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Elative NA

In all West Germanic languages one can find the phenomenon that the first part of an adjectival compound converts into an intensifying element, although a direct formation may also be possible. Usually, these first members are nouns, but also some verbs and adjectives show this behaviour. Such formations are dubbed elative compounds. Sometimes, the first member is connected to one single adjective; it may then have slightly more than just the role of object of comparison. But equally often it expands to other adjectives and then it solely gets an intensifying function. Examples of such intensifying elements are brân- fire, stapel- heap and stien- stone, for example in derivations with skjin clean > brânskjin very clean, gek crazy > stapelgek very crazy and kâld cold > stienkâld very cold. In such cases the first member shows similarities with intensifying prefixes.

[+]The development of elative compounds

In common endocentric NA compounds we find a subcategory displaying a comparison between the adjective and a salient property of the noun. So, for example, koskitengrien cowshit-green refers to a kind of green that resembles the colour of the excrements of a cow. And a word like spikerhurd nail-hard could literally be interpreted as as hard as a nail.

However, most Frisian speakers will interpret spikerhurd rather as very hard. In that case, the noun spiker has acquired an intensifying function. The same effect may be observed in formations like sniewyt snow-white, which may refer to a kind of intense white, or iiskâld ice-cold, which will usually be interpreted as 'very cold', even if the real temperature is above zero degrees Celsius. If the noun has such an intensifying function, we can speak of elative compounds.

In a further step the nouns may analogically be attached to adjectives which lack any connection to the inherent properties of the relevant nouns, as for instance hardness in the case of spiker. In that case, the only available function for the noun is one of intensification. An example is the formation spikergek nail-crazy, which just means completely crazy and not as crazy as a nail.

In practice, we see various gradations of such a transition. In the table below, examples of intensifying nouns are given which only occur with one or two adjectives. Some of them might still be interpreted as adjectival compounds at the same time.

Table 1
noun adjective compound
nagel nail nij new nagelnij brand-new
grôt pearl barley fol full grôtfol chock-full
sêd full up grôtsêd chock-full
flym lancet skerp sharp flymskerp razor-sharp
sûker sugar skjin clean sûkerskjin spotless
sjippe soap glêd slippery sjippeglêd as slippery as soap
klets splash wiet wet klets(troch)wiet soaked
rottekrûd rat poison djoer expensive rottekrûddjoer very expensive
spoek ghost bang afraid spoekbang frightened
strie straw earm poor strie-earm pennyless
min bad striemin very bad
pik pitch swart black pikswart pitch-black
tsjuster dark piktsjuster pitch-dark
ierde earth tsjuster dark ierdetsjuster pitch-dark
brea bread nedich necessary breanedich much-needed
jong young breajong very young
Dead as a crown?

The adjective kroandea stone-dead seems to be made up of kroan crown and dea dead, but etymologically this may not be correct: the word kroan probably has nothing to do with a crown. According to Veen (1984-2011) s.v. kroandea, the first part of kroandea stone-dead stems from the French word charogne which means carcass or shrew. The word is also known in Frisian as karonje shrew.

It should be noted that an adjective may take more than one noun to express an intensified meaning. In the list above we see that for tsjuster dark the nouns pik pitch and ierde earth are used for intensification: the nouns roet soot and stok stick might even be added.

On the other hand, one and the same noun may take several adjectives. Below are some telling examples:

Table 2
noun adjective compound
brân fire djoer expensive brândjoer very expensive
skjin clean brânskjin spotless
drok busy brândrok hectic
fjoer fire read red fjoerread crimson
bang afraid fjoerbang terrified
benaud afraid fjoerbenaud terrified
skerp sharp fjoerskerp razor-sharp
stapel pile gek crazy stapelgek completely crazy
sljocht crazy stapelsljocht completely crazy
dronken drunk stapeldronken plastered
spier muscle rjocht straight spierrjocht dead straight
neaken naked spierneaken stark naked
wyt white spierwyt white as a sheet
stôk stick dôf deaf stôkdôf stone-deaf
blyn blind stôkblyn stone-blind
earm poor stôkearm pennyless
âld old stôkâld ancient
rjocht straight stôkrjocht dead straight
stiif stiff stôkstiif stiff as a rod
stil quiet stôkstil deathly quiet
neaken naked stôkneaken stark naked
ûngelokkich unhappy stôkûngelokkich deeply unhappy
stien stone kâld cold stienkâld freezing
dea dead stiendea stone-dead
earm poor stienearm pennyless
hurd hard stienhurd hard as a stone
ûndogens naughty stienûndogens very naughty
stront shit siik sick strontsiik extremely sick
ferkâlden having a cold strontferkâlden having a streaming cold
mislik sick strontmislik extremely sick
ferfelend boring strontferfelend bloody boring
eigenwiis arrogant stronteigenwiis extremely arrogant
wiet wet strontwiet soaking wet
dea dead wurch tired deawurch dead tired
ynein done dea-ynein dead tired
siik sick deasiik critically ill
bedaard calm deabedaard quite calm
gewoan regular deagewoan quite common
stil quiet deastil deathly quiet
min bad deamin critically ill
goed good deagoed good to a fault
bang scared deabang terrified
benaud afraid deabenaud terrified
earm poor dea-earm poverty-stricken
ferfelend uncomfortable deaferfelend dead boring
ienfâldich simple dea-ienfâldich perfectly simple
kjel frightened deakjel scared to death
mak tame deamak extremely tame
Parallels with similes

Elative compounds display certain similarities with similes. They may have travelled down a comparable road from a literal interpretation to an intensifying one. Often the object of comparison is the same, too. For example, next to the elative compound sûkerskjin sugar-clean spotless we have the simile sa skjin as sûker as clean as sugar spotless, and next to the simile sa glêd as sjippe as slippery as soap very slippery we have the compound sjippeglêd soap-slippery very slippery. Such parallels are not automatic, however. For example, next to nagelnij nail-new brand-new there is no *sa nij as in nagel.

[+]Commonalities with intensifying prefixes

Elative compounds, although formally cases of composition, display some common features with intensifying prefixes, in addition to their semantics. First, they show the phenomenon of reduplicative conjunction, where the conjunction is en and, or, preferably, the older form ende. We can observe the same effect with, for example, the prefixes poer-, troch- and yn-. Examples of reduplicative conjunction with elative compounds are strie-en-striemin extremely bad, dea-ende-deasiik dangerously ill or stien-ende-stienkâld freezing cold. As with the above-mentioned prefixes, even, albeit on a small scale, the phenomenon of intensifying infixation might also occur. Examples could be dweiltrochwiet idem and kletstrochwiet soaking wet. Or should, alternatively, these formations be analysed as elative compounds with a complex adjective, hence as [[dweil](N)][troch-wiet](A)]?

Another feature in common with intensifying prefixation is the impossibility for extra gradation. Hence, we have no comparatives or superlatives, as these would imply an extra degree. Compare in this respect *spikergekker with *poergekker, and *spikergekst with *poergekst. In addition, elative compounds resist nominalization, just like prefixed formations. Hence, we do not have *spikergekte nor *poergekte, whereas the adjective gek crazy itself may nominalize with the help of the suffix -te to gekte. The same is valid for the nominalizing suffix -ens, for instance, as can be detected from the ungrammaticality of *spikergekkens and *poergekkens.

Finally, just as is the case with the prefix poer-, one can find cases of ellipsis. The intensified adjective is deleted, and the intensifying first member represents the semantics of the full compound. The phenomenon can be observed in cases like the following:

a. Hy is klets(troch)wiet fan 'e rein
he is soaking.(through).wet of the rain
He got sopping wet with rain
a.' Hy is klets fan 'e rein
he is soaking of the rain
He got sopping wet with rain
b. Dat famke is stapelgek op har feint
that girl is pile.crazy at her boyfriend
That girl is completely crazy about her boyfriend
b.' Dat famke is stapel op har feint
that girl is mad at her boyfriend
That girl is completely crazy about her boyfriend
c. Har freon is ek smoarfereale op har
her boyfriend is also besotted.in-love at her
Her boyfriend is also crazy about her
c.' Har freon is ek smoar op har
her boyfriend is also crazy at her
Her boyfriend is also crazy about her
[+]Phonological properties

The main stress in elative compounds is always on the first member: deawurch dead-tired extremely tired, however, with quite a bit of secondary stress on the second part. One can often perceive that the vowel of the first member is lengthened, so as to even further emphasize its intensifying property.


This topic is based on Hoekstra (1998:75-76), who, however, analyses elative compounds as instances of derivation in the first place. A fine description of elative compounds in Dutch is Hoeksema (2012). Similes have been dealt with by Van der Kuip (2016).

  • Hoeksema, Jack2012Elative compounds in Dutch: Properties and developments.Intensivierungskonzepte bei Adjektiven und Adverben im Sprachenvergleich / Crosslinguistic Comparison of Intensified Adjectives and AdverbsHamburgVerlag dr. Kova?97-142
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Veen, Klaas F. van der et al1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske taal - Woordenboek der Friese taalFryske Akademy
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