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Non-segmental information in Dutch orthography

Dutch orthography does not only represent phonological segments, but also provides semantic, syntactic and prosodic information. Capital letters mark the beginning of sentences and proper names. Punctuation is used to mark the boundaries between certain syntactic constituents (e.g. clauses and appositional and parenthetical constituents), and spacing is used to mark word boundaries. Hyphenation is used to divide a polysyllabic word across two written lines, and is based on the syllabification of a word. For instance, the word later /la.tǝr/ later can be hyphenated as la-ter.


The use of punctuation for semantic and syntactic purposes in Dutch is similar to that in English. However, compounds are always written as one word. That is, the fact that compounds are one word from the grammatical point of view is represented in the spelling through the absence of space between its constituents. This is different from English where many compounds are spelled with an internal hyphen or with word-internal spaces. However, there is also a tendency among users of Dutch to write compounds with internal spaces between its constituents. This may be due to the influence of English, and/or to the fact that compound constituents are words by themselves, and behave as separate prosodic words.

Hyphenation is used in the division of words in parts across two lines of writing, and is based on the prosodic structure of words, not on their morphological structure (as is the case for English). This difference is illustrated by the hyphenation of the English word morphemic and its Dutch equivalent morfemisch in example (1):

Example 1

a. English
b. Dutch

That is, in Dutch the hyphen has to coincide with a syllable boundary.

In the case of consonantal geminates and consonantal digraphs after short vowels the hyphen is inserted in the middle of the sequence, except for the diagraph ch:

Example 2

a. baker midwife : ba-ker
      bakker baker : bak-ker
b. zanger singer : zan-ger
      lachen to laugh : la-chen

The proper hyphenation of many Dutch words is listed in the Woordenlijst der Nederlandse Taal (online;Renkema 1995).

  • Nederlandse Taalunie2000 - 2015Woordenlijst Nederlandse Taal: Officiële Spelling
  • Renkema, Jan1995Het Groene Boekje, Woordenlijst der Nederlandse TaalDen Haag / AntwerpenSDU Uitgevers, Standaard Uitgeverij