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be-
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be-/bə/ is a Germanic prefix that creates verbs out of other verbs, nouns or adjectives. This process is productive for verbs and nouns, though not for adjectives. The general template is:

Schema:
[be-[X]](V)
There are some typical semantic patterns:

Meaning:
  • if X is a verb: `to focus action x upon something' bekijkento look at, inspect
  • if X is a noun: `to provide with x' bemannento man, to staff
  • if X is an adjective: `to be/become/make x' beveiligento protect

However, the meaning of many be-verbs is idiosyncratic. Examples of verbs with non-transparent semantics are begrijpenbe-gripto understand, belovenbe-praiseto promise and bevallenbe-fallto please, to give birth. In some cases, the root does not exist as an independent verb in contemporary Dutch, as in beginnenbe-?to begin.

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[+] Morphosyntactic properties

be- is an inseparable verbalizing prefix.

[+] Subcategorization

Verbs with the prefix be- are mostly transitive, even if their bases are not. If the base is transitive, the arguments often switch places and properties. Compare the direct object and the prepositional object in the following example:

Example 1

a. Hij hang-t poster-s aan de muur
PRO.3SG hang-3SG.PRS poster-PL on DEF.C.SG wall.C
He's putting posters up on the wall
b. Hij be-hang-t de muur met poster-s
PRO.3SG be-hang-3SG.PRS DEF.C.SG wall(C) with poster-PL
He's putting posters up on the wall

There are some intransitive verbs such as bevriezento freeze, bezinkento sink in, beschimmelento get mouldy or bezuinigento economize (bezuinigen is special because it can take a prepositional object). Some be-verbs are inherently reflexive; examples are zich bedrinkento get drunk, zich begevento go somewhere and zich behelpento make do with something. The final two require prepositional objects in addition to the obligatory reflexive pronoun.

[+] Stratum

The suffix attaches to Germanic verbs, nouns and adjectives, as well as to non-Germanic verbs with the suffix -eer (bestuderento study, becommentariërento comment, bespionerento spy on sbd.).

[+] Input and input restrictions

be-cannot be attached to prefixed verbs; forms such as *beuitoefenento be-practice are impossible. An exception is begeleidento accompany. Also, auxiliary verbs are not available as input (*bezullenbe-shall).

If the base is an irregular verb, the derived verb with be- is also irregular (kijkenlook > keeklooked, bekijkenlook at, inspect > bekeeklooked at, inspected).

Some be-verbs have stems of uncertain category status. Words such as beplantento plant something with somethingcould be derived from a noun (plantplant) or a verb stem (plantplant). In some cases, the meaning can disambiguate the structure: bewapenento provide with a weapon is probably derived from the noun wapenweapon rather than the verb wapenento arm. In other cases, there are no such clues: the verb bezurento regret, to pay forcould be derived from the noun zuuracid, the verb stem zuurbe/make/turn sour or the adjective zuursour.

A subclass of be-verbs is formed on the basis of the template [be-[N]-ig](V). Examples are bezichtigento view, inspect, bevochtigento moisten, beangstigento frighten, beëdigento swear somebody in, beschadigento damage and bekrachtigento confirm. Although the suffix -ig suggests that the noun is turned into an adjective before the whole is verbalized by means of be-, there are many cases in which the intermediate adjective is not actually a word of Dutch (*zichtig, *edig, *schadig. By contrast, some verbs used to have equivalents without -ig, e.g. beschulden next to beschuldigento blame.

In still other cases, the base is not or no longer an independent word of Dutch. Examples are beginnento begin, bedriegento deceive, begerento desire, belemmerento hinder, beslissento decide and bevelento give an order.

[+] Productivity

New be-verbs can be formed from nouns and verbs, but only occasionally from adjectives (a recent form might be begroenento revegetate). With nominal bases, the meaning is predictably provide with x. However, in actual usage, new forms appear to be rare.

[+] Phonological properties

be- is always unstressed, by virtue of its vowel, /ɘ/ (schwa), which cannot bear stress.

[+] Morphological potential

The prefix be-does not allow other prefixes to precede it, with the exception of her-, which indicates repeated action, as in zich herbezinnento rethink. These restrictions aside, be-verbs participate in many word formation processes. For example, they can be the base for nominalizations (berijderrider, horseman, besefunderstanding, realization) or adjectivizations (bespreekbaardiscussible, negotiable, bemoeiziekinterfering, meddlesome). Participles of be- verbs always lack the participial prefix ge- (begonnenbegun, bestudeerdstudied).

Some be- verbs have antonyms with ont- (bebossento afforest - ontbossento deforest).

[+] Other interesting properties

There are a small number of forms that look like the participles of be-verbs, while these verbs do not actually exist. Examples are:

Example 2

bebrild bespectacled
bebloed bloody
bebladerd leafy
bedauwd dewy
bedeesd shy

Such forms have been given the name "participium praeverbale" (Rijpma 1978: 77).

References:
  • Rijpma, E. & Schuringa, F.G1978Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenWolters-Noordhoff
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