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Micro- is a category-neutral prefix, a loan from Greek via the international scientific community. It attaches to nouns, mostly of a rather technical nature, yielding forms like microklimaat microclimate. Its general function is to denote a small exemplar of the type denoted by the base noun. In measure nouns like micrometer it denotes one millionth (10^-6). In micro- formations, stress is on the prefix.


Micro- derives ultimately from Greek mikros small. The oldest Dutch formations with micro- are complete scientific loans such as microkosmos microcosmos and microscoop microscope (Etymologiebank). Later, calques like microgolf(oven) micro-wave-oven were coined. The semantics of micro- formations is (more or less) compositional and monotonous: the meaning of the whole is a transparent function of the meanings of the constituting parts: a microklimaat microclimate is a kind of klimaat climate.

Since 1968, micro- is the official standard way to denote one millionth of a scientific unit, e.g. micrometer and microfarad.

Prefixes like micro- are independent phonological words: in nouns with micro-, stress is on the affix. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary: micro-oven.

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In the million sense, micro- forms a paradigm with prefixes like femto-, pico-, nano-, milli-, centi-, deci-, deca-, hecto-, kilo-, mega-, giga-, tera-, peta-, etc. (see Affixes). In the more general sense of small, it competes with mini-.

In fully lexicalized neo-classical formations such as microscoop microscope, mikro need not carry stress and syllabification need not respect the morphological boundaries: mi.krɔs.'kop is the most common realization (Heemskerk 2000).

Morphological potential: the inflectional properties of micro- formations are inherited from the base.

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The clippingmicro (more popular in Belgium than in the Netherlands) can be used as a noun with various meanings, e.g. microphone or microwave oven.

References: (De Haas and Trommelen 1993, WNT, Affixes)

  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Heemskerk, José & Zonneveld, Wim2000UitspraakwoordenboekHet Spectrum