The Free Dictionary website states and so does Wikipedia:

erf [ɜːf]
n pl erven [ˈɜːvən]
(Engineering / Civil Engineering) South African a plot of land, usually urban, marked off for building purposes

The term erf is used in legal documentation and technical English throughout South Africa and Namibia, maybe even further afield in the region.

Is it used anywhere else, except maybe the Dutch/Flemish regions in Europe, where I assume the term originated?

An example:

The client purchased Erf 132, Windhoek for a large sum of money. He intends to build a house on this erf.

The capitalisation of "Erf 132" is commonplace, since it is a definition of a location. This is similar to capitalisation of towns or cities. I find it slightly awkward, but that is how it is done.

  • 1
    I'm not personally acquainted with life in South Africa, but aren't there lots of words like that? I mean those of Afrikaans origin, and used throughout the English-speaking regions of the country, but not found in standard English? – WS2 Nov 15 '13 at 8:00

It's listed in ODO as South African, which does indicate localisation to southern Africa.

erf Pronunciation: /əːf/ noun (plural erfs or erven /ˈəːv(ə)n/)
South African
a plot of land.

Dutch, originally in the sense 'inheritance'

It's likely only to be used in places with a significant Dutch heritage, and in this sense only in Afrikaans-speaking areas or where Afrikaans speakers have a significant influence. It's not used in British English.

For other areas, I'd suggest plot as ODO uses for British English; perhaps lot could also be used in American English. In specifying a particular purchase, BrE certainly would say "The client purchased Plot 132."


Its main purpose is to distinguish between the total area of land being bought and the floor space of the house. But yes, it is an Afrikaans word of Dutch decent and is used in South Africa.


Erf is used on the official registration documents in South Africa referring to portions of land (Erf 216) as well as legislation governing property relations, therefore its usage is not limited to "Afrikaans-speaking areas" or where Afrikaans speakers have significant influence.

  • I think this was already mentioned in the question: "The term erf is used in legal documentation and technical English throughout South Africa and Namibia." – Laurel Nov 1 '18 at 20:03

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