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-heid/hɛɪd/ is a non-cohering productive Germanic suffix found in nouns of common gender on the basis of native and non-native adjectives (e.g. gladheidsmoothness < gladsmooth, correctheidcorrectness < correctcorrect). It is also found with some adverbial, nominal or quantificational bases (e.g. overheidover.heidgovernment, mensheidhuman.heidmankind, humanity, minderheidless.heidminority), but here, the process is non-productive. The suffix carries secondary stress. -heid . The plural form, if applicable, is in -heden/hedə(n)/.


  • the property of being A

[+] Input restrictions

The affix -heid combines with adjectives, both Germanic and foreign, simplex and complex, to form nouns of common gender, selecting the singular definite article de:

  • Simplex Germanic bases: gladheidsmoothness, openheidopenness, dwaasheidfoolishness.
  • Complex Germanic bases: maagdelijkheid[maagd-elijk]-heidvirginity, hardnekkigheid[[hard-nek]-ig]-heidstubbornness.
  • Simplex foreign bases: alertheidalertness, bleuheidshyness, coolheidcoolness.
  • Complex foreign bases: attentheidattentiveness, serieusheidseriousness, passiefheidpassivity, abstractheidabstractness.
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Adjectives ending in schwa enter only rarely into -heid formation: De Haas and Trommelen (1993:247) claim that *valideheidvalidity and timideheidtimidness are impossible, but the latter is attested, just like frêleheidfrailness.

There is a division of labor with the competing suffix -te that only occurs with native simplex stems. In the domein where these suffixes compete, -heid is never blocked by -te, but in some cases there is a meaning difference between the two types of derived noun (Booij 2002: 128); in these cases, the -te formation is usually more idiomatic than the one in -heid, that is, the semantics of -te derivations is less predictable (and the same may also hold for the form, witness the third example in the table below).

Table 1
base -te derivation -heid derivation
groengreen groentevegetables groenheidgreenness
leegempty leegteemptiness, blank leegheidemptiness
heethot hitteheat heetheidhotness

Past participles can be input to -heid formation as well, but only if they can be used as adjectives, e.g. beleefdheidpoliteness (< beleefdpolite), vermoeidheidfatigue (< vermoeidtired), geleerdheiderudition (< geleerdlearned) are fine, but *geklaagdheid < geklaagdcomplained < klagento complain is not.

Occasionally the basis is of another category:

  • quantifiers: eenheidunit, unity (< eenone), hoeveelheidamount (< hoeveelhow many, how much), minderheidminority (< minderless) and irregular (or analogically) meerderheidmajority (< meermore), complex .
  • adverbial: overheidgovernment < overover.
  • noun: mensheidhumanity < menshuman being, godheidgod, deity < godgod, christenheidChristianity < christenChristian.
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    Drieëenheidthree.one.nessTrinity (also spelled drie-eenheid, older forms drij-eenigheyd, drievoudichheit, drieheit) is a calque after Latin trinitas.

    Belgian writer Dimitri Verhulst coined helaasheidalasness on the basis of the interjection or adverbhelaasalas for his 2006 novel De helaasheid der dingenthe alasness of the things (the international title of the 2009 movie based on the book is The Misfortunates).

[+] Semantic properties

Derivations with -heid are in general abstract nouns, with a general meaning: 'the property of being A', e.g. luiheidlazyness < luilazy. Sometimes a more concrete meaning has developed, e.g. domheidstupidity, act of stupdity and verkoudheidthe common cold.

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We find lexicalized meanings in, a.o., hoogheidhighness, schoonheidbeauty, geaardheidnature, sexual orientation, apartheidapartheid, and opaque semantics in aangelegenheidmatter, case. With nominal bases we get a collective meaning as in mensheidhumanity < menshuman being.

[+] Inflectional properties

The plural of -heid is -heden/hedə(n)/: verantwoordelijkhedenresponsibilities, eenhedenunits, godhedendeities. Due to the abstract semantics of -heid formations, there is often no use for a plural form. On the other hand, certain -heid formations are attested in the plural form only, e.g. benodigdhedennecessities, accessories (< benodigdneeded) and ongeregeldhedendisturbances, riots (< ongeregeldirregular).

[+] Syntactic properties

If the base adjective selects a preposition, this selection restriction carries over to the -heid derivation (Moortgat 1981), e.g. beduchtheid voor gemakzuchtig gebruikapprehension for lazy use (< beducht voorfearful of).

[+] Morphological potential

NN compounding with -heid derivations is quite easy. When -heid formations function as lefthand parts, there is often a link phoneme /s/: moeilijkheidsgraad[[[moei-lijk]-heid]-s-graad]degree of difficulty. When they are righthand part, the lefthand part of the compound may be taken as argument of the stem adjective wiskundebevoegdheidmathematics competencequalification to teach maths. Due to the abstract meaning of -heid, diminutive formation is rare and may force change of meaning, e.g. beleefdheidje < beleefdpolite does not mean 'small politeness' but 'small act of politeness'.

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Lexicalization of the diminutive can be found in aardigheidjesmall present, small joke (< aardignice); kleinigheidjesmall thing, trifle (< kleinsmall).

[+] Phonological properties

-heid/hɛɪd/ is a noncohering suffix, witness the possibility of gapping: De psychiater bespeurde bij hem zowel lui- als domheidthe psychiatrist sensed in him both lazyness and stupidity (ANS). The suffix never bears the main accent. Usually the accent pattern of the base does not change in -heid derivations, except in the case of bases derived by means of the suffix -loosless, where the main stress usually shifts towards -loos: 'werkloosjobless > werk'loosheidjoblessness.

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The suffix sequence -igheid as in narigheidmisery and viezigheiddirt has become a suffix of its own, with a specific meaning that is not computable on the basis of the meanings of -ig and -heid. Read more here.

  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Moortgat, Michael1981Subcategorization and the notion 'Lexical Head'Linguistics in the Netherlands 1981Amsterdam
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