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The prefix oer- forms adjectives on the basis of other adjectives. There are two subcategories. The straight derivations have the denotation "more than desirable". An example is gefoelich sensitive > oergefoelich oversensitive. The other subcategory only occurs in negative polarity contexts. In combination with the negation, it has a relativizing effect. An example is net oerdjoer not PREF-expensive fairly cheap, based on the adjective djoer expensive.

[+]General properties

The prefix oer- is related to the preposition oer over. It manifests itself in two ways. In a neutral sense, it has the denotation "more than desirable". Examples of derivations with this function are given in the table below:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
fol full oerfol overfull
hearlik delicious oerhearlik absolutely delicious
hastich hasty oerhastich overhasty
ryp ripe oerryp overripe
sêd fed up oersêd satiated
langsum slow oerlangsum extremely slow

A further use of oer- has come about in a more relativizing sense. This use only occurs in a negative polarity context. It requires an adjectival base, usually with a positive connotation. This positivism is, as a first stage, exaggerated by the effect of oer-. However, by the negative context this effect is immediately relativized by the negation. Take the base skjin clean. Prefixation by oer- results in the form oerskjin, which would normally mean extremely clean. However, the presence of a negative element like net not "diminishes" this meaning. Hence, net oerskjin means something like rather dirty. Other examples of derivations with the prefix oer- which only occur with negative elements are given in the table below:

Table 2
Base form Derivation
grut big net oergrut rather small
moai beautiful net oermoai rather ugly
rom plenty net oerrom rather narrow
skjin clean net oerskjin rather dirty
snoad smart net oersnoad rather stupid
swiet sweet net oerswiet rather sour
weak soft net oerweak rather hard
wiid wide net oerwiid rather narrow

The quantifier folle much can also get the prefix oer-: net oerfolle then means not a lot.

Another prefix oer-

There is still another prefix oer-, which, however, is not related to the preposition oer over. In Frisian, it only manifests itself in oerâld ancient. The prefix is related to Dutch oer- and German ur-. In those languages it has combined with considerably more bases than in Frisian. Examples are Dutch oergezellig quite cosy or oergezond quite healthy. See also German formations like urkomisch very funny or urgemütlich quite cosy.

This prefix may also take nominal bases to form nouns. In this function, it has more applications in Frisian.

[+]Phonological properties

The prefix oer- is pronounced as [u.ər]. The final /r/ is easily subject to deletion. The stress is dependent on its use. In the meaning "more than desirable", the prefix has the main stress, e.g. OERryp overripe. In the negative polarity use, the main stress is rather on the adjectival base, as in net oerGRUT rather small.


This topic is primarily based on Hoekstra (1998:73). The use in negative contexts is mentioned in Tsjepkema (1978:158) and in Hoekstra (1987).

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1987Negatio contrariiFriesch Dagblad23-05Taalsnipels 34
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tjepkema, Hotze1978Efkes TaelbuorkjeKoperative Utjowerij, Ljouwert
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