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The left-hand constituent of a nominal compound may also be a phrase, although this pattern is not widespread. The phrase can be an instance of a verb phrase (VP), adjective phrase (AP) or prepositional phrase (PP), mostly in some rudimentary form. An example is bûtenboardmoter outboard motor, with the prepositional phrase bûten board outside board outboard. There are arguments that what are noun phrases (NPs) at first sight should preferrably be considered instances of univerbation.


Nominal compounds with a noun as right-hand head allow phrases in the modifier position. The phrases have their own restrictions, though. To mention one thing, determiners are not allowed, since that would imply that the modifying part of the compound would be referential, which is not permitted. So, we have ûnderwetterkamera underwater camera, from the PP ûnder wetter under water, but the addition of a definite article would render the compound ungrammatical: *ûnderitwetterkamera under-the-water-camera. Addition of a modifier would also be very problematic: ??ûndersmoarchwetterkamera under-dirty-water-camera.

Next to PPs we also find APs in the modifier position. An example of the latter is fier-fan-myn-bêd-show far-from-my-bed-show, which shows the adjective fier far with a prepositional complement. Examples of sentential modifiers are doch-it-sels-winkel do-it-self-shop do-it-yourself shop and God-is-dea-teology God-is-dead-theology God is dead theology.

Another type consists of conjoined phrases. In piper-en-sâlt-stel pepper-and-salt-set salt and pepper set two nouns are conjoined, and in hark-en-sjoch-jild listen-and-watch-money radio/tv licence fee we see two coordinated verbs.

Problematic cases

Modifiers consisting of an adjective plus a noun can best be seen as AN-univerbations, as this type of formation independently occurs in Frisian. Somewhat doubtful are cases with appropriate inflection on the adjective, as in blinetermûntstekking blind-INFL-intestine-inflammation appendicitis. It cannot be excluded that such cases can be interpreted more felicitously as instances of compounding with a phrase, although it may be objected that inflection may sometimes be included in univerbation.

Another possibly phrasal complex first member might consist of a quantifier phrase containing a numeral. However, as these combinations appear to lack a plural ending as first member, it is again preferable to consider them as univerbations, or, for that matter, as compounds that can only occur as part of a larger compound. An example is fjouwerkeamerwente four-room-house four-roomed house, where a phrase should contain a plural ending at the noun: fjouwer keamers four rooms. Moreover, such formations often show a linking element, as in twapersoansbêd two-person-LK-bed double bed or fjouwerkleurepinne four-colour-LK-pencil four colours. Linking elements do not occur with phrases.

Likewise, because of the occurrence of a linking element, the first members in cases like huzerige house-LL-row row of houses and fakkepakket subject-LK-packet set of subjects chosen for graduation are not considered phrases here, although semantically they are plural without doubt. The formal expression of plurality would have been huzen houses and fakken subjects here. Note that the Dutch cognates huizenrij and vakkenpakket do seem to show a plural morpheme -en. However, comparison with Frisian might cast doubt on its true plural status; one could convincingly analyse Dutch -en- as a linking element as well (see also (Hoekstra 1995).

Another problematic case involves instances of asyndetic coordination, i.e. coordination without an overt conjunction. They can be found as left-hand constituents in nominal compounds, but they are problematic as independent phrases. Asyndetic coordination of two nouns is therefore dealt with separately in the topic on coordinative NN compounds. For the coordination of two verbs, as in sit-sliepkeamer sit-sleep-room bedsitter, see the topic on VV compounds, and for adjectives the topic on the combination AA.

For a more elaborate treatment of these and other intricacies the reader is referred to the topic on phrase-based compounds in Dutch, where sometimes a deviating analysis is followed on the basis of different data.

  • Hoekstra, Eric1995Iets over eerste leden van samenstellingenLeuvense Bijdragen84491-504
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