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Opper- /'ɔ.pər/ is a category-neutral Germanic prefix. It attaches to nouns producing nouns like opperarm upperarm and opperofficier senior officer, and occasionally to adjectives, yielding forms such as oppermachtig all-mighty, maximally powerful. The general meaning when used with nouns is upper, with adjectives it means maximally, supremely.


Opper- is originally the comparative form of the preposition op on used as an adjective. The semantics is (more or less) compositional and monotonous: the meaning of the whole is a transparent function of the meanings of the constituting parts: an opperofficier senior officer is a kind of officier officier, and the reference of oppermachtig maximally powerful is a subset of the reference of machtig powerful.

Prefixes like opper- are independent phonological words: in nouns with opper-, stress is on the affix, in adjectives with opper-, stress is not fixed, but the prefix carries at least a secondary accent. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary: opper.arm and opper.interessant.

Morphological potential: because of the meaning of the prefix, comparative and superlative forms of adjectives with opper- formations are extremely rare.


opper-best upper-best excellent is an exceptional formation on the basis of the (irregular) superlative best; *opper-goed upper-good is impossible.

In the Spoken Dutch Corpus (CGN) we found the nouns opperbevelhebber chief commander, oppergezag supreme authority, oppergod highest god, opperhoofd chief, opperhuid epidermis, opperklusjesman highest handyman, opperknecht chief servant, oppermacht supreme power, opperman hod, opperregelaar supreme controller, oppervlak surface, oppervlakte surface, opperwachtmeester sergeant major, opperwezen supreme being and the adjectives opperbest very good and oppermachtig supreme that is, more nouns than adjectives. It appears that forms such as opperhoofd chief, opperhuid upper skin, epidermis, oppervlak surface and oppervlakte surface are fully lexicalized and no longer recognized as derivations.

References: (De Haas and Trommelen 1993), (Haeseryn et al. 1997), Etymologiebank.

  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
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