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Hyper-/'hi.pər/ is a category-neutral prefix, a loan from Greek via French or German. It attaches productively to adjectives to form adjectives like hypermodernhyper-modernexceptionally modern and hypernerveusextremely nervous; occasionaly one finds nouns with hyper- such as hypermarkthypermarket. The general function is to denote excessive or above normal.


Hyper- is a Greek adverb and prefix meaning over, a word to which it is etymologically related WNT. The oldest words with hyper- in Dutch are complete loans, words such as hyperboolhyperbola, hyperbole. The prefix became productive in the Western world in the 17th century for coining new scientific terms (Etymologiebank). The semantics of hyper- formations is (more or less) compositional and monotonous: the meaning of the whole is a transparent function of the meanings of the constituting parts: the reference of hypergevoeligextremely sensitive is a subset of the reference of gevoeligsensitive. Hyper- is generally felt to denote a higher degree than the Latin counterpart super-: hyperinflatiehyperinflation is worse than superinflatiesuperinflation and hypergevoelighyper sensitive is more sensitive than supergevoeligsuper sensitive.

Prefixes like hyper- are independent phonological words: n nouns with hyper-, the prefix carries stress. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary: hyperoptimistischextremely optimistic. In other words, hyper- is a non-cohering prefix. In nouns with hyper-, stress is on the prefix; in adjectives with hyper- stress is not fixed, but the prefix carries at least a secondary accent.

Morphological potential: because of the meaning of the prefix, comparative and superlative forms of hyper- formations are impossible. Adjectives with hyper- can be nominalized, e.g. hypergevoeligheidhypersensitivity from hypergevoelighypersensitive.

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The data in the Dutch Spoken Corpus (CGN) suggest that hyper- is only productive with adjectives; nouns with hyper- such as hypertexts and hypermarkthypermarket are probably loans.

The prefix has also developed a use as an adjective, as in ik ben helemaal hyperI am totally hyperI am totally over the top, possibly a clipping from hyperactiefhyperactive or hypernerveushypernervous and denoting a meaning along these lines. This may be a case of degrammaticalisation (cf. Van Goethem and Hiligsmann 2014), but the possibility that this usage is a loan from English or German cannot be excluded (Affixes.org).

For some speakers, emphatic doubling of the prefix, e.g. hyperhypernerveusextremely anxious, is possible (De Haas and Trommelen 1993).

  • Goethem, Kristel van & Hiligsmann, Philippe2014When two paths converge: debonding and clipping of Dutch reuze 'lit. giant; great'Journal of Germanic Linguistics2631-64
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
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