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Bound forms

Bound forms are morphemes or morpheme combinations that do not occur by themselves as words. Obviously, affixes are bound forms, as they have to attach to a stem and cannot be used as words by themselves. There are also bound forms that do not qualify as affixes, and they combine with affixes or with other bound morphemes to form words. For example, the adjective theologisch theological can be decomposed into the bound morphemes theo-god and -log-science, plus the adjectival suffix –isch.

Bound forms are mainly found in neoclassical word formation, but they also occur in words of the Germanic stratum of Dutch. For instance, the bound form -geet is a constituent of the verb stem vergeet forget, and in the adjective dierbaar dear, precious we find the bound form dier. Such Germanic bound forms were words in an earlier stage of Dutch, but they only survived in the complex words of which they form a part.

Bound forms may also arise through abbreviation. This applies, for instance, to the bound form euro- (from Europa Europe), as in euro-parlement European parliament, and the bound form –gate political scandal (from Watergate), as in Mabel-gate Mabel-scandal.


Many bound forms are found in words borrowed from Greek or from Romance languages, or else they are created through neo-classical word formation. For instance, the word militair military, borrowed from French, contains the stem milit- and the suffix –air that creates nouns or adjectives. In the Germanic stratum of the Dutch lexicon we find such bound forms due to the disappearance of the base word, which is only preserved in its derivative. For instance, the following adjectives ending in –lijk contain a bound form: vrolijk cheerful, billijk reasonable, olijk roguish, degelijk reliable, schielijk swift, moeilijk difficult and schappelijk reasonable. Many verbs prefixed with be- or ver- have a bound form as base, for instance beamen endorse, bedaren calm down, bedillen meddle, verdwijnen disappear, verbruiken consume, and verliezen lose.

The notion bound form is not identical to the notion bound morpheme, as bound forms may contain more than one constituent. For instance, the word demonstrant protester contains the bound form demonstr- which might be further decomposed into the constituents de- and -monstr-. Hence, it is a bound form with two morphemes. Similarly, in reduceer reduce we have a bound form reduc- that consists of the constituents re- and -duc-. Bound forms that are not affixes and that cannot be further decomposed into constituent morphemes are often referred to as roots (Dutch: wortels).

Bound forms can form families. See, for example, the recurrent use of demonstr- in demonstreer demonstrate / demonstrant demonstrant, protester / demonstratie demonstration. Such patterns can be described in terms of paradigmatic relations between various word formation schemas, in this case the correspondence between words of the following forms (here, x = demonstr-):

[x+eer](V) /   [x +ant](N) / [x+atie](N).

The resulting words share a meaning component that can be related to the bound form demonstr-. However, this form has no meaning by itself, its meaning is only accessible through the words that it is part of. Similarly, we recognize a common bound form gymnasi- in the word gymnasium gymnasium, gymnasiast gymnasium pupil and gymnasiaal relating to gymnasiums. We might say that the latter two words of this series of paradigmatically related words have been formed by replacing the final part –um of gymnasium by the suffixes –ast respectively –aal, that is, through affix substitution.

The internal constituency of words with bound forms plays a role in their morphological behaviour. For instance, the verb communiceer communicate contains the bound form communic- and the suffix –eer. The internal structure manifests itself in the way its corresponding deverbal noun is created, i.e. by replacing –eer by –atie: communicatie communication. Therefore, we call the verb communiceer a formally complex verb. In the adjective logisch logical we observe the internal structure log-isch, as the presence of the adjectival suffix –isch predicts that this word is an adjective. Similarly, we have to analyse the verb vergeet forget as a prefixed verb, despite the lack of a verb *geet. The reason is that vergeet behaves as a prefixed verb with respect to the formation of its past participle, which is vergeten, not *gevergeten, as would be expected if the syllable /ver/ had no prefix status. We therefore have to consider vergeet a formally complex verb.

Bound forms may be used productively to create new words. For instance, the bound form retro- back can combine with the bound form –spectief in retrospectief retrospective, and with the word pop pop music in retro-pop retro pop music. In a number of cases, the resulting complex word consists only of bound forms. Productively used bound forms are called confixes or combining formsRetro- is called an initial combining form as it behaves like a prefix, just like chemo- in chemotherapie chemotherapy. The bound form -logisch is a final combining form, as it appears only at the end of words, as in psychologisch psychological and karakterologisch characterological. In a word like technofobie technophobia, the combining form techno- and the word fobie phobia (originally a bound form, which has acquired word status) are combined. In technopolis technopolis, we see a combination of two bound forms.

The demarcation of non-native affixes and combining forms is a topic of debate. For instance, the morpheme turbo in turbo-koe very productive cow might be considered either as a prefix or as an initial combining form. The same goes for international morphemes like pseudo-, micro-, mono-, neo- and semi- that are used both in Dutch and English. The reason for considering them bound forms is that their meaning is more lexical in nature, quite similar to that of words, whereas affixes are considered to have a more abstract meaning.

Bound forms in the native lexicon are words such as –name, a deverbal nominalization of nemen to take, and –ganger, an agent noun derived from the verb gaan to go. These forms appear in various compounds, but do not occur as words by themselves: aanname assumption, opname recording, kerkganger churchgoer, vakantieganger holidaymaker.

Words may have bound meanings as well. For instance, the word ere honour (an archaic form of eer honour) has acquired the meaning honorary as a left constituent of compounds, e.g. erelid honorary member. Similarly, the word hoofd head can have the meaning main in compounds, as in hoofdprobleem main problem. The term affixoid (discussed here) is used to refer to this use of words with bound meanings.

Further reading: Meesters (2004), Booij (2010), De Belder (2011).

  • Belder, Marijke de2011Roots and Affixes: Eliminating lexical categories from syntaxUtrechtThesis
  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Meesters, Gert2004Marginale morfologie in het Nederlands. Paradigmatische samenstellingen, neo-klassieke composita en splintercompositaGentKoninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde
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