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Combinations of adjective and noun come in two shapes. One is the classical compounding type, which can be supposed to have been formed in the lexicon. An important feature of this type is the stress on the first member of the compound. Endocentric AN compounds are less productive than endocentric NN and VN compounds, however. They are limited to formations in which the adjective refers to a really salient property or contrastive function, for example in LEECHlân lowland (leech low + lân land) (in contrast to other land at a higher level). Quite a number of formations are somewhat idiomatic.

In principle, the compounding also allows for an exocentric interpretation. Endocentric AN compounds are not very common. The opposite applies to exocentric AN compounds, as most exocentric compounds in Frisian are formed according to this AN pattern. Many of them are animal names or affective denotations for persons. An example is KOARTsturt bobtail formed out of koart short and sturt tail.

Besides AN compounds, we see many AN univerbations in Frisian. These stem from fixed syntactic collocations of an adjective and a noun. In contrast to AN compounds, AN univerbations have stress on the second constituent. An example is GoedFREED Good Friday, formed on the basis of goed good and freed Friday. AN univerbations can have a bare adjective as their first constituent as well as an inflected adjective.


Endocentric AN compounds are less productive than endocentric NN and VN compounds. The most likely reason is that a sequence of an adjective and a noun can also be realized syntactically, for example ik ha gjin lyts jild small money [(NP)[(A)lyts][(N)jild]] I do not have small change instead of ik ha gjin lytsjild small-money [[lyts](A)[jild](N)](N). Endocentric AN compounds are thus limited to formations in which the adjective has a contrastive function. For example leechlân lowland is in contrast to heechlân highland. The contrast is often a salient property: the opposite is often not expressed explicitly. So, next to klienkeunst small-art cabaret there is only keunst art, which has the connotation that it refers to "recognized" art in general. There is no item *grutkeunst large-art.

Endocentric AN compounds have main stress on their first constituent, i.e. lytsjild small change. Examples of endocentric AN compounds are listed below:

Table 1
First constituent (A) Second constituent (N) Compound (AN)
swiet sweet rook smell swietrook incense
lyts small jild money lytsjild small change
weak soft dier animal weakdier mollusc
mear more tal number meartal plural
eal noble man man ealman nobleman
blau blue gers grass blaugers bluegrass
fris fresh drinken drink frisdrinken soft drink
kant-en-klear ready-made miel meal kant-en-klearmiel ready-made meal
brún brown fisk fish brúnfisk porpoise
sâlt salt soer pickles sâltsoer sweet pickles
soer sour koal cabbage soerkoal sauerkraut
kâld cold fjoer fire kâldfjoer gangrene

There can be various relations between the meaning of the first and the second constituent of an AN compound. In the examples above, the first constituent mentions a feature of the second constituent. But sometimes the adjective is semantically not a predication of the noun. For example, in a neakenfoto nude photograph is not the photograph that is naked but a photograph depicting a naked person. And hjitbarst heat-burst is not a hot burst, but a crack in the glazing of pottery, because it has been heated too much. More examples are waarmpûst warm-pimple pimple caused by warm weather and kâldpûkels cold-pimples goose pimples.


Although exocentric NN and VN compounds are not impossible, most compounds with an exocentric interpretation are formed by the combination of an adjective and a noun. Many exocentric AN compounds are animal names or affective denotations for persons. The second constituent is often an inalienable entity, which means that it does not exist independently from the possessor. Examples are listed below:

Table 2
First constituent (A) Second constituent (N) Compound (AN)
lang long skonk leg langskonk longlegs
grou fat kont bottom groukont somebody with a fat bottom
glêd shiny knoop button glêdknoop police officer
koart short sturt tail koartsturt bobtail

Proper names like Readkaperke red-cap-DIM Little Red Riding Hood and Rûchburd rough-beard freezing weather may also be interpreted as exocentric AN compounds.

It is striking that exocentric AN compounds always have common gender (i.e. take the definite article de), even if the second constituent is neuter (article it). Hence, these compounds are in conflict with the right-hand head rule: not the second constituent, but the external, semantic head determines the gender, in line with the animacy hierarchy. This is shown in the table below:

Table 3
First constituent (A) Second constituent (N, it-word) Compound (AN, de-word)
lang long it ear the ear de langear the long-ears
heal half it bloed the blood de healbloed the half-breed
bleek pale it gesicht the face de bleekgesicht the paleface
brún brown it himd the shirt de brúnhimd the brownshirt
wyt white it gat the butt de wytgat green sandpiper

Exocentric AN compound nouns not only occur independently, but they can also be found in the modifying position of wider compound. Two examples are listed below:

Table 4
First constituent (AN compound) Second constituent (N) Compound
langskonk (lang long + skonk leg) mich mosquito langskonkmich daddy longlegs
rûchpoat (rûch rough + poat paw) mûzefalk buzzard (mûs mouse + falk falcon) rûchpoatmûzefalk rough-legged buzzard

In some pejorative denotations for persons the second constituent seems to act as a suffix-like element, as it hast lost its literal meaning. The following cases might be relevant:

Table 5
First constituent (A) Second constituent (N) Compound (AN)
lef cowardly bek snout lefbek coward
dom stupid kop head domkop blockhead
mâl silly broek trousers mâlbroek joker

Exocentric AN compounds also have main stress on their first constituent.


Next to the endocentric and exocentric AN compounds discussed above, one may encounter many AN univerbations in Frisian. These have a syntactic source, in that a frequent adjacent co-occurrence in discourse of an adjective and a noun resulted in a merger to wordhood. A trace of the phrasal origin can be found in the stress pattern. In a phrasal combination of an adjective and a noun it is the noun that bears the main stress, for example in in blauwe mich a blue-INFL fly a blue fly. In the univerbation blaumich the stress is still on the noun, that is, on the right constituent. This is strikingly different with the genuine AN compounds, which have stress on the first (adjectival) constituent. Compare in this respect the univerbation blaumich with the compound BLAUgers bluegrass.

Another difference from AN compounds is in the semantics. The semantic relations of the noun and the adjective may, as we have seen above, be diverse. In univerbations, however, the first constituent is always a predication of the second. So an âldman old man is indeed a man who is old.

Derivation versus composition

The adjective âld old may figure in AN-compounds, as can be seen in some examples below, but it may also act as a prefix (or more exactly a prefixoid). In that case it belongs to derivation rather then composition. It is then written with a hyphen, and also its semantics differs. So, the compound âldboer old-farmer refers to an elderly farmer, but the derivation âld-boer old-farmer describes a person that has been a farmer before but now no longer is. There is a difference in stress pattern as well. Both formations have main stress on the second member. However, the derivation has a much stronger secondary stress on the element âld-.

The item âld in compounds often has an affective function, referring to something or someone which is well-known and familiar. So, an âldstoel old-chair is not necessarily a chair that is old, but rather a chair in or on which one usually sits.

Usually, the first constituent of a AN univerbation is a bare adjective, as in the following examples:

Table 6
First constituent (A) Second constituent (N) Univerbation (AN)
âld old rôt rat âldrôt slyboots
âld old feint young man âldfeint old bachelor
blau blue modder mud blaumodder blue mud
frij free man man frijman unattached man
goed good freed Friday Goedfreed Good Friday
goed good kunde acquintance goekunde somebody well-acquainted (with final d-deletion)
swier heavy waar weather swierwaar heavy weather
kwea evil geast spirit kweageast evil spirit
jong young kat cat jongkat young cat
plat flat dak roof platdak flat roof
read red hûn dog reahûn German measles (with final d-deletion)
grut big dyk way grutdyk major road

There are also occurrences of AN univerbations with an adjectively used participle, for instance makkeklean ready to wear clothes (where makke is the past participle of meitsje to make) or troudman married man (with troud as the past participle of trouwe to marry).

We also see cases in which the adjective is inflected:

Table 7
First constituent (A - inflected) Second constituent (N) Univerbation (AN)
frije (frij free) tiid time frijetiid leisure time
bange (bang frightened) skiter arse bangeskiter funk
grutte (grut big) lju folks gruttelju notables

Their special semantics strengthens the view to consider these combinations as words.

Another adjectival inflectional category that is available as first constituent is the comparative degree, although the number of cases is restricted. Here are a few instances:

Table 8
First constituent (A - comparative degree) Second constituent (N) Univerbation (AN)
heger higher (< heech high) ein end hegerein upper-class
âlder older (< âld old) ein end âlderein elderly
krapper tighter (< krap tight ein end krapperein (only idiomatic in oan 'e krapperein komme to have barely enough)
leger lower (< leech low) wâl shore legerwâl lee shore

Furthermore, the adjective may also be derived, as is shown by examples like learenlape leather-SUFF piece of leather (with learen derived from the material noun lear leather by way of the suffix -en) or joustermerke fair of Joure, which contains a geographical adjective derived by the suffix -ster from the place name De Jouwer (Dutch:) Joure.

Frisian place and water names as AN univerbations

Many Frisian place names and water names are AN univerbations. The first constituent can be a bare adjective or a derived or inflected adjective. Some examples are listed below.

Table 6
First constituent (A) Second constituent (N) Place/water name
âld old wâld forest Aldwâld
âld old gea district Aldegea
smel narrow brêge bridge Smelbrêge
wiid wide ie stream Wiidie
nij new syl canal Nijesyl
Burgumer from Burgum mar lake Burgumermar

As these place names show regular main stress on the second member, the name of the village Aldegea is the exception. Possibly, the stress shifted to the first member to mark a contrast with the also existing village Nijgea new-district, again with main stress on the first member.

AN univerbations can act as a constituent for a compound, comparable to univerbations of a numeral plus a noun. Some examples are given below:

Table 10
First constituent (AN univerbation) Second constituent (N) Compound
iepenloft open air (iepen open + lucht air) spul theatre iepenloftspul open-air theatre
waarmwetter warm water (waarm warm + wetter water) kraan tap waarmwetterkraan hot tap
earmelju poor people (earm poor + lju folk) iten food earmeljusiten poor people's food
blineterm blind gut (blyn blind + term gut) ûntstekking ignition blinetermûntstekking appendicitis

As has been stated, AN univerbations most likely stem from fixed collocations between adjectives and nouns, which gained a special meaning over time and were therefore taken for a unit. This, however, is not a necessary development, as there are also many examples of fixed collocations which remain phrasal. Examples are reade koal red cabbage and sâlte hjerring salted herring, both expressions with an inflected adjective. Yet, it must be conceded that the boundaries between univerbation and fixed collocation are not always clear. For example when it comes to diminutives: is it in read koaltsje a small red cabbage, which would point at a phrasal status, or in readekoaltsje (a univerbation with retention of adjectival inflection). Speakers' intuitions may also vary with respect to pluralization. For example, for the univerbation platdak flat roof some may adopt the regular plural platdakken, while others nevertheless might prefer the phrasal solution platte dakken flat-INFL roofs, in which the adjective receives an inflectional ending.

The somewhat unclear status of some AN univerbations has also repercussions for the analysis of the nominal compounds above in which the AN combination acts as modifier. That is, some instances of such compounds might also be seen as representatives of phrase-based compounds.


The sections on endocentric and exocentric AN compounds are based on Hoekstra (1998:46-47). The section on AN univerbations is based on Hoekstra (1998:55-56). For the latter type, see also Tamminga (1984) for additional data.

Hoekstra (2000:122-124) suggests that the relatively important role for AN univerbations in Frisian, for instance if compared to Dutch, might be attributed to the fact that the strong declension persisted up to the 19th century in Frisian (as documented by Boersma (1981)). This left the adjective without an inflectional ending, which could have made merging with the noun easier. In addition, Hoekstra points at possible influence from Low German.

  • Boersma, Pieter1981De bûging fan it adjektyf by de Halbertsma'sUs wurk3041-48
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2000Ta de sterke eigenskipswurdbûging yn it FryskPhilologia Frisica anno 1999 : lezingen en neipetearen fan it ... Fryske filologekongres15110-126
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annnes1984Aldfrinzich grutminskepraat?De Pompeblêden55187
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