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Ultra- is a category-neutral prefix, a loan from Latin, probably via French. It can be found in nouns like ultrageluid ultra-sound ultrasonic sound and in adjectives such as ultramodern extremely modern. The general function is to denote a very high degree.


Ultra- is a Latin preposition and adverb meaning beyond. It combines with native and foreign nouns and adjectives. The oldest Dutch word with ultra- (ca. 1615) is the internationalism ultramarijn ultramarine, originally '(from) beyond the sea' (Etymologiebank). The semantics of ultra- formations is (more or less) compositional and monotonous: the meaning of the whole is a transparent function of the meanings of the constituting parts: ultrageluid ultrasound is a kind of geluid sound (albeit beyond human perception) and someone who is ultraliberaal ultra-liberal is liberal in the most extreme sense (cf. Affixes). For most speakers, ultra- formations denote a higher point on the scale than comparable words with super-(De Haas and Trommelen 1993).

Prefixes like ultra- are independent phonological words: in nouns with ultra-, stress is on the affix, in adjectives with ultra-, stress is not fixed, but the prefix minimally carries a secondary accent. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary: ultra-optimistisch ultra-optimistisch.

Morphological potential: because of the meaning of the prefix, comparative and superlative forms of ultra- formations are impossible.

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Formations with ultra are rare in the Spoken Dutch Corpus (CGN); adjectives outnumber nouns.

  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij