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Adjectival prefixes

Quite a number of prefixes are found in adjectives. Usually, the basis is either an adjective or a participle used as an adjective, that is, most adjectival prefixation is category-neutral. Smessaert (2013: 65) distinguishes three classes of adjectival prefixes: negative, amplifying and classical, but not all fit in equally easily, and prefixes like non- are both negative and classical. The native negative prefix is on-, as in ondiepun.deepshallow; the most important non-native one is in- and its allomorphs, as in intransitiefintransitive and irreëelunreal. Amplifying adjectival prefixes include native aarts- as in aartsluiarch.lazyextremely lazy and non-native super- as in superzieksuper.illextremely ill; a boundary category is fourmed by affixoids such as steen-stone and spin-spider that have an amplifying meaning when combined with specific adjectives in so-called elative compounds such as steengoedstone-goodvery good and spinnijdigspider-angryvery angry. The classical prefixes, finally, belong to the realm of neoclassical wordformation and combine mostly with non-native words and bound forms; an example is extra- in extramuraalextramural, where *muraal is not an existing word in Dutch. Many prefixes that are found in complex adjectives combine with bases of other categories as well.


There are two native negative adjectival prefixes in Dutch, and a few non-native ones. In addition, there are also a few prefix-like elements that are not negative in the logical sense but that have a semantics which is related to negation:

  • native on- as in oneffenuneven and onacceptabelinacceptable.
  • native niet as in niet-ontvankelijkinadmissible.
  • native wan- as in wanordelijkunorderly.
  • non-native a- and an- as in atonaalatonal and anisotroopanisotropic.
  • non-native in- and its allomorphs as in incongruentincongruent, irrationeelirrational, immoreelimmoral and illegaalillegal.
  • non-native non- as in non-figuratiefnon-figurative.
Prefixes with a meaning related to negation include
  • native namaak-fake, nep-fake and wan-bad and non-native pseudo-
  • non-native (international) prefixes such as anti-, contra- and extra-
    [hide extra information]

    anti- (against), contra- (counter) and extra- (outside) attach to adjectives (anti-autoritairanti-authoritarian, contraproductiefcounterproductive, extraterritoriaalextraterritorial) but semantically the prefix appears to scope over the underlying noun: anti-autoritairanti-authoritarian does not mean against authoritarian but rather being against authority. anti- also combines with nouns. The result is either a noun (antiheldanti-hero) or a predicative adjective (antikernbomanti nuclear bombagainst nuclear weapons) that does not inflect (cf. its antonympro-). anti- can be used recursively: an anti-antiraketraketraket is a missile against missiles against missiles. contra- combines with nouns as well (contraspionagecounterespionage); the same holds for extra- but then the semantics is different: a extraspeler is an additional player.

The most important native amplifying prefixes are
  • aarts as in aartsluiextremely lazy
  • aller- that only combines with superlative forms, as in zij is de allerleuksteshe is the aller.funniestshe is the funniest of all
  • in- as in intriestvery sad and in- en intriestextremely sad
  • oer- as in oerlelijkvery ugly
These prefixes compete among other things with the process of elative compounding (e.g. reuzetrotsgiant.proudvery proud).

The most important non-native amplifying prefixes are

  • giga- as in gigadronkenextremely drunk
  • hyper- as in hyperactiefhyperactive
  • mega- as in megazwaarextremely heavy
  • super- as in superzelfverzekerdextremely self-confident
  • ultra- as in ultraliberaalultra-liberal.

  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
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