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Hyper- /'hi.pər/ is a category-neutral prefix, a loan from Greek via French or German. It attaches productively to adjectives to form adjectives like hypermodern hyper-modern exceptionally modern and hypernerveus extremely nervous; occasionaly one finds nouns with hyper- such as hypermarkt hypermarket. The general function is to denote excessive or above normal.


Hyper- is a Greek adverb and prefix meaning over, a word to which it is etymologically related WNT. The oldest words with hyper- in Dutch are complete loans, words such as hyperbool hyperbola, hyperbole. The prefix became productive in the Western world in the 17th century for coining new scientific terms (Etymologiebank). The semantics of hyper- formations is (more or less) compositional and monotonous: the meaning of the whole is a transparent function of the meanings of the constituting parts: the reference of hypergevoelig extremely sensitive is a subset of the reference of gevoelig sensitive. Hyper- is generally felt to denote a higher degree than the Latin counterpart super-: hyperinflatie hyperinflation is worse than superinflatie superinflation and hypergevoelig hyper sensitive is more sensitive than supergevoelig super sensitive.

Prefixes like hyper- are independent phonological words: n nouns with hyper-, the prefix carries stress. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary: hyperoptimistisch extremely optimistic. In other words, hyper- is a non-cohering prefix. In nouns with hyper-, stress is on the prefix; in adjectives with hyper- stress is not fixed, but the prefix carries at least a secondary accent.

Morphological potential: because of the meaning of the prefix, comparative and superlative forms of hyper- formations are impossible. Adjectives with hyper- can be nominalized, e.g. hypergevoeligheid hypersensitivity from hypergevoelig hypersensitive.


The data in the Dutch Spoken Corpus (CGN) suggest that hyper- is only productive with adjectives; nouns with hyper- such as hypertexts and hypermarkt hypermarket are probably loans.

The prefix has also developed a use as an adjective, as in ik ben helemaal hyper I am totally hyper I am totally over the top, possibly a clipping from hyperactief hyperactive or hypernerveus hypernervous and denoting a meaning along these lines. This may be a case of degrammaticalisation (cf. Van Goethem and Hiligsmann 2014), but the possibility that this usage is a loan from English or German cannot be excluded (Affixes.org).

For some speakers, emphatic doubling of the prefix, e.g. hyperhypernerveus extremely anxious, is possible (De Haas and Trommelen 1993).

  • Goethem, Kristel van & Hiligsmann, Philippe2014When two paths converge: debonding and clipping of Dutch reuze 'lit. giant; great'Journal of Germanic Linguistics2631-64
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
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