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Subtraction (or subtractive morphology) is a type of non-concatenative morphological process whereby part of a word is deleted to create a new word or word form. The part that is removed can be either a:

  • morpheme (e.g. eik < eik·e+boom oak tree, or foon < tele·foon telephone);
  • syllable (e.g. avo < avokado avocado, based on /ɑ.vu.kɑ.du/);
  • part of a syllable (e.g. prof < professor where the first syllable and the first letter of the second syllable are used, based on /pru.fɛ.sər/); or
  • letters (e.g. SAUK < Suid-Afrikaanse Uitsaaikorporasie South African Broadcasting Corporation; ww. < werkwoord verb)
Since the resulting form is often only a shortened form of the word, but with the same meaning as the original, some morphologists don't consider subtraction to be a word formation processes. In their view, no new form-meaning pairing results from subtraction. Still other morphologists don't consider acronyms and/or abbreviations to be morphological, since such forms are considered to be orthographical. However, a broad view of what subtraction includes is taken on Taalportaal (a new form constitutes a new word), irrespective of whether it being realised phonologically or orthographically.

There is also no consensus on terminology and the demarcation of terms and concepts. One author might use abbreviation as a superordinate term, while another might use it to refer to a specific type of subtraction (as is done on Taalportaal). See Bauer (2004), and Crystal (2008) for discussions of terminology in this area.

The diagram below provides an overview of subtractive processes in Afrikaans, viewed next to concatenative processes (like compounding and affixation, not depicted here), and subtractive-and-concatenative processes (like blending). The diagram also serves to indicate how we use terminology in this section. These subtractive processes are discussed below, while a separate topic is devoted to gapping. We also include blending and contraction here, despite the fact that they are strictly speaking subtractive-and-concatenative processes.

Figure 1: Taxonomy of subtractive processes in Afrikaans

[click image to enlarge]

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Comparatively speaking, very little research has been done on subtractive processes in Afrikaans. Combrink (1990) provided a first bird's eye-view, while Coetzee (2000) focussed mainly on acronyms and initialisms, with very little attention to clipping.


Gapping (also known as conjunction reduction) is a kind of ellipsis construction in which one or more morphemes in a complex word can be omitted when the word occurs in a coordinate construction with another identically-structured complex word, as illustrated in example (1). For more details, see the topic on gapping in Afrikaans.

Example 1

polisie+mann·e en -vrou·e < polisie+manne en polisie+vroue
police+man·PL and -woman·PL
policemen and policewomen

Clipping (called inkorting or knipsel in Afrikaans) is a subtractive morphological process whereby a part or parts of an existing word or phrasal name is removed to form a new word with the same part-of-speech category and meaning, but often with a different usage (such as register change). Such clippings can be either morphemic, or non-morphemic, and can occur at the left-hand side (called procope or aphaeresis/apheresis), right-hand side (called apocope), or in the middle (called syncope) of words and phrasal names. The following examples suffice.

Example 2

Morphemic procope: word
foon < tele·foon
phone < telephone
Example 3

Morphemic apocope: word
a. wilger < wilger+boom
willow < willow tree
b. Sasol < Sasol+burg
Sasol < Sasolburg (town in the Free State, South Africa)
Example 4

Morphemic syncope: word
a. was+poeier < was+goed+poeier
wash+powder < wash+stuff+powder
washing powder
b. lang+vraag < lang+antwoord+vraag
long+question < long+answer+question
essay-type question
c. speur+hoof < speur+diens+hoof
detect+head < detect+service+head
head of detective services / investigation bureau
d. rubber+plantasie < rubber+boom+plantasie
rubber plantation < rubber tree plantation
e. kern+sentrale < kern+krag+sentrale
nucleus+plant < nucleus+energy+plant
nuclear plant < nucleart energy plant
Example 5

Morphemic syncope: phrasal name
sel+foon < sellulêr·e tele·foon
cellphone < cellular telephone
Example 6

Non-morphemic procope: word
spens < dis·pens
pantry (from dispensary)
Example 7

Non-morphemic apocope: word
a. dok < dokt·er
doc < doctor
b. prof < pro·fess·or
prof < professor
c. admin < ad·ministr·asie
admin < administration
Example 8

Non-morphemic syncope: word
a. Liz < Elizabeth
b. dradio (< dra-radio)
portable radio (< carry-radio)
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Combrink (1990:67) illustrated that one should not attempt to analyse cases like those in (4) above as compounds, because that would lead to incorrect syntactic and semantic patterns of compounding.


Back-formation (called truvorming in Afrikaans) is a subtractive process in which a less complex word is derived from a more complex word by removing a falsely-assumed affix; in as such, it is the inverse of affixation. Back-formation differs from clipping in the sense that clipping is (POS) category maintaining, while back-formation can change the word class. Since back-formation is a kind of re-interpretation/re-analysis/neoanalysis, it can be viewed as folk morphological analysis (Combrink 1990:56).

Compare for example the word pakk·asie luggage; caboodle, which comes from Dutch pakk·age. However, in a folk analysis, the word is re-analysed as a diminutive form, analogous to [[kaas](N)[ie](DIM)] small (piece of) cheese, so that pakk·asie is parsed as [[pakkaas](N)[ie](DIM)]. Hence, it is (falsely) assumed that a huge heap of luggage is called a pakkaas, based on the imagined diminutive pakkas·ie.

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Booij (2002:163) noted that N+V compounds like stof+suig dust+suck to vacuum, and beeld+hou statue+cut to sculpt should also be analysed as back-formations, since verbal compounding is not a productive process in Germanic languages. However, if we know that these words come from stof+sui·er dust+suck·NMLZ vacuum cleaner, and beeld+hou·er statue+cut·NMLZ sculptor respectively, it is easy to explain their structure.


Shortening is the subtractive process whereby a new word is formed using the first letter(s) of another word, phrasal name, or word group. When the letters of the new word is pronounced by spelling out the letters one by one, it is called an initialism; when the letters are pronounced as a word, it is called an acronym; when the letters only occur in written form, it is called an abbreviation.

Example 9

SAUK < Suid-Afrikaanse Uitsaaikorporasie
/ɛs a y ka/
SABC < South African Broadcasting Company
Example 10

PanSAT < Pan-Suid-Afrikaanse Taalraad
PanSALB < Pan South African Language Board
Example 11

a. dr. < dokter/doktor
dr. < doctor
b. i.t.v. < in terme van
i.t.o. < in terms of

A blend (or portmanteau word; called versmelting in Afrikaans) is a word formed through a combination of subtractive and concatenative processes to refer to a singular concept that is named by neither original word (stem) on its own. Prototypically, the end of one word, and the beginning of another word is firstly clipped, whereafter the remaining parts are concatenated to form a new word to refer to a new concept. The two component words, as well as the composite word usually all have the same part-of-speech category. A telling example is the word z=onkie (< zebra=donkie) [[z{ebra}](N)[{d}onkie](N)](N) zebra=donkey donkra, zebra hinny, which refers to a cross between a zebra and a donkey (a so-called zebroid).

In glosses, blends are indicated with the equal sign ( = ). Clipped parts of words are indicated between curly brackets (where necessary) when formalising constructions.

In some cases, the resulting blend might seem like a compound consisting of a clipped word plus a full word. However, while compounds are also used to refer to singular concepts, the difference between compounds and blends lies in the fact that compounds don't share any fusible material, unlike the case of blends. The following contrasting examples should illustrate the difference.

Example 12

a. admin+gebou
administration building
[Here admin is analysed as a clipping that could also be used as an free-standing word.]
a.' sater=drag (< Saterdag=drag)
informal, weekend-like clothing
[Note the fusible material d, a, and g between the two base words, indicated in bold above. Also interesting is the blending of capitalisation: While Saterdag is a proper noun and styled with a capital letter, its capitalisation convention is fused with that of the common noun drag, which is usually styled with no capital letters.]

The following examples represent some typical categories in Afrikaans, but is most probably not representative of all possible categories.

Example 13

a. seks=pert (<seks=ekspert)
[Also consider: infor=maaklikheid (< informasie=vermaaklikheid) information=entertainment infotainment]
b. Zu=pta (< Zuma=Gupta)
[Epithet for referring to the Zuma and Gupta alliance in South Africa in the 2010s.]
c. Jean=dré (< Jeanette=André)
d. bew=area (< bewaar=area)
conservation area
[Also consider: w=oordenaar (< woord=moordernaar) word=murderer a person that tortures other people with his comments on social media]
e. storm=kopies (< stormloop=inkopies)
panic buying by large numbers of people (e.g. in the context of a looming pandemic)
(Beeld, 2020/03/17, poster)
[Also consider: coron=ia (< coronavirus=histeria); Ramaforie (< Ramaphosa=euforie)]
f. uit=gemat (< uitgeput=afgemat)
extremely exhausted
[Also consider: defini=slis (< definitief=beslis definitely=surely absolutely; lief=nis (< liefde=groetnis love=greetings endearing salutation; katte=wales (< kattekwaad=manewales) mischief=antics silly antics; b=als (< bas=vals) bass=false voice type between bass and false; pell=evisie (< pêl=televisie) pal=television friend who only visits to watch television, because s/he doesn't own a television]
g. pikkew=outer (< pikkewyn=kabouter)
(term of endearment)
[Also consider: bokk=elossie (< bokkie=tokkelossie) goat.DIM=tokoloshe (term of endearment)]
h. j=impel (< jags=simpel)
being foolish due to sexual cravings/activities
[Also consider: sl=oer (< slet=hoer) slut=whore person of ill repute]
i. labra=hond (< labrador=skaaphond)
[Also consider: hoen=taal (< hoender=tarentaal) chicken=guineafowl chicken-guineafowl cross]
j. ka=poen (< kak=pampoen)
brownish orange colour
[Also consider: hoe=ranje (< hoer=oranje) whore=orange colour of someone with artificial orange tan]
k. Engl=ikaans (< Engels=Afrikaans)
contact dialect between English and Afrikaans
[Also consider: Karo=maties (< Karoo=idiomaties) Karoo-like=idiomatic like the language of people from the Karoo region in South Africa]

In some rare cases, more complex blending processes might be observed, as illustrated by the following examples.

Example 14

a. ko=te=fie (< koffie=tee)
hybrid drink of coffee and tea mixed
[This is a case almost similar to the interfixation process of swear word incorporation, like abso-fokken-luut abso-fucking-lutely. What distinguishes blending from Afrikaans interfixation is that the former combines two words from the same part-of-speech category to refer to a singular concept named by neither original word (stem) on its own, while the latter is only an emphatic version of the base word.]
b. voor=aan (< voor op die wa=aanmatigend)
front of the wagon=overbearing
being unbearably presumptuous
[The idiom voor op die wa is used as an adjective to mean being forward, cheeky]
c. awesome=rowend (< awesome=asemrowend)
awesome, fantastic
[This blend between English awesome and Afrikaans asemrowend not only relies on the fact that all the letters of awesome can be found in asemrowend, but also in the fact that asem can be pronounced in certain sociolects of Afrikaans to sound exactly like awesome.]
d. oli=krokke=noster=likke=akke=pikke=strys (< olifant=krokkedil=renoster=likkewaan=akkedis=pikkewyn=volstruis)
[This is a playful tongue-twister, similar to English supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.]
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Terminology regarding blending, as well as the scope of what should be included or excluded as blending, differ in the international literature. Fradin (2015) provided a comprehensive overview, as well as a discussion of the most pertinent matters related to different concepts. Bauer et al. (2013:458-462) also gave a good overview, specifically related to English, including a discussion on the distinction between blends ("which involve the loss of medial segmental material, as in brunch"), and clipped compounds or complex clippings ("which involve the loss of final material of both bases, as in modem < modulator-demodulator").

No research has been done on blends in Afrikaans. Combrink (1990) made a distinction between blends (with examples like stroo=is / str=uis (< strooi=huis) straw=house thatched hut, and kl=ong (< klein=jong) small=boy young boy), and clipped compounds (like motel (< motor=hotel) motor=hotel motel; called reduksiesamestelling by Combrink (1990)). He argued that blends develop naturally, while clipped compounds are made deliberately. Scholtz (1954), however, made the case that non-intentional blends are cases of so-called contamination, i.e. a language error due to confusion of similar sounding words, or synonyms (e.g. verkleineer to belittle as a contamination of verklein to belittle; to make smaller and kleineer to belittle). Many of the examples he listed as such "errors" have been institutionalised though, thus rendering the distinction between deliberate vs. accidental (or erroneous) to a large extent immaterial. Van Huyssteen (2017) also discarded this distinction, and only recognise blending as a word formation process.

Mispronunciations (typically observed under children, like n=iewers (< nêrens=iewers) nowhere=somewhere nowhere) and slips of the tongue (like Donald Trump referring to Nam=bia (< Namibia=Zambia) at a lunch with African leaders in New York on 20 September 2017) could hardly be considered a productive word formation processes, since these are typically once-off events.

A contraction is a combination of a word with a clitic (i.e. a reduced form of a function word) to form a single word with a (partially) phrasal function. For instance, the personal pronoun ek I could combine with the enclitic form -'s to be.COP to form the contraction ek's. This contraction functions as the predicator in a sentence like Ek='s moeg I=be.COP tired I'm tired. Also compare the following examples:

Example 15

a. di=s (< dit=is)
it is / it's
b. moe=nie (< moet=nie)
mustn't; shouldn't
c. sy='s (< sy=is)
she is
d. hy='t (< hy=het)
he has
e. opp=i (< op=die)
on the
[This is a typical example of the phonological process of assimilation that is reflected in the orthography, albeit in more informal texts, and in the names of events, restaurants, etc.]

The most telling difference between blends and contractions is that the former combines two words from the same part-of-speech category, while the later combines two words from different part-of-speech categories. Hence, the former denotes a singular concept, while the latter functions as (part of) a phrase.

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  • Bauer, Laurie, Lieber, Rochelle & Plag, Ingo2013The Oxford Reference Guide to English MorphologyOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Coetzee, A.E2000Reduksieprosesse: produktiewe woordvormingsmiddele in Afrikaans.Tydskrif vir Taalonderrig = Journal for Language Teaching34311-322,
  • Combrink, J.G.H1990Afrikaanse morfologie: capita exemplaria.Academica
  • Combrink, J.G.H1990Afrikaanse morfologie: capita exemplaria.Academica
  • Combrink, J.G.H1990Afrikaanse morfologie: capita exemplaria.Academica
  • Combrink, J.G.H1990Afrikaanse morfologie: capita exemplaria.Academica
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  • Crystal, David2008A Dictionary of Linguistics and PhoneticsOxford: Blackwell
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