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-aar and -enaar

-aar [ar] is a Germanic, cohering, unstressed suffix that creates names of people and things from verbs, nouns, geographical names and occasionally from stems of other categories. It is an allomorph of -er, occurring mainly after dental consonants. -aar itself it has an allomorph-enaar whose distribution is not completely predictable. In some of its uses, -aar is in complementary distribution with -(d)er. -aar formations are of common gender, with a plural mostly in -s, in the case of person names sometimes -en.


-aar [ar] (allomorph -enaar [ənar]) is a Germanic suffix of Latin origin (-arius, e.g. in Lat. molinariusmiller). Its allomorph -er, a form that is reduced further, is much more frequent: -aar occurs mainly after dental consonants. The suffix creates deverbal person names (e.g. wandelaar walker), denominal person names (e.g. schuldenaar debtor < schuld debt), inhabitant nouns (e.g. Texelaar someone from Texel) and names for inanimate entities (schakelaar switch < schakelen to switch). In some of its uses it is in complementary distribution with its reduced form -(d)er.

Nominalising -aar combines productively with Germanic verbs stem ending in schwa plus a dental sonorant consonant ( /l/, /n/, /r/).

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The suffix -aar [ar] should not be confused with the unproductive suffix -elaar that makes tree names as in appelaar apple tree, witness kerselaar cherry tree (< kers) and notelaar nut tree (< noot).

Following De Haas and Trommelen (1993: 170 ff) we can distinguish four subclasses of -aar derivations, of which only the first one is productive:

  • The largest category of -aar formations derives from German verb stems in schwa plus dental sonorant consonant (l, n, r) (wandelaar walker < wandel [wɑn-dəl] walk). Deverbal aar formations are agent nouns (a wandelaar walker is 'someone who walks'), with two notable exceptions, to wit gijzelaar hostage (< gijzelen to take hostage) and martelaar martyr (martelen to torture).
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    It is easy to find instances of gijzelaar hostage and martelaar martyr in which they have an agent noun reading, i.e. kidnapper and torturer, resepctively. This may be taken as an indication that many language users tend to take the agentive reading of the suffix as default.

    In certain cases of obligatory transitive base verbs , -aar derivation is possible only if the verb's direct object is realized as well, either as the lefthand part of a compound or as a prepositional object.

    Table 1
    hij verbetert auto's *verbeteraar autoverbeteraar verbeteraar van auto's
    he improves cars improver car improver improver of cars, car improver
    hij beoefent sporten *beoefenaar sportbeoefenaar beoefenaar van sporten
    he practices sports practicer sports practicioner, sportsman practicioner of sports, sportsman
    Certain types of verbs stems do not allow for -aar derivation:
    • ergative verbs, i.e. verbs that take zijn be as the perfect auxiliary, e.g. no *verouderaar from verouderen to age.
    • psychological verbs in which the direct object is affected by the verb, e.g. no *verbijsteraar from verbijsteren bewilder or *prikkelaar from prikkelen stimulate.
    • obligatory reflexive verbs, e.g. no *herinneraar from zich herinneren oneself remember remember or *toeëigenaar from zich toeëigenen oneself at-own to appropriate.
    Certain formations are in -aar where we would have expected -er on the basis of the phonological make-up of the stems, e.g. leraar teacher (< leren learn, teach) (in technical prose, leerder is used as a translation for student or learner), dienaar servant (< dienen serve) (cf., however diender cop), minnaar lover (< minnen love), winnaar winner (< winnen win). Also exceptional or unexpected: jodeler yodeller next to jodelaar yodeller, tovenaar sorcerer rather than *toveraar (< toveren), schilder painter rather than ?schilderaar (OK in Belgium in the meaning 'house painter') (< schilderen paint). duikelaar snakebird (Anhinga Anhinga) (< duikelen tumble) and rammelaar male rabbit (< rammelen rattle) are names of animals rather than people.

  • With a nominal basis, the form of the affix usually is -enaar ( [ənar]). The stems most often end in dental consonants, the results are agent nouns: a schuldenaar debtor is someone who has debts, a moordenaar assassin is someone who kills, a kunstenaar artist is someone who makes art.
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    Exceptional are stedenaar townsman (< stad city) which has lengthening, and eigenaar owner as it is de-adjectival. In zondaar sinner, leugenaar liar (< zonde sin) and molenaar miller (< zonde sin) the form is -aar rather than -enaar; in the last two cases this may be the result of haplology (< leugen-enaar, molenen-enaar) (or molenaar is an old loan < Lat. molinarius miller(Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie 1995)). lepelaar spoonbill (< lepel spoon) is not a human but an animal.

  • The affixes -aar and -enaar can be used productively to derive names for inhabitants of geographical entities such as cities and islands: Texelaar someone from (the island of) Texel, Maastrichtenaar inhabitant of (the city of) Maastricht. The -aar variant is found more in the Netherlands, -enaar is more popular in Belgium.
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    If the basis ends in -en ( /schwa n/), the final syllable is often deleted: Mechelaar someone from Mechelen, but not in bisyllabic stems (Leidenaar someone from Leiden).

  • The affixes -aar and -enaar can also be used to derive names for things, usually instrument names; the process is not productive. Most often the basis is verbal: schakelaar switch (schakelen to switch), regelaar regulator (< regelen regulate) (also as an action noun, meaning arranger, from another meaning of the same verb), rammelaar rattle (< rammelen to rattle), occasionally it is a noun lessenaar desk (< les lesson) (Van der Sijs 2010), beeldenaar effigy (< beeld picture).
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    Due to the phonological make-up of the basis, one would have expected *openaar from openen to open, but the attested form is opener.

    A rammelaar may also refer to a male hare or rabbit.

    Occasionally the meaning is passive, e.g. kittelaar clitoris from kittelen to tickle.

Morphological potential: the plural is usually in -s (boekhandelaars book sellers), but sometimes in -en (Maastrichtenaren people from Maastricht, leraren teachers - but note that leraars teachers is widely attested in Belgium). -aar derivations can be input to derivation with -schap to form abstract nouns, e.g. martelaarschap martyrdom. If an -aar derivation refers to a person, a female form can be derived by means of (stressed) -es (lerares female teacher) or (unstressed) -ster, (bewonderaarster female admirer). In most cases of person names derived from geographical entities, a different strategy is followed, viz. addition of the suffix -e tot the pertinent adjective: Kosovaars-e woman from Kosovo, Texels-e woman from Texel(Booij 1997).

Phonological properties: -aar derivation does not change the stress pattern of the word: be'oordelen to judge - be'oordelaar judge. The affix carries secondary stress and is cohering, as it does not form a phonological word: syllabification overrides morphological bounderies: Texel.aar ['tɛ-sə-lar].

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See Broekhuis et al. to appear (1: ca. 95)

  • Booij, Geert1997Allomorphy and the autonomy of morphologyFolia Linguistica3125-56
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Evelien Keizer & Dikken, Marcel den2012Grammar of Dutch: Nouns and noun phrasesAmsterdam University Press
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie1995Het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT)
  • Sijs, Nicoline van der2010Etymologiebank, http://etymologiebank.nl/