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-en /ən/ is a suffix that combines with nouns to form adjectives. It is special in that it only attaches to material nouns. The resulting adjectives have the meaning 'consisting/made of X':

Example 1

a. een papieren zakdoek
a paper-SUFF handkerchief
a paper handkerchief
b. loden pijpen
lead-SUFF pipes
lead pipes
c. het rieten mandje
the reed-SUFF basket
the reed basket/ the wicker basket
d. een gouden ring
a gold-SUFF ring
a golden ring

The derivation applies to a variety of material nouns, although not to nouns denoting liquids (*wateren watery, *bieren beery, *oliën oily).

-en adjectives can only be used attributively, as in (1), not predicatively, as in (2).

Example 2

de trui is *wollen
the sweater is woollen
the sweater is woollen

The suffix -en is productive, as can be seen from relatively recent forms such as elastieken elastic. However, not every noun is available as input. The restrictions seem arbitrary. For example, aarden earthen exists, but *zanden sandy does not. Yet, there are certain semantic subgroups in which the suffix seems to be available for all members. For example, -en adjectives are easy to derive from nouns for precious materials: koralen coral, opalen opal, amethisten amethyst, diamanten diamond, saffieren sapphire. Extending the pattern to other cases, like agaten agate, seems unproblematic.

The suffix attaches to native and non-native and to simple and complex bases. Examples are kleien clay-, damasten damask-, lamswollen lamb's wool- and ribfluwelen corduroy-.

-en is a cohering suffix: stem final consonants are syllabified as the onset of the suffix syllable. Moreover, the suffix is neutral to the stress of the base word. If a base ends in /ə/, the sound is deleted due to prevocalic schwa-deletion: zijde silk > zijden silken. Lengthening of the stem vowel occurs where it is expected: glas /xlɑs/ glass > glazen /xlazən/ glass.

The most striking property of -en adjectives is that they do not inflect, neither for gender and number (compare a regular adjective in (3a) and an -en adjective in (3b)) nor for comparation, not even if it would make sense semantically (compare (4a) and (4b)):

Example 3

a. een groene fiets/ groene fietsen
een groen-e fiets/ groen-e fiets-en
a green-INFL bike/ green-INFL bike-PL
a green bike/ green bikes
b. een houten fiets/ houten fietsen
een houten fiets/ houten fiets-en
a wooden bike/ wooden bike-PL
a wooden bike/ wooden bikes
Example 4

a. een groenere stof
a green.COMP fabric
a greener fabric
b. *een purpurene stof
a purple.COMP fabric
a purpler fabric

The uninflectability of adjectives ending in a syllable with schwa as nucleus has been explained by a general tendency of Dutch to avoid two subsequent schwa-syllables (Booij 1998)

-en adjectives do not serve as input for any further derivation.

  • Booij, Geert1998Prosodic output constraints in morphologyKehrein, Wolfgang & Wiese, Richard (eds.)Phonology and morphology of the Germanic languagesTübingenNiemeyer143-163