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Copulative compounds

In copulative compounds the constituents refer to properties of the same entity. For instance, a tuinman-chauffeur gardener-chauffeur is someone who is both a gardener and a chauffeur. Adjectival compounds of this type are, for example, doof-stom deaf-dumb and rood-wit-blauw red-white-blue. In the phrase Duits-Nederlandse betrekkingen German-Dutch relations, the copulative adjective Duits-Nederlandse specifies the two entities between which the relations hold.

Numerals may also have the form of copulative compounds, as in vijf-tien fif-teen 15 and honderd-drie hundred-three 103. The semantics of these numeral compounds is that of coordination (addition). In numerals higher than 20 there may be an explicit conjunction as well, as in een-en-twintig one-and-twenty 21 and honderd-en-drie hundred-and-three 103.


The category of nominal copulative compounds is productive. Here are some examples:

Example 1

a. minister-president
prime minister
b. prins-gemaal
prince consort
c. stadhouder-koning
d. tuinman-chauffeur

This type of compounds is not restricted to names for persons, as the following examples show:

Example 2

a. marxisme-leninisme
b. café-restaurant
c. Sleeswijk-Holstein
d. tuner-versterker

There may be more than two constituents, as in hotel-café-restaurant hotel-cafe-restaurant.

What is special about such compounds is the semantic relation between the head and the non-head: a tuinman-chauffeur is a chauffeur who is also a gardener. However, the morpho-syntactic properties of such compounds are similar to those of endocentric compounds. For instance, the plural form of tuinman-chauffeur is tuinman-chauffeurs (and not *tuinmannen-chauffeurs, with two plural nouns). The different status of the parts can also be seen in the behaviour of copulative NN- compounds in which the gender of the two constituents differs. In the compound kind-ster child-star, a star who is still a child (with the plural form kind-sterren), the word ster has common gender, whereas the word kind is a neuter noun. In accordance with the usual right-headedness of Dutch compounds, the complex word as a whole has common gender. Adjectival copulative compounds such as doof-stom deaf-dumb and Duits-Nederlands German-Dutch also behave as one word morphosyntactically. The adjectival inflection, obligatory on adjectives in prenominal position, only appears on the last constituent, hence Duits-Nederlandse betrekkingen German-Dutch relations and not *Duitse-Nederlandse betrekkingen.

Compounds like rechter-plaatsvervanger judge-deputy deputy-judge look like copulative compounds, but the second word is semantically a modifier of the first, and does not encode a separate role. Hence, we interpret this compound as a left-headed compound, similar to compounds like secretaris-generaal secretary-general.

A detailed classification of the types of copulative compound occurring in Dutch is provided by Olsen (2001).

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In some languages we find copulative compounds that have a special semantic status in that they express hyperonyms of the meanings of the constituents. An example would be the compound daughter-son children. These are called co-compounds (Wälchli 2005). Such compounds do not exist in Dutch.

  • Olsen, Susan2001Copulative compounds: A closer look at the interface between syntax and morphologyYearbook of Morphology 2000DordrechtKluwer279-320
  • Wälchli, Bernhard2005Co-compounds and natural coordinationOxfordOxford University Press