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pre- /pre/ is a non-native category-neutral non-cohering prefix, going back to the Latin preposition, adverb and prefix praebefore, predominantly. It is found in nouns (pre-advies preliminary advice), adjectives (prekoloniaal precolonial), and verbs (predomineren predominate). The meaning contribution of the prefix is before, predominantly. Most formations with pre- appear to be loans; new forms such as prepensioen prepension are rare.


The prefix pre- is found in nouns, verbs and adjectives on bases of foreign origin, either words (such as a noun in pre-advies preliminary advice < advies advice, an adjective in prekoloniaal precolonial < koloniaal colonial, or a verb in predomineren predominate < domineren to dominate) or bound forms (prefix prefix, prepareren to prepare). Verbs with pre- are usually derived by means of the (foreign) suffix -eer. According to De Haas and Trommelen (1993: 60ff), the suffix carries main stress in that type of verbs, whereas the prefix has secondary stress, e.g. presenteren /ˌpre.zɛn.ˈtɛ.rən/ to present.

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Sometimes, the prefix carries stress, at least for some speakers, e.g. in pre-adviseren /ˈpre.ɑt.vi.ˌsɛ.rən/ to pre-advise. In nouns, the main stress may be on the prefix or follow the stress pattern of the base word: Heemskerk (2000) give 'preadvies /ˈpre.ɑt.vis/ pre-advice next to pre'cambrium /ˌpre.cɑm.ˈbri.jøm/ Precambrian.

Prefixation with pre- (and other prefixes of that class) does not influence the inflectional pattern of the verb (always regular) nor its syntactic properties such as transitivity. In the past/passive participle, the inflectional prefix ge- precedes the foreign derivational prefix pre: geprepareerd ge-pre-pareer-d prepared etc.
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De Haas and Trommelen (1993: 60vv) distinguish three subtypes of verbs with pre- (etc.), viz., 1: cases such as prepareren to prepare in which neither the combination prefix+stem (*prepar), nor the combination stem+suffix (pareer) occur independently, 2: cases such as prefigeren to prefix in which prefix+stem does occur (prefix) but the combination stem+suffix (*figeren) does not, and 3: cases such as predomineren predominate where stem+suffix do occur (domineren to dominate) but prefix+stem (*predom) does not.

Booij (2002:98-99) mentions pre- as one of the historically non-native prefixes that attach to both non-native and native stems, but we only found non-native stems and bound forms; Booij's examples prepensioen early retirement and pre-advies preliminary advice are no exceptions; note, however, loans from English such as pre-workout that do have a native, or at least a non-Romance base.

The prefix has developed a usage as a noun meaning advantage, plus as in kennis van het Engels is een pre knowledge of English is an advantage; Etymologiebank suggests this may be a loan from English. etc.

One also finds new coinings where the prefix appears to mean something like the period before the one referred to or associated with the headword, such as pre-menopauze time (just) before the menopauze, pre-zwangerschapstest pregnancy test before the real one, pre-brede herwaardering period before a certain law was introduced.

Most formations with pre- have counterparts in the neighbouring languages German, English (cf. Affixes) and/or French and many of them may be loans (see Etymologiebank); new formations with the prefix are virtually impossible.

  • 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
  • Heemskerk, José & Zonneveld, Wim2000UitspraakwoordenboekHet Spectrum