December 7, 2018

TA - The Tiny Word That Also Means "Closed"

This post is based on a question asked by a member of the Fun With Frisian Facebook Group. The Frisian word ta looks very simple, like a happy cognate to the English "to." It can mean "to" or "towards" just as you would suspect. However, it seems to have another layer or two that might not match up so well with modern English. Ta can mean "closed" or carry the sense of something ending, or only going up to a certain point and no further. It can also imply that something is breaking into pieces or separating.

Let's start with these two less English-friendly examples:

De gerdinen binne ta. 
The curtains are closed (or: tight, shut).
[duh guh-DEEN-uhn BIHN-nuh TAH.]

De doar is ta.
The door is shut.
[duh DWAWR IHs TAH.]

In another example, we can see the "to" meaning combined with the idea of an ending, a limit, or closing:

Hy stie oan 'e knibbels ta yn 't wetter.
He stood up to his knees in water.
[HIGH shTEE AWN uh knIHb-buhls TAH EENt VEHt-tuhr.]

The underlying idea of going towards a place, but with a limitation on time or space (there and no further), shows up again here:

Er nei it húske ta moat.
He must go to the bathroom.

...oan 'e ein fan it jier ta...
...until the end of the year...
[AWN uh IHGn fAWN uht EEr TAH...]

Meshing a bit with the idea of limitation or closing, ta can also sometimes be used to express adversity or as a word of emphasis:

Tink ris ta!
Really think about it!

It is der wol ta kommen.
It's going to take effort.

Of course, sometimes ta means "to" like you'd hope and expect.

Lju ta it feestmiel roppe.
To call people to the feast.

...yn augustus nei Ljouwert ta komme. come to Ljouwert (Leeuwarden) in August.

View from the Ljouwert bus station.
Photo taken by the author in August of 2017.

September 29, 2018

BERINNE - "to achieve" or "to overwhelm"

Here is a very useful Frisian verb: BERINNE. Stress is on the second syllable. [buh-RIHN-uh]. One of the the meanings is "to achieve" or "to amount to." Another meaning is "to overwhelm." The noun BERIN (stress on the second syllable)--[buh-RIHN]-- means "course" or "slope" (as of a sea-dike).

HY KIN DAT EIN NET BERINNE - he cannot achieve that end. 

DE PINE BERINT MY - the pain overwhelms me
[duh- PEE-nuh buh-RIHNT MIGH]

IT MOAT SYN BERIN HAWWE - it must have its course... it cannot be forced or rushed.

IT RJOCHT SIL SYN BERIN HAWWE - the law (what is right) must have its way.

August 17, 2018

HELJE - "to catch, drag, succeed"

Clip from an 1834 painting by Rudolph Jordan
Here's a versatile Frisian verb with connections to an archaic word in English: helje. It can mean to catch, fetch, drag, haul, or realize (a goal). Apparently, in English we once had "hale" as a verb meaning "to drag or draw forcibly." A few examples:

besykje te heljen
try to catch 
[buh-SEE-kyuh tuh HEHL-yehn]

it net helje
it doesn't succeed
[UHt NET HEHL-yuh]

it skip hellet
the ship is swept back and forth by wind

On a related note, the word FANGE means "to catch" and FISKJE specifically means "to fish."

July 27, 2018


The century's longest lunar eclipse is today. The Frisian word for a lunar eclipse is "moannefertsjustering," literally, "moon darkening."

The word TSJUSTER means "darkness"... say it with a vowel somewhat like the long "oo" in "moon," but with a narrower sound.

The entire word is very roughly pronounced: MAW-nuh-fur-TCHOOS-tuhr-ing.

Lunar eclipse - Photograph from NASA (public domain).

May 28, 2018

Video: From 0 to 100 Years In Frisian

Numbers as ages in Frisian going up to a hundred. A very nice way to really see and hear the language:

"From baby to centennial, filmed in one village in Friesland, which is a northern province of the Netherlands. Frisian is an entirely different language than Dutch."  ImagineVideoclips

April 5, 2018

SUVEL - "dairy"

I saw this word today while reading and thought that it would make a good basis for a lesson. English-speakers who have so much as dabbled in Frisian will be quite familiar with the word tsiis, a veritable twin-flame to its English equivalent "cheese." However, the word suvel will likely be less familiar.
"Butter, bread, and green cheese"
Photograph by author

Suvel is the Frisian word for "dairy." The first syllable is said with the long -oo- in "soothe" and the second syllable is pronounced with a schwa. [SOO-vuhl]

Let's branch out from this starting point. Taalweb Frysk explains the word's meaning further. Incidentally, the Frisian for "meaning" is betsjutting, related to the verb tsjutte - "to indicate," "to point," or "to interpret."

...molke en alles wat fan molke makke wurdt, lykas bûter, tsiis, yochert..

...milk and all that is made from milk, such as butter, cheese, yogurt...

[MOHL-kuh EHn AWL-luhs VAWT FAWN MOHL-kuh MAHk-kuh VUHT, LEE-kuhs BOO-tuhr, chEEs, yOH-huht]

Here is an example of the word suvel in an article from Omrop Fryslân:

Kâns op staking yn 'e suvel. Meiwurkers fan Fryske suvelfabriken binne ree om takom wike it wurk del te lizzen.

Chance of a strike in the dairy. Employees of Frisian dairy factories are ready to quit work next week. (Del te lizzen more literally means "to lay down" work.)

Kij op It Amelân, 2015 - Photograph by author
Of course, any mention of dairy requires that we know the word for "cow." 

Ko, pronounced like the English co- as in "co-op," is a singular cow. [kOH]

Kij, pronounced like the first part of "kite," [kIGH], is the plural form, cattle.

A "calf" is keal, said with an -ee- quickly blending into an -eh- sound. [kYEHL]. Meanwhile, a bull is bolle, pronounced like the English "bowl" followed by a schwa in the second syllable. [BOHL-luh]

What if you don't eat dairy? Maybe you are a feganist [fey-GAHN-ihst], a vegan. Or maybe not. In any case, "fruits and vegetables" can be either griente en fruit orless commonlygriente en fruchten. Note the reversal from the usual English word order.  [GREEN-tuh] is vegetables. Fruit looks like English, but it rhymes with "out." [FROWt]. So look out when you see fruit in Frisian! Fruchten is said with a long -oo- vowel in the first syllable like the word that it means in English. [FROOkh-tuhn]. There are also nôten (grains) and nuten (nuts): [NAWT-uhn] pronounced like the word "knot" and [NOOT-uhn] pronounced like the word "newt," respectively.

Lekker ite! 
Good eating (literally: "delicious eating")!
[LEHK-kuhr EE-tuh!] 

February 23, 2018


I recently came across the word reden in a useful phrase, which I will of course share here. However, it also turns out that there are different, similar-looking words in Frisian with their own distinct meanings. Today, let's explore these.

One of the common meanings of reden  is a "cause" or a "reason." Pronounce the first syllable like the English word "ray" followed by the word "done" (a schwa vowel). REY-duhn.

There's a phrase for saying that something is obvious which goes like this:

Eleven Cities Route - Alvestêdetocht on
...yn 'e reden lizze... obvious... (literally: "lies within the reasons or causes...")
[...EEn uh REY-duhn LIHz-zuh...]

It leit yn 'e reden dat elk syn sin altyd net krije kin.
It is obvious that everyone can't have their desire/wish all the time.
[UHt LIGHt EEn uh REY-duhn DAWT EHlk SEEn SIHn AWL-teet NET krIGH-uh KIHn.]

What is also obvious is that ice skating is important in Friesland! So, we have another use for the word reden: it can mean "an ice skate."

Redens is the plural, meaning "ice skates." [REY-duhns]

Also, reden can mean a "talk," "conversation," or "discussion."

Mnemonic: Obviously we have cause to talk about ice skating!

How about the similar-looking word rêden? The first syllable is pronounced like the English word "red" and ends like our word "done." REHd-duhn. 

This word is common in news articles, as it means to be saved or rescued. rêden... saved / is rescued...
[IHs REHd-duhn]

Here's one of many examples from Omrop Fryslân (article here):

Man út grêft rêden
Man saved from canal
[MAHn OOt grEHft REHd-duhn]

There is also a verb, rêde, which can mean "to rescue" or "to occupy with."

Wat is dêr te rêden?
What is there to do?

Rêd by itself sometimes means a "wheel" or "circle." 

For example, reuzerêd, the word for a giant Ferris wheel such as the London Eye, is a combination of the word for "a giant" (like in fairy tales) and the word for "wheel." 

Rêd can also mean "quickly," "fast," or "soon."

Sa rêd as de wyn.
As swift as the wind.

Mnemonic: Swiftly save us from the red wheel!

Photograph by Steven Fine on Wikimedia Commons

February 7, 2018

Starting March 5th, 2018 - Free Online Frisian Course Through FutureLearn

Excellent news: the University of Groningen is once again offering their free online Frisian course through FutureLearn! You can register to start on March 5, 2018.

Personally, I highly recommend this course. It's in English, and you'll learn to hear Frisian as well as read it. It will give you a very good basic foundation in the language.

January 15, 2018

A Brief Look At Frisian Contractions - 'T, 'E, etc.

This post is from a question that came up on the Fun With Frisian Facebook group. To start off the year, let's look into contractions in Frisian. What do all those 't and 'e abbreviations mean? We'll try to find out.

I'll be referencing Pieter Meijes Tiersma's (R.I.P.) excellent "Frisian Reference Grammar" for major parts of this lesson. The book is out of print and often unreasonably priced, but if you check a site like periodically, sooner or later you might find a copy for under $50 (it's a thin paperback of 157 pages including the index).


't - sometimes, this is a reduced form of the pronoun it meaning "it," which is normally pronounced with a schwa in Frisian [UHT], but can be shortened. For example: 't wie in lange dei - it was a long day. And another example:

't is tiid
it is time
[tIHs TEEt]

't - at other times, 't is short for "the."

Frisian has two definite articles where English has only "the": de and it. Both are said with a schwa in Frisian: [DUH] and [UHT]. On the bright side, Frisian is not as complex as German this way, but it is still more work than English. All plural nouns take de where we'd use "the." However, singular Frisian nouns vary between it and de:

  • 't - the Frisian it (singular "the") may be shortened this way before a vowel. Exampleby 't âld folk, "by the old folk" from the anthem of Friesland.

  • 't - fan 't - the contraction gets some unusual use in certain phrases related to the year and the four seasons. Even seasons that normally are de, like de winter, take 't in this odd phrase. It looks like it means "from the..." but it is a way of saying "this winter" or "in the winter."
fan 't jier
this year

fan 't maitiid / fan 't winter / fan 't hjerst / fan 't simmer...
this spring / this winter / this autumn / this summer...

't - the 't contraction also shows up a lot after other words, often as a shortening of dat which means "that" and is normally pronounced like English "dot." [DAWT]

dy't - who, which, that - [DEEt]
wa't - who (that) - [VAHt]


in dream dy't útkomt
a dream which has come true

wa't ik bin 
who I am

Generally, when you see -'t as an ending, look to the main word to get the meaning:

dêr't ... there...
doe't ...when...
wannear't ... when / at the time that...
hoenear't ... when / at the time that...


Now, onward to the shortened form for de, the other singular "the" in Frisian.

'e - shows up after the very common prepositions yn, op, and om.

yn 'e wei 
in the way

'e - optional after the common prepositions oer, oantroch, and foar.

oan 'e kant
to the side

'e - certain phrases involving hûs (house), which normally would be it hûs.

Examples: yn 'e hûs (inside) and út 'e hûs (out of the house).


sa'n - "such a" - short for sa in.

Wy hawwe der net ien sa'n by.
We have only one such as that.

Ik ha sa'n sin oan...
I wish for / I have such a desire for...


-sto - shortened forms with the informal you, do, said like the English word "doe" the female deer. Despite the spelling, you still hear do.

bisto - bist do - are you?
hasto - hast do - do you have?
tinksto - do you think that?
datsto - that you


Of course, there are many other contractions in Frisian. You will get more and more used to them as you read the language. Hopefully, this article has demystified a few of the more prevalent Frisian contractions.