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Prefixation is the process of adding a prefix at the left edge of a base word, thus deriving a prefixed word. A substantial number of Dutch prefixes are category-neutral, that is, they do not change the syntactic category of their base word, as illustrated by the following examples in which the category of the base word is preserved:

zin sense > onzin nonsense

aardig pleasant > onaardig unpleasant.

Verbal prefixes, however, may change the syntactic category of the base word, as in the verb verhuis move derived from the noun huis house.


The category-neutral native prefixes of Dutch are listed in the following table:

Table 1
Prefix Meaning Base category Example
aarts- intense/ top in hierarchy A/N/N aartslui very lazy, aartsschurk arrant villain, aartsbisschop archbishop
her- again V/N/A herschrijven rewrite, herexamen re-examination, herbruikbaar reusable
niet- negative N/A niet-roker non-smoker, niet-Christelijk non-Christian
oer- intense/ original N/A oersterk very strong, oermens prehistoric man
on- negative A/N ongezond unhealthy, onmens brute
opper- upper N opperhoofd chief
oud- former N oud-student former student
According to (Trommelen and Zonneveld 1986), the category neutrality of prefixes follows from the Righthand Head Rule, which claims that the rightmost constituent of a complex word is its head and therefore determines its syntactic category. However, there are also a number of verbalizing prefixes that do change the syntactic category of the base word, and thus form a problem for the Righthand Head Rule.
Table 2
Prefix Base category Example base Example prefixed verb
be- N/A/V dijk dike, zat drunk, kijk look bedijk to secure with a dike, bezat hit the bottle, bekijk look at
ver- N/A/V huis house, bleek pale, koop buy verhuis move, verbleek pale, verkoop sell
ont- N/A/V kurk cork, eigen own, bind bind ontkurk uncork, onteigen disown, ontbind dissolve
ge- V leid lead geleid guide, conduct
er- V ken know erken recognize
A number of morphemes functioning as words by themselves are nevertheless considered prefixes, because they have a specific meaning when part of a complex verb, and because they have category-changing power, as illustrated by the verb doorspek inter-lard intersperse derived from the noun spek bacon, lard and the preposition door through. Other examples are the following prefixes:
Table 3
Prefix Example base Example prefixed verb
aan- bid pray aanbid worship
achter- haal fetch achterhaal find out
door- snijd cut, spek lard doorsnijd cut through, doorspek intersperse
mis- vorm form (V) misvorm deform
om- sluit close, cirkel circle omsluit enclose, omcirkel encircle
onder- breek break (V), titel title onderbreek interrupt, ondertitel subtitle (V)
over- win win, brug bridge overwin defeat (V), overbrug bridge (V)
vol- maak make volmaak bring to perfection
voor- kom come voorkom prevent
weer- schijn shine (V) weerschijn reflect
Dutch prefixes are always non-cohering affixes.

See Booij (2002 ch. 3) for more information about prefixation.

  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Trommelen, Mieke & Zonneveld, Wim1986Dutch morphology: evidence for the right-hand head ruleLinguistic Inquiry17147-170
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