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-es(se) [ɛs(sə)] is a stressed, unproductive, cohering suffix of Romance origin that creates nouns of common gender denoting female persons out of male professional function names. Being of common gender, -es derivations take the definite singular article de. Plural of -es formations is usually in -(e)n, also in -s in case of the -esse variant.


  • female counterpart of base noun

Table 1
derivation base
voogdes female guardian < voogd guardian
zondares female sinner < zondaar sinner
zangeres female singer < zanger singer
secretaresse female secretary < secretaris secretary

[+]Morphosyntactic properties

The suffix -es [ɛs](Zonneveld 1986) is a stressed, unproductive, cohering suffix of Romance origin found in nouns of common gender denoting female persons, derived from male professional names. It has an allomorph esse ['ɛsə] found in words such as secretaresse female secretary and bibliothecaresse female librarian, and both variants are attested in pairs such as eigenares/eigenaresse female owner, meesteres/meesteresse mistress, dominatrix, barones/baronesse baroness and dienares/dienaresse (maid)servant. The suffix in complementary distribution with native suffixes such as -ster (productive, default) and -in.

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According to Booij (2002: 103), "The choice between -es and -in is not governed by specific conditions, but they are unproductive anyway."

Although -ster is the default and productive suffix for base forms derived by means of -er and -aar, the exact distribution is not predictable: cf. deverbal lerares female teacher with beoordelaarster judge, denominal zondares female sinner with molenares female miller. There are quite some double forms, e.g kluizenares/kluizenaarster female recluse, bedelaarster/bedelares female begger, while certain other bases have no female counterpart at all (no *redenares or *redenaarster from redenaar speaker, orator).

If there is a difference in pairs such as eigenares/eigenaresse female owner, meesteres/meesteresse mistress, dominatrix, barones/baronesse baroness and dienares/dienaresse (maid)servant, the longer variant is felt as more archaic. There is also an allomorph -is(se) ['ɪsə], found only in abdis abbess (< abt abbott) and in claris, clarisse Franciscan nun.

Ith as been claimed that eigenaresse female owner is more common than eigenares female owner; according to googlefight (September 30th, 2013) this is true for Netherlands (websites from site:.nl) but not for Belgium (websites from site:.be).

-es derives from two French suffixes ((Philippa 2003-2009)), esse (as in princesse) and eresse (as in chanteresse, modern form chanteuse 'singer'). The former was restricted to high registers, the latter was not.

The form dokteres 'female doctor is more popular in Belgium than in the Netherlands. De Haas and Trommelen (1993:190) claim that in Belgium, -es occasionally combines with verbal stems, as in naaies seamster (< naaien to sew. The common form is naaister, certain informants from The Netherlands also accept naaieres).

[+]Phonological properties

The suffix -es is a cohering suffix: syllabification does not respect the morphological boundary: voogdes voogd-es [vog-'des] female guardian. The suffix bears main stress: ba'ron, baro'nes.

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In a number of -es derivations we find stem allomorphy, e.g. benedictines < benedictijn. barones [ba-ro-'nɛs] baroness has lengthening and vowel change in the open syllable that results from syllabification (cf. baron [ba-'rɔn] baron) (cf. Heemskerk 2000).

[+]Inflectional properties

Plurals of -es formations are in –en, e.g. zangeressen singers, tovenaressen sorceresses, prinsessen princesses, voogdessen guardians. The -esse allomorph also allows for plural in -es: secretaresses secretaries, bibliothecaresses librarians, in the former case this is most frequent variant.

[+]Input restrictions

The base of -es derivations is either simplex (voogd-es guardian, prins-es princess, baron-es baroness) or a deverbal derived noun in -aar or -er (formations that take feminizing -ster by default, (De Haas and Trommelen 1993)) e.g. lerares (< leraar teacher), zondares (< zondaar sinner), tovenares (< tovenares sorcerer), middelares (< middelaar mediator).

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Geographical person names in -aar or -er never take -es, so no *Antwerpenares next to Antwerpen-aar someone from the city of Antwerp or *Texelares next to Texel-aar someone from the isle of Texel, nor *Schiedammeres next to Schiedam-er someone from the city of Schiedam or *Vlielanderes next to *Vlieland-er someone from the isle of Vlieland. Instead, a derivation in -e from the pertinent adjective is used for the female inhabitant name: Antwerps-e, Texels-e, Schiedams-e, Vlielands-e.

[+]Semantic properties

Formations with the suffix -es denote female function names: voogdes female guardian is the counterpart of voogd guardian.

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There are still traces of the historical (French) dichotomy between high register -es(se) and lower -eres(se) in current Dutch, cf. forms like (upper class) voogdesguardian, prinses princess with (down to earth) lerares teacher, zangeres singer (see Etymologiebank). Certain forms in -esse are attested as well, such as baronesse baroness next to barones baroness, eigenaresse owner next to eigenares owner. In general, the longer forms sound more solemn and archaic(Haeseryn 1997).

In the case of secretaresse office assistant, a semantic change has occurred: the word refers to a job with less status (and salary) than that of a (vrouwelijke) secretaris female secretary. In the double form tekenaarster someone who draws vs. tekenares professional female draftsman, semantic specialization has occurred.

[+]Morphological potential

-es formations can be input to diminutive formation (zangeresje small/cute female singertovenaresje small sorceress) (those in -esse cannot, apart from attested secretaresje < secretaresse secretary), but not to other derivational processes. In compounds, they can function both as left-hand and right-hand part, as illustrated by onderwijzeressenhandschrift female teacher's handwriting and gymnastieklerares female gymnastics teacher, respectively.

  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Heemskerk, José & Zonneveld, Wim2000UitspraakwoordenboekHet Spectrum
  • Philippa, Marlies, Debrabandere, Frans, Quak, Arend, Schoonheim, Tanneke & Sijs, Nicoline van der2003-2009Etymologisch Woordenboek van het NederlandsAmsterdam University Press
  • Zonneveld, Wim1986De morfologie van de mens: de vrouwProeven van TaalwetenschapTABU226-234