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Prefixation is the process of adding a bound morpheme (i.e. a prefix) at the left edge of a base word, thus producing a prefixed word.

A substantial number of Afrikaans prefixes are category-neutral, that is, they do not change the syntactic category of their base word, as illustrated by the following examples in which the category of the base word is preserved:

Example 1

Example 2


Verbal prefixes, however, may change the syntactic category of the base word, as in the verb ver·huis to move (to another house), which is derived from the noun huis house.

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The prefix system of Afrikaans overlaps to a large extent with that of Dutch. The analysis of Afrikaans prefixation below is therefore based on the Dutch topic on prefixation.


Some category-neutral native prefixes of Afrikaans (Germanic stratum) are listed in the following table:

Table 1
Prefix Meaning Base category Example
aarts- [intense SEM(A|N)] A/N aarts·luivery lazy, aarts·skurkarrant villain
ge- [PST of SEM(V)] V ge·speelplayed
her- [again SEM(V|N|A)] V/N/A her·skryfto rewrite, her·eksamenre-examination, her·bruik·baarreusable. It is arguable that in the case of her- the nominal derivations are derived from a base verb with her-. If this is the case, her- and its derivations would belong in the next table.
nie- [negative SEM(N|A)] N/A nie·rokernon-smoker, nie·christeliknon-Christian
oer- [original SEM(N)] or [intense SEM(A)] N/A oer·mensprehistoric man, oer·oudvery old
on- [negative SEM(A|N)] A/N on·gesondunhealthy, on·mensbrute
opper- [upper SEM(N)] N opper·hoofchief
oud- [former SEM(N)] N oud·studentformer student

According to Trommelen and Zonneveld (1986), the Right-hand Head Rule claims that the rightmost constituent of a complex word is its head, and therefore determines its syntactic category. However, there are also a number of verbalising prefixes that do change the syntactic category of the base word, and thus form a problem for the Right-hand Head Rule. They include, among other:

Table 2
Prefix Base category Example base Example prefixed verb
be- N/A/V manman, suinigstinchy, kykto look be·manto man (a ship), be·suinigto economise, be·kykto look at
ver- N/A/V huishouse, bleekpale, koopto buy ver·huisto move (to another house), ver·bleekto become pale, ver·koopto sell
ont- N/A/V kurkcork, nugtersober, bindto bind ont·kurkto uncork, ont·nugterdisillusioned, ont·binddissolve

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The literature generally lists six unstressed prefixes that behave morphologically similarly (see De Haas and Trommelen 1993:65): be-, ge- (not to be confused with ge- that means [PST of SEM(V)]), her-, er-, ont- and ver-. All of these are productive (as illustrated in the tables above), with the exception of ge- and er-, which only occur in lexicalised verbs. The following lists are exhaustive:

  • With ge-: gebaarto gesticulate; gebeurto happen; gebiedto command; gebruikto use; gedenkto commemorate; gedoogto endure/permit (also written as gedoë); gedrato behave; gelasto command/order; geleito conduct/transmit (e.g. electricity); gelieweto kindly oblige; geloofto believe (also written as gelowe, but almost always glo); gelukto succeed; gelykto be like; geneesto heal; genietto enjoy; geraakto arrive; geselsto chat; geskiedto happen; getroosto put up with; getuigto attest/vouch; gevoelto feel intensely; gewento habituate; gewordto receive formally
  • With er-: erbarmto have mercy on; erkento acknowledge; ervaarto experience

A number of affixoids have a specific meaning when they form part of a complex verb, especially because they have category-changing power, as illustrated by the verb deur·spekinterlard, which is derived from the noun spek bacon, lard by means of the preposition deurthrough, and has in the complex form the metaphorical meaning to fill with. In such cases the stress is on the right-hand constituent: /dørˈspɛk/, and not: */ˈdør.spɛk/, which confirms the derivational rather than compounding nature of such affixoids. Other examples are the following Germanic constituents:

Table 3
Prefix Example base Example prefixed verb
aan- bidto pray aan·bidto worship
agter- haalto fetch agter·haalto find out
deur- boorto drill deur·boorto gore (with horns)
mis- vormto form mis·vormto deform
om- sluitto lock/close, sirkelto circle om·sluitto enclose, om·sirkelto encircle
onder- breekto break, soekto search onder·breekto interrupt, onder·soekto investigate
oor- komto come, brugto bridge (something) oor·komto recover/master, oor·brugto span
vol- maakto make vol·maakto bring to perfection
voor- komto come voor·komto prevent
weer- spieëlto mirror (something) weer·spieëlto reflect

Afrikaans prefixes are always non-cohering.

  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Trommelen, Mieke & Zonneveld, Wim1986Dutch morphology: evidence for the right-hand head ruleLinguistic Inquiry17147-170
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