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Adjectival compounds

Adjectival compounds form a productive category of Dutch compounds. The constituent on the right, the head, is an adjective. The left-hand constituent can be N, A, Adv or V:

NA: autovrij [[auto](N)[vrij](A)](A) car free, peperduur [[peper](N)[duur](A)](A) pepper-expensive very expensive

AA: jonggetrouwd [[jong](A)[getrouwd](A)](A) young-married married young, lichtgrijs [[licht](A)[grijs](A)](A) light grey

AdvA: niet-productief [[niet](Adv)[productief](A)](A) non-productive, welbekend [[wel](Adv)[bekend](A)](A) well-known

VA: kotsmisselijk [[kots](V)[misselijk](A)](A) vomit-nauseous very nauseous, spilziek [[spil](V)[ziek](A)](A) waste sick wasteful

The constituents of these adjectival compounds are usually not compounds themselves, that is, adjectival compounding is not recursive. An exception is the compound spotgoedkoop very cheap with the lexicalized adjectival compound goedkoop cheap as head.

The productive formation of adjectival compounds is restricted to four categories: elative compounds such as peperduur very expensive, colour adjectives such as diepzwart deep black, compounds with affixoid adjectives such as autovrij car-free, and compounds with participial adjectives such as computergestuurd computer-controlled as heads.


The adjectival head can be either simplex or complex (including present and perfect participles); examples with complex heads are the following:

Example 1

a. adembenemend
b. computergestuurd
c. milieuvriendelijk
d. vrouwvijandig
hostile to women

The non-head position can also be occupied by quantifiers, and adverbs:

Example 2

a. driedimensioneel
b. drie-dubbel
Example 3

a. doornat
very wet
b. intriest
very sad
c. overgelukkig
very happy
d. bovennatuurlijk

The words door, in and over in these compounds have the specific meaning 'very' that they do not have as freely occurring adverbs.

There is a large set of adjectival compounds in which the first constituent has an expressive meaning of intensification. For instance, the compound straatarm street-poor destitute means 'very poor', and ijskoud ice-cold means 'very cold'. These type of compounds are called elative compounds. A remarkable property of intensifiers such as in and door is that they can be coordinated, thus expressing the highest intensity possible, a form of repetition with iconic value:

Example 4

a. in-en-in-triest
very, very sad
b. ijs-en-ijs-koud
very, very cold
c. dood- en doodziek
very ill
d. kots- en kotsmisselijk
very nauseous

Nouns used in adjectival compounds may have special stem allomorphs with one of  the linking elements -e or -s, just like NN compounds:

Example 5

a. apetrots
very proud
b. beresterk
very strong
c. doodsbang
very frightened
d. hondsbrutaal
very impertinent

There are also adjectival copulative compounds such as rood-wit-blauw red-white-blue and Duits-Frans German-French. Note that these compounds are copulative from a semantic, but not from a formal point of view: only the adjectival head will bear an inflectional ending when the adjective is used attributively. Hence, the rightmost adjective is the head, as illustrated by the following examples with inflected adjectives:

Example 6

a. de rood-wit-blauwe vlag
de rood-wit-blauw-e vlag
DEF.SG.C red-white-blue-INFL flag.C
the red-white-blue flag
b. Duits-Franse betrekkingen
Duits-Frans-e betrekkingen
German-French-INFL relations
German-French relations

The semantic relation between heads and non-heads can differ. In AA-compounds the first adjective may modify the second, the head. In VA-compounds, the V will either function as an intensifier, as in kotsmisselijk sick as a dog (cf. kotsen to vomit), or it expresses a thematic role of the adjective, as in spilziek waste-sick wasteful (cf. spillen to waste). In NA compounds, the noun often functions as the point of comparison with respect to the property expressed by the adjectival head, as in the following examples

Example 7

a. boterzacht
soft as butter, very soft
b. ijzersterk
strong as iron, very strong
c. lijkbleek
pale as a corpse, very pale
d. steenkoud
cold as a stone, very cold
e. vuurrood
red as fire, very red

The noun that functions as the point of comparison has often developed into an intensifier with the general meaning 'very'. Hence, they are referred to as prefixoids, a subclass of affixoids.

In addition, there is quite a number of NA compounds in which the noun also functions as an intensifier, without the original interpretation (point of comparison) being possible, as in:

Example 8

a. broodnuchter
stone sober
b. doodeerlijk
perfectly honest
c. oliedom
very stupid
d. stokdoof
stone deaf
e. straatarm

Due to the intensifier meaning of the first constituent, it is rather odd to form comparatives and superlatives of such adjectives: forms such as ijzersterkst and vuurroder are semantically odd, although not completely impossible. For instance, a sentence such as De ouders waren nog vuurroder dan hun kinderen The parents were even more crimson than their children is certainly possible. For some NA compounds the semantic role of the noun with respect to the adjectival head can be explicated by means of a PP with that noun:

energiezuinig - zuinig met energie economical with energy

hittebestendig - bestand tegen hitte resistant to heat

loodvrij - vrij van lood free from lead

milieuvriendelijk - vriendelijk voor het milieu friendly for the environment

sneeuwzeker - zeker van sneeuw with guaranteed snow

vetarm - arm aan vet low-fat

If the adjectival head has the form of a present participle, the nominal non-head has the Theme role, whereas with past participles as heads, the noun has a variety of roles. The latter kind of adjectival compound has become very popular, probably under the influence of English:

Example 9

Present participles
a. energiebesparend
b. grensoverschrijdend
crossborder, breaking new ground
c. hartverscheurend
d. noodlijdend
needy, suffering
Example 10

Past participles
a. inbraak-beveiligd
b. luchtgekoeld
c. noodgedwongen
by necessity
d. tijdgebonden
e. toekomstgericht

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There is a correlation between the intensifier interpretation of the noun and the stress pattern of such adjectival compounds. Generally, the two constituents of an adjectival compound have either equal stress, or the location of the main stress is variable, depending on rhythmic factors and syntactic position. However, if the noun is interpreted as an intensifier, the main stress of the word is on the first, intensifying constituent. In other words, the stress pattern of an adjectival compound is co-determined by its semantic interpretation, and not only by its structural properties.