• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
1.4. Compounding

New nouns can also be formed by compounding, that is, on the basis of an existing noun that combines with another free morpheme. The rightmost element of a compound determines the syntactic category of the whole, a generalization known as the right-hand head rule. This means that in nominal compounds the second element is always a noun. The first element, on the other hand, may be a noun, a verb, an adjective, a preposition or a numeral. Examples are given in (237). Note that in the examples in (237c'), the first element is an adverbially used adjective. Thus a zwartwerker'moonlighter' is not a worker who is black, but who works in a particular way.

Example 237
a. N + N: schoenmaker'shoemaker', kabeltelevisie'cable TV'
b. V + N: ophaalbrug'drawbridge', drinkwater'drinking-water'
c. A + N: sneltram'express tram', grootvader'grandfather'
c'. A(dv) + N: zwartwerker'moonlighter', buitenspeler'outside player'
d. P + N: achtertuin'back garden', aandeel'share'
e. Num + N: driewieler'tricycle', tweemaster'two-master'

      There are three types of nominal compounds. By far the majority of compound nouns is endocentric, that is, with the second element functioning as the semantic head. In this type of compounding, the compound denotes a subset of the set denoted by the second noun (AB ⊂ B): huisdeur'front door', for example, denotes a (particular type of) door. Only a few compound nouns are exocentric. In such cases, the compound does not denote a subset of the denotation of the second noun, and the compound cannot be paraphrased as a particular type of the entity denoted by the second (or first) element. The compound wijsneus, for instance, does not denote a particular kind of nose, but a particular kind of person (know-it-all). Another small subset of is that of the copulative compounds, in which both members are nominal. The denotation of compounds belonging to this category is determined by the denotation of both members (AB = A ∩ B): a kind-ster'child-star' is both a child and a star.

Example 238
Types of compounds
a. Endocentric: denotation is a subset of the denotation of the second member (AB ⊂ B): huisdeur'front door'; tussendeur'communicating door'; schoolbord'blackboard'; eetlepel'soupspoon'; personenauto'passenger car', kinderboek'childrenʼs book'.
b. Exocentric: denotation is not determined by the other members (AB ≠ B or A): wijsneus smart ass’; spleetoog'slant-eye', halfbloed'half-blood', draaikont'restless person'.
c. Copulative: denotation is determined by the denotation of both members (AB = A ∩ B): kind-ster'child-star', speler-coach'player-coach', tolk-vertaler'interpreter-translator'.

In some cases there may be doubt as to whether we are dealing with an endocentric or an exocentric compound. Cases at hand may be formations like neppistool'fake gun' or speelgoedpistool'toy gun'. It is clear that in these cases we are not dealing with entities that are prototypical members of the set denoted by the noun pistool, but on the other hand it is not evident that these entities do not belong to this set, given that examples such as Dit pistool is niet echt'This gun is not real/a fake' ( Friesch Dagblad, December 18. 2005) sound perfectly acceptable. Apparently the writer of this sentence does consider fake guns as a subset of the set denoted by pistool'gun'. From this we conclude that language users simply treat the formations under discussion as endocentric compounds.
      Although there may be certain tendencies, the semantic (syntactic) relation between the two elements of an endocentric compound noun is largely unpredictable. This unpredictability is illustrated nicely by the pair beendermeel'bone-meal', kindermeel'childrenʼs meal'; the first denotes meal made of bones, whereas the second normally denotes flour used to make porridge for children. As can be seen from the list below, virtually any imaginable semantic relation can be found in Dutch compounds.

Example 239
a. agent/subject (N + N): kleuterpraat'childʼs talk', waterval'waterfall'
b. agent/subject (V + N): vergrootglas'magnifying glass', afvoerpijp'drainpipe'
c. theme/object (N + N): schoenmaker'shoemaker', bankoverval'bank robbery'
d. theme/object (V + N): drinkyoghurt'yogurt drink', ophaalbrug'drawbridge'
e. predicative (A + N): sneltram'express tram', frisdrank'soft drink'
f. goal/purpose: bloembak'flower box', zoeklicht'searchlight'
g. cause: gasontploffing'gas explosion', speelschuld'gambling debt'
h. location: tuinfeest'garden party', havenarbeider'dock worker'
i. time: ochtendkrant'morning paper', jaaromzet'annual turnover'
j. instrument: bijlslag'blow with an axe', treinvervoer'rail transport'
k. comparison: poedersneeuw'powder snow', torenflat'skyscraper'
l. whole-part: boomtak'(tree) branch', bezemsteel'broomstick'
m. part-whole: appelboom'apple tree', kwarktaart'cheesecake'
n. manner: sneltekenaar'fast drawer ≈ cartoonist', zwartwerker'black worker ≈ moonlighter'
o. result: drooglegging'dry laying ≈ reclamation', openbaarmaking'public making ≈ publication'
p. metaphorical: lammetjespap'porridge (mainly used for infants and toddlers)'

Many compounds are lexicalized in the sense that the meaning of the compound cannot be fully inferred from the meaning of its composite parts. Not only exocentric compounds, for which this is to be expected, but also endocentric and copulative compounds may be lexicalized. Examples are given in (240).

Example 240
a. Lexicalized endocentric nominal compounds: wereldwinkel'third world shop', spijkerbroek'jeans', passievrucht'passion fruit', suikeroom'rich uncle', tennisarm'tennis elbow', etc.
b. Lexicalized exocentric nominal compounds: washand'washcloth', leerstoel'chair, academic discipline', adamsappel'Adamʼs apple', kuddedier'herd animal', melkweg'milky way', etc.
c. Lexicalized copulative nominal compounds: sergeant-majoor'first sergeant'

      Many but not all N + N compounds involve a linking element in between the two members. In many cases, the form of the linking element depends on the first member of the compound and closely resembles the plural ending of this member: -e(n)-, -s- or -er-. Some examples of compound nouns with such a linking element are given in (241). Note that the presence of linking element does not imply some notion of plurality: cf. hondenkop'head of a dog'. The choice between the linking elements -en- and -e- is subjected to complicated, recently revised and hotly debated orthographic rules (See Renkema 1995, §5.1.1/2). Since the pronunciation of the two linking elements is identical, these rules are a political rather than a linguistic issue, and will therefore not be discussed here; see Booij (1996) for useful discussion and historical background.

Example 241
a. boek-en-kast'bookcase', erwt-en-soep'pea soup'
b. zonn-e-stelsel'solar system', Koninginn-e-dag'Queenʼs birthday'
c. varken-s-hok'pigsty', leven-s-werk'life work'
d. kind-er-boek'children's book'; ei-er-schaal'egg shell'

De Haas & Trommelen (1993) claim that next to the linking element –er-, there is a linking element -eren-. Some examples that can be found in the Van Dale dictionary are given in (242). It is not entirely clear whether we can conclude on the basis of these examples whether there is indeed a linking element -eren-. First, the first member goederen in compounds like (242a) can be seen as a plurale tantum (the singular form goed only occurs in a set of fixed expressions), so there is no reason for assuming that there we are dealing with a linking element. The examples in (242b) potentially involve a linking element -eren-, but these formations seem to alternate with the compound volkenmoord and Volkenbond that contain the linking element -en-. Furthermore, Given that the formations in (242b) do not belong to the colloquial register, it seems doubtful that we may conclude from these examples that there is indeed a linking element -eren-.

Example 242
a. goederentrein'goods train'; goederenvervoer'goods transport', etc.
b. volkerenmoord'genocide'; Volkerenbond'League of Nations'

Another example provided by De Haas & Trommelen is kinderengejoel'jeering of children', which seems to be a new coinage (no examples can be found on the internet). It seems likely, however, that it is the form kindergejoel that would normally be the one used in spontaneous speech. This is especially the case if we want to express that the jeering comes from a single child; in that case (243a) would be outright unacceptable and we have to use kindergejoel. This observation is perhaps also relevant for the assessment of the examples in (243b-d), which can be found on the internet, and in which the first member is also necessarily construed as referring to a non-singleton set of entities: -eren- cannot be used if the first member is construed as singular; -er-, on the other hand, is common if the first member is construed as plural, as in hoenderhok'shed for chickens'. Furthermore, a Google search revealed that all forms in (243b-d) alternate with the expected form with the linking element -er-. We found about 10 instances of both beenderenkuil and beenderkuil, which seems to be part of the archeological jargon, and again about 10 instances of eierenaanvoer and eieraanvoer. Finally, we found that kalverenmarkt occurs relatively frequent but is still much rarer than kalvermarkt; we found about 80 instances of the former and 20,000 instances of the latter. For this reason, we think it is better to leave it open for the moment whether -eren- should be considered a linking element of the relevant kind.

Example 243
a. kinderengejoel'jeering of children'
b. beenderenkuil'collective grave/pit that contains bones'
c. eierenaanvoer'supply of eggs'
d. kalverenmarkt'market where clubs are traded'

      The examples in (244) unambiguously show that the linking element -s need not be related to the plural suffix -s: the primed examples show that the first members of these compounds do not take the suffix -s in the plural.

Example 244
a. dorpsplein'village square'
a'. dorpen'villages'
b. kalfsvlees'veal'
b'. kalveren'clubs'
c. schaapskooi'sheepfold'
c'. schapen'sheep'

The examples in (245), adapted from De Haas & Trommelen (1993), suggest that it is entirely unpredictable whether or not a linking element appears, and if it does what form it will take: we can appeal neither to the first member of the compound in order to tell whether a linking element will appear (examples a-c), nor to the second member of the compound. Nevertheless, there seem to be certain tendencies, but we refer the reader to De Haas & Trommelen (1993: §2.9.1) for a discussion of these.

Example 245
Variation in the use of linking elements
a. broekriem'belt'; broekenwinkel'shop selling trousers'; broekspijp'trouser leg'
b. schaapherder'shepherd'; schapenvlees'mutton'; schaapskooi'sheepfold'
c. zonwering'awning'; zonnescherm'marquee'; zonsverduistering'solar eclipse'
d. rundvlees'beef'; kattenvlees'meat of/for cats'; kalfsvlees'veal'
e. -vorming: beeldvorming'image'; gedachtevorming'creation of ideas'; groepsvorming'creation of a group'

Finally it can be noted that in some cases the linking element -s is optional and subject to individual variation: for example objectpositie'object position' seems to freely alternate with objectspositie.

  • Booij, Geert1996Verbindingsklanken in samenstellingen en de nieuwe spellingregelingNederlandse Taalkunde1126-134
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Renkema, Jan1995Het Groene Boekje, Woordenlijst der Nederlandse TaalDen Haag / AntwerpenSDU Uitgevers, Standaard Uitgeverij
This topic is the result of an automatic conversion from Word and may therefore contain errors.
A free Open Access publication of the corresponding volumes of the Syntax of Dutch is available at OAPEN.org.