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The prefix ûn- derives nouns on the basis of other nouns. These nominal derivations mainly refer to the opposite of the base form - gelok fortune > ûngelok misfortune - and often have a negative connotation. The gender of the derivation is the same as the base. However, there are also a few exocentric derivations, denoting persons and obligatorily having common gender. An example is de ûngelok the pain in the neck.

The prefix can also, and much more productively, take adjectival bases. This is dealt with in ûn- with adjective as base.

[+]General properties

The prefix ûn- derives nouns from other nouns. Most bases consist of an abstract noun, and the derivations then primarily refer to the opposite of the base. Examples are listed below:

Table 1
base derivation
(ge)lok fortune ûn(ge)lok misfortune
tank gratitude ûntank ingratitude
heil salvation ûnheil doom
sin sense ûnsin nonsense
rêst relaxation, peace ûnrêst turmoil, commotion
gemak ease ûngemak accident
macht power ûnmacht impotence
rjocht justice ûnrjocht injustice
skuld guilt ûnskuld innocence
sin sense ûnsin nonsense

Some derivations only occur jointly with the base, for example rym en ûnrym rhyme and un-rhyme poetry and prose or the idiom nocht oan ûnnocht hawwe' satisfaction on dissatisfaction have take delight in other people's sorrow.

Since the derivation expresses the contrary of the base, it often happens that the derivation has a negative connotation. This is especially the case with concrete nouns functioning as base. Examples are:

Table 2
Base Derivation
minsk person ûnminsk brute, monster
dier animal ûndier monster, beast
ding thing ûnding trash
krûd herbs ûnkrûd weeds
lân land ûnlân bad land
waar weather ûnwaar rough weather

A few derivations have an opaque base, like ûnrant rubbish, ûngâns afterbirth and ûnducht liquid in connection with afterbirth, the latter possibly related to the noun deugd virtue. For the word ûngetiid, see the section on contractions below.

Some derivations can also refer to persons, for example ûnferstân fool, ûnfatsoen lout, boor. More examples and information can be found in morphological properties below.

There are a few derivations in which it seems as if the prefix does not have a clear function since the base already shows a negative property. The result is that the derived noun might even be a synonym of the base. Thus the best one could say is that the prefix strengthens the negative content here. The relevant cases are ûntúch weeds next to túch weeds and ûnkwea weeds next to kwea. Furthermore, there is the plurale tantum ûnkosten expenses, which stands next to kosten costs. Finally, note the expressions immen yn it ûnleech fiere next to immen yn it leech fiere, both meaning lead someone into difficulties.

Variants with ôf-

In two cases, derivations with ûn- show a variant with ôf-. The base form god god can become ûngod or ôfgod, both meaning idol, tin god. Furthermore, from the base grûn ground one may derive ûngrûn and ôfgrûn, both meaning chasm.

[+]Phonological properties

The prefix is pronounced as [un], as reflected in the standard spelling ûn-. In the east, however, the pronunciation is [on]. The phoneme /n/ is subject to several processes, like assimilation and nasalization. For all derivations applies that the stress is on the prefix, e.g. gelok fortune > ÛNgelok misfortune.


A few derivations underwent some kind of contraction. In case of gebrûk use > ûnbrûk disuse the prefix ge- has been truncated. The word ûnlok misfortune is further shortened to ûnk /uŋk/. And it is claimed that ûngetiid haying time, busy time is derived from ûnliddige tiid un-empty time. In that case, however, it would have been a derivation with an adjectival base, and hence this word rather belongs to the topic ûn- forming adjectives out of adjectives.

[+]Morphological properties

The derivations of the prefix ûn- follow the gender of the base form: it gelok the.N fortune the fortune, so it ûngelok the.N misfortune the misfortune and de tank the.C gratitude the gratitude, so de ûntank the.C ingratitude ingratitude.

The only exception concerns exocentric derivations referring to persons. Thus from it gelok the.N fortune the fortune we have deûngelok the.C misfortune the pain in the neck. The same applies to deûnferstân stupid person (from it ferstân understanding and de ûnfatsoen indecent person (from it fatsoen the decency). This change of gender is in accordance with the animacy hierachy; more information can be found in gender.


This topic is based on Hoekstra (1998:68-69). The proposed origin of ûngetiid can be found in Dijkstra (1900-1911 s.v. on-, ûngetiid).

  • Dijkstra, Waling1900-1911Friesch Woordenboek (Lexicon Frisicum)Meijer & Schaafsma
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
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