigene auto.

Many adjectives ending in -en contain the suffix -en which build adjectives from nouns denoting a material or substance: from hout wood one can form houten wooden. Such adjectives may optionally inflect as well:

a. it houten(e) stek
the wooden fence
b. in gouden(e) ring
a golden ring

That a rythmic factor is the main force behind the non-inflection of adjectives ending in -en can be seen from the behaviour of those material adjectives which have a nominal stem that also ends in a schwa syllable. Addition of inflectional -e would result in three syllables without stress: the final syllable of the stem plus the suffix -en plus inflectional -e. Thus from material nouns like koper cupper, izer iron or moarmer marble it is virtually impossible to build inflected adjectival forms like *koperene, *izerene or *moarmerene.

Verbal forms may also be used as adjectives. Infinitives and past participles are relevant here, the latter only the ones stemming from strong verbs since only these may end in a suffix -en. Here are two examples:

a. de ferfallen(e) skuorre
the dilapidated barn
b. de útwosken(e) sokken
the washed socks

Modal infinitives may appear in prenominal position. Next to dat boek is [maklik te lêzen] that book is [easy to read] we also have dat [maklik te lêzen] boek. Nowadays, the infinitive is not inflected: *dat maklik te lêzene boek. It was different in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, where we can encounter citations like the following:

a. dizze noait to forjittene jierdeifiering
this never to forget-I annual celebration
this celebration that we will never forget
T.G. van der Meulen, De Bye-koer (1852), p. 79
b. de net út to hâldene neargeastigens
the not out to hold-I gloominess
the unbearable gloominess
S.K. Feitsma, Forjit my net (1907), p. 66
c. de to settene nammen
the to set-I names
the signatures that have to be put
G.A. Wumkes, It Frysk réveil yn portretten (1911), p. 258

In principle, prenominal modal infinitives should be inflected, as can be detected from the members of a small group of monosyllabic infinitives. Examples are dwaan to do and sjen to see. As these infinitives consist of one syllable, they do not contain a final syllable without stress. Hence, we see obligatory inflection in this category, as shown in (15).

a. de noch te dwane opjeften
the still to do-INFL tasks
the tasks that should still be done
b. it yn te sjenne hânskrift
the in to see manuscript
the manuscript to be consulted

In these examples non-inflection are unacceptable, i.e. *te dwaan or *yn te sjen.


The inflection of prenominal modal infinitives is pointed out in the grammar of Van Blom (1889:128-129). He gives examples like it te lêzene boek the book to be read and de te gravene sleat the ditch to be digged. Later grammarians did not include this phenomenon, which also may point at its marginal position in the modern language.


Besides inflectional -e a nominalizing suffix -e exists that forms nouns from adjectives. This nominalizing -e is never deleted, not even after the cluster /ən/. Consider this example:

Hy hie twa soannen. Gurbe wie de iepene (*iepen), Lolle de slettene (*sletten)
He had two sons. Gurbe was the open one, Lolle the closed one

This even applies to the word eigen own, which in itself is never inflected. But compare a phrase like it Fryskeigene lit: the Frisian own, i.e. everything that is typical for Friesland.

In contrast to the final cluster -en, inflection after final -er /ər/ is in a stronger position. If -er is part of the adjectival stem, inflection follows the normal rules, as is clear from (17):

a. de snippere famkes the charming-I girls the charming girls
      *de snipper famkes
b. de lekkere par the delicious-I pear the delicious pear
      *de lekker par

The rules for regular inflection - with one notable exception, see the section about pseudo-deviations - also apply to the comparative suffix -er: we have de gruttere auto's the larger cars and not de *grutter auto's. However, if the comparative suffix follows a syllable with a schwa, the tendency is to drop inflectional -e. Compare:

a. *?in ûnbetrouberdere fint an unreliable-COMP-I guy a more unreliable guy
      in ûnbetrouberder fint
b. *?in foarsichtigere man a careful-COMP-I man a more careful man
      in foarsichtiger man

There is also a suffix -er that builds adjectives on the basis of geographical names. Such adjectives are never inflected:

a. de Grinzer universiteit the University of Groningen
      de *Grinzere universiteit
b. Dimter koeke cake from Deventer
      *Dimtere koeke

The same restrtiction applies to allomorphs like -(e)mer and -ster:

a. de Knypster famkes the girls of De Knipe
      de *Knypstere famkes
b. de Bûtenpostmer merke the Buitenpost fair
      de *Bûtenpostmere merke

Also the words lofter left and rjochter right, formed by a marginal suffix -er after the stems loft and rjocht, never show inflection:

a. de rjochter skoech the right shoe
      de *rjochtere skoech
b. de lofter sok the left sock
      de *loftere sok
[+]Semantically driven deviations

In addition to lexical deviations and phonologically driven deviations, there are cases that do not obey the general pattern of adjectival inflection for reasons of semantics. We distinguish four cases; the first three types; the first three also occur in Dutch.

  1. Firstly, we have the case of adjectives denoting a quality or a geographical name. Such an adjective is not inflected if it occurs after an indefinite article and before a noun denoting a person. As to the indefinite article, not only the article in a is relevant, but also variants like gjin no, sa'n such a or hoe'n how a what kind of. We have seen in the section on the paradigm that adjectives are never inflected before neuter nouns and after such determiners. The special thing here is, that inflection is not found before common nouns either. A few examples:
    a. in lestich man
    a difficult man
    b. in Dútsk skriuwer
    a German writer
    c. hoe'n grut skilder
    how-a great painter
    how great a painter
    d. gjin grut strateech