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The historical development of strong and weak agreement testifies to a gradual erosion of inflectional endings.


Old Frisian had three values for gender: masculine, feminine and neuter. Masculine and feminine collapsed into common gender in the transition to Early Modern Frisian, which took place roughly around 1550. Old Frisian also had two types of adjectival agreement: strong and weak. Weak adjectival agreement was found after definite determiners and definite quantifiers. Strong adjectival agreement was found in all other cases, that is, after indefinite quantifiers and indefinite determiners. The Old Frisian system of strong and weak agreement also depended on case.

The following table presents the full paradigm of weak agreement in Old Frisian:

Table 1
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative a/e e e a
Genitive a a a ena
Dative a a a a/um
Accusative a a e a
The following table presents the full paradigm of strong agreement in Old Frisian:
Table 2
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative - - - e
Genitive es er(e) es era
Dative e er(e) e e
Accusative en e - e
The Early Modern Frisian period still distinguished between weak and strong agreement in the common gender. Strong agreement was characterized by the absence of a schwa on adjectives attributed of nouns of common and neuter gender. The following table presents the full paradigm of weak agreement in Early Modern Frisian:
Table 3
Common Gender Neuter Gender Plural
e e e
The following table presents the full paradigm of strong agreement in Early Modern Frisian:
Table 4
Common Gender Neuter Gender Plural
- - e
Comparison of the Old Frisian agreement structures to the Early Modern Frisian ones makes it clear that the nominative paradigm was more influential than the other paradigms in the subsequent historical development. Even the nineteenth-century still saw some examples of strong agreement in the common gender, whereas the twentieth-century counterparts would have been marked with schwa.

Example 1

a. Ien wyt dweil
a white.CG.SA mop
A white mop
b. Ien oor feint
an other.CG.SA guy
Another guy

Strong agreement in the common gender survives into the 21st century in set expressions only:

Example 2

a. In hurd man op in weak tsiis
a hard.CG.SA man on a soft.CG.SA cheese
A man of tough language who is actually weak
b. In dea baarch komt it op in stek net oan
a dead.CG.SA pig comes it on a stab not on
A dead pig does not care that it is stabbed, be in a situation where a bad thing does not hurt anymore

Strong agreement is also present in the expression below, featuring the nominalized adjective in wyld a wild:

Example 3

Sûpe as in wyld
drink like a wild
Drink like a madman

Finally, there are some combinations which have become idiomatic, and which may be written together:

Example 4

In jongfaam
a young. girl
A young girl

Nowadays, we can identify weak adjectival agreement with the invariant -e, which occurs following definite and demonstrative determiners regardless of number and gender, though it is not found any more after definite quantifiers. So weak adjectival agreement has become constructional in that it is invariant (one form only). Strong agreement is still contextual, as it has two forms, which are sensitive to number and gender.

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Hoekstra (2000) is the most comprehensive article about strong agreement in Early Modern Frisian. Boersma (1982) investigates the adjective's agreement in the writings of the Halbertsma's. Bremmer (1992) notes agreement in passing with respect to the seventeenth-century proverbs collected by Burmania.

The Old Frisian paradigms can be found in Steller (1928), Sjölin (1969) and Boutkan (1996).

  • Boersma, Pieter1981De bûging fan it adjektyf by de Halbertsma'sUs wurk3041-48
  • Boutkan, Dirk1996A concise grammar of the Old Frisian dialect of the first Riusting manuscriptNowele SupplementOdense University Press
  • Bremmer, Rolf H. Jr1992Oer datearring, funksje en auteurskip fan de earste Fryske grammatikaBreuker, Ph. H., Gorder, D., Hoekstra, J.F. & Jansma, L.G. (eds.)Philologia Frisica anno 1990: lezingen fan it tolfte Filologekongres, 17-19 okrober 1990Philologia Frisica annoLjouwert/Leeuwarden9-32
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2000Ta de sterke eigenskipswurdbûging yn it FryskPhilologia Frisica anno 1999 : lezingen en neipetearen fan it ... Fryske filologekongres15110-126
  • Sjölin, Bo1969Einführung in das FriesischeStuttgartVerlagsbuchhandlung
  • Steller, Walther1928Abriss der Altfriesischen Grammatik. Mit Berücksichtigung der westgermanischen Dialecten des Altenglischen, Altsächsischen und AlthochdeutschenHalleMax Niemeyer Verlag