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Opper-/'ɔ.pər/ is a category-neutral Germanic prefix. It attaches to nouns producing nouns like opperarmupperarm and opperofficiersenior officer, and occasionally to adjectives, yielding forms such as oppermachtigall-mighty, maximally powerful. The general meaning when used with nouns is upper, with adjectives it means maximally, supremely.


Opper- is originally the comparative form of the preposition opon used as an adjective. The semantics is (more or less) compositional and monotonous: the meaning of the whole is a transparent function of the meanings of the constituting parts: an opperofficiersenior officer is a kind of officierofficier, and the reference of oppermachtigmaximally powerful is a subset of the reference of machtigpowerful.

Prefixes like opper- are independent phonological words: in nouns with opper-, stress is on the affix, in adjectives with opper-, stress is not fixed, but the prefix carries at least a secondary accent. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary: opper.arm and opper.interessant.

Morphological potential: because of the meaning of the prefix, comparative and superlative forms of adjectives with opper- formations are extremely rare.

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opper-bestupper-bestexcellent is an exceptional formation on the basis of the (irregular) superlative best; *opper-goedupper-good is impossible.

In the Spoken Dutch Corpus (CGN) we found the nouns opperbevelhebberchief commander, oppergezagsupreme authority, oppergodhighest god, opperhoofdchief, opperhuidepidermis, opperklusjesmanhighest handyman, opperknechtchief servant, oppermachtsupreme power, oppermanhod, opperregelaarsupreme controller, oppervlaksurface, oppervlaktesurface, opperwachtmeestersergeant major, opperwezensupreme being and the adjectives opperbestvery good and oppermachtigsupreme that is, more nouns than adjectives. It appears that forms such as opperhoofdchief, opperhuidupper skin, epidermis, oppervlaksurface and oppervlaktesurface are fully lexicalized and no longer recognized as derivations.

References: (De Haas and Trommelen 1993), (Haeseryn et al. 1997), Etymologiebank.

  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
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