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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 has the noun huis house as its base.

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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·lui very lazy, aarts·skurk arrant villain
ge- [PST of SEM(V)] V ge·speel played
her- [again SEM(V|N|A)] V/N/A her·skryf to rewrite, her·eksamen re-examination, her·bruik·baar reusable. 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·roker non-smoker, nie·christelik non-Christian
oer- [original SEM(N)] or [intense SEM(A)] N/A oer·mens prehistoric man, oer·oud very old
on- [negative SEM(A|N)] A/N on·gesond unhealthy, on·mens brute
opper- [upper SEM(N)] N opper·hoof chief
oud- [former SEM(N)] N oud·student former 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 man man, suinig stinchy, kyk to look be·man to man (a ship), be·suinig to economise, be·kyk to look at
ver- N/A/V huis house, bleek pale, koop to buy ver·huis to move (to another house), ver·bleek to become pale, ver·koop to sell
ont- N/A/V kurk cork, nugter sober, bind to bind ont·kurk to uncork, ont·nugter disillusioned, ont·bind dissolve

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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-: gebaar to gesticulate; gebeur to happen; gebied to command; gebruik to use; gedenk to commemorate; gedoog to endure/permit (also written as gedoë); gedra to behave; gelas to command/order; gelei to conduct/transmit (e.g. electricity); geliewe to kindly oblige; geloof to believe (also written as gelowe, but almost always glo); geluk to succeed; gelyk to be like; genees to heal; geniet to enjoy; geraak to arrive; gesels to chat; geskied to happen; getroos to put up with; getuig to attest/vouch; gevoel to feel intensely; gewen to habituate; geword to receive formally
  • With er-: erbarm to have mercy on; erken to acknowledge; ervaar to 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÷spek interlard, which is derived from the noun spek bacon, lard by means of the preposition deur through, 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÷ bid to pray aan·bid to worship
agter÷ haal to fetch agter·haal to find out
deur÷ boor to drill deur·boor to gore (with horns)
mis÷ vorm to form mis·vorm to deform
om÷ sluit to lock/close, sirkel to circle om·sluit to enclose, om·sirkel to encircle
onder÷ breek to break, soek to search onder·breek to interrupt, onder·soek to investigate
oor÷ kom to come, brug to bridge (something) oor·kom to recover/master, oor·brug to span
vol÷ maak to make vol·maak to bring to perfection
voor÷ kom to come voor·kom to prevent
weer÷ spieël to mirror (something) weer·spieël to 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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