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The very productive Germanic prefix fer- creates transitive or ergative verbs from verbs (e.g. keapje to buy > ferkeapje to sell), nouns (e.g. stien stone > ferstienje to petrify) and adjectives (e.g. bliid glad > ferbliidzje to gladden). In addition, some opaque bases can be found, for example ferkloffe to sprain (cf. *kloffe). In the case of a verbal base, the semantic contribution is often complex and diverse, but many derivations show some form of distancing. Derivations with a nominal or adjectival base often express a change.

[+]General properties

The suffix fer- is very productive. It primarily takes verbs as input. The output is a transitive or ergative verb:

Example 1

a. Pyt praat
Pyt talks
Pyt talks
b. Pyt ferpraat syn tiid
Pyt PREF-talks his time
Pyt fritters away his time

The verb prate to talk is inherently intransitive, whereas ferprate takes a direct object, i.e. syn tiid his time in the example. In the example below, the ergativity of the verb ferreine is revealed by the auxiliary wêze to be, here in the third person form is:

Example 2

a. It hat reind
it has rained
It has rained
b. It nôt is ferreind
the grain is PREF-rained
The grain is spoiled by rain

Frisian shows a further restriction when it comes to input of already prefixed verbs. In Dutch, this is possible to a certain extent, but it is excluded in Frisian. An example is Dutch veronderstellen to suppose which is ûnderstelle in Frisian. Or take Dutch verontrusten to alarm, where the corresponding Frisian word is ûntrestigje.

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The prefix in loanwords

This salience of transitivization performed by fer- may have been the reason that some loanwords, mainly from French, are prefixed by fer- even although their origin is already transitive. Examples are French diverter > Frisian ferdivedearje to entertain, French ruiner > Frisian ferrinnewearje to ruin or French affronter > Frisian feraffrontearje to affront.

[+]Verb as base

If the base form is a verb, the semantic contribution of fer- can quite generally be characterized as a movement, primarily away from a point, a form of a distancing, often in a sense that something gets lost. Examples that are in line with this very general interpretation are driuwe to drive > ferdriuwe to drive away, jeie to chase > ferjeie to chase awaysmite to throw > fersmite to reject.

Some more specific applications of the idea of distancing are:

  • By some action of trade etc.: keapje to buy > ferkeapje to sell; hiere to hire (from someone) > ferhiere to rent (to someone) ; lotsje draw lots > ferlotsje to raffle off.
  • By some form of loss: leare to learn > ferleare to forget (some skill). See also the opaque bases ferjitte to forget and ferlieze to lose.
  • By some form of wasting: dobbelje to dice > ferdobbelje to dice away; dokterje to be under medical treatment > ferdokterje lose money for medical treatment; dreame to dream > ferdreame waste (one's time) by dreaming.
  • By some form of damage denoted by the base verb: baarne to burn > ferbaarne to burn up; rotsje to rot > ferrotsje to disappear by rotting; slite to wear > ferslite to wear out.
  • By some form of damage created by too intensive use or action. The created verbs are usually reflexive. They denote that one finds oneself in an unwanted situation as a result of the action named in the base form. Some of the derivations denote that one exerts oneself physically or mentally as a result of the action named in the base form. Examples are ite to eat > jin ferite to overeat; feestje to party > jin ferfeestje to exert oneself in partying; swetse to blether > jin ferswetse to confound; rinne to walk > jin ferrinne to take the wrong turning; skreppe to grub > jin ferskreppe to strain oneself in grubbing. It should be noted that this category is remarkably more productive when compared with derivations with ver- in Dutch.
  • By using up the base material implied by the base verb: bakke to bake > ferbakke to use by baking'; fuorje to feed > ferfuorje to use by feeding; tarre to live on > fertarre to spend.
  • By causing something something to be no longer observable: bergje to store > ferbergje to hide; stopje to put into > ferstopje to conceal; swije to be silent > ferswije to keep silent about something.

Derivations with other verbal bases basically denote a change, comparable to what is going on with nominal or adjectival bases (see the section nouns or adjectives as base). The derivation can, for instance, refer to a change in form or substance, as in bouwe to build > ferbouwe to rebuild or klaaie to dress > ferklaaie to change clothes. More specifically, we see a replacement of old by new, as in fluorje to construct a road > ferfluorje to reconstruct a road.

There are, however, many fer-derivations with a verbal base that cannot easily be classified according to the categories above. Rather, they have an opaque meaning. Some examples are:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
spuie to spit ferspuie to disdain
riede to guess ferriede to betray
slaan to hit ferslaan to defeat
moanje to remind fermoanje to admonish
stjerre to die ferstjerre to die
gunne to grant fergunne to (be)grudge
drage to carry ferdrage to bear
[+]Nouns or adjectives as base

The prefix fer- can also take nouns and adjectives. In general, by prefixation some change is expressed, in principle in a causative or inchoative interpretation, although one of these possibilities may be suppressed for pragmatic reasons. With respect to base nouns, some important semantic sub-categories can be distinguished. The derivation may result in:

  • Taking someone or something to another location: bêd bed > ferbêdzje to bring (a patient) to another bed; heak hook > ferheakje to hook up somewhere else; hûs house > ferhúzje to move.
  • Covering something with the substance denoted by the noun: koper copper > ferkoperje to copper; nikkel nickel > fernikkelje to nickel; sulver silver > fersulverje to silver.
  • Bringing about a change in form or substance inherent to the base noun: snipel snippet > fersnipelje to split up; stien stone > ferstienje to petrify.

In the case of adjectival bases, the verbal derivation basically means 'making or getting A'. This process is quite productive. Some examples are:

Table 2
Base Derivation
amtlik official feramtlikje to bureaucratize
bitter bitter ferbitterje to embitter
bliid glad ferbliidzje to gladden
earm poor ferearmje to become impoverished
frjemd strange ferfrjemdzje to become estranged
ienfâldich simple ferienfâldigje to simplify

There are a few cases where the stem is an adjective in the comparative degree, as recognized by the comparative suffix -er. Examples are ferâlderje to age, ferbetterje to improve, ferminderje to worsen and ferwylderje to run wild. This runs counter to the general tendency for inflectional morphology to appear outside rather than inside derivational morphology.

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An alternative analysis

It is assumed here that the derivations above have a noun or an adjective as base. Hoekstra (1998:155) claims that they actually have a verbal base. This would then be accomplished by conversion of the nominal or adjectival base to a verb, even in those cases in which the converted verb is not in use, and hence where it should be interpreted as a possible word. An advantage of this view would be that fer- only takes verbal bases. Moreover, Williams' Williams (1981)Right Head Hand Rule could be upheld. It should be noted that in some of the examples in this section a converted verb figures, for instance in bêdzje [[bêd](N)](V) to provide sleeping accomodation and heakje [[heak](N)](V) to hook (up). It is assumed here that the verbs ferbêdzje and ferheakje have been derived directly from the nouns bêd bed and heak hook.

[+]Opaque bases

Some fer- verbs do not have a base form which occurs independently (anymore). Examples are listed below:

Table 3
Base form Derivation
*niele ferniele to destroy
*kloffe ferkloffe to sprain
*rêdzje ferrêdzje to almost fall apart by dryness
*dwine ferdwine to disappear
*digenje ferdigenje to defend
[+]Obsolete forms with fer-

In a few cases fer- coexisted with a variant oer-, and over time, the derivation with fer- became obsolete. Examples are listed below:

Table 4
Base form Derivation Obsolete variant
winne to win oerwinne to defeat ferwinne to defeat
libje to live oerlibje to survive ferlibje to survive
fuorje to feed oerfuorje to overfeed ferfuorje to overfeed
*nacht night oernachtsje to spend the night fernachtsje to spend the night
The phenomenon of replacing fer- by oer- can also be seen in the noun oergeunst envy. Considering the verb fergunne to (be)grudge, one would expect the noun to start with fer-, but *fergeunst does not occur.

[+]Phonological properties

The prefix is pronounced as [fər]. However, the final segment /r/ is always deleted before a consonant, except before /h/, as is treated in Deletion of prefix-final /r/. Since the prefix contains a schwa, it never receives stress, e.g. ferGRIEme to waste away, in line with the schwa restriction.

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This topic is primarily based on Hoekstra (1998:147-148). A more extended overview of the semantic contribution of fer- can be found in Veen (1984-2011 s.v. fer-). Examples of prefixation by fer- in French loan words are given by Visser (2000:178-179). Some historical notes can be found in Stapelkamp (1955).

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Stapelkamp, Chris1955Vergunne - forgunne, FrisiacaEstrikken846-47
  • Veen, Klaas F. van der et al1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske taal - Woordenboek der Friese taalFryske Akademy
  • Visser, Willem2000Frjemd wurdt eigener. Oer de âlde Frânske lienwurden yn it FryskIt Beaken62141-218
  • Williams, Edwin1981On the notions `lexically related' and `head of a word'Linguistic Inquiry12254-274