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Constructions with APs

Adjectives can fulfil a variety of syntactic roles, such as (a) determining a noun in the attributive (or prenominal) position, as in:

die lang gedig
the long poem

or (b) as an essential part of the predicate (i.e. as complementive predicative), as in:

Die gedig is lank.
The poem is long.

or (c) as a nonessential part of the predicate (i.e. as supplementive predicative), as in:

Hy gaan uitgeput sit.
he go out.put sit
He sat down exhausted.

or (d) complementing a preceding indefinite pronoun (i.e. partitive), where the suffix -s is added to the adjective, as in:

iets lekkers
something tasty

and (e) acting as an adverb (i.e. an adverbial function), which may overlap with (c) above, as in:

Sy hardloop vinnig.
She runs fast.

An adjective can firstly be used attributively, in other words to determine or describe a following noun, as in this construction:

die uiters koue toestande in Brittanje
the extremely cold conditions in Britain

It should be noted that most polysyllabic adjectives and various groups of monosyllabic adjectives (phonologically determined) are inflected attributively by means of the suffix -e, as in interessant·e gesprekke interesting·ATTR conversations and snaaks·e geluide funny·ATTR sounds. In the case of certain monosyllabic adjectives, the addition of -e leads to phonological processes, such as intervocalic /d/-deletion, as exemplified by koue cold in example (6) above, where the attributive is formed from the predicative koud, which is also the adverbial form. This topic is discussed more extensively in the Extra section below.

[+]Complementive predicative

When forming an essential part of the predicate, the construction is known as a complementive predicative, as in this sentence:

Die lugg·ie is koud saans.
the air·DIM is cold in.the.evening
The light breeze is cold in the evening.

The copula requires the complement koud cold, while the supplementive adverb saans, although not required as part of the predicate, also requires the presence of the complementive predicative here.

[+]Supplementive predicative

When the adjective is an optional part of the predicate, and can be deleted without affecting the grammaticality of the sentence, it is known as a supplementive predicative, or adjunct, exemplified in the following sentence:

Hy draai verleë weg.
he turns embarrassed away
He turns away, embarrassed.

The optionality of the adjective is illustrated by either substituting another adjective, as in this example:

Hy draai woedend weg.
he turns furious away
He turns away, furious.

or by way of deletion:

Hy draai weg.
He turns away.

An indefinite pronoun can co-occur with a following adjective, which is in a partitive (or genitive) relation to the pronoun, and is hence called the partitive. Indefinite pronouns can be classified as assertive (such as something), negative (such as nothing), universal (such as everything), personal (such as someone), etc. An example of an assertive pronoun in a partitive construction is:

iets onbekend·s of iets vreemd·s
something unknown·PTV.GEN or something strange·PTV.GEN
something unknown or something strange

while a negative pronoun occurs in this example:

Sy kan aan niks beter·s dink nie.
she can.AUX.MOD at nothing better·PTV.GEN think PTCL.NEG
She cannot think of anything better.

An adjective can also modify a predicate, and then has an adverbial function, or functions as an adjunct, as in this sentence:

Hy het goed gedoen in die 100 meter.
he have.AUX well do.PST in the 100 meters
He did well in the 100 meters.

In most cases, the adverbial form of the adjective is the same as the predicative form, but there are some instances of the suffix -lik, which indicates adverbial use, as in

Genadiglik sien ek haar min genoeg.
graciously see I her little enough
By the grace of God I see her seldom enough.
Attributive declension of adjectives

Grammatical gender is not a feature of the Afrikaans nominal lexicon, and nouns therefore do not require the declension of adjectives when they occur in an attributive position, as in Dutch or Frisian. However, unlike other Germanic languages, adjectives in Afrikaans are declined in this position, not on the basis of the following noun, but on the basis of the phonological form of the adjective itself. It is therefore in principle possible to divide all adjectives into two categories, namely those that are declinable and those that are not.  Exceptions are determined by (a) morphological; and (b) semantic considerations, as will be explained below.

Polysyllabic adjectives

Declension takes place by the addition of the suffix -e to all polymorphemic, and in fact, all polysyllabic, adjectives. Two examples of such adjectives are verstaanbaar understandable and heerlik delicious, which are declined as follows:

'n verstaanbar·e vraag
an understandable·ATTR question
heerlik·e kos
delicious·ATTR food

Polysyllabic adjectives that end in -er (including comparative forms) are generally not declined, as in

'n groter stuk
a larger piece


skrander studente
intelligent students

Certain exceptions to this rule are fixed expressions, such as tot nadere kennisgewing until further notice, and comparative forms which could stylistically be regarded as relatively formal, as in 'n verdere vraag a further question. The informal pendant of this expression would be nog 'n vraag another question.

It should further be noted that polysyllabic adjectives that include undeclined monosyllabic stems form compounds which may or may not be declined, since declension is dependent on the final component, as in spierwit muscle.white snow-white (undeclined because the final component ends in /t/) and yskoue ice.cold (which is declined because the final component ends in /d/).

Monosyllabic adjectives

By default, monosyllabic adjectives are not declined, except in the following phonological environments:

1. If the undeclined form ends in a consonant cluster consisting of a sonorant plus /d/, as in:

  • -md: vreemd, as in 'n vreemd·e geluid a strange·ATTR sound
  • -nd: rond, as in 'n rond·e figuur a round·ATTR figure
  • -ld: wild, as in 'n wild·e dier a wild·ATTR animal
  • -rd: hard, as in Ons kou hard·e bene. we chew hard·ATTR bones We are having a hard time.

2. If the undeclined form ends in a vowel plus /d/ (Note that intervocalic syncope deletes stem-final /d/, with some exceptions, such as wreed cruel, e.g. 'n wrede straf a cruel punishment and glad smooth, e.g. 'n gladde tong a smooth tongue):

  • wyd widewye reaksie wide reaction
  • koud coldkoue weer cold weather
  • dood deaddooie pluimvee dead poultry
  • goed goodgoeie vordering good progress
  • breed broad'n breë glimlag a broad smile

3. If the undeclined form ends in a long, or non-low, vowel plus /x/ (Note that intervocalic syncope deletes stem-final /x/, and that the resultant open syllable causes the doubled vowel letter, where applicable, to be written as one to retain the vowel quality):

  • vaag vaguevae beloftes vague promises
  • laag lowlae pryse low prices
  • droog dry'n droë seisoen a dry season
  • moeg tiredmoeë reisigers tired travellers
  • ruig bushyruie wenkbroue bushy eyebrows

    In the case of a short low vowel, such as log clumsy, cumbersomesy logge liggaam his clumsy body, the vowel quality is retained by duplicating the consonant.

    dof dimdowwe straatligte dim streetlights

4. If the undeclined form ends in a vowel plus /f/ (Note that intervocalic voicing affects the stem-final /f/, and the voiced consonant is duplicated to retain the quality of the short vowel, as in the case of log above):

  • doof deafdie dowe en blinde gemeenskap the deaf and blind community
  • gaaf pleasant'n baie gawe man a very pleasant man
  • styf stiff'n stywe nek a stiff neck

5. If the undeclined forms ends in a voiceless obstruent plus (historically) underlying /t/:

  • sag(t) softsagte materiaal soft material
  • vas(t) fixed'n vaste inkomste a fixed income
  • onbeskof(t) rude'n onbeskofte antwoord a rude answer
  • geblus(t) slakedgebluste kalk slaked lime

    The undeclined forms mostly correspond to a Dutch equivalent which also ends in /t/, such as sag zacht soft.

6. If the undeclined form ends in the rounded high front vowel /y/:

  • slu slysluwe taktiek sly tactics
  • ru rough'n ruwe diamant a rough diamond

    Some variation with undeclined pendants does occur (e.g. ru/ruwe natuurskoon rough scenic beauty). A lexical exception is kru crude, uncouth, as in kru taal crude language for which only the undeclined form (i.e. not *kruwe) seems to be in use.

7. If the undeclined form ends in a consonant cluster, with final /s/:

  • slaafs slavish doglikemet slaafse gehoorsaamheid with doglike devotion
  • wulps voluptuouswulpse ontkleedans voluptuous striptease
  • rats swiftratse reaksies swift reactions
  • mals lushmalse groen wingerde lush green vineyards

8. Finally, if the undeclined form ends in a vowel plus /s/, in some cases:

  • wys wisedrie wyse manne three wise men
  • boos evilbose bedoelings evil intentions
  • los looselosse sedes loose morals

    Various exceptions occur, in many cases correlating with semantic nuances (such as figurative meaning), for instance grys hare grey hair, but die gryse ouderdom grey old age ,los buie loose showers, but losse sedes loose morals (as above). These variants also occur in the case of stems ending in a single sonorant, e.g. 'n vol beker a full mug, but die volle tydperk the full period.

Attributive declension patterns in Cape Vernacular Afrikaans

It should be noted that the patterns of attributive declension as demonstrated in General Afrikaans above do not represent the whole Afrikaans diasystem. In a variety such as Cape Vernacular Afrikaans (K-Afr.; popularly known as Kaaps), some important differences can be pointed out.

Compared to 17th century Cape Dutch, K-Afr., as far as attributive declension is concerned, remained fairly conservative in that monosyllabic adjectives rather consistently retained the attributive suffix, regardless of the gender distinctions that applied to 17th century Dutch. Compare examples like the following (Kotzé 1984):

  • 'n ryk·e man a rich·ATTR man

    (undeclined in General Afrikaans)

  • jou ou·e lesse your old·ATTR lessons

    (undeclined in General Afrikaans)

  • 'n klein·e bietjie a small·ATTR bit a little bit

    (undeclined in General Afrikaans)

In certain cases, where a choice for the declined variant in General Afrikaans marks the distinction between a literal and a non-literal interpretation, only the declined variant is chosen in K-Afr., such as in

  • Saoedi-Arabië was 'n arm·e land. Saudi Arabia was a poor·ATTR country.

While the use of the attributive suffix in arme in General Afrikaans adds the connotation 'unfortunate', 'pitiable', and the undeclined variant arm denotes 'destitute', 'with limited means', both meanings apply in the case of K-Afr..

A comparable semantic distinction is applicable to the adjective vol full, which denotes 'entire' when declined in General Afrikaans, as in die volle tydperk the full period. However, when undeclined, it means 'busy', '(jam-)packed', as in

  • Ek het 'n vol program vandag. I have a full programme today.Taalkommissie
In K-Afr., the declined variant is utilised for both meanings, as in
  • Krieket het 'n volle jaar in 2017. Cricket has a full year in 2017. A lot of cricket will be played in 2017.TV commentary


  • my volle aandag my full attention all my attention

Additional examples recorded in Kotzé (1984) of default declension which can be distinguished from General Afrikaans in the study are:

  • 'n orraite geaardheid good-natured
  • die korte distansie the short distance
  • spierewitte klere muscle.white clothes pure white clothes
  • lekker varse snoek tasty fresh snoek (barracuda)

This is a reflection of the general situation in late 18th century Cape Afrikaans ((Raidt 1984:280); (Raidt 1994)).

This tendency is also apparent in the attributive form of the possessive pronouns ons our, as in:

  • baie manne van ons·e mense many men of our·ATTR people
  • Ons het ons·e dokters gehad. we have our·ATTR doctors had We had our doctors.
  • according na ons·e prys according to our·ATTR price
  • Hy sal nooit in ons·e pad staan nie. he will.AUX.MOD never in our·ATTR way stand PTCL.NEG He will never stand in our way.

    The last examples also reflect an earlier situation, namely that of the 19th century (Raidt 1994), in all varieties of Afrikaans. On the basis of the comparison one could come to the conclusion that the declined form of monosyllabic attributive adjectives in present-day K-Afr. forms a larger category than in General Afrikaans, where the process of regularisation (i.e. by generalising the -e suffix), was reversed somehow or other before the current pattern became fixed. On the other hand, the phonological processes in K-Afr. which coincide with the patterns of declination in General Afrikaans are largely identical, and the default categories in which declension in General Afrikaans are compulsory, are identical with those in K-Afr., as in:

  • 'n mens wat doen goei·e ietse a person that.REL does good·ATTR somethings a person who does good things

  • gemeenskap met sy ho·ë baas communion with his high·ATTR boss communion with his exalted master

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