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Prefixation is the process of adding a prefix at the left edge of a base word, thus deriving a prefixed word. A substantial number of Dutch prefixes are category-neutral, that is, they do not change the syntactic category of their base word, as illustrated by the following examples in which the category of the base word is preserved:

zinsense > onzinnonsense

aardigpleasant > onaardigunpleasant.

Verbal prefixes, however, may change the syntactic category of the base word, as in the verb verhuis move derived from the noun huis house.


The category-neutral native prefixes of Dutch are listed in the following table:

Table 1
Prefix Meaning Base category Example
aarts- intense/ top in hierarchy A/N/N aartsluivery lazy, aartsschurkarrant villain, aartsbisschoparchbishop
her- again V/N/A herschrijvenrewrite, herexamenre-examination, herbruikbaarreusable
niet- negative N/A niet-rokernon-smoker, niet-Christelijknon-Christian
oer- intense/ original N/A oersterkvery strong, oermensprehistoric man
on- negative A/N ongezondunhealthy, onmensbrute
opper- upper N opperhoofdchief
oud- former N oud-studentformer student
According to (Trommelen and Zonneveld 1986), the category neutrality of prefixes follows from the Righthand Head Rule, which claims that the rightmost constituent of a complex word is its head and therefore determines its syntactic category. However, there are also a number of verbalizing prefixes that do change the syntactic category of the base word, and thus form a problem for the Righthand Head Rule.
Table 2
Prefix Base category Example base Example prefixed verb
be- N/A/V dijkdike, zatdrunk, kijklook bedijkto secure with a dike, bezathit the bottle, bekijklook at
ver- N/A/V huishouse, bleekpale, koopbuy verhuismove, verbleekpale, verkoopsell
ont- N/A/V kurkcork, eigenown, bindbind ontkurkuncork, onteigendisown, ontbinddissolve
ge- V leidlead geleidguide, conduct
er- V kenknow erkenrecognize
A number of morphemes functioning as words by themselves are nevertheless considered prefixes, because they have a specific meaning when part of a complex verb, and because they have category-changing power, as illustrated by the verb doorspekinter-lardintersperse derived from the noun spek bacon, lard and the preposition doorthrough. Other examples are the following prefixes:
Table 3
Prefix Example base Example prefixed verb
aan- bidpray aanbidworship
achter- haalfetch achterhaalfind out
door- snijdcut, speklard doorsnijdcut through, doorspekintersperse
mis- vormform (V) misvormdeform
om- sluitclose, cirkelcircle omsluitenclose, omcirkelencircle
onder- breekbreak (V), titeltitle onderbreekinterrupt, ondertitelsubtitle (V)
over- winwin, brugbridge overwindefeat (V), overbrugbridge (V)
vol- maakmake volmaakbring to perfection
voor- komcome voorkomprevent
weer- schijnshine (V) weerschijnreflect
Dutch prefixes are always non-cohering affixes.

See Booij (2002 ch. 3) for more information about prefixation.

  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Trommelen, Mieke & Zonneveld, Wim1986Dutch morphology: evidence for the right-hand head ruleLinguistic Inquiry17147-170
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