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Coordinative compounds

Coordinative compounds consist of two (occasionally more) elements of the same syntactic category; both constituents refer to properties of the same entity and bear equal semantic weight. For instance, a tuinman-chauffeur gardener-chauffeur is someone who is both a gardener and a chauffeur. Adjectival compounds of this type are doofstom deaf-dumb and rood-wit-blauw red-white-blue. In the phrase Duits-Nederlandse betrekkingen German-Dutch relations, the coordinative compound adjective Duits-Nederlandse specifies two entities between which the relation holds.

Sometimes, coordinative compounds are called copulative compounds.


The category of nominal coordinative compounds is productive for functional roles of persons. Here are some examples:

Example 1

a. minister-president
prime minister
b. prins-gemaal
prince consort
c. stadhouder-koning
d. tuinman-chauffeur

However, this type of compounds is not restricted to names for persons, as the following examples show:

Example 2

a. marxisme-leninisme
b. café-restaurant
c. Sleeswijk-Holstein
d. tuner-versterker

There may be more than two constituents, as in hotel-café-restaurant hotel-café-restaurant.

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On the basis of examples such as actor-writer-impressionist and brain surgeon-linebacker-artist-husband, Olsen (2001: 293) argues that coordinate compounds "instatiate the recursive, binary branching structure that is typical of multi-stem determinative compounds".

Coordinative compounding is productive in the case of colours as well:

Example 3

a. blauw-grijze ogen
blue-grey eyes
b. nu bestaat de Friese vlag uit zeven blauw-witte banen met rode waterleliebladen
now consists the Frisian flag of seven blue-white-e strokes with red water-lily-leaves
the Frisian flag now consists of seven blue-white stripes with red water lily leaves
c. de rood-wit-blauwe vlag
the red-white-blue flag

Semantically, coordinative compounds fall into three classes (Bauer 2013: 481):

  • conjunctive: the meanings of the left- and the right-hand member are added up: a tuinman-chauffeur is a chauffeur who is also a gardener, and somebody who is doofstom deaf-dumb is both deaf and dumb. Such cases are sometimes called copulative compounds.
  • translative: the compound expresses a relation between two entities, as in Nederlands-Duits woordenboek Dutch-German dictionary or moeder-dochtergesprek mother-daughter conversation.
  • disjunctive: the compound expresses two mutually exclusive choices, as in aan-uit-knop on-off button or stop-go-gesprek stop-go talk.
A detailed classification of the types of coordinative compounds that occur in Dutch is provided in Olsen (2001). Note that the adjectival compounds do not exactly fit the semantic classes listed above. The compound blauw-grijs blue-grey in (3a) denotes a colour between blue and grey, while blauw-wit blue-white and rood-wit-blauw red-white-blue in (3b) and (3c) denote an alternation between the respective colours.
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Certain complex cardinal numerals, such as vijf-tien fif-teen 15 and honderd-drie hundred-three 103, may also be analyzed as coordinative compounds, as the semantics of these numeral compounds is that of coordination (addition). In numerals higher than 20 we may see explicit conjunction, as in een-en-twintig one-and-twenty 21 and honderd-en-drie hundred-and-three 103.

[+]Morpho-syntactic behaviour

As argued by Booij (2002: 144), the morpho-syntactic properties of coordinative compounds are similar to those of endocentric compounds. For instance, the plural form of tuinman-chauffeur is tuinman-chauffeurs (and not *tuinmannen-chauffeurs, with two plural nouns), so the right-hand element functions as the head in formal, if not in semantic, terms. The different status of the parts can also be seen in the behaviour of coordinative NN-compounds in which the gender of the two constituents differs. In the compound kind-ster child star, a star who is still a child (with the plural form kind-sterren), the word ster has common gender, while the word kind is a neuter noun. In accordance with the usual right-headedness of Dutch compounds, the complex word as a whole has common gender.

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In onzetaal it is stated that in coordinative compounds such as directeur-aandeelhouder director-shareholder managing partner both possibilities (final plural marking directeur-aandeelhouders and double plural marking directeurs-aandeelhouders) are available; the latter option is claimed to be the most common.

Adjectival coordinative compounds such as doof-stom deaf-dumb and Duits-Nederlands German-Dutch also behave as one word morphosyntactically. In prenominal position the adjectival inflection appears only on the last constituent, hence Duits-Nederlandse betrekkingen German-Dutch relations and not *Duitse-Nederlandse betrekkingen.

A special property of Dutch coordinative compounds is that they do not take linking elements(Haas 1993: 364).

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Occasionally, one does find stem allomorphy, as in attested kinderster kinder-ster child star (next to more common kind-ster child star). Olsen (2001: 293) argues that German coordinative compounds do display linking morphemes.

Compounds like rechter-commissaris judge-commissionary examining judge (plural form rechters-commissarissen) look like coordinative compounds, but the second word is semantically a modifier of the first and does not encode a separate role. Hence, we interpret this compound as a left-headed compound, similar to compounds like secretaris-generaal secretary-general.

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In some languages we find coordinative compounds that have a special semantic status in that they express hyperonyms of the meanings of the constituents. An example would be the compound daughter-son children. Such forms are called co-compounds(Wälchli 2005). Co-compounds do not exist in Dutch.

  • Bauer, Laurie, Lieber, Rochelle & Plag, Ingo2013The Oxford Reference Guide to English MorphologyOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Olsen, Susan2001Copulative compounds: A closer look at the interface between syntax and morphologyYearbook of Morphology 2000DordrechtKluwer279-320
  • Olsen, Susan2001Copulative compounds: A closer look at the interface between syntax and morphologyYearbook of Morphology 2000DordrechtKluwer279-320
  • Olsen, Susan2001Copulative compounds: A closer look at the interface between syntax and morphologyYearbook of Morphology 2000DordrechtKluwer279-320
  • Wälchli, Bernhard2005Co-compounds and natural coordinationOxfordOxford University Press