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Beside the regular definite cardinals, there is a group expressions denoting an amount, which are not part of the regular arithmetical system. For example, the following words belong to this group (see Popkema (2006:158-160)): al/alle all, ferskate several, inkelde some, ytlike several, sommige some, guon some, folle much, safolle that many, tefolle too much, wittefolle very much, wat some, gâns much, genôch enough, rju much, temin too little/few, in bulte / hopen / protte / smite / soad very much, a lot of, in bytsje a little, few, party much, in snies group of twenty, in dozyn a dozen, in gros a gross, in (stik)mannich a couple of and in stik of/as wat a couple of. As can be seen, some of these examples are morphologically or syntactically complex.

Quantifiers can be divided according to different criteria. As far as count nouns is concerned, many take plural nouns as a complement, but quantifiers like elts every or mannich many only take singular nouns, even if their semantics is plural. The exact amount of the quantification can mostly not be established, but with an expression like in dozyn a dozen we know that the cardinal 12 is meant. Quantifiers are normally positioned in front of the quantified noun, but an item like genôch enough may also follow the noun.

If Frisian quantifiers occur in nominal ellipsis, they may display some special forms. Most of them display a suffix -en, but others, for instance guon some have more possibilities.

A relatively large part of this topic is devoted to some individual quantifiers, where these display various idiosyncrasies. Separate sections are alloted to those covering the semantic field of 'much/many' and 'few/little', since the standard items folle and min display a restricted distribution.

[+]What is quantified?

The first distinction for quantifiers has to do with which kind of nouns are quantified. Most quantifiers take plural count nouns, but some are restricted to singular count nouns. Examples are shown in the table below:

Table 1
Plural Singular
beide both elts/elk each
ferskate/ferskeidene several ider every
ferskillende various mannich a few; many
folle many
ienige some, a few
ytlike innumerable
sommige/somlike some
ûnderskate various
alle all
guon some
in pear a few
in bytsje a little
gâns much; many
party many
An exception to this distinction is inkeld(e) a single, a few, which takes plural and singular count nouns:

a. Mar in inkeld hûs hie gjin fersiering yn 'e tún
only a single house.SG had no decoration in the garden
Only a single house did not have decorations in the garden
b. Mar inkelde hûzen hienen gjin fersiering yn 'e tún
only few house.PL had no decoration in the garden
Only a few of the houses did not have decorations in the garden

Compare this with a quantifier that obligatorily combines with a plural noun:

a. *In sommich hûs hie gjin fersiering yn 'e tún
a some house.SG had no decoration in the garden
Some of the houses did not have decorations in the garden
b. Sommige hûzen hienen gjin fersiering yn 'e tún
some house.PL had no decoration in the garden
Some of the houses did not have decorations in the garden

In addition to count nouns, some quantifiers can also be combined with mass nouns. These are in bytsje, in soad, gâns, alle and folle. For example:

a. alle tafels
all table.PL
all tables
b. alle hout
all wood
all of the wood

In contrast, a quantifier like beide both is only allowed with a count noun:

a. beide tafels
both table.PL
both tables
b. *beide hout
both wood
*both wood

Instead of alle, the forms al de all the or al it all the can be used as well, with article de or it regularly dependent on the gender of the noun. Thus next to alle hout all-INFL wood we also have al it hout all the.N wood.N.

[+]Internal make-up

Quantifiers can consist of one word, or be made up by a wordgroup. The first table shows the quantifiers that consist of one word:

Table 2
Form Translation
al/alle all
ferskate several
ferskillende various
inkelde some
ytlike several
sommige some
guon some
folle much
temin too little/few
wat some
gâns much
genôch enough
rju much
party much
ienige some, a few
ûnderskate various
guon some
elts/elk each
ider every
mannich a few; many
neat nothing
gjin(t) none
alles everything
allegearre every-one
If a quantifier consists of a wordgroup, these wordgroups are mostly composed of a noun in combination with the indefinite article, as shown in the following table:
Table 3
Form Translation
in bulte very much, a lot of
in hopen very much, a lot of
in protte very much, a lot of
in smite very much, a lot of
in soad very much, a lot of
in bytsje a little, few
in pear a little, few
in snies group of twenty
in dozyn a dozen
in gros a gross
in stik of/as wat a couple of
in (stik)mannich a couple of
elk foar oar one by one
A few Adposition Phrases (PPs), always headed by the preposition by by, also act as quantifiers. The most important are by de bult, by de rûs, by it seksje, by't soad, by it poarsje, and older by it hier. The first of these can even be intensified alliteratively in by de bare bult. It can also be plurified: by bult-en. Some other expressions only occur with a plural Noun Phrase (NP): by protten, by kloften, by keppels. All these expressions have the meaning 'galore'. As a existential quantifier, they only combine with bare NPs:

a. Jan hat boeken by de bult
Jan has books by the heap
Jan has heaps of books
b. *Jan hat de boeken by de bult
Jan has the books by the heap

The only Dutch equivalent for these expressions is the PP bij de vleet galore. It is dealt with in Hoeksema (2012). Many of the remarks in his paper also apply to the Frisian cognates. A Frisian follow-up of his study is Hoekstra (2014). He argues that the expressions have developed from PPs with the distributive preposition by by. Hoekstra also presents a syntactic analysis. A Frisian single word with more or less the same properties is planteit, a loan via Dutch planteit from Old French plenté (cf. English plenty).

In contrast to cardinal numbers, most quantifiers do not have an exact meaning; they only induce a rough estimate. A few exceptions are listed in the table below:

Table 4
Form Translation
in snies 20 (almost exclusively said of eggs)
in dozyn a dozen, 12
in gros a gross, 144

Some quantifiers may also be seen as indefinite pronouns. Examples are neat nothing, gjin none and alles everything. See Indefinite pronouns.

[+]Position with respect to the noun

As a rule, a numeral precedes the noun. This also applies to quantifiers: we have gâns minsken many people and not *minsken gâns. An exception to this rule is the item genôch enough; this may also occur after the noun (see Hoekstra (1990)). However, this postposition may effect a slight semantic difference. If occurring before a noun, genôch simply means enough. When positioned after a noun, its meaning may turn into more than enough:

a. genôch jild
enough money
enough money
b. Der is jild genôch
there is money enough
There is more than enough money

Furthermore, the pairs tefolle/temin too much / too few and mear/minder more/less can also be placed after the noun. However, if this is the case with the latter pair, the noun must be preceded by a measure phrase:

a. Ik fertsjinje mear/minder jild as ferliden jier
I earn more/less money than last year
I earn more/less money than last year
b. *Ik fertsjinje jild mear/minder as ferliden jier
I earn money more/less than last year
I earn more/less money than last year
c. Ik fertsjinje hûndert gûne mear/minder as ferliden jier
I earn one-hundred guilders more/less than last year
I earn one-hundred guilders more/less than last year

Another quantifier that may occur after the noun is the Dutch loan sat enough, as in wy ha noch tiid sat we have more than enough time left. Quantifying PPs like by't soad galore are also more free with respect to word order.

No inflection

In Dutch, some indefinite quantifiers may be inflected if they are preceded by a definite article. Compare Dutch veel geld lot money.SG lots of money and het vele geld the lot-INFL money. In Frisian, indefinite quantifiers can never be inflected. For instance, we have gâns minsken many people, but not *gânse minsken. See also (Hoekstra (1992)).

[+]Nominal ellipsis

If a quantifier is involved in nominal ellipsis, it usually retains its original form. Quantifiers that take plural count nouns as a complement may also be augmented be a final -n if they occupy the position directly in front of the elided noun. This applies to the following items: beide both, ferskate/ferskeidene several, ferskillende various, folle many, ytlike several, sommige/somlike some and ûnderskate various. They all end in an inherent schwa, so one might also assume that it is not the ending -n that is attached, but rather a suffix -en. An example is the following:

a. Der wienen moaie skuon te keap, mar sommige waarden dochs net ferkocht
there were nice shoes to buy but some ___ were still not sold
They had nice shoes for sale there, but some of them still weren't sold
b. Der wienen moaie skuon te keap, mar sommigen waarden dochs net ferkocht
there were nice shoes to buy but some were still not sold
They had nice shoes for sale there, but some of them still weren't sold

Of the quantifiers that combine with plural forms, alle all shows a remarkable form in ellipsis. It may strand:

Net in pear dielnimmers bleaune thús, mar alle
not a few participators stayed at-home, but all ___
Not a few participators stayed at home, but all of them

More common in an elliptical construction, however, is the partial suppletive form allegearre every-one.

Guon some can also appear in nominal ellipsis. It has a lot of additional (sometimes dialectical) variants: guont, guons, guonts, guonnen, guonnent, guodzen, guodden, guoddens and guods.

The quantifiers that take a single count noun (elts/elke each, ider every, mannich a few; many, in inkeld some; a few) can also appear in elliptical use, but then they are usually augmented by the endings -ien or -enien. Thus we get mannichien and mannigenien, iderien (not *iderenien), in inkeldenien, eltsenien/elkenien (not *eltsien/elkien). An example is:

Net allinich earme minsken stjerre, mar eltsenien
not only poor people die, but everyone
Not only poor people die, but everyone

Of the quantifiers that take mass nouns, alle all obligatorily takes the form alles everything in an elliptical context:

a. *Der wie gâns hout te keap, mar alle waard net ferkocht
there was a-lot-of wood for sale, but all ___ was not sold
A lot of wood was for sale there, but not all was sold
b. Der wie gâns hout te keap, en alles waard ferkocht
there was a-lot-of wood for sale, and all ___ was sold
A lot of wood was for sale there, and all of it was sold

In other words, quantifiers may sometimes take extra endings in case of nominal ellipsis. When the quantifier combines with plural nouns, this extra ending is -en. On the other hand, with singular nouns we see more variation, depending on the choice of the quantifier. We then have -en, -ien or -enien. Apart from some idiosyncratic properties, we thus see that quantifiers largely show the same behaviour as Frisian adjectives, in that the choice of the extra forms depends on singularity or plurality (see nominal ellipsis). Moreover, alle and guon show even more possibilities. For the sake of clarity and completeness, it should be noted that not all Frisian quantifiers have been dealt with here. With such quantifiers like in pear a few, in bytsje a little, gâns much; many or party many nothing special is going on in elliptical contexts.


Most of this section is based on Dyk (2011).


Some quantifiers that cover the meanings of 'much/many' and 'few/little' display several distributional restrictions. The expected unmarked item would be folle, compare Dutch veel and German viel. However, although in the 19th century still in free use, the quantifier folle much/many nowadays is a negative polarity item, which implies that it can only be used in combination with a negation, and with a few adverbs in the compounds safolle that much/many, tefolle too much/many, hoefolle how much/many and wittefolle very much/many. More in particular with respect to negation, we do find folle in the following contexts (see also (Hoekstra 2000:126)):

  1. In the scope of a negative adverb:
    Der ha net folle besikers by de útstalling west
    there have not many visitors at the exhibition been
    Not many people visited the exhibition
  2. In 'negative raising' sentences:
    Ik wol net leauwe, dat se folle blebberbeien fûn ha
    I will not believe, that they many blueberries found have
    I do not think that they found many blueberries
  3. In the scope of the negative preposition sûnder without:
    Sûnder folle wurden naam se ôfskie
    without many words took she leave
    Without many words she took leave
  4. In the complement of dubitative verbs:
    Ik freegje my ôf, oft er folle Arabysk ken
    I wonder, if-that he much Arabian knows
    I wonder if he knows much Arabian
  5. In an inherently negative expression:
    Wat sil men dêr folle fan sizze?
    what shall one there much about say
    What can I say?

As a positive polarity item, folle is restricted nowadays to a few idiomatized expressions:

folle lok en seine
much happiness and blessing
happy new-year
Effects in word formation

It is striking that folle hardly ever occurs as the first part of a compound (in contrast to Dutch veel). Hoekstra (2010) explains this fact by its being a negative polarity item. According to him, if a part of a word is negatively polar, it must find a trigger (morphological negation) within the word, which is not possible. The Frisian dictionary gives no more than three entries with folle-: follentiids often, follerhanne all kinds of and follerlei multifarious. These words are not very frequent in their use. Instead of folle-, its comparative form mear is often used, as in meartalich multilingual or mearkoppich many-headed. For the translation of Dutch veelalusually, the superlative form meast is taken, resulting in meastal or almeast.

Since folle cannot be used in the meaning of much in affirmative contexts, Frisian has to look for the alternative forms. The one that is mostly chosen is the NP in soad a lot:

a. *Der wiene folle minsken op 'e begraffenis
there were much people at the funeral
There were a lot of people at the funeral
b. Der wiene in soad minsken op 'e begraffenis
there were a lot people at the funeral
There were a lot of people at the funeral

Another equivalent for in soad is gâns:

Yn Grins wenje gâns studinten
in Groningen live many students
Many students live in Groningen

Gâns is a positive polarity item; it cannot occur in negative contexts, in contrast to in soad which may be used everywhere:

a. Hy hat gâns boeken
he has many books
He has many books
b. *Hy hat net gâns boeken
he has not many books
He does not have many books
c. Hy hat in soad boeken
he has a lot books
He has a lot of books
d. Hy hat net in soad boeken
he has not a lot books
He does not have lots of books

A further difference with in soad is that gâns is absolute. Hence, it is impossible to combine it with a relativizing adverb like navenant relatively:

a. *Hy hat navenant gâns boeken
Hy has relatively many books
b. Hy hat navenant in soad boeken

Quite on the opposite side, gâns is rather emphatic. Therefore, in the following exclamative example it cannot combine with the modal particle mar, which also stresses the truth of the statement:

Do hast mar in soad / *gâns boeken!
What a lot of books do you have!

An extensive study concerning the word gâns is Hoekstra (2011). It contains a short overview of the Frisian quantifier system, and more in particular, it compares gâns with in soad and frijwat, both meaning much/many.


What we find in the semantic field of much/many, is more or less the mirror image of what we see in the field of little/few. Here the one-word item min is even more restricted than folle. It may neither occur in a positive nor in a negative context:

a. *Der wiene min minsken
There were few people
b. *Der wiene net min minsken
There were not few people

Min only exists in combination with the adjunct te too (see Hoekstra (2000:127)):

Der wiene te min minsken
There were too few people

The common alternative for min is the expression net folle not much/many few, hence the negation of the opposite meaning. The other alternative is the NP in bytsje a bit-DIM few/little. So, few people might be translated into Frisian as net folle minsken or as in bytsje minsken.

In definite contexts, the article in a of in bytsje is replaced by the definite neuter article it:

It bytsje minsken, dat hjoed kaam is
the few people that today came is
The few people that came today

Note that the quantifier acts as the head of the subject, hence the singular finite verb is in the relative clause. In contrast to Dutch, Frisian in bytsje few can be used in combination with a plural: in bytsje minsken few people (cf. Dutch *een beetje mensen). However, it appears nowadays that head role may change. For example, see this quote from the internet:

It is ien fan de bytsje skriuwers dy't it geef Frysk noch út 'e pinne kriget
it is one of the writers who the good Frisian still out the pencil gets
He/she is one of the few writers that still uses good Frisian

Here we see that the neuter singular article it is replaced by de, which must have occurred under the influence of the plural noun skriuwer-s writer-PL writers. Bytsje is not unique in this respect. We see the same phenomenon with the quantifiers in pear a couple few and in (stik)mannich a (piece)many few, which contain the neuter nouns (it) pear and (it) mannich. Nevertheless, a phrase like de pear/stikmannich boeken the few books is quite normal.

Min in compounding

Min also occurs in compound words like minachtsje to despise (lit. to consider little), minmachtich not numerous, not in great numbers and minmânsk not strong (see Hoekstra (1990)). For more details about the use of min see in the Frisian syntax irregular.

[+]Particular aspects of some other individual quantifiers

There are a few idiosyncratics with some quantifiers, which are listed below:

  • al/alle is only counted as a quantifier if it expresses a quantification, like in the examples below:
    al syn wurk
    all his work
    all his work
    alle wetter
    all.INFL water
    all the water
    alle minsken
    all.INFL people.PL
    all the people
    In other cases, it is more of an indefinite pronoun. In this use, it is usually replaced by the form alles everything:
    Al/alles wat er die, mislearre
    everything what he did failed
    everything he did failed
    Ien can be combined with al in the phrase ien en al, which denotes a totality:
    It is ien en al blommen
    it is one and all flowers
    it is covered all over with flowers
    The same meaning is expressed by the construction ien ..., allegear ... one ..., all/alltogether ...:
    a. It is ien bloed, allegear bloed
    it is one blood, all blood
    There was blood everywhere
    b. It is dêr ien blommen, allegear blommen
    it is there one flowers, all flowers
    It is a sea of flowers over there

    Note that ien one, which normally selects singular count nouns, combines here with a singular mass noun and a plural noun.


    Alle all can be combined with a numeral, so that it forms a new word: allebeide both of them, allefjouwer all four of them. When alle is used as a floating quantifier, the suppletive form allegearre is obligatorily:

    De famkes hiene allegearre/*alle in strik yn it hier
    the girls had all a ribbon in the hair
    All the girls had a ribbon in their hair

    More about this subject can be found in Hoekstra (1988).

  • According to Hoekstra (1991) the quantifiers elk(e) each and al(le) all basically have the same semantics of a universal quantifier. However, with alle, one quantified entities as members of a group as a whole, where distributive elk focusses more on the individual members:

    a. Hoefolle fûgels lizze aaien?
    how.many birds lay eggs
    How many birds lay eggs?
    a.' Alle fûgels lizze aaien
    all birds lay eggs
    All birds lay eggs
    b. Hokker fûgels lizze aaien?
    which birds lay eggs
    Which birds lay eggs?
    b.' Elke fûgel leit aaien
    each bird lays eggs
    Each bird lays eggs
    There is a difference between Dutch and Frisian in the use of alle and elk. In principle, both can be used in sentences like the following (example (a) illustrates the Dutch language, (b) represents Frisian:
    a. Op alle schoteltjes lag een gebakje (Dutch)
    All the plates had a pastry on it
    a.' Op elk schoteltje lag een gebakje (Dutch)
    Each plate had a pastry on it
    b. Op alle pântsjes lei in taartsje
    All the plates had a pastry on it
    b.' Op elk pântsje lei in taartsje
    Each/every plate had a pastry on it
    However, Dutch has a preference for elk, where in Frisian alle is preferred. This is particularly evident in fixed phrases. Again, example (a) illustrates Dutch and (b) is the Frisian usage:
    a. Elke dag, elke zondag, elke week en elk jaar (Dutch)
    Every day, every sunday, every week and every year
    b. Alle dagen, alle sneinen, alle wiken en alle jierren
    Every day, every sunday, every week and every year
    Other contrastive examples are given below:
    a. iedere keer (Dutch)
    each time
    b. alle kearen
    every time
    a. in ieder opzicht (Dutch)
    in all respects
    b. yn alle dingen
    in all things

    Besides elk/elts/elkenien there is the form elkmis (Hoekstra (1987)). As elk/elts it has a distributive function. The difference is, that elkmis can only be used as a floating quantifier:

    Jimme krijge elkmis trije apels
    You each get three apples
    Hja fertsjinnen elkmis in tsientsje
    They each earned ten euros
    Elkmis is mainly restricted to the written language.

    The Frisian wordgroup elk foar oar one by one is mostly used as an indefinite pronoun:

    a. Elk foar oar wol de earste wêze
    each for other will the first be
    One by one, they all want to be the first
    b. Elk foar oar brocht syn stim út
    each for other brought his vote out
    One by one, they all voted
    Sometimes elk foar oar can also be used as an indefinite quantifier (see also Hoekstra (1987)):