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Super- /'sy.pər/ is a category-neutral prefix, a loan from Latin. It attaches to nouns producing nouns like superweer superweather exceptionally nice weather and especially to adjectives, yielding forms such as superzenuwachtig extremely nervous. Its general function is to denote a high or very high degree, often with a positive connotation. In super- formations, stress is on the prefix.


Super- is a Latin preposition, adverb and prefix meaning over, a word to which it is etymologically related (De Haas and Trommelen 1993, WNT, Etymologiebank). The oldest words with super- in Dutch are complete loans, e.g. superscripcie superscription (1277) and superstitie superstition (1556) (Etymologiebank). The prefix combines with adjectives and nouns, yielding adjectives and nouns, respectively. The semantics of super- formations is (more or less) compositional and monotonous: the meaning of the whole is a transparent function of the meanings of the constituting parts: superweer super-weather is a kind of weer weather, and the reference of superzenuwachtig extremely nervous is a subset of the reference of zenuwachtig nervous. Super- is generally felt to denote a lower degree than the Greek counterpart hyper-: hyperinflatie hyperinflation is worse than superinflatie superinflation and hypergevoelig hyper sensitive is more sensitive than supergevoelig super sensitive.

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Nouns with super- as occurring in the Dutch Spoken Corpus (CGN) can be divided into two groups: on the one hand, there are formations like supermarkt supermarket, probably loans or calques from English, and on the other hand words such as super-aquarium and super-advocaat superlawyer, most probably formations created by the speech community. In the adjectival domain, prefixation with super- appears to be very productive, notwithstanding the fact that it has to compete with many other processes of adjective strengthening. Examples such as superabsurd and superbelachelijk super ridiculous show that the prefix attaches both to Germanic and foreign stems.

Phonological properties: In super- formations, main stress is on the prefix. Super- is a non-cohering prefix: it is an independent phonological word, and super- prefixation respects the morphological boundary: superaardig /sy.pər.ar.dəγ/ extremely nice.

Morphological potential: because of the meaning of the prefix, comparative and superlative forms of super- formations are impossible. Inflection of super- formations is the same as that of the base.

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Occasionally, one finds emphatic doubling of the prefix, yielding forms like supersuperdruk extremely busy or supersupersofist sophist of the most extreme kind.

The prefix has also developed a use as an adjective, as in dat was super that was super that was fantastic. This may be a case of debonding(Van Goethem and Hiligsmann 2014) but Van der Sijs (2010) takes it to be a loan from English or German.

  • 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
  • Sijs, Nicoline van der2010Etymologiebank, http://etymologiebank.nl/