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The partitive adjective construction

The term “partitive” is normally used in grammar and semantics to refer to a part or quantity of a larger identified collection, such as sommige van my vriendesome of my friends, or baie van daardie boekemany of those books. In such cases, the partitive refers to nouns. However, with reference to adjectives, partitives reflect a subset of all entities possessing a quality indicated by the adjective. In grammatical terms, it could be described as a postnominal relative adjective phrase. In inflectional languages, this mostly takes the form of a genitive, marked in Romance languages by the possessive preposition de or di, of, such as the French quelque chose de petitsome thing of smallsomething small or the Italian qualchecosa di bellosomething of beautifulsomething beautiful, and in the Germanic languages by the suffix -s, such as etwas schönessomething beautiful·PTV.GENsomething beautiful in German, and iets interessantssomething interesting·PTV.GENsomething interesting in Dutch. In Afrikaans, as in Dutch, the adjective suffix -s is likewise used, predominantly in conjunction with the indefinite pronouns ietssomething and niksnothing. An example of each is given below:

Example 1

Iets vreemd·s het gebeur.
something strange·PTV.GEN has happened
Something strange (has) happened.
Example 2

Dis niks vreemd·s nie.
It.is nothing strange·PTV.GEN PTCL.NEG
It is nothing strange.

As demonstrated elsewhere ( ), the partitive also occurs in the case of comparative adjectives. It should also be noted that certain speakers do not add the suffix, in which case the formal distinction between adverbial and partitive use of the adjective falls away: ( )


1 Structure

The partitive adjective construction consists of an indefinite nominal quantifier, such as ietssomething, enigietsanything, veelmuch, baiemuch, minlittle, iemandsomeone, niemandno-one, etc., followed by a partitive adjective. The partitive adjective is marked with an -s suffix, unless, of course, the adjective already ends in an -s, as in iets snaakssomething funny. The construction as a whole can function as a nominal argument to verbs and prepositions, as in these examples:

Example 3

Dit is iets nuut·s vir my.
this is something new·PTV.GEN for me
This is something new to me.
Example 4

om as tweetal hulle visie van iets veel beter·s te bewaarheid
PTCL.INF as a twosome their vision of something much good·CMPR.PTV.GEN to realise
as a pair, to realise their vision of something much better
Example 5

onbekwaam tot enigiets goed·s
incapable to anything good·PTV.GEN
incapable of anything good

2 Modification

The partitive adjective may be modified, though quantitatively less so than adjectives which occur in adverbial, attributive or predicative positions. Some examples of partitive adjectives accompanied by adverbial modifiers:

Example 6

Dit was iets baie goeds en heeltemal niks sleg·s nie.
it was something very good·PTV.GEN and totally nothing bad·PTV.GEN PTCL.NEG
It was something very good, and not bad at all.
Example 7

iets buitengewoon goed·s
something exceptionally good·PTV.GEN
something exceptionally good
Example 8

of iets ewe aaklig·s
or something equally horrible·PTV.GEN
or something equally horrible

3 Quantifiers and pronouns

While partitives used in conjunction with nouns refer primarily to quantifiers, a distinction could be made between the use of quantifiers and prononimal partitives when it comes to adjectives. This is clear when considering the following adjectives in which indefinite quantifiers are used:

Example 9

Mediabronne voorspel nie veel goed·s nie.
media-sources predict not much good·PTV.GEN PTCL.NEG
Media sources do not predict much that is good.
Example 10

stede waarin ek soveel goed·s gedoen het
cities in.which I so.much good·PTV.GEN done have
cities in which I have done so much good
Example 11

waardeur ek al baie goed·s en kosbaar·s verwerf het
through.which I already much good·PTV.GEN and precious·PTV.GEN acquired have
by means of which I have already acquired much which is good and precious
Example 12

Hy het min goeds te sê oor die drama.
he has little good·PTV.GEN to say about the play
He has little to say which is good about the play.
Example 13

Dis al goed·s wat ek oor die song kan sê.
this.is all good·PTV.GEN that I about the song can say
That is the only good I am able to say about the song.

It has been noted elsewhere that adjective partitives are mostly used in conjunction with the indefinite inanimate pronouns ietssomething and niksnothing:

Example 14

om sommer iets·ie goed·s te doen
PTCL.INF just something·DIM good·PTV.GEN to do
just for the sake of doing a little something good
Example 15

Daar is niks beter·s as 'n warm stort nie.
there is nothing better·PTV.GEN than a hot shower PTCL.NEG
There is nothing better than a hot shower.

However, in corpus data indefinite animate pronouns such as iemandsomeone or niemandnobody also crop up, as can be seen below:

Example 16

iemand slim·s, iemand wat kan lei
someone clever·PTV.GEN, someone who can lead
someone clever, someone who can lead
Example 17

Daar was niemand beter·s om hierdie rol te vervul nie.
there was nobody better·PTV.GEN PTCL.INF this role to fulfil PTCL.NEG
there was nobody better to fulfil this role

4 Anders 'other', 'else'

The adjectival partitive andersother, else, as in Ek het iets anders gehoorI have something else heardI have heard something else, is homomorphic to the adjective andersdifferent, as in Sy is anders as die resShe is different from the rest.. However, the structural context, consisting of the indefinite nominal quantifier (or pronoun) and the partitive form of the adjective will always disambiguate the semantic interpretation of the adjective, as in this example:

Example 18

Niemand ander·s is beseer nie.
nobody else be·AUX.PASS.PST injured PTCL.NEG
Nobody else was injured.
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