• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents

A syllable-final coronal nasal /n/ after schwa may be deleted in Standard Dutch. This process is obligatory in the western part of the Netherlands although variation can be found depending on speech style (Van Oss and Gussenhoven 1984; Schuppler et al. 2011; Van de Velde and Van Hout 1998). Exceptions to this rule are the indefinite article een /ən/ a and verbal stems ending in /n/ in which the nasal cannot be deleted (Booij 1995:139-141; Hinskens 1992).


Syllable-final /n/ after schwa can be dropped in singular and plural nouns and verbs as illustrated in (1):

Example 1

regen /reɣən/ [ˈreɣə(n)] rain
molen /molən/ [ˈmolə(n)] mill
boeken /bukən/ [ˈbukə(n)] books
fietsen /fitsən/ [ˈfitsə(n)] bicycles
lopen /lopən/ [ˈlopə(n)] to walk
zingen /zɪŋən/ [ˈzɪŋə(n)] to sing

There is debate (cf. Booij 1995) as to whether the coronal nasal is present in the underlying form of, for instance, the plural morpheme /-ən/. Alternatively, a single schwa could be posited in these forms. However, there is evidence from related morphological words which indicates that the nasal must be underlyingly present. Example (2) lists the infinitive of verbs (including a nasal) that are morphologically related to the nouns in the first column:

Example 2

regen rain - regenen [ˈreɣənə(n)] to rain
teken sign - tekenen [ˈtekənə(n)] to draw
open open - openen [ˈopənə(n)] to open

Additional evidence for the presence of an underlying nasal comes from the interaction of clitics and the phonological process of Prevocalic Schwa Deletion. If schwa-initial enclitics attach to schwa-final prosodic words, the first schwa is deleted to avoid hiatus, as shown in the singular past form in (3a). If the coronal nasal was indeed absent from the present plural form in (3b), we would expect the same surface form as in (3a). However, this is not what we find:

Example 3

a. zette het /zɛtə-ət/ [zɛtət] put-SG.PST it
b. zetten het /zɛtən-ət/ [zɛtənət]   / [*zɛtət] put-PL.PRS it

Syllable-final /n/ after schwa is also deleted in adjectives (4a,b), particles (4c) and prepositions (4d).

Example 4

houten /hɑutən/ [ˈhɑutə(n)] wooden
open /opən/ [ˈopə(n)] open
even /evən/ [ˈevə(n)] just a moment
boven /bovən/ [ˈbovə(n)] above
[hide extra information]

A lexical exception to n-deletion concerns the words Christen [xrɪstən] Christian and Heiden [hɛidən] pagan, heathen in which the [n] seems to be obligatory among most speakers of Dutch.

Booij (1995, citing Koefoed 1979) points out another exception in which syllable-final coronal nasals following schwa are not deleted. No /n/-deletion takes place if the /n/ occurs at the end of a verbal stem. So, in first-person singular verb forms, which do not have any inflectional endings in Dutch, the /n/ cannot be deleted, as illustrated in (5):

Example 5

oefenen - (ik) oefen /ufən/ [ˈufən] (I) train
openen - (ik) open /opən/ [ˈopən] (I) open
tekenen - (ik) teken /tekən/ [ˈtekən] (I) draw

As a result, we find oppositions as in (6), in which the pronunciation of the syllable-final [n] in the first-person singular verb form open is obligatory (6a) whereas the pronunciation of [n] in the morphologically related adjective open is optional (6b):

Example 6

a. (ik) open (deuren) /opən/ [ˈopən]   / [*ˈopə] (I) open (doors)
b. (een) open (deur) /opən/ [ˈopə(n)] (an) open (door)

Lastly, /n/-deletion can also take place word-internally in diminutives if the base noun ends in -en(7a), as well as in some adverbials (7b) and in compounds (7c).

Example 7

a. molentje /molən-tjə/ [ˈmolə(n)tjə] mill-DIM little mill
      regentje /reɣən-tjə/ [ˈreɣə(n)tjə] rain-DIM little rain
b. openlijk /opən-lək/ [ˈopə(n)lək] openly
      eventjes /evən-tjəs/ [ˈevə(n)tjəs] momentarily
c. regenpak [[regen][pak]] /reɣən-pɑk/ [ˈreɣə(n)pɑk] (lit.) rain suit
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Hinskens, Frans1992Dialect Levelling in Limburg. Structural and Sociolinguistic AspectsKatholieke Universiteit NijmegenThesis
  • Koefoed, Geert1979Paradigmatische invloeden op fonetische processenGlotSpecial51-72
  • Oss, Frans van & Gussenhoven, Carlos1984De Nederlandse slot-n in het nieuwsGramma14261-271
  • Schuppler, B., Ernestus, M., Scharenborg, O. & Boves, L2011Acoustic reduction in conversational Dutch: A quantitative analysis based on automatically generated segmental transcriptionsJournal of Phonetics3996-109
  • Velde, Hans van de & Hout, Roeland van1998Dangerous aggregations. A case study of Dutch (n) deletionPapers in SociolinguisticsQuébecÉditions Nota bene137-147