Noun Phrases

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Noun phrases (NPs) in Sereer consist of a noun optionally modified by any or all of the following components: any number of adjectives, a single determiner, a prepositional phrase, a relative clause, and a possessive NP. These components are ordered as follows:

1) Noun
2) Adjectives (in any order)
3) Determiner
4) PP and/or Relative clause (in either order)
5) Possessive NP



Adjectives and determiners agree in noun class with the noun that they modify. Agreement is indicated on adjectives by initial consonant alternations, as well as prefixes. The following NPs show the adjective xoƈu 'thin' and the determiner agreeing with various nouns:

Sg. Noun Adjective Det.            Pl. Noun Adjective Det.           
otew oqoƈu oxe rew xoƈu we ‘woman’
ofiɗ oxoƈu ole xapiɗ xaqoƈu axe ‘butterfly’
ojaf oxoƈu ole acaf aqoƈu ake ‘leg’
xomb xoƈu le aqomb aqoƈu ake ‘turtle’
xaarit fanqoƈu fe qaarit qoƈu ke ‘friend’
nqoox nqoƈu ne qoox qoƈu ke ‘bull’
ambeel aqoƈu ale peel qoƈu ke ‘lake’
akoong aqoƈu ale akoong aqoƈu ake ‘gorilla’
ondew onqoƈu onge fondew fonqoƈu ne ‘woman (dim.)’
(g)andew anqoƈu ale (g)andew anqoƈu ake ‘woman (aug.)’

Numerals function syntactically like other adjectives, but have somewhat more complicated agreement patterns

Noun-Adjective Order

Adjectives must follow the noun that they modify. (1).

  1. muus maak
    muus maak cat big
    'a big cat'

Multiple adjectives can modify a noun, and there are no restrictions on the ordering of these adjectives as shown in (2) and (3).

  1. muus maak mayu
    muus maak mayu cat big many
    'many big cats'
  1. muus mayu maak
    muus maak mayu cat many big
    'many big cats'

Numerals are no exception, as shown in the interchangeability between (4) and (5).

  1. tiiƭ ƭik yaxgu
    tiiƭ ƭik yaxgu birds two red
    'two red birds'
  1. tiiƭ yaxgu ƭik
    tiiƭ yaxgu ƭik birds red two
    'two red birds'

Possessive adjectives also function syntactically like any other adjective (though they are inflectionally invariant), and can appear in any order within a series of adjectives, with no apparent change in meaning.

  1. naak es ƭik maak ke
    naak es ƭik maak ke cows my two dig DET
    'my two big cows'
  1. naak ƭik es maak ke
    naak ƭik es maak ke cows two my big DET
    'my two big cows'
  1. naak ƭik maak es ke
    naak ƭik maak es ke cows two big my DET
    'my two big cows'


The determiner appears after the noun and any adjectives that modify it, without exception (see also Nominal Modifiers). Determiners cannot co-occur

  1. ndaxar ne
    ndaxar ne tree DET
    'the tree'
  1. pis ñofu ne
    pis ñofu ne horse fast DET
    'the fast horse'

There are five determiners, each of which are inflected for noun class. They are given below in the f noun class:

fe "the"
feek "this"
fa "that (unseen)"
faana "that (seen)"
faaga "that (distant)"

There do not appear to be any syntactic restrictions on the use of one determiner over another. That is to say, wherever one of these determiners can appear, any of the other four can be substituted.

PPs and Relative Clauses

Nouns can also be modified by prepositional phrases and relative clauses. Both of these modifiers must follow the determiner (and thus also the noun and adjectives). In (11) the PP took ataabul ale modifies the noun muus, and in (12) this same noun is modified by the relative clause ga'uuma.

  1. muus ne took ataabul ale
    muus ne took ataabul ale cat DET on table DET
    'the cat on the table'
  1. muus ne ga'uuma
    muus ne ga' -uum -a cat DET see REL.1s REL
    'the cat that I saw'

A PP and a relative clause can co-occur within an NP, and can be freely ordered with respect to each other. However, it must be noted that (13) is ambiguous as to whether the relative clause modifies muus ne or ataabul ale, whereas in (14), it unambiguously modifies muus ne.

  1. muus ne took ataabul ale ga'uuma
    muus ne took ataabul ale ga' -uum -a cat DET on table DET see REL.1s FV
    'the cat on the table that I saw'
  1. muus ne ga'uuma took ataabul ale
    muus ne ga' -uum -a took ataabul ale cat DET REL.1s FV on table DET
    'the cat that I saw on the table'


Possession is indicated by postposing the possessor noun to the possessed NP. The possessor noun (phrase) must follow the possessed NP, and cannot be freely reordered with any preceding component of the possessed NP. The presence of a postposed possessor does not inflict any restrictions on the possessed NP; it may consist of simply a noun, or may contain adjectives, a determiner, or any other possible modifier.

  1. oɓay Yande
    oɓay Yande hand Yande
    'Yande's hand'
  1. oɓay omaak ole Yande
    oɓay omaak ole Yande hand big DET Yande
    'Yande's big hand / the big hand of Yande'

Possession may also be indicated using the preposition no (coalesced to na when preceding the personal object particle a). In this construction, the possessed NP must contain a determiner.

  1. oɓay ole na Yande
    oɓay ole n- a Yande hand DET of OBJ Yande
    'the hand of Yande'
  1. *oɓay na Yande
    *oɓay n- a Yande hand of OBJ Yande
    'hand of Yande'

In neither of these possessive constructions is there any distinction between alienable and inalienable possession. In all of the above examples, "Yande's hand" could be either her own hand, or someone else's (e.g. if she were holding someone else's hand --it need not be severed).

Noun modifiers

Certain nouns can directly modify a preceding noun. Constructions of this type involve a quantified noun immediately followed by a quantifier noun (e.g. "piece," etc.). Though it is similar, this construction should not be confused with the possessive construction described above, as the modifier noun directly follows the modified noun, and not the entire NP. The first noun is clearly the head of the NP, as the determiner and any adjectives agree in noun class with this first noun.

  1. oɓek suukar ole
    oɓek suukar ole chunk sugar DET
    'the chunk of sugar'
  1. mbep nqaaf maak
    mbep nqaaf maak grain millet big
    'a big grain of millet'


Two nouns can be coordinated with fo, in which case they can be modified by a single adjective.

  1. otew fokoor onogoyu
    otew f- okoor onogoyu woman and man old
    'an old man and (old) women'

Two NPs can also be coordinated with fo

  1. goor we fo rew we
    goor we fo rew we men DET and women DET
    'the men and the women'
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