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Of the Old Frisian morphological case system only a small part is retained in Modern Frisian. Traces of a former dative can be found only in a few fixed expressions. The former genitive transformed to a possessive construction, in which the choice of the possessor is mainly restricted to names or name-like elements. Frisian has more genitive suffixes than Dutch. Next to the suffix -s, the language also has -e (a remnant of Old Frisian weak -a) and plural -ene (Old Frisian -ena). A special use of the genitive can be seen in gametonymics, as in Ruerde Tryn Tryn. Ruerd's wife, and in patronymic constructions like Piter Jelles Piter, Jelle's son.

[+]Old case endings

Unlike Old Frisian, Modern Frisian has no morphological case. Relics of an old dative ending can be found in the following prepositional phrases:

Table 1
Noun Phrase
rjocht right terjochte at the right place
lân land telâne komme to arrive, to land, to end up
fjild field tefjilde in the field
rie(d) advise, council terie(de) wurde to decide, to come to the conclusion

In the following two idiomatic expressions the noun bears an old dative ending -e, whereas the article represents the old dative form of the neuter definite article (see also variation between de and it):

Table 2
Neuter noun Expression
leach caustic, lye immen út 'e leage waskje someone out the caustic wash to tell someone the plain truth
loch place (Old Frisian) yn 'e lytse loege sitte in the small place sit to be in a predicament

The old genitive endings -s, -e and -ene have been preserved in Modern Frisian to some extent, but they do not function as case markers anymore. They have been reanalyzed as possessive suffixes. The possessive constructions involving these suffixes will be discussed in the following sections.

Genitive remnants in other categories

Remnants of the genitive remain in the context of other lexical categories, particularly in pronouns. The interrogative pronoun wa who has a genitive form waans. (Which is also mentioned in interrogative pronouns). Some indefinite pronouns, referring to human beings, have genitives with -s, like elks everybody's, immens someone's or nimmens nobody's. A quite different phenomenon is nominalized adjectives, as in wat moais something beautiful. This is interpreted as in instance of adjectival inflection. Furthermore, the adverbial marker -s has historically been analyzed as a genitival ending. The marker -s can have a noun as base and an adverb as base. Finally, the genitive ending also pops up in so-called genitive compounds.

A brief comparison with Dutch

Compared with Frisian, remnants of the Dutch genitive are more frequent, as can be seen in the topics about case in general and case genitive Noun Phrases (NP). For example, a Dutch phrase as in de loop der jaren in the course the-GEN.PL year.PL in the course of the years has to be translated in Frisian periphrastically with an Adposition Phrase (PP) as yn 'e rin fan 'e jierren. Moreover, Dutch has a construction with a genitive ending attached to an infinitive, as in tot brakens toe until vomit-INF-GEN to to such an extent that it may lead to vomiting which is lacking in Frisian. Furthermore, Frisian lacks the characterization construction as in dat is niet des vrouws that is not the.GEN.SG.masc woman-GEN.SC.masc that is not characteristic for a woman, described in case characterization in Dutch. On the other hand, Dutch lacks the Frisian endings -e and -ene.

Genitive in Fering-Öömrang (North Frisian)

The Old Frisian inflectional case system has also collapsed in North Frisian varieties, although the former inflectional morphemes -s (originally strong inflection) and -en (originally weak inflection) have been preserved in a few constructions, for example in patronymics.

Prenominal genitives like Tükes wel Tüke's bike or aatjen stuul father's chair (cf. the West Frisian possessive suffixes -s and -e) and local genitives like at Peters at Peter's or at Oken at Ook's (cf. West Frisian local genitives) only appear in fixed constructions. Usually, present-day prenominal genitives are described periphrastically: Tüke sin wel Tüke his bike – Tüke's bike.

The former genitive endings -s/-en also developed into a marker of partitive use for non-countable nouns, for example triad (piece of) threadtriads thread (as material), kualew calfkualews veal, lum lamblumen lamb meat. This seems to be related to a partitive marking of adjectives, which also can be found in other languages, but appears to be very special in Fering-Öömrang, as both endings -s and -en can be used (in other Germanic languages basically only -s): wat ruads/wat ruaden something red (this construction also occurs in West Frisian).

[This extra is written by Hauke Heyen (Kiel)]

[+]The possessive suffix -s

In the possessive construction with the suffix -s, the suffix marks the possessor noun preceding the possession noun. The number of nouns that may qualify as the possessor in this construction is rather limited. The possessive -s occurs with:

  1. Topographical names:
    a. Fryslâns marren Fryslâns lakes
    b. Ljouwerts tsjerken Ljouwert's churches
  2. Personal names (first names, last names, nicknames):
    a. Gearts lûd Geart's voice
    b. Froukjes auto Froukje's car
    c. Brandsmas pleats Brandsma's farm
    d. Trinus Riemersmas boek Trinus Riemersma's book
    e. Lytse Teakes grappen Little Teake's jokes
    f. Ruerd Kintsjes brommer Ruerd Kintsje's moped

    With coordinated names the possessive suffix appears after the last conjunct. Examples are Jan en Hinkes bernsbern Jan and Hinke's grandchildren and Bylsma en Hellingas plysjeromans Bylsma and Hellinga's detective stories.

  3. Kinship terms and other nouns that can be used as forms of address:
    a. mems mantel mother's coat
    b. ús omkes hûn my uncle's dog
    c. syn frous mem his wife's mother
    d. jim buormans hok your neighbour's shed
    e. dokters boat the doctor's boat
    f. m'nhears paraplu your umbrella, (Sir)
  4. The associative construction (with -en-dy):
    a. Jan-en-dys hûs the house of John and his family
    b. ús heit-en-dys troudei the wedding anniversary of my parents
  5. Some compounds with -man man and -lju people:
    a. Dat is gjin knappe lju's dwaan
    that is no decent people-GEN do.INF
    That's no way to behave for decent people
    b. Rikelju's pankoeken en earmelju's sykten rûke fier
    rich-people-GEN pancakes and poor-people-GEN illnesses smell far
    Everybody notices, when poor people have a bit of luck and when rich people have misfortune
    c. oarmans saken
    other-man-GEN businesses
    other people's business
    d. foar allemans eagen
    for all-man-GEN eyes
    in front of everyone's eyes
    e. Syn foet stiet ûnder allemans tafel
    his foot stands under all-man-GEN table
    He has to remain on good terms with everybody (esp. his customers)
  6. Other nouns in a few (poetic) idiomatic expressions with a generic interpretation, and in which the possessor is presented in a personified sense:
    a. âldfaars erf the legacy of the ancestors
    b. wrâlds berin the way of the world
    c. tiids tosk the tooth of time
    d. Lâns wize, lâns eare When in Rome, do as the Romans do  proverb

If the possessor noun ends in -s, the possessive suffix fuses with this final -s:

a. Hâns' frou Hans's wife
b. notaris' tún the notary's garden

The possessive construction with the suffix -s is slightly marked. Often a perifrastic possessive construction with the possessive pronoun is preferred (as in Jan syn fyts John his bicycle John's bicycle; see also realisation of complements external to NP) or a PP with the preposition fan of (as in de fyts fan Jan the bicycle of John John's bicycle; see also predicative and complementive PPs). A perifrastic construction is the only possibility if the possessor is not one of the elements listed above. Examples are de hûn syn bonke the dog his bone the dog's bone or de poat fan 'e tafel the leg of the table the leg of the table.

Genitive versus compound

Some of these formations resemble compounds. The most striking difference is stress: notaris' TÚN versus noTAristún. The former, spelled as two words, is a garden possessed by the person in the village who has the function of notary. The latter is a compound, and is hence spelled as one word. It denotes a kind of garden that are typically owned by notaries. However, there is also a category in between phrasal construction and an ordinary compound, i.e. a so-called genitive compound.

The genitive constructions above always lack a determiner. This is different in the following examples, which have an article that is obligatorily definite and in which a family name always is involved:

a. it Ypma's folk the Ypma family
b. de Dekema's jonges the Dekema boys
c. de Piersma's froulju the Piersma women
d. de Veenstra's pleats the Veenstra farm

The choice of the possession noun is severely restricted here, in contrast to the construction without an article. One only finds plural or collective nouns, semantically all pointing at a family context. The ones in (8) are the most frequent, next to laach family; descent, fammen girls and erven heirs. These nouns cannot be modified, in contrast to the construction without an article. Compare:

a. Douma's tsjeppe fammen Douma-GEN pretty girls Douma's pretty daughters
b. *de Douma's tsjeppe fammen the Douma-GEN pretty girls the pretty Douma girls

As can be seen from the translations, there is also a semantic difference. The genitive without article refers to a particular person; with an article, on the other hand, a complete family is referred to. This genitival family noun no longer functions as a possessor, but rather as a modifier: de Douma's girls are the girls that belong to the Douma family. This will also be the reason that relational nouns like soan son or dochter daughter are not found in the construction with an article.

The possessive suffix -s in elliptical position

The possessor nouns may "stand on their own" if the possession noun is elided. For example, a phrase like ús tún en domenys tún our garden and the vicar's garden is usually formulated elliptically as ús tún en domenys our garden and vicar-GEN. However, after stressed syllables the ending is not -s but rather -es, as in Jan John > Jannes. Therefore, one could assume that such a suffix rather marks nominal ellipsis and not possession in the first place. For this reason the morphology of elliptic genitival constructions is dealt with in a separate topic on ellipsis.

[+]The possessive suffix -e

The possessive construction with the suffix -e developed from the weak Old Frisian ending -a. In this construction, the suffix marks the possessor noun preceding the possession noun. The use of the suffix -e is even more restricted than that of the suffix -s; it is only used if the possessor noun ends (i) in a stressed syllable, or (ii) in a schwa. In the latter case, the schwa of the suffix phonetically merges with the schwa-ending of the base; orthographically, this is marked by an apostrophe, as in pake grandfather > pake' grandfather-GEN. The suffix -e only occurs if the possessor noun is a first name:

a. Janne skonk John's leg
b. Trine brief Tryn's letter
c. Wibe' plan Wibe's plan
d. Ruerde jonges Ruerd's sons

or a kinship term:

a. heite bril father's spectacles
b. memme eagen mother's eyes
c. beppe' fyts grandmother's bicycle
d. pake' pet grandfather's cap
e. muoike' broer aunt's brother
f. omke' bou uncle's vegetable garden
g. har manne ûnderbroek her husband's underpants
h. syn wive earm his wife's arm

As to actual usage, the possessive construction with the suffix -e is even more marked than the construction with -s; it is nearly only used in the written language. In the spoken language, it is preserved in a number of idiomatic expressions:

a. fan heite/memme kant on one's father's/mother's side
b. heite/memme pop father's/mother's darling
c. nei beppe' kelder gean go to the bottom
d. Bokke' himd skin (on the milk)
e. pake' pong the public purse
f. nei in minske' each by human standards
g. In minske' sin is in minske' libben One's interests keep one going  proverb

The possessive construction with the suffix -e is also concealed in a number of toponyms. Examples are Jakkeleset Jakkele.GEN ferry and Jeltesleat Jelte.GEN canal. A final difference between the possessive construction with the suffix -s and the one with -e is that the latter can not be used elliptically.

[+]The possessive suffix -ene

The genitive plural suffix -ene developed from the Old Frisian weak plural ending -ena. It appears in an NP without determiner:

a. Friezene skande Frisian-GEN.PL shame shame of the Frisians
b. minskene soargjende hân people-GEN.PL caring hand mankind's caring hand

However, more often we find a determiner, mostly a definite article:

a. it minskene libben human life
b. de Friezene frijdom the freedom of the Frisians
c. it Noarmannene jok the yoke of the Vikings
d. ús heitene die ancestral deeds

The choice as to the possessor nouns is fairly restricted: they should denote human beings and are used generically. There is also a formal restriction, as the possessor nouns should take a plural suffix -en. Furthermore, they take over irregular processes of plural formation, like shortening (cf. faam /fa:m/ girl > fammene /famənə/ of the girls or god god > goadene of the gods); see also vowel changes in the stem).

It should be remarked that the use of this kind of genitive is also severely restricted. It only occurs in the written language, particularly in an elevated style. In particular, it was popular among writers of the group of Jong Friezen (i.e. Young Frisians). Probably, they revived this form under the influence of the Renaissance poet Gysbert Japicx (1603-1666). It was primarily used for stylistical reinforcement, for example de Friezene taal the Frisian-GEN.PL language the language of the Frisians as opposed to more common de Fryske taal the Frisian-INFL language the Frisian language.


The former genitive endings -s and -e also appear in the gametonymic construction. In this construction the suffix is used to mark a man's name or name-like element preceding a woman's name or a name-like element. The construction refers to a woman as being the wife of some man.

The ending -e appears when the man's name ends (i) in a stressed syllable:

a. Ruerde Tryn Tryn, Ruerd's wife
b. Jehanne Geartsje Geartsje, Jehan's wife
c. kommize Helena Helena, the tax-officer's wife
d. Ruolle Gryt Gryt, Roel's wife  note the  breaking   in this form

or (ii) in a schwa:

a. Nikele' Fokje Fokje, Nikele's wife
b. Anne' Foke Foke, Anne's wife
c. Jelle' Martsje Martsje, Jelle's wife
d. Hidde' Bouk Bouk, Hidde's wife

The ending -s appears elsewhere, as shown below:

a. Hindriks Anny Anny, Hindrik's wife
b. Piters Nynke Nynke, Piter's wife
c. Kobus' Sjoukje Sjoukje, Kobus'wife
d. kosters Feikje Feikje, the sexton's wife

The following examples show a name-like designation of the wife:

a. masters juffrou the schoolmaster's wife
b. domenys mefrou the vicar's wife

(The differences in designations for the women also reflect differences in social class.)


Up to the time of Napoleon, with the official introduction of family names, it was standard practice to add a patronymic to a first name. Informally, this usage persisted for a very long time. The pattern consists of two names. The second name, indicating the father, has an ending -s:

Gysbert Japiks
Tsjerk Hiddes (de Vries)
Piter Jelles (Troelstra)

Nowadays, if the patronymic -s is still used, one mostly finds the family name added, as in Piter Jelles Troelstra.

If the patronymic ends in [s], then a schwa is inserted. Hence, we get Fritses (from Frits) and Hânzes (from Hâns).

The father's name can also be a preposed derivation with the suffix -s, as in:

bakkers Janke the baker's (daughter) Janke
domenys Watse the vicar's (son) Watse
Sytsemas Hiltsje Hiltsje, the daughter of Sytsema

This construction thus resembles the pattern of the possessive suffix -s as described in the section about the suffix -s or the gametonymic construction, however with a specific semantics.

Patronymics in North Frisian

In the Insular North-Frisian variety spoken on the German islands of Föhr and Amrum, the former inflectional morphemes especially were conserved in the patronymic marker. Although it is not in use anymore since the patronymic system has been forbidden in the early 19th century, it is still present in a range of family names. The patronymic is built from the father's first name plus the genitive ending -s or -en. Examples are Nahmens (from Nahm), Ricklefs (from Ricklef), Volkerts (from Volkert), Arfsten (from Arfst), Bohn (from Boh), Ocken (from Ock; all examples from Faltings (1985), see also Hoekstra (1995). According to Faltings (1985:24-25), after the rise of non-patronymic names the endings of some names have been changed to -sen, like in Mainland North-Frisian and Scandinavian languages. It is important to point out that it developed this way and not the other way around, as linguists of the early 20th century tended to see the patronymic markers as reduced forms of -sen (Faltings (1985:24-25); Hoekstra (1995:72, footnote 6)). Hoekstra (1995) and Hoekstra (2011) describes the distribution of the endings as very similar to the distribution of -s/-en plural morphemes in West Frisian and Dutch and points out that their distribution is according to the old inflectional classes, but only based morphophonologically: names with an unstressed ending without obstruent get -s, in all other cases it is -en, following a trochaic principle plus a principle of decreasing sonority (see also the topic on plural formation).


This topic is greatly indebted to an unfinished grammar of Frisian, written in English by Jarich Hoekstra. The most important paper on the subject is Hoekstra (2006). More in particular, it explores the properties of both the -s-genitive with an article (as in de Douma's fammen) and the plural ending -ene, and tries to explain their syntactic and semantic properties from a historical perspective. His main conclusion is that the genitival nouns in these constructions function as modifiers. A somewhat comparable, but more recent, article is Hoekstra (2018). Apart from some North Frisian phenomena it discusses the possessive use of former endings and gametonyms, next to further developments like genitive compounds and the ending -s in temporal adverbs with a noun as base and an adverb as base.

  • Faltings, Volkert F1985Kleine Namenkunde für Föhr und AmrumHelmut Buske Verlag
  • Faltings, Volkert F1985Kleine Namenkunde für Föhr und AmrumHelmut Buske Verlag
  • Faltings, Volkert F1985Kleine Namenkunde für Föhr und AmrumHelmut Buske Verlag
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1995Ta de ûntjouwing fan 'e genityf yn it Fering-ÖömrangUs Wurk44, 3-469-108
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1995Ta de ûntjouwing fan 'e genityf yn it Fering-ÖömrangUs Wurk44, 3-469-108
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1995Ta de ûntjouwing fan 'e genityf yn it Fering-ÖömrangUs Wurk44, 3-469-108
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2006Uzw âde Friez'ne tonge, de Halbertsma's jonges en andere genitiefconstructies in het FriesTaal en Tongval2196-114
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2011Meervoudsvorming in het Westerlauwers Fries en het Nederlands (en patroniemvorming in het Noord-Fries)Taal en Tongval63281-301
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