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Verbal compounds

Verbal compounds are compounds with a verbal head. An example is stofzuigen to vacuum, as in

Example 1

Otto stofzuigde de eetkamer
Otto dust-sucked the dining-room
Otto vacuum-cleaned the dining room

Verbal compounding is an unproductive process in Dutch. Its function is covered by noun incorporation, that is, separable complex verbs of the type Noun + Verb such as deelnemen part-take take part, which are split in main clauses:

Example 2

Maarten {neemt deel / *deelneemt} aan de wedstrijd
Maarten takes part/ part-takes in the match
Maarten takes part in the match

However, verbal compounds may arise through back formation. For instance, the nominal compound stofzuiger dust-sucker vacuum cleaner gave rise to the verb stofzuigen to vacuum through reinterpretation of this compound as an -er-derivative of the verbal stem stofzuig. Other examples of this kind of back formation from complex nominals are given in the (3) to (7). In each case, a) illustrates the source nominal and b) the back-formed verb:

Example 3

a. beeldhouwer
b. beeldhouwen
to sculpt
Example 4

a. bloemlezing
b. bloemlezen
to make an anthology
Example 5

a. hongerstaking
hunger strike
b. hongerstaken
to hunger-strike
Example 6

a. paardrijden
b. paardrijden
to horse-ride
Example 7

a. tekstverwerker
word processor
b. tekstverwerken
word processing

As a consequence of their developmental history, back-formed verbal compounds receive the regular inflection, even if the corresponding simplex verb forms its past tense and past participle form irregularly:

Table 1
Verb Past tense singular Past participle
beeldhouw sculpt beeldhouwde (*beeldhieuw) gebeeldhouwd (*gebeeldhouwen)
bloemlees make an anthology bloemleesde (*bloemlas) gebloemleesd (*gebloemlezen)
stofzuig vacuum-clean stofzuigde (*stofzoog) gestofzuigd (*gestofzogen)
In the case of stofzuigen we do find the ablauting forms since this verb has been reinterpreted by some speakers of Dutch as a separable complex verb. Hence, we do get the past participle stofgezogen, but never *gestofzogen. In contrast to verbal compounds, separable complex verbs preserve the strong inflection, as illustrated by autorijden car-drive drive a car, the past tense form of which is the irregular autoreed.


Aside from back-formation of Dutch complex nominals, verbal compounds may arise from English loanwords : the English suffix –ing in compounds of the type [N V-ing]N is replaced by the Dutch suffix –en, and these verbal compounds may have tense forms, as in Wij carpoolen vaak We often do carpooling. Other examples are the following:

Table 2
English -ing-form Dutch -en-form
aquaplaning aquaplanen
bodybuilding bodybuilden
carpooling carpoolen
brainstorming brainstormen
It is possible to convert nominal compounds into verbs, which then look like verbal compounds but are converted nouns (in the following, the stem form is given instead of the infinitive to avoid the impression that the infinitive -en is a nominalizing suffix):
Table 3
Compound noun Verb
blinddoek blindfold blinddoek blindfold
ijsbeer polar bear ijsbeer pace up and down
sjoelbak shovelboard sjoelbak play shovelboard
voetbal football voetbal play football
blokfluit recorder blokfluit play the recorder
glimlach smile glimlach smile
Such verbs behave just like verbal compounds arising from backformation and take regular inflection, even if the simplex verbs have irregular forms: compare gelachen laughed (past participle) but geglimlacht smiled (past participle) and floot whistled (past tense), gefloten whistled (past participle) but blokfluitte played the recorder (past tense), geblokfluit played the recorder (past participle).

There are a few verbal compounds with a verbal non-head, as in:

Example 8

a. spelevaren
to go boating
b. hoesteproesten
to cough and sneeze
c. zweefvliegen
to glide

There are also about 25 verbal compounds with a verbal left-hand constituent and a noun on the right; these words are verbs, not nouns, hence these are exocentric compounds. The nouns typically refer to body parts, and the function of the noun is instrumental (Weggelaar 1986):

Example 9

a. klappertanden
to shiver
b. kortwieken
to clip the wings (of a bird)
c. likkebaarden
to lick one's lips
d. schuimbekken
to foam at the mouth
e. stampvoeten
to stamp one's feet
f. trekkebekken
to pull a face

The left, verbal constituent is not the head of these compounds since verbal inflection appears at the right periphery. For instance, the past tense singular form of trekkebekken is trekkebekte.

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A possible origin of this kind of verbal compounds is the reanalysis of verbs such as knipogen to wink. This verb is perhaps a conversion of the nominal compound knipoog cut-eye [[[knip](V)[oog](N)](N)](V) wink. Through reanalysis the verb can then have been assigned the structure [[knip](V)[oog](N)](V), and subsequently other words of this structure may have been coined. It remains, however, an unproductive pattern, with only an occasional extension in literary language (Weggelaar 1986: 301).

  • Weggelaar, C1986Noun incorporation in DutchInternational Journal of American Linguistics52301-305
  • Weggelaar, C1986Noun incorporation in DutchInternational Journal of American Linguistics52301-305