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-heid /hɛɪd/ is a non-cohering productive Germanic suffix found in nouns of common gender on the basis of native and non-native adjectives (e.g. gladheid smoothness < glad smooth, correctheid correctness < correct correct). It is also found with some adverbial, nominal or quantificational bases (e.g. overheid over.heid government, mensheid human.heid mankind, humanity, minderheid less.heid minority), but here, the process is non-productive. The suffix carries secondary stress. -heid . The plural form, if applicable, is in -heden /hedə(n)/.


  • the property of being A

[+]Input restrictions

The affix -heid combines with adjectives, both Germanic and foreign, simplex and complex, to form nouns of common gender, selecting the singular definite article de:

  • Simplex Germanic bases: gladheid smoothness, openheid openness, dwaasheid foolishness.
  • Complex Germanic bases: maagdelijkheid [maagd-elijk]-heid virginity, hardnekkigheid [[hard-nek]-ig]-heid stubbornness.
  • Simplex foreign bases: alertheid alertness, bleuheid shyness, coolheid coolness.
  • Complex foreign bases: attentheid attentiveness, serieusheid seriousness, passiefheid passivity, abstractheid abstractness.
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Adjectives ending in schwa enter only rarely into -heid formation: De Haas and Trommelen (1993:247) claim that *valideheid validity and timideheid timidness are impossible, but the latter is attested, just like frêleheid frailness.

There is a division of labor with the competing suffix -te that only occurs with native simplex stems. In the domein where these suffixes compete, -heid is never blocked by -te, but in some cases there is a meaning difference between the two types of derived noun (Booij 2002: 128); in these cases, the -te formation is usually more idiomatic than the one in -heid, that is, the semantics of -te derivations is less predictable (and the same may also hold for the form, witness the third example in the table below).

Table 1
base -te derivation -heid derivation
groen green groente vegetables groenheid greenness
leeg empty leegte emptiness, blank leegheid emptiness
heet hot hitte heat heetheid hotness

Past participles can be input to -heid formation as well, but only if they can be used as adjectives, e.g. beleefdheid politeness (< beleefd polite), vermoeidheid fatigue (< vermoeid tired), geleerdheid erudition (< geleerd learned) are fine, but *geklaagdheid < geklaagd complained < klagen to complain is not.

Occasionally the basis is of another category:

  • quantifiers: eenheid unit, unity (< een one), hoeveelheid amount (< hoeveel how many, how much), minderheid minority (< minder less) and irregular (or analogically) meerderheid majority (< meer more), complex .
  • adverbial: overheid government < over over.
  • noun: mensheid humanity < mens human being, godheid god, deity < god god, christenheid Christianity < christen Christian.
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    Drieëenheid three.one.ness Trinity (also spelled drie-eenheid, older forms drij-eenigheyd, drievoudichheit, drieheit) is a calque after Latin trinitas.

    Belgian writer Dimitri Verhulst coined helaasheid alasness on the basis of the interjection or adverbhelaas alas for his 2006 novel De helaasheid der dingen the alasness of the things (the international title of the 2009 movie based on the book is The Misfortunates).

[+]Semantic properties

Derivations with -heid are in general abstract nouns, with a general meaning: 'the property of being A', e.g. luiheid lazyness < lui lazy. Sometimes a more concrete meaning has developed, e.g. domheid stupidity, act of stupdity and verkoudheid the common cold.

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We find lexicalized meanings in, a.o., hoogheid highness, schoonheid beauty, geaardheid nature, sexual orientation, apartheid apartheid, and opaque semantics in aangelegenheid matter, case. With nominal bases we get a collective meaning as in mensheid humanity < mens human being.

[+]Inflectional properties

The plural of -heid is -heden /hedə(n)/: verantwoordelijkheden responsibilities, eenheden units, godheden deities. Due to the abstract semantics of -heid formations, there is often no use for a plural form. On the other hand, certain -heid formations are attested in the plural form only, e.g. benodigdheden necessities, accessories (< benodigd needed) and ongeregeldheden disturbances, riots (< ongeregeld irregular).

[+]Syntactic properties

If the base adjective selects a preposition, this selection restriction carries over to the -heid derivation (Moortgat 1981), e.g. beduchtheid voor gemakzuchtig gebruik apprehension for lazy use (< beducht voor fearful of).

[+]Morphological potential

NN compounding with -heid derivations is quite easy. When -heid formations function as lefthand parts, there is often a link phoneme /s/: moeilijkheidsgraad [[[moei-lijk]-heid]-s-graad] degree of difficulty. When they are righthand part, the lefthand part of the compound may be taken as argument of the stem adjective wiskundebevoegdheid mathematics competence qualification to teach maths. Due to the abstract meaning of -heid, diminutive formation is rare and may force change of meaning, e.g. beleefdheidje < beleefd polite does not mean 'small politeness' but 'small act of politeness'.

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Lexicalization of the diminutive can be found in aardigheidje small present, small joke (< aardig nice); kleinigheidje small thing, trifle (< klein small).

[+]Phonological properties

-heid /hɛɪd/ is a noncohering suffix, witness the possibility of gapping: De psychiater bespeurde bij hem zowel lui- als domheid the psychiatrist sensed in him both lazyness and stupidity (ANS). The suffix never bears the main accent. Usually the accent pattern of the base does not change in -heid derivations, except in the case of bases derived by means of the suffix -loos less, where the main stress usually shifts towards -loos: 'werkloos jobless > werk'loosheid joblessness.

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The suffix sequence -igheid as in narigheid misery and viezigheid dirt has become a suffix of its own, with a specific meaning that is not computable on the basis of the meanings of -ig and -heid. Read more here.

  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Moortgat, Michael1981Subcategorization and the notion 'Lexical Head'Linguistics in the Netherlands 1981Amsterdam