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Elative compounds

Elative compounds are NA compounds (or rarely NN compounds) that indicate a high degree of the property expressed by the right-hand member.  For instance, ijskoud icecold means cold as ice and hence very cold. These compounds are used for expressive purposes. Some examples are:

a. straatarm
b. muisstil
quiet as a mouse
c. pijlsnel

The choice of the left-hand part is generally unpredictable.


There are various subtypes of elative compounds. The following classification is from (Hoeksema 2012):

stereotyped comparison: aalglad eel slippery slippery as an eel

causative compound: spuuglelijk spit ugly, so ugly that it makes you spit hideous

with taboo-word as left-hand part: godsonmogelijk god-impossible totally impossible, stronteigenwijs shit-stubborn stubborn as a mule.

with colour term as right-hand part: knalblauw bang blue very blue, inktzwart ink black jet black.

All elative compounds have a strong expressive value. In general, the choice of the left-hand part is unpredictable (Fletcher 1980). Further developments are possible: e.g., kei stone started its life as an intensifier in the stereotyped comparison keihard stone-hard solid as a rock but developed into a more general intensifying prefixoid as found in keitof very nice and keibelachelijk totally ridiculous.

Most elative compounds are adjectives, but nominal compounds can also be elative, as shown by bloed-vaart blood-speed very high speed.

A detailed study of Dutch elative compounds is (Hoeksema 2012).


(Morris 2013) describes a special subtype of elative compounds that appear to be parasitic on the standard type: if an elative compound exists, a variant can be formed that is even more expressive by replacing the left-hand noun by its diminutive form. Examples are straatje-arm street-DIM-poor and pijltje-snel arrow-DIM-fast lightning fast. These compounds are not without theoretical interest, as they do not adhere to the generalization that if a diminutive form occurs as a left-hand member in a compound, it always gets the linking element -s(Mattens 1970).

  • Fletcher, William H1980'Blood-hot', 'stone-good': A preliminary report om adjective-specific intensifiers in DutchLeuvense Bijdragen69445-472
  • Hoeksema, Jack2012Elative compounds in Dutch: Properties and developments.Intensivierungskonzepte bei Adjektiven und Adverben im Sprachenvergleich / Crosslinguistic Comparison of Intensified Adjectives and AdverbsHamburgVerlag dr. Kova?97-142
  • Mattens, W.H.M1970De indifferentialis. Een onderzoek naar het anumerieke gebruik van het substantief in het Algemeen Bruikbaar NederlandsAssenVan Gorcum
  • Morris, Caroline2013Bekje-af, knettertjegek en dolletjesgelukkig. The use and development of intensifying diminutive compounds in Dutch within the framework of Construction MorphologyGroningenThesis
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