• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents

wan- /ʋɑn/ is a non-cohering category-neutral native stress-bearing prefix found in nouns such as wanbeleid mismanagement, in adjectives such as wanordelijk disorderly and in verbs such as wantrouwen to distrust. Its meaning is negative, usually pejorative.


wan- /wɑn/ is a Germanic prefix found primarily in nouns such as wanbeheer mismanagement (cf. beheer management), wanprestatie botch-up (cf. prestatie achievement) and wanklank dissonance (cf. klank sound), but also in verbs such as wanboffen have bad luck and in adjectives such as wanstaltig misshapen. As the examples show, bases can be native and foreign.

The prefix bears main stress in nouns (e.g. 'wanorde disorder) and verbs (e.g. 'wantrouwen to distrust), but not in derived adjectives like wan'ordelijk disorderly and wan'trouwig suspicious, which may be taken as an indication that adjective formation has followed wan- prefixation.

[hide extra information]

An extra argument for this order of processes is that we do not find adjectival wan- formations with simplex bases. Problematic, however, is the stress pattern in wan'trouwend suspicious, the (lexicalized) present participle of verbal 'wantrouwen distrust: normally, the stress pattern in present participles is the same as that of the infinitive form of the verb.

wan- is a non-cohering prefix, forming a prosodic domain that is separate from the base it attaches to. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary, so wanorde dis-order disorder is realized as ['ʋɑn.ɔrdə] rather than ['ʋɑ.nɔrdə], notwithstanding the Maximal Onset Principle. The /n/ of wan- can assimilate in place to the consonant following, so in allegro speech a formation such as wanklank dissonance is pronounced like [ʋɑŋ'klɑŋk], and wanprestatie failure may be realized as ['ʋɑmprɛstatsi].

[hide extra information]

We did not find any wan- formations where the base starts with /m/.

Haeseryn (1997) describes wan- as a prefix that takes nouns as input, especially abstract nouns that correspond to intransitive verbs (cf. also (Smessaert 2013: 64)). The semantics is decribed as that which is denoted by the base is incomplete, bad or wrong, in other words, pejorative.

[hide extra information]

In the case of wantrouwen distrust that functions both as a noun and a verb the (infinitival) form suggests that the verbal form may be older than the nominal one. In the case of wanbeleid there is no clear corresponding verb, the adjective wanvoeglijk improper has no corresponding noun. The concrete noun wanbetaler defaulter may be formed in analogy with the abstract wanbetaling non-payment.

Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie (1995) treats all formations with wan as adjectival compounds. Synchronically this is highly problematic as compounding with adjectival left-hand parts is mostly unproductive and the adjective wan bad is obsolete.

  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie1995Het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT)
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO