• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all
Nouns which are ambiguous between a measure noun reading and a referential noun reading

Many measure nouns can either receive a quantified interpretation of a referential or individuated interpretation. This strongly affects whether they determine agreement on the verb and their options for premodification.


The noun in a measure noun construction appears in the singular. The example below also shows that it does not determine agreement on the verb:

In soad minsken laken
a lot.SG people.PL laughed.PL
A lot of people laughed

Some nouns can be used either in a quantificational or a referential partitive construction. The noun in protte a lot is mostly used in partitive measure noun constructions, in which it occurs in the singular and in which it fails to determine the number of the construction as a whole:

In protte minsken laken
a lot.SG people.PL laughed.PL
A lot of people laughed

Occasionally, it is used in a referential or individuated partitive construction, as in the following example:

By it wetter lâns leinen protten ôfstoarn reid
at the water along lay.PL lots.PL died reed.SG
Along the water's edge lay heaps of dead reeds

The referentiality of the construction is clear from the plurality of the partitive measure noun and from the fact that the partitive noun determines the number of the construction as a whole. The two constructions can also be told apart by the fact that the measure noun construction resists the use of the demonstrative:

a. *Dizze protte minsken laken
this lot.SG people.PL laughed.PL
This lot of people laughed
b. Dizze protten ôfstoarn reid moatte opromme wurde
these lots.PL died reed.SG nust.PL up.cleared be
These heaps of dead reeds must be cleared up

In the referential construction, the noun protte heap has its literal meaning of a disorderly mass of things. Therefore, its co-occurrence with a content noun denoting not a thing but a person entails that it must have been used in a measure noun construction, not in a referential noun construction.

Similarly, the noun bytsje bit is ambiguous between a referential and a measure noun reading. In its referential reading, it may be pluralised:

Twa bytsjes bûter
two bits butter
Two bits of butter

In its referential reading, it determines agreement on the verb:

Twa lytse bytsjes bûter leine op tafel
two small bits.PL butter.SG lay.PL on table
Two small bits of butter were lying on the table

In its referential reading, it cannot combine with a personal antecedent:

*Alle bytsjes minsken flechten nei binnen ta
all bits people fled to inside POST
All small groups of people fled and went inside

In its referential reading, the noun bytsje may be modified by a quantifier:

Alle bytsjes bûter
all bits butter
All bits of butter

In its measure noun reading, all these properties are reversed.

    printreport errorcite