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The suffix ‐(e)lijk /(ə)lək/ derives adjectives from verbs (sterfelijk mortal), nouns (lichamelijk bodily) or other adjectives (lief(e)lijk lovely).


  • If X is a verb: 'possible to be X-ed', 'able to X' begrijpelijk understandable, aantrekkelijk attractive
  • If X is a noun: 'having to do with X' vrouwelijk female, womanly
  • If X is an adjective: 'having the property of X' bangelijk fearful
In addition, there are forms like gezamenlijk together or achterlijk backward, idiotic, which are based on words of other categories (here: adverbs and prepositions, respectively). Other -(e)lijk-adjectives have bases that do not exist as free words in present-day Dutch; examples are billijk justified, vrolijk cheerful and moeilijk difficult.

A different use of -(e)lijk derives adverbs.

[+]General properties

The suffix -(e)lijk is not productive, but frequent. It has two forms, ‐lijk and ‐elijk, which are normally phonologically determined, though there are adjectives with both forms (e.g. gerief(e)lijk comfortable). This variation suggests that /ə/ is a linking phoneme.

From a semantic point of view, the passive meaning 'possible to be Xed' and the active meaning 'able to X' normally corresponds to the transitivity of the base: transitive verbs such as erven to inherit give rise to adjectives with a passive meaning (erfelijk hereditary), while ergative verbs such as sterven to die produce active adjectives (sterfelijk mortal). However, there are exceptions: vermaken to amuse, for example, is transitive, but has an active adjectival counterpart (vermakelijk amusing).

[+]Stratum and input

The suffix -(e)lijk belongs to the native stratum and attaches to Germanic and non-Germanic stems, although most verb serving as input for -(e)lijk-adjectives are Germanic. Morphologically complex inputs are allowed, see overwinnelijk over-winn-elijk defeatable. However, suffixed nouns occur rarely as input, exceptions are nominals ending in -schap such as vriendschap friendship or wetenschap science. Some bases are compounds (e.g. werktuig tool > werktuigelijk automatically). In addition to nominal, verbal and adjectival bases, there are a few words with prepositional bases, such as achterlijk backward, idiotic, innerlijk inside and uiterlijk exterior; the latter two have /ər/ inserted between the stem of the preposition and the suffix.

For the monosyllabic verbs ending in /n/, gaan to go, staan to stand, doen to do and zien to see we find different strategies: either the infinitival form is used as the base for the adjective (doenlijk doable, aanzienlijk considerable) or the base is modified, as in vergankelijk transitory; in yet other cases a nominal stem is used: afstandelijk distant, afzichtelijk hideous.

-(e)lijk has a sister suffix, -baar, which has similar functions.

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In the varieties of Dutch spoken in Belgium, -lijk can be used with stems that in the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands would take -baar. (Taeldeman 1985) discusses eetbaar edible versus etelijk edible; the latter form is virtually unknown outside Flanders. In Belgium, both forms are attested, allegedly with a semantic difference: eetbaar means 'edible' in the literal sense (consumable without dangers), while etelijk means 'good to eat'.

[+]Phonological properties

The suffix influences its base in three ways. First, it triggers vowel-lengthening when applicable (hertog /hɛrtɔx/ duke > hertogelijk /hɛrtoɣələk/ ducal). Second, in bases ending in a velar nasal, /k/ is added before the suffix (koning king > koninklijk royal). In yet other cases, we find material of unclear status between base and suffix; see erkentelijk grateful > erken recognize or triomfantelijk triumphantly < triomf triumph. Third, the suffix can change the main stress of the base: /'vriendschap/ friendship > vriend'schappelijk friendly.

[+]Morphological potential

Adjectives ending in -(e)lijk can be nominalized by means of the suffix -heid (vriendelijkheid friendliness), verbalized by means of the prefixes be- and ver- (bemoeilijken to hinder, vergoddelijken to deify) and negated by on- (onoverwinnelijk invincible). Sometimes, the form without on- is absent: onverbiddelijk unrelenting, but *verbiddelijk, ongelooflijk unbelievable but *gelooflijk. The adjectives lelijk ugly, olijk roguish and vrolijk cheerful, whose bases are no longer independent words of Dutch, can be nominalized with -erd: lelijkerd ugly person, olijkerd rogue en vrolijkerd cheerful person.

  • Taeldeman, Johan1985'De soep is wel eetbaar maar niet etelijk'. Over deverbatieven op -(e)lijk in de Vlaamse dialekten en het A.N.Spektator1594-103