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sub- /søp/ is an international category-neutral stress-bearing prefix of Latin origin found with bases of native (e.g. subvraagsubquestion) or non-native (e.g. subtropisch subtropical) origin. The basic meaning is under.


sub- /søp/ is an international category-neutral stress-bearing prefix going back to the Latin adverb, preposition and prefix sub. The oldest attestations in Dutch date from the middle ages, e.g. subdiaken sub-dean (1240) (Philippa 2003-2009). It combines with native and non-native nouns and adjectives to form nouns and adjectives, respectively. Many derivations with sub- are complete loans from Latin or from French (e.g. subjectief subjective) or English (subversief subversive).

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It is unclear whether the few verbs with sub- (e.g. sublimeren to sublimate, suggereren to suggest) are deverbal, verbalizations of the pertinent adjective (subliem sublime) and noun suggestie suggestion), or direct loans.

In nouns with sub-, the prefix bears stress ('subgroep subgroup), in adjectives the prefix usually has secondary stress (e.g. "subopti'maal suboptimal). In older sub- formations, the final consonant of the often has assimilated to the first consonant of the stem, e.g. successie succession (< subcedere), suggestie suggestion (< subgerere) and surreëel surreal (< subrealis); this assimilation is a reflex of the assimilation patterns of the language of origin, Latin. In many loans (subiet immediately, subliem sublime, succes success, suppoost attendant, surrogaat surrogate, suffix suffix), the original meaning of the prefix under is hard to recognize (Etymologiebank), and is it therefore also hard to recognize the first syllable of these words as a prefix.

The prefix is less productive than it is the Romance languages and in English: many scientific neologisms have been borrowed from the neighboring languages, but in the common language, native onder under is much more common, yielding separable complex verbs like onderverhuren so sublet, nonseparable verbs such as ondertitelen to subtitle, and complex nouns and adjectives like onderafdeling subdepartment and onderontwikkeld underdeveloped. Etymologiebank sees a rise in productivitity in the second half of the 20th century, resulting in new formations such as subcontinent subcontinent, subtotaal subtotal, subgroep subgroup, subcultuur subculture, subhoofd sub-heading.

  • Philippa, Marlies, Debrabandere, Frans, Quak, Arend, Schoonheim, Tanneke & Sijs, Nicoline van der2003-2009Etymologisch Woordenboek van het NederlandsAmsterdam University Press