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be- /bə/ is a Germanic prefix that creates verbs out of other verbs, nouns or adjectives. This process is productive for verbs and nouns, though not for adjectives. The general template is:

There are some typical semantic patterns:

  • if X is a verb: `to focus action x upon something' bekijken to look at, inspect
  • if X is a noun: `to provide with x' bemannen to man, to staff
  • if X is an adjective: `to be/become/make x' beveiligen to protect

However, the meaning of many be-verbs is idiosyncratic. Examples of verbs with non-transparent semantics are begrijpen be-grip to understand, beloven be-praise to promise and bevallen be-fall to please, to give birth. In some cases, the root does not exist as an independent verb in contemporary Dutch, as in beginnen be-? to begin.

[+]Morphosyntactic properties

be- is an inseparable verbalizing prefix.


Verbs with the prefix be- are mostly transitive, even if their bases are not. If the base is transitive, the arguments often switch places and properties. Compare the direct object and the prepositional object in the following example:

Example 1

a. Hij hang-t poster-s aan de muur
PRO.3SG hang-3SG.PRS poster-PL on DEF.C.SG wall.C
He's putting posters up on the wall
b. Hij be-hang-t de muur met poster-s
PRO.3SG be-hang-3SG.PRS DEF.C.SG wall(C) with poster-PL
He's putting posters up on the wall

There are some intransitive verbs such as bevriezen to freeze, bezinken to sink in, beschimmelen to get mouldy or bezuinigen to economize (bezuinigen is special because it can take a prepositional object). Some be-verbs are inherently reflexive; examples are zich bedrinken to get drunk, zich begeven to go somewhere and zich behelpen to make do with something. The final two require prepositional objects in addition to the obligatory reflexive pronoun.


The suffix attaches to Germanic verbs, nouns and adjectives, as well as to non-Germanic verbs with the suffix -eer (bestuderen to study, becommentariëren to comment, bespioneren to spy on sbd.).

[+]Input and input restrictions

be-cannot be attached to prefixed verbs; forms such as *beuitoefenen to be-practice are impossible. An exception is begeleiden to accompany. Also, auxiliary verbs are not available as input (*bezullen be-shall).

If the base is an irregular verb, the derived verb with be- is also irregular (kijken look > keek looked, bekijken look at, inspect > bekeek looked at, inspected).

Some be-verbs have stems of uncertain category status. Words such as beplanten to plant something with something could be derived from a noun (plant plant) or a verb stem (plant plant). In some cases, the meaning can disambiguate the structure: bewapenen to provide with a weapon is probably derived from the noun wapen weapon rather than the verb wapenen to arm. In other cases, there are no such clues: the verb bezuren to regret, to pay for could be derived from the noun zuur acid, the verb stem zuur be/make/turn sour or the adjective zuur sour.

A subclass of be-verbs is formed on the basis of the template [be-[N]-ig](V). Examples are bezichtigen to view, inspect, bevochtigen to moisten, beangstigen to frighten, beëdigen to swear somebody in, beschadigen to damage and bekrachtigen to confirm. Although the suffix -ig suggests that the noun is turned into an adjective before the whole is verbalized by means of be-, there are many cases in which the intermediate adjective is not actually a word of Dutch (*zichtig, *edig, *schadig. By contrast, some verbs used to have equivalents without -ig, e.g. beschulden next to beschuldigen to blame.

In still other cases, the base is not or no longer an independent word of Dutch. Examples are beginnen to begin, bedriegen to deceive, begeren to desire, belemmeren to hinder, beslissen to decide and bevelen to give an order.


New be-verbs can be formed from nouns and verbs, but only occasionally from adjectives (a recent form might be begroenen to revegetate). With nominal bases, the meaning is predictably provide with x. However, in actual usage, new forms appear to be rare.

[+]Phonological properties

be- is always unstressed, by virtue of its vowel, /ɘ/ (schwa), which cannot bear stress.

[+]Morphological potential

The prefix be-does not allow other prefixes to precede it, with the exception of her-, which indicates repeated action, as in zich herbezinnen to rethink. These restrictions aside, be-verbs participate in many word formation processes. For example, they can be the base for nominalizations (berijder rider, horseman, besef understanding, realization) or adjectivizations (bespreekbaar discussible, negotiable, bemoeiziek interfering, meddlesome). Participles of be- verbs always lack the participial prefix ge- (begonnen begun, bestudeerd studied).

Some be- verbs have antonyms with ont- (bebossen to afforest - ontbossen to deforest).

[+]Other interesting properties

There are a small number of forms that look like the participles of be-verbs, while these verbs do not actually exist. Examples are:

Example 2

bebrild bespectacled
bebloed bloody
bebladerd leafy
bedauwd dewy
bedeesd shy

Such forms have been given the name "participium praeverbale" (Rijpma 1978: 77).

  • Rijpma, E. & Schuringa, F.G1978Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenWolters-Noordhoff