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Common nouns: concrete nouns

The common nouns of Afrikaans are divided into two broad categories, abstract nouns and concrete nouns. Concrete nouns further consist of subclasses: count nouns (1a) which are discrete, individual entities, mass nouns (1b) which are not countable and often refer to substances, and measure nouns (1c), which are used to provide a type of unit, boundary our outline for unbound entities (Van Rooy 2017:256), and collective nouns (1d), which are names for a number, group or collection of people, animals or things.

a. 'n Tafel en stoele op die huisies se "stoepie" sal baie waardeer word wanneer ons volgende keer daar vertoef.
a table and chairs on the houses.DIM PTCL.GEN porch.DIM will.AUX.MOD much appreciate.PASS be.AUX.PASS.PRS when we next time there stay
A table and chairs on the houses' porches will be much appreciated when we stay there next time.
b. Ons ry oor die groot wit panne en dit voel amper soos by die see – daar is net nie water nie, net wit sand en modder wat droog geword het.
we ride over the large white pans and it feel almost like at the sea there be.PRS just not water PTCL.NEG just white sand and mud that.REL dry become.PST have.AUX
We drive over the great white pans and it almost feels like at the sea – there is just not water, but white sand and dried mud.
c. Reken op minstens 'n half liter water per tien kilogram hond per dag.
count on at.least a half litre water per ten kilogram dog per day
Count on at least half a litre water per ten kilogrammes of dog per day.
d. Daar was 'n trop skape bo-op die eerste plato.
there be.PRT a herd sheep above-on the first plateau
There was a flock of sheep on top of the first plateau.

[+]Count nouns

Count nouns refer to discrete, individual entities (Ponelis 1979:43), and can usually be pluralised (2b, 2d, 2f), be used with the definite (2a, 2b, 2f) and indefinite article (2c, 2e), and can sometimes take the diminutive as well (2e, 2f).

a. Onder die boom hang 'n doodse stilte.
under the trea hang a deathly silence
Underneath the tree, a deathly silence is hanging.
b. Onder die bome loop ons en droom.
under the trees walk we and dream
Underneath the trees, we are walking and dreaming.
VivA-KPO, adapted
c. 'n Ryp appel aan 'n boom met die vars reëndruppels daarop is onweerstaanbaar.
a ripe apple on a tree with the fresh raindrops PN.on be.PRS irresistable
A ripe apple on a tree with the fresh raindrops on it is irresistable.
d. 'n Woud met bome en gras en 'n groot rots waaragter 'n groen punt hoed staan.
a forest with trees and grass and a large rock REL.behind a green point hat stand
A forest with trees and grass and a large rock behind which a green point hat is standing.
e. 'n Boompie groei in dié slaggat in Emmarentia.
a tree.DIM grow in this pothole in Emmarentia
A small tree is growing in this pothole in Emmarentia.
f. Die boompies is langs die hoofstraat geplant en is vandag reuse bome.
the trees.DIM be.AUX.PASS.PST beside the main.street plant.PASS and be.PRS today giant trees
The little trees were planted beside the main street and are giant trees today.
[+]Mass nouns

Mass nouns refer to unbound or non-discrete entities that typically cannot take the plural or diminutive (Ponelis 1979:43-44). The sentences in (3) illustrate some different ways mass nouns can be used to refer to the substance water. In (3a), it refers to the substance in general; in (3b) to a specific body of water; in (3c) reference is made to the substance in general again, but without the definite article; in (3d) and (3e) another noun is used with water to demarcate it as a unit – in (3d) plas puddle and in (3e) hoeveelheid amount.

a. 'n Vis is net vry in die water.
a fish be.PRS just free in the water
A fish is just free in the water.
b. 'n Wolkie het bo die water gehang.
a cloud.DIM have.AUX above the water hang.PST
A small cloud hung above the water.
c. 'n Sleuteleienskap van mikrobiese groei is die teenwoordigheid van water.
a key.characteristic of microbial growth be.PRS the presence of water
A key characteristic of microbial growht is the presence of water.
d. Op pad trap hy in 'n plas water.
on road step he in a puddle water
On the way he steps in a puddle of water.
e. 'n Sekere hoeveelheid water word uit die Driel-barrage in 'n kanaal gepomp.
a certain amount water become.AUX.PASS.PRS out the Driel-barrage in a channel pump.PASS
A certain amount of water is pumped from the Driel-barrage into a channel.
VivA-KPO, adapted

In some contexts, the boundary between mass nouns and count nouns become unclear, and mass nouns can be used as count nouns. In (4a), for instance, 'n water a water refers to a drinking place for wild animals, and in (4b) it refers to a bottle of water. Similarly in (4c), 'n watertjie of sappie a water.DIM or juice.DIM refers to a small bottle of water or juice – the nouns refer to it as 'a drink' rather than as a substance, which is why it can take the diminutive.

a. As 'n olifant onraad by 'n water bespeur, sal hy suip en dadelik padgee.
if an elephant peril at a water detect will.AUX.MOD he drink and immediately leave
If an elephant detects danger, he will drink and immediately leave.
VivA-KPO, adapted
b. En dit met 'n water in die hand!
and it with a water in the hand
And that with a water in hand!
c. Geen kostes betrokke, bring gerus 'n watertjie of sappie.
no costs involved bring gladly a water.DIM or juice.DIM
No costs involved, just bring a water or juice.
[+]Measure nouns

Measure nouns are used to indicate units or measurements of unbound entities such as time, volume, weight or distance (Ponelis 1979:47). In (5a), kilometer refers to distance, and it is used in singular even though the distance is more than one – this is typical for most of the widely used measurements. In (5b) the unit or measurement gram is used to not only refer to the measurement, but also to imply the substance (some kind of drug). In (5c), reference is made to more than one measurement typically used in recipies – lepel spoon, koppie cup, and knippie pinch. In such contexts, measure nouns and mass nouns are sometimes used together, the measure noun providing a unit for the substance of the mass noun, as as bruinsuiker brown sugar, growwe sout coarse salt, and salpeter saltpeter. For more information on these partitive constructions, see . Measure nouns that are derived from the objects used to measure in recipies and similar contexts, such as spoons and cups, are typically still used as count nouns when referring to the actual object and not the measurement, as in (5d).

a. Ons het sowat 8 kilometer gestap.
we have.AUX 8 kilometer walk.PST
We walked about 8 kilometers.
b. Ons ry stad toe, maar stop eers om 'n gram te koop in Observatory.
we drive city to but stop first for.COMP a gram PTCL.INF buy.INF in Observatory
We drive to the city, but stop first to buy a gram in Observatory.
c. Nou meng jy so 'n groot lepel bruinsuiker met 'n koppie growwe sout en so 'n knippie salpeter.
now mix you.SG such a large spoon brown.sugar with a cup coarse salt and such a pinch saltpeter
Now you mix a large spoon of brown sugar with a cup of coarse salt and a pinch of saltpeter.
d. Sy kyk nie na Ansie nie, hou haar net vreeslik besig met die koppie wat sy blink vryf.
she look not at Ansie PTCL.NEG keep her just very busy with the cup that.REL she shiny rub
She doesn't look at Ansie, just keeps herself busy with the cup she is rubbing to a shine.
[+]Collective nouns

Collective nouns refer to a number, group or collection of people, animals or things. Collective nouns like container nouns organise individual elements in a larger whole (compare Collective nouns as referential partitive nouns).

Many collective nouns refer to specific living beings, such as the noun swerm swarm, that can refer to a group of flying insects or birds, or trop herd that can only refer to a group of animals walking on land.

a. 'n Swerm bye kan egter dodelik wees!
a swarm bees can.AUX.MOD however deadly be.INF
However, a swarm of bees can be deadly!
b. 'n Swerm aasvoëls in die bome het verraai dat daar 'n vangs was.
a swarm vultures in the trees have.AUX betray that.COMP there a catch be.PRT
A colony of vultures in the trees gave away a recent kill.
c. Ons het langs die pad by 'n trop koeie gestop.
we have.AUX next the road by a herd cattle stop.PST
We stopped along the way next to a herd of cattle.
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
  • Van Rooy, B2017Kontemporêre Afrikaanse taalkunde [Contemporary Afrikaans linguistics]Carstens, W.A.M. & Bosman, N. (ed.)Afrikaanse sintaksis, funksioneel benader [Afrikaans syntax, functionally approached]Van Schaik Uitgewers251-297
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