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Adpositional compounds

Adpositions may be complex, as they can be built up from two constituting adpositions. An example is efteryn after-in in the back, as in efteryn de auto after-in the car in the back of the car, which contains the prepositions efter after and yn in. In contrast to this example, most complex adpositions are intransitive, i.e. they occur without a noun phrase complement. Then they act more like adverbials, as in hy sit efteryn he sits after-in he is sitting in the back. Most formations have a locative meaning. The pattern is not productive.


Adpositions in Frisian may be complex, in that they can consist of two adpositions. Take as an example út out, which may act as the right-hand member in the following compounds:

Table 1
first member (P) second member (út) compound (PP)
bûten outside út out bûtenút outside, in the country
efter after út out efterút backward
foar for út out foarút forward
oer over út out oerút extraordinary
tusken between út out tuskenút sticking out
ûnder under út out ûnderút downward

These are all combinations that can be found in the comprehensive dictionary WFT (Veen 1984-2011). This means that the process is not fully productive, as there are more adpositions than these six in the left column of the table. Restrictions also apply to the right-hand member. In that position, adpositions like binnen inside, bûten outside, efter after, fan of, mei with, neist next to or tsjin against do not occur.

As to the first member, peculiar forms may be observed in ûndersteboppe under.SUP-above upside down, efterstefoaren after.SUP-before-SUFF backwards and binnenstebûten inside.SUP-outside inside out. They show the ending -ste of the superlative, which may, although sporadically, occur with adpositions. Another instance of a non-base form shows up in foarenoan for.SUFF-on in front, in which an adverb may be hidden which has been derived by the suffix -en. (see also just mentioned efterstefoaren). Finally, there is the particle midden mid, which does not occur as an adposition per se, but which has nevertheless adpositional properties, for example since it can take the superlative suffix -ste as well. We see it in the formations middenyn mid-in in the centre of, middenop mid-on on the centre of and middentroch mid-through in two.

As the examples suggest, the right-hand member can be given head status, and the left-hand member as the modifier. However, due to the often somewhat diffuse semantics, the division is not always as straightforward as in nominal compounds, for instance.

[+]Syntactic properties

Only a handful of the formations may really function as prepositions. Here are a few examples:

efteryn de auto
after-in the car
in the back of the car
ûnderyn it skip
under-in the ship
at the bottom of the ship
bylâns de wei
by-along the road
along the road
boppe-oan de list
above-on the list
at the top of the list

The majority of the compounds, however, only occur as so-called intransitive adpositions, i.e. they do not have a noun phrase as complement. If this is the case, they rather function as adverbs, and hence such compounds could be classified as exocentric. This change of word class will be the reason that we find these complex adpositions in places where comparable simplex adpositions are not allowed intransitively:

a. Hy siet efteryn
He sat after-in
he sat in the back
b. *Hy siet yn
he sat in

If these examples refer to a car, for instance, one has to add an R-pronoun to make the b-sentence acceptable:

Hy siet der yn
he sat there in
he was sitting in it

It should be noted that for many of these complex intransitive it even applies that they only occur with such an extra R-pronoun, for example with the preposition by by and the postpostion del down, the latter also acting as a single adverb:

a. Hy foel del
he fell down
he fell down
b. *Hy foel bydel
he fell by-down
c. Hy foel der bydel
he fell there by-down
he dropped in his track

In this case the use of der may be somewhat idiomatic. If the R-pronoun is really pronominal, it may be questioned whether the combination has word status at all, or whether the whole construction is a matter of syntax in the first place. Compare

a. Hy foel by de trep del
he fell by the stairs down
He fell down the stairs
b. Hy foel der bydel
he fell there by-down
He fell down of it

Here, the noun phrase de trep the stairs is pronominalized by der, which has been fronted at the same time. It is questionable whether residual bydel should be seen as one word (as a result of univerbation) or whether it still consists of two independent words. If the latter tack is followed, a spelling as in hy foel der by del might be more appropriate.

[+]Semantic properties

Most formations have a locative or directional meaning, as the combinations with út out as second member in the table above bear out. Some may get a more specialized semantics, as bûtenút outside-out in the countryside. Compounds like efterôf behind-off in hindsight, foarby for-by over, finished or tuskentroch between-through in the meantime have received a temporal interpretation.

[+]Morphological potential

The compounds seldom stand at the basis of further word formation, although some may act as verbal particles to create separable complex verbs, as in foarútsjen to look ahead or efterútride to drive backwards. There is also an example of conversion to a noun. It is foarûnder for-under forecastle, a part of a ship.

[+]Phonological properties

The stress is on the second member, for example in foaryn for-in in the front. However, this is only valid when the compound is situated in a neutral, i.e. isolated, position, for example in

Hy siet foaryn
he sat for-in
He was sitting in the front

If the compound heads a complement, then the stress shifts to the first adposition:

Hy siet foaryn de auto
he sat for-in the car
He was sitting in the front of the car

Sometimes, contrasting stress may occur, as in net foaryn mar efteryn not for-in but after-in not in the front but in the back.

  • Veen, Klaas F. van der et al1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske taal - Woordenboek der Friese taalFryske Akademy
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