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Nominal prefixes

Quite a number of prefixes are found in nouns. Usually, the basis is a noun as well, that is, most nominal prefixation is category-neutral, an exception is nominal ge- as in gehuil crying that takes a verb (huilen to cry) as input. Haeseryn (1997: 643) distinguish native and non-native prefixes, with a sometimes different distribution: native prefixes such as amplifying aarts- and negative on- typically prefer native bases, whereas non-native ones such as contra- and pre- are found mostly with non-native bases. Certain non-native prefixes such as ex-, extra- and super- are moving towards native status as they become common with native bases as well, as in ex-man ex-husband, extra-voordeel additional benefirt and superzaak superstore. Many prefixes that are found in complex nouns combine with bases of other categories as well.


On the basis of a mix of criteria, we can distinguish various subclasses of nominal prefixes (cf. also Haeseryn (1997: 644 ff); note that various prefixes occur in more than one category):

[+]The negative prefixes on-, niet- and non-

The negative prefixes on- (as in ontrouw infidility < trouw fidelity and onmens fiend < mens man), niet- (as in niet-roker non-smoker) and non- (as in non-intervention non-intervention and non-informatie useless information have a negative semantics.

[+]The prefixes wan- and mis-

The prefix wan- (as in wansmaak bad taste < smaak taste) expresses a negative evaluation. The element mis- (as in misdaad crime < daad deed, act) can be analyzed along the same lines.

[+]Amplifying prefixes like aarts-, hyper-, super- and ultra-

Prefixes such as aarts- (as in aartsleugenaar terrible liar), hyper- (as in hypercorrectie hypercorrection), super- (as in superster superstar) and ultra- (as in ultramicroscoop ultramicroscope) have an amplifying semantics; the same holds for prefixes such as mega- and giga-

[+]The prefixes anti-, contra- and pro-

The prefixes anti- (as in antifascist antifascist, opponent of fascism) and contra- (as in contrarevolutie counter-revolution) are found in nouns that express a negative stance or action towards something or someone, whereas pro- expresses a positive attitude.

[+]The prefixes aarts-, loco-, opper-, sub-, super- and vice-

The prefixes aarts- (as in aartsbisschop archbishop), loco- (as in locoburgemeester deputy mayor), opper- (as in opperbevelhebber commander in chief), sub- (as in subdiaken sub-dean), super- (as in superarbiter main referee) and vice- (as in vice-admiraal vice admiral) are found in personal nouns; they usually denote a certain rank; in this use the prefixes compete with the process of nominal composition with an adverbial or prepositional left-hand part, as in bovenmeester above.master head-teacher and onderdirecteur under.director subdirector (ANS).

[+]The prefixes ex- and oud-

The prefixes ex- and oud- usually combine with personal nouns, expressing that the referent used to have the position denoted by the base: ex-burgemeester former mayor, oud-verpleegkundige former nurse.

[+]The prefix ge-

The prefix ge- forms neuter abstract nouns on the bases of verbal stems, e.g. geblaf barking < blaffen to bark; quite often, the words are somewhat pejorative. There also some ge- derivations with a more concrete meaning, e.g. gebouw building.

[+]The prefix her-

There are a few forms in which her- combines with (deverbal) nouns to form nouns, such as heruitgave reprint (cf. uitgave edition < uitgeven to publish), herkomst origin (cf. komst coming, arrival < komen to come) and herbewapening rearmament. Most nouns with the prefix, however, are best analyzed as nominalizations of verbs with verbal her-.

[+]The prefix oer-

The prefix oer- is found in nouns that denote first in its class or the original, e.g. oerbos primeval forest and oertekst original text.

[+]Other prefixes of foreign origin

There are many more prefixes and prefix-like elements of foreign origin found in Dutch words, e.g.

  • co- and its allomorphs col-, com-, con- and cor- (co-auteur co-author, colloquium colloquium, commissie commission, committee, conrector vice-principal, correlatie correlation), inter- (interfaculteit interfaculty), post- (postconcentratiekampsyndroom post concentration camp syndrome) and pre- (pre-advies pre-advice) can be traced back to Latin prepositions. The formations mentioned are comparable to nominal compounds with an adverbial left-hand part like mede-auteur co-author, tussenoplossing between.solution interim solution, naverbrander afterburner and voorwoord before.word preface.
  • Many Greek and Latin bound forms that are somewhere in the grey area between parts of (non-native) compounds (cf. here) and prefixes (cf. Meesters (2004)). Haeseryn (1997: mention auto ( self) as in autobiografie autobiography, bio- ( life) as in biotechnologie biotechnology, eco- (< ecologie ecology) as in ecostroom sustainable electricity, Euro- as in Europarlement European parliament, macro- large as in macro-economie macro-economics and macrofotografie macrophotography, mega- very large as in megabioscoop very large cinema and Megahertz million cycles per second, micro ( very small) as in microkrediet microcredit and micrometer one millionth of a meter, neo ( new) as in neorealisme neorealism, pseudo as in pseudowetenschapper pseudoscientist, psycho- soul- (< psychologie psychology) as in psychodrama psychological drama, socio- (< sociologie sociology) as in sociotherapie social therapy, tele- ( far) as in telewerken teleworking, and amplifying turbo- (< turbine) as in turbokoe extremely productive cow, possibly the result of genetic manipulation.

  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Meesters, Gert2004Marginale morfologie in het Nederlands. Paradigmatische samenstellingen, neo-klassieke composita en splintercompositaGentKoninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde