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-in [ɪn] is a native, stressed, unproductive, cohering suffix that is found nouns of common gender denoting female persons out of (usually Germanic) nouns denoting male persons (vrien'din (female) friend < vriend friend) or animals (leeu'win lioness < leeuw lion). Being of common gender, -in derivations take the definite singular article de. Plural of -in formations is in -(e)n (vriendinnen, leeuwinnen).


Meaning: ‘female N’.

Table 1
derivation base
vriendin female friend < vriend .N friend
keizerin empress < keizer .N emperor
apin female monkey < aap .N monkey

[+]Morphosyntactic properties

The suffix -in [In] is a nominalizing Germanic suffix (Etymologiebank) that is found in nouns of common gender that denote female names or animals. It is not productive.

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In Belgium, the suffix is slightly productive (again), witness the recent appearance of studentin female student; it cannot be excluded that this form is a loan from German.

[+]Phonological properties

The suffix -in bears stress. It is cohering, syllabification does not line up with the morphological boundary, e.g. ezelin [e.zə.lIn] female donkey < ezel [e.zəl] donkey.

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Sometimes phonological processes are active in -in formation: vowel lengthening in godin [ɣo-'dIn] goddess (< god [ɣɔt] god, PL goden [ɣo-'dən] gods), truncation in heidin female heathen (< heiden heathen).

[+]Inflectional properties

Plurals of -in formations are in –en, e.g. vriendinnen friends, leeuwinnen lionesses, keizerinnen empresses.

[+]Input restrictions

The base words in -in formations are usually simplex Germanic nouns, either monosyllabic (e.g. bazin female boss < baas boss) or bisyllabic with a second syllable with schwa (e.g. ezelin [e.zə.lIn] female donkey < ezel [e.zəl] donkey). Stems ending in nasal are extremely rare.

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(De Haas and Trommelen 1993: 192) mention cheffin female boss as a monosyllabic exception to the rule that the basis should be Germanic, and markiezin marquise and zigeunerin female gypsy as polysyllabic ones. Complex base words are found in forms such as molenarin female miller, kartuizerin female Carthusian, gemalin spouse, gezellin female companion and vijandin female enemy. They also point at zottin fool and gekkin fool as potential cases of adjectival input. They note, however, that gek crazy, foolish and zot crazy, foolish can be used as nouns as well (probably as the result of conversion, so analysis as nominal bases is equally viable.

The only cases of -in formations on the basis of a stem in a nasal are koningin queen < koning king (oldest attestation Cuenighinne, see WNT) and (obsolete, biblical) mannin woman < man man.

The suffix -in competes with Germanic -ster and -se, and with foreign -es, among others. It has been claimed (Van Marle 1985) that -e is the default feminizing suffix; (Booij 2002: 103) argues that this claim is too strong. (Booij 2002: 103): "The choice between -es and -in is not governed by specific conditions, but they are unproductive anyway."

[+]Semantic properties

Formations with the suffix -in denote female function names or animal names: a vriendin female friend is the counterpart of vriend friend, a tijgerin tigress is a female tijger tigre.

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In some cases, -in can also mean 'spouse of', so a word like koningin queen is ambiguous or vague between 'highest ruler of a kingdom, who happens to be female' and 'wife of highest ruler of a kingdom'. Until April 30th, 2013, Beatrix van Oranje was koningin of the Netherlands in the first sense, since then, Máxima (née Zorreguieta) is it in the second sense.

[+]Morphological potential

-in derivations are input to regular diminutive formation in -etje: vriendinnetje small female friend, girlfriend, leeuwinnetje small/cute lioness, keizerinnetje small/young empress. Apart from diminutive formation, -in formations cannot be input to derivational processes: abstract noun formation with suffixes -heid or -schap is impossible (no *koninginschap queenship or *heldinheid heroinehood, for instance). In compounds, they can, in principle, function both as lefthand and righthand part as illustrated by heldinnenbrief heroine.en.letter heroic epistle and bijenkoningin bee.en.queen queen bee, respectively.

  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Marle, Jaap van1985On the paradigmatic dimension of morphological creativityDordrechtForis