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Frisian has some complex nouns which consist of a noun and a numeral. Their semantics is not the exact number of the numeral, but rather an approximation. An example is deitwa day-two about two days. The pattern has some unexpected features, which can readily be explained if we analyse it as a univerbation of the construction "in N of Num", as in in dei of twa a day or two, with comparable semantic and other properties. This kind of univerbation is fairly marginal and tends to become obsolete nowadays.


Frisian has some complex words which show the curious pattern of a combination of a noun and a numeral, in that order. An example is deitwa day-two about two days. Although the number is explicit enough, it is an essential feature of the formation that the real amount is somewhat uncertain but that it is close to the given one; hence its semantics can best be described as about Num of the Ns.

These combinations especially occur with the numeral twa two as the second constituent. Some examples are listed below.

Table 1
First constituent (N) Second constituent (Num) Compound (NNum)
dei day twa two deitwa about two days
romer rummer twa two romertwa about (the content of) two rummers
reis journey twa two reistwa about two journeys
stik piece twa two stiktwa about two pieces
wike week trije three wiketrije about three weeks

Other cardinals than twa two and trije three have not been observed, so in itself the pattern is not very common. In addition, we see complex fractions with -heal, for instance in jieroardeheal year-one and a half about one year and a half and oeretreddeheal hour-two and a half about two and a half hours Hence, the choice with respect to the number is fairly restricted, as the pattern itself is rather marginal and is now becoming obsolete. Moreover, the resulting noun has a strong preference for the indefinite article; the definite article is only allowed if a further specification is added, for instance a relative clause as in (1):

de deitwa dy't foarbygien wiene
the couple of days that had gone by

Note that the plural past tense form wiene of the verb wêze to be indicates that the noun deitwa itself is plural. It is therefore the right-hand member that seems to determine the number of the complex word. This is confirmed by the cases with fractions as their right-hand member. These are grammatically singular, as are all fractions with the element -heal. On the other hand, the first member is responsible for the lexical category of the complex word, which is also a noun. Moreover, the gender of this complex noun is in keeping with the gender of the first member noun. Hence, common gender dei day results in de deitwa, but neuter jier year yields it jiertwa, where the definite articlesde and it indicate the difference between common and neuter gender. The first member is also the semantic head, the second member functioning as modifier.

These particular features can best be explained if it is assumed that such formations are univerbations of a construction that has the frame "in N of Num", which has been dealt with briefly in the topic on cardinals.


The essential publication on this pattern is Hoekstra (1992), in particular the pages 80-83. Synchronically, Hoekstra, albeit tentatively, tries to analyse these formations as derivations, with the numeral element being a suffix. See also Hoekstra (1998:89-90). As Hoekstra shows, however, this produces quite a few problems. In addition, it could be mentioned that the numerals also occur as independent lexical items, and furthermore that the number of affixes would potentially increase considerably in this way. Therefore, it is chosen here to include this pattern under the heading of compounding. Somewhat similar properties can be found in the item -mannich. However, it also shows differences, which has led us to the decision to analyse it as a suffix.

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1992In dei of trije : tusken leksikon en syntaksisPhilologia Frisica anno 1990, Fryske Akademy63-89
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
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