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There are two types of compounds consisting of an adposition and a verb, separable and inseparable. Most verbs belong to the separable category, which has stress on the adposition. They differ in their syntactic possibilities, for instance in main clauses, where the verbal part occupies the second position and the adposition is final. An example is hja skreau it gedicht oer she wrote the poem over she copied the poem, which exhibits the separable verb oerskriuwe to copy. Inseparable verbs, having stress on the verbal part, have a more restricted, often metaphorical, semantics. Separable compounds may be input to further word formation, which points at their morphological status, despite their separability. The whole complex of PV compounds resembles the situation in Dutch, but there are also some differences.


Combinations of an adposition and a verb come in two types, a separable and an inseparable one. The most remarkable category, at least from a morphological point of view, are the separable verbs. These are called Separable Complex Verbs (SCVs), although in the Frisian linguistic literature particle verbs is more current. The term "particle" is also applied to nouns, adjectives and adverbs, which may serve as the first member of separable verbs as well.

The main syntactic environments in which separability plays a role are main sentences (which show the so-called verb-second effect) and infinitival constructions with (om) + te, in which te to may separate the particle and the verbal part. The contrast is illustrated below with the inseparable verb oerlibje to survive and the verb oerskriuwe to copy, which is separable.

a. Hy oerlibbet de oanslach
he over-lives the attack
He survives the attack
b. Hy skriuwt it gedicht oer
he writes the poem over
He copies the poem
a. Hy besiket om de oanslach te oerlibjen
he tries CONJ the attack to over-live
He tries to survive the attack
b. Hy besiket om it gedicht oer te skriuwen
he tries CONJ the poem over to write
He tries to copy the poem
A short comparison with Dutch

In principle, the issue of separability is not different from the situation in Dutch. In practice, however, separability manifests itself less prominently in Frisian, due to some independent features of Frisian grammar. One is that Dutch past participles are marked by the prefix ge-, which is lacking in Frisian. In Dutch separable verbs, this prefix separates the particle and the verb, for instance in overgeschreven over-PREF-written copied. Compare this with the Frisian participle oerskreaun over-written copied, in which the particle and the form of the verbal participle are adjacent.

Another reason for the lower degree of visibility of separable verbs is the fact that Frisian behaves differently with respect to verb clustering. Compare the Dutch embedded sentence

... dat hij het gedicht over wilde schrijven
... that he the poem over wanted write
... that he wanted to copy the poem

with the Frisian translation

... dat er it gedicht oerskriuwe woe
... that he the poem over-write wanted
... that he wanted to copy the poem

The finite modal verb remains in final position in Frisian and does not take a position in between the particle and the verbal part; therefore we do not see a separation.

More details, also with respect to theoretical implications, can be found in an Extra in the Dutch part of Taalportaal.

There are other features that divide the separable from the inseparable complex verbs. The most striking one has to do with stress. The inseparable verbs invariably have the main stress on the verbal part, hence it is oerlibje to survive. On the other hand, the stress in the separable verbs is on the particle: oerskriuwe to copy. A further difference is in productivity. The number of inseparable combinations is restricted, while there seems to be no limit in forming separable PV-combinations.

[+]Inseparable compounds

Inseparable PV compound verbs may contain the adpositions efter- after, foar- for, oan- on, oer- over, om- (a)round, troch- through and ûnder- under. Here are some examples:

Table 1
first constituent (P) second constituent (V) compound (PV)
efter after folgje to follow efterfolgje to follow (someone)
foar for sizze to say foarsizze to predict
oan on skôgje to view oanskôgje to observe
oer over libje to live oerlibje to survive
om (a)round fiemje to fathom omfiemje to enclose
troch through dolgje to wound trochdolgje to pierce
ûnder under skriuwe to write ûnderskriuwe to subscribe

It may also happen that the second part does not exist on its own. An example is oanfurdigje to accept, where *furdigje is not a regular verb.

As has been said, the stress in these compounds is always on the right, i.e. on the verbal part. Inseparable verbs are unproductive in Frisian. Many formations have a more or less abstract meaning and figure in a more elevated or literary style. Actually, quite a number of the formations might be loan translations from Dutch. It therefore comes as no surprise that one can find cases of a separable Frisian PV compound where the Dutch counterpart is not. The other way round does not seem to occur. Some examples are presented below. In the Frisian examples the separation is emphasized, while in the Dutch examples the stress on the verbal part is highlighted; Frisian has stress on the particle.

a. Wy moatte gewelt foar sjen te kommen
we must violence for see to come
We must prevent violence
a.' We moeten geweld zien te voorkomen
we must violence see to for-come
We must prevent violence
b. Hja bidden frjemde goaden oan
they prayed foreign gods on
They worshipped foreign gods
b.' Ze aanBAden vreemde goden
they on-prayed foreign gods
They worshipped foreign gods
c. De ministers leinen meiinoar oer
the ministers laid with.eachother over
The ministers discussed with each other
c.' De ministers overLEGden met elkaar
the ministers over-laid with eachother
The ministers consulted with each other
d. Soks komt jin net alle dagen oer
something.like.that comes you not all days over
Something like that does not happen to you every day
d.' Zoiets overKOMT je niet elke dag
something.like.that overcomes you not every day
Something like that does not happen to you every day
e. De deputearre lange har de priis oer
the delegate handed her the price over
The delegate handed the price over to her
e.' De gedeputeerde overHANdigde haar de prijs
the delegate over-handed her the price
The delegate handed the price over to her
f. Ik ried juster in kat oer
I drove yesterday a cat over
I ran over a cat yesterday
f.' Ik overREED gisteren een kat
I over.drove yesterday a cat
I ran over a cat yesterday
g. De skea wie net oer te sjen
the damage was not over to see
The damage was incalculable
g.' De schade was niet te overZIEN
the damage was not to over-see
The damage was incalculable
h. Sykje dizze keamer troch!
search this room through
Comb this room!
h.' DoorZOEK deze kamer!
through-search this room
Comb this room!

In addition, we find situations in which Dutch uses an inseparable compound verb while Frisian has a paraphrase instead. Here are some examples:

a. Dat had ik je al voorspeld
that had I you already predicted
I told you so
a.' Dat hie ik dy foarút al sein
that had I you before(hand) already said
I told you so
b. Dat was wel te voorzien
that was already to foresee
That was to be expected
b.' Dat wie foarút wol te sjen
that was before(hand) already to see
That was to be expected
c. De meeuwen omzwermden het schip
the gulls around-swarmed the ship
The gulls swarmed around the ship
c.' De kobben swarmen om it skip hinne
the gulls swarmed around the ship around
The gulls swarmed around the ship
d. De kogel doorboorde de muur
the bullet through-drilled the wall
The bullet drilled through the wall
d.' De kûgel boarre troch de muorre hinne
the bullet drilled through the wall through
The bullet drilled through the wall

The difference can also be observed with some adjectively used past participles, where the stress is on the first constituent in Frisian, while in Dutch it is on the second. Two examples are listed below:

a. Een goed doorBAKken biefstuk
a well through.baked steak
A well-done steak
a.' In goed TROCHbakte byfstik
a well through.baked steak
A well-done steak
b. Haar kleren waren doorWEEKT
her clothes were through.soaked
Her clothes were drenched
b.' Har klean wiene TROCHplakt
her clothes were through.soaked
Her clothes were drenched
[+]Separable compounds

Separable PV compounds are very common in Frisian. Many adpositions, the most frequent ones in particular, may enter in such a combination. The left column of the table below provides an overview of these adpositions in alphabetical order. The column on the right side gives examples of separable compounds with the relevant adposition as member. Stress is on the left-hand member, which is also indicated:

Table 2
first constituent (P) second constituent (V) compound (PV)
binnen inside komme to come binnenkomme to come in
boppe above komme to come boppekomme to rise
bûten outside skoattelje to bolt tenskoattelje to exclude
by near (to) knippe to cut byknippe to trim
efter behind hâlde to keep efterhâlde to hold back
foar before bakke to bake foarbakke to pre-fry
mei with komme to come meikomme to come along
nei after prate to talk neiprate to stay to talk
oan on hingje to hang oanhingje to adhere to
oer over sette to set oersette to take across/to translate
ôf from falle to fall ôffalle to drop down
om (a)round dangelje to stroll omdangelje to stroll (a)round
op up tille to lift optille to lift (up)
ta to sizze say tasizze to promise
troch through brekke to break trochbrekke to break through
tsjin against akselje to struggle tsjinakselje to struggle (against)
ûnder under dûke to dive ûnderdûke to go into hiding
út out stjoere to send útstjoere to broadcast
yn in skriuwe to write ynskriuwe to register

The adpositions ôf from en ta to are primarily used as postpositions. The use of binnen inside, bûten outside and boppe above as particle in separable verbs is rare, according to the comprehensive dictionary WFT (Veen 1984-2011). The role of these prepositions is possibly taken over by the prepositions yn in, út out and op at, from which these prepositions have been derived historically. It may also be the case that the potential concepts are described periphrastically, as a comparison with Dutch may reveal. For example, for the Dutch compound binnengaan to go inside, Frisian uses the paraphrase der yn gean to go inside. Another example is Dutch ik blijf vandaag binnen I stay inside today I stay home today for Frisian ik bliuw hjoed yn 'e hûs I stay today in the house. Possibly, it might be better to consider binnen, bûten en boppe as adverbs, in which case they would belong to the type AdvV.

The frequent prepositions nêst and njonken, both meaning next to, do not occur at all in particle verbs.

Next to the adpositions mentioned above, we also find complex prepositions in the role of separable particle. Examples are bûtenomfervje [[[bûten](P)[om](P)](P)[vervje](V)](V) outside-around-paint to paint the outer side (of a house) and foarbyfytse [[[foar](P)[by](P)[fytse](V)](V) for-by-cycle to cycle by. Again it could be questioned whether an example like bûtenom would not sooner be classified as an adverb.

With respect to the second member, it seems that almost every verb is allowed to enter that position, verbs denoting an activity in particular. Even some nouns and adjectives might act as heart of the verbal part. Examples could be ophelderje to clear up or opheapje to pile up, where the conversion verbs helderje to clear and heapje to pile, according to WFT (Veen 1984-2011), are only marginally in use. A direct derivation from the adjective helder clear and heap pile might be more suitable, therefore. It may also happen that the verb only occurs as part of a particle verb. For example, most speakers will only know the verb akselje in that it figures in the particle verb tsjinakselje to resist.


In principle the meaning of a particle verb is a composition of the meanings of the constitutent adpositional and verbal parts. The semantics of the separable verb can easily multiply itself, however, and can become pretty obscure in some cases, in particular when the meaning of the verbal part itself is rather vague. The comprehensive dictionary WFT (Veen 1984-2011), for example, provides 10 meanings for the light verb sette to set in combination with the preposition oer over. For the postpostion ôf off the number is 20, and opsette counts even 39 meanings, some of them quite specific.

The addition of a particle often has the effect that the verb becomes transitive. The verb ite to eat, for example, although semantically implying that something is eaten, may be used intransitively: Gurbe yt Gurbe eats Gurbe is eating. The particle verb opite, on the other hand, necessarily requires an object. Compare:

a. *Gurbe yt op
Gurbe eats up
a.' Gurbe yt in apel op
Gurbe eats an apple up
Gurbe eats an apple

The addition of the particle also adduces terminative aspect. Example indicates that the apple is fully consumed, which is not the case if the particle is lacking, as in

Gurbe yt in apel
Gurbe eats an apple
Gurbe eats an apple

Compared to the separable ones, the number of inseparable verbs is much smaller, and so is their semantic array. In addition, the meaning of inseparable verbs is often more abstract or metaphoric. To give one example, the separable verb omspiele to rinse refers to cleaning dishes etc with water. We also have the inseparable verb omspiele surround by the sea, which is only used in poetic language.

Differences with Dutch

Some particles in separable PV compounds may differ from their Dutch counterparts in meaning and use. The particles oan en ta can be used to intensify the action of the verb, where their Dutch counterparts aan and toe are not used in that way:

a. Moatst in bytsje oanite
must.2SG a little on.eat
You must eat faster
b. At wy wat oanride, kinne wy foar tsjuster thús
if we what on.ride, can we before dark home
If we drive faster, we can be home before dark
c. It begjint no ta te reinen
it begins now to rain
It starts to rain harder now

Separable compounds with the particle om- (a)round often denote a 'structureless activity'. The meaning of the element om- can be best described as without purpose. The Dutch counterpart of this element is rond- (a)round. Examples are listed below.

Table 3
Frisian compound Dutch counterpart translation
omfytse rondfietsen to cycle around
omhingje rondhangen to hang around
omswalkje rondzwalken to knock around
omrinne rondlopen to walk around
omdangelje rondslenteren to stroll around
omskaaie rondscharrelen to potter around

The use of Frisian om- is broader than Dutch rond- (or English around, for that matter); it can also be attached to verbs to which comparable rond- cannot. Some examples are listed below:

Table 4
Frisian compound Dutch verb translation
omgrieme (*rond)knoeien to make a mess
ommoardzje (*rond)wurmen to w(r)iggle
omtyspelje (*rond)friemelen to fiddle about
omboartsje (*rond)spelen to be playing somewhat
omdrammelje (*rond)treuzelen to dawdle
omeamelje (*rond)zeuren to whine

Many verbs with om- select a prepositional phrase. Examples are earne mei ompankoekje, earne op omkôgje, both meaning be troubled by something and earne op omeamelje to whine about something. See also the topic on the intransitive adposition om in the syntactic part.

[+]Morphological potential

Particle verbs are open to further word formation, a fact which has been used to argue for their morphological status. They may be suffixed, for instance with the suffix -er, as in oersette over-set to translate > oersetter translator, or with the suffix -ber in oersetber translatable. Or they may undergo conversion to a noun, for example the verb oersette in its meaning to ferry, which can be converted to the noun oerset ferry. Also compounding is open: oersetwurdboek translation dictionary.


In its generality, this topic is based on Hoekstra (1998:59-62 and 150-151). The Frisian preference for separability, at least in comparison with Dutch, has been noticed in Sytstra and Hof (1925:132), Hoekstra (1991:98-101) and Eisma and Popkema (2004:31-32). For intensifying oan- and ta-, see Tamminga (1963:275-277). An extensive study on particle verbs with om- is Dyk (1991).

  • Dyk, Siebren1991Om as partikel fan struktuerleaze aktiviteitenTydskrift foar Fryske Taalkunde669-98
  • Eisma, Dick & Popkema, Jan2004TiidwurdenLjouwert [Leeuwarden]Afûk
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1991Oer it beklamjen fan ferhâldingswurden yn it Frysk, it Hollânsk en it IngelskUs Wurk4067-103
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Sytstra, Onno H. & Hof, Jan J1925Nieuwe Friesche SpraakkunstLeeuwardenR. van der Velde
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1963Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IBoalsertA.J. Osinga
  • Veen, Klaas F. van der et al1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske taal - Woordenboek der Friese taalFryske Akademy
  • Veen, Klaas F. van der et al1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske taal - Woordenboek der Friese taalFryske Akademy
  • Veen, Klaas F. van der et al1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske taal - Woordenboek der Friese taalFryske Akademy
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