• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents

The suffix ‐(e)lijk/(ə)lək/ derives adjectives from verbs (sterfelijkmortal), nouns (lichamelijkbodily) or other adjectives (lief(e)lijklovely).


  • If X is a verb: 'possible to be X-ed', 'able to X' begrijpelijkunderstandable, aantrekkelijkattractive
  • If X is a noun: 'having to do with X' vrouwelijkfemale, womanly
  • If X is an adjective: 'having the property of X' bangelijkfearful
In addition, there are forms like gezamenlijktogether or achterlijkbackward, idiotic, which are based on words of other categories (here: adverbs and prepositions, respectively). Other -(e)lijk-adjectives have bases that do not exist as free words in present-day Dutch; examples are billijkjustified, vrolijkcheerful and moeilijkdifficult.

A different use of -(e)lijk derives adverbs.

[+]General properties

The suffix -(e)lijk is not productive, but frequent. It has two forms, ‐lijk and ‐elijk, which are normally phonologically determined, though there are adjectives with both forms (e.g. gerief(e)lijkcomfortable). This variation suggests that /ə/ is a linking phoneme.

From a semantic point of view, the passive meaning 'possible to be Xed' and the active meaning 'able to X' normally corresponds to the transitivity of the base: transitive verbs such as ervento inherit give rise to adjectives with a passive meaning (erfelijkhereditary), while ergative verbs such as stervento die produce active adjectives (sterfelijkmortal). However, there are exceptions: vermakento amuse, for example, is transitive, but has an active adjectival counterpart (vermakelijkamusing).

[+]Stratum and input

The suffix -(e)lijk belongs to the native stratum and attaches to Germanic and non-Germanic stems, although most verb serving as input for -(e)lijk-adjectives are Germanic. Morphologically complex inputs are allowed, see overwinnelijkover-winn-elijkdefeatable. However, suffixed nouns occur rarely as input, exceptions are nominals ending in -schap such as vriendschapfriendship or wetenschapscience. Some bases are compounds (e.g. werktuigtool > werktuigelijkautomatically). In addition to nominal, verbal and adjectival bases, there are a few words with prepositional bases, such as achterlijkbackward, idiotic, innerlijkinside and uiterlijkexterior; the latter two have /ər/ inserted between the stem of the preposition and the suffix.

For the monosyllabic verbs ending in /n/, gaanto go, staanto stand, doento do and ziento see we find different strategies: either the infinitival form is used as the base for the adjective (doenlijkdoable, aanzienlijkconsiderable) or the base is modified, as in vergankelijktransitory; in yet other cases a nominal stem is used: afstandelijkdistant, afzichtelijkhideous.

-(e)lijk has a sister suffix, -baar, which has similar functions.

[hide extra information]

In the varieties of Dutch spoken in Belgium, -lijk can be used with stems that in the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands would take -baar. (Taeldeman 1985) discusses eetbaaredible versus etelijkedible; the latter form is virtually unknown outside Flanders. In Belgium, both forms are attested, allegedly with a semantic difference: eetbaar means 'edible' in the literal sense (consumable without dangers), while etelijk means 'good to eat'.

[+]Phonological properties

The suffix influences its base in three ways. First, it triggers vowel-lengthening when applicable (hertog/hɛrtɔx/duke > hertogelijk/hɛrtoɣələk/ducal). Second, in bases ending in a velar nasal, /k/ is added before the suffix (koningking > koninklijkroyal). In yet other cases, we find material of unclear status between base and suffix; see erkentelijkgrateful > erkenrecognize or triomfantelijktriumphantly < triomftriumph. Third, the suffix can change the main stress of the base: /'vriendschap/friendship > vriend'schappelijkfriendly.

[+]Morphological potential

Adjectives ending in -(e)lijk can be nominalized by means of the suffix -heid (vriendelijkheidfriendliness), verbalized by means of the prefixes be- and ver- (bemoeilijkento hinder, vergoddelijkento deify) and negated by on- (onoverwinnelijkinvincible). Sometimes, the form without on- is absent: onverbiddelijkunrelenting, but *verbiddelijk, ongelooflijkunbelievable but *gelooflijk. The adjectives lelijkugly, olijkroguish and vrolijkcheerful, whose bases are no longer independent words of Dutch, can be nominalized with -erd: lelijkerdugly person, olijkerdrogue en vrolijkerdcheerful person.

  • Taeldeman, Johan1985'De soep is wel eetbaar maar niet etelijk'. Over deverbatieven op -(e)lijk in de Vlaamse dialekten en het A.N.Spektator1594-103