Last modified on 27 May 2015, at 21:00

Dutch/Lesson 7

Les 7 ~ Lesson 7

Samenstellingen en Verkleinwoorden ~ Compounds and Diminutives

I want an ice cream
Grammar: Compounding
Grammar: Diminutives

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Gesprek 7 ~ het grote ijsjeEdit

het grote ijsje

Moeder is met haar zoontje boodschappen aan het doen.

boy: Ma, krijg ik een ijsje?
woman: Ach vooruit dan maar, je bent braaf geweest. Wil je een vanilleijsje?
boy: Nee, ik wil een bananenframbozenmokkaijsje met vanilleslagroom.
woman: Een kleintje?
boy: Nee, een grote!
Translation • Lesson 7 • gesprek 7

Mother is doing some shopping with her little son.

Mam, do I get an ice cream?
Oh, all right, you've been good. You want a vanilla one?
No, I want banana raspberry mocha ice cream with vanilla whipped cream!
A small one?
No, a big one.

Grammatica 7.1 CompoundsEdit

Base rule of compoundingEdit

In this chapter you will learn how to glue words together. Dutch, like German, Norwegian and Danish, is often mocked for the (theoretical) possibility of creating long compound words such as randjongerenhangplekkenbeleidsambtenarensalarisbesprekingsafspraken (the agreements for the negotiations concerning the salary of public officials who decide on the policy regarding areas where unemployed youth are allowed to hang out).

Actually compounds are seldom so excessive and the compounding of words happens in English as well. However in English, compounds are written as separate words, so English speakers are often not aware that a word like "apple juice" is a compound, much like its Dutch counterpart "appelsap". Notice that when you pronounce "apple juice" you pronounce the word "juice" with much less emphasis than you pronounce "apple" with. This is what signals word compounding in English and Dutch alike.

Sometimes, compounds are spelled as a single word even in English. For example, the word "database" is a compilation of the words "data" and "base". For some words, such as "mailbox", a double spelling can be used: "mail box" is also acceptable in English.

In Dutch, the rule for spelling compounds is simple: if two nouns form a compound, write them together. Always.


  • apple juice → appelsap, incorrect: appel sap
  • mail box → postbus, incorrect: post bus
  • Linux operating system → Linuxbesturingssysteem, incorrect: Linux besturingssysteem


In the latter case Linux-besturingssysteem is actually more usual because Linux is a brand name. Besides, if the word becomes too long and too hard to read at once glance it is allowed to insert a hyphen. But these dashes are used sparingly and never in simple two word compounds like deurbel (door bell).

This rule even applies to words imported from English into Dutch:

  • sciencefiction
  • businessunit

A hyphen is required when one of the elements in a compound is an acronym:

  • DNA molecule → DNA-molecuul, incorrect: DNA molecuul, DNAmolecule

The hyphen can also be required if one word ends in a vowel and the other begins with one and the combination of the two vowels could be misinterpreted, e.g. as a diphthong or a different vowel.

E.g. 'enthusiasm for the euro / the EU' is euro–enthousiasme, not euroenthousiasme, because oe codes for the sound [u].

Linking -s-, -e-, -en-Edit

When Dutch still possessed a case system two part compounds were typically made by putting the first noun in the genitive case, e.g.:

de koning -> genitive des konings (of the king)
de mantel van de koning -> des konings mantel (the king's mantle) -> de koningsmantel

English used to have something similar, which explains word like 'kinsman, kingsman' etc.

However, not all genitives were formed with -s in Dutch, some words required -e, other words -en and which word required which in the old system is about as clear as mud for a modern Dutch speaker. Until 1995 the orthography of the compounds was still the traditional one that had evolved from the case system. This led to a plethora of spelling errors. In 1995 the Taalunie[1] abandoned the historic link and formulated simplified rules for when to use -e- and when to use -en-. The basic rule is:

When the word only has a plural with an ending -en, use -en-; otherwise use -e-.
So, because pan only has a plural pannen, we now write pannenkoek (It used to be pannekoek)
And because bende has both benden and bendes as plural, we write bendelid.

If you use two compound words in the same phrase that have an element in common, you can replace it by a dash:

  • "ondergrens en bovengrens" (lower boundary and upper boundary) can be replaced by "onder- en bovengrens". (lower and upper boundary)

Omission of repeated partsEdit

You can omit repeated parts of compounds in English as well: "standard temperature and standard pressure" is often replaced by "standard temperature and pressure". But note that by omitting the second occurrence of "standard", the text becomes ambiguous; it can no longer be seen from the text itself whether "standard" applies to just to the temperature, or to the pressure as well. The exact meaning will have to be gathered from the context.

In Dutch orthography however, by means of the dash, the difference is made clear:

  • "Standaardtemperatuur en -druk" means standard temperature and standard pressure
  • "Standaardtemperatuur en druk" means standard temperature, and pressure

But then in thermodynamics only pressure is standardized, of course.

Grammatica 7.2 DiminutivesEdit

de vaas
Een gerbera in een vaasje

Apart from a plural the Dutch noun generally also has a diminutive. It is formed by adding -je to the noun and is always neuter in gender:

de vaas - het vaasje

Diminutives have a plural in -s:

het vaasje - de vaasjes.


Het vaasje literally means the little vase, but the usage of diminutives in Dutch is quite pervasive. Often the diminutive is as frequently or even more frequently used than the noun itself and in some cases leaving out the diminutive leads to confusion.

A handsize vase, say for a single flower, will generally be called vaasje. The word 'vaas' is more reserved for something that needs to be carried with both hands. If you ask for a vaas people will give you something too big to put your single flower in, because that is not a vaas, but a vaasje and you used the wrong word.

In some cases the diminutive has acquired a life of its own (become 'lexicalized'). Compare:

het ijs - the ice
het ijsje - the ice cream
de meid - the maid
het meisje - the girl
de kaart - the (geographic, road) map, the postcard
het kaartje - the ticket, the business card

The connotation of being 'small' has largely been lost in such a case and this implies that a big cone of ice cream becomes: een groot ijsje (lit. a big little ice).

In the case of meisje, the original word meid can be rather derogatory:

Die meid hoort in het gevang!
lit. That 'broad' belongs in jail!

It can also be a somewhat colloquial term of endearment:

Wat 'n leuke meid! -- What a cutie!
Grote meid! -- Atta-girl!

Lexicalized diminutives are even formed from other parts of speech than nouns.

tussendoor - in between
een tussendoortje - a snack

There are quite a few such zelfstandige verkleinwoorden that do not occur in the non-diminutive form or have gained a whole new meaning that the non-diminunitve does not possess. See for reference this WikiWoordenboek category.

Adverbs can be formed from adjective by adding an extra -s:

zacht - soft
zachtjes - softly

Even the names of persons are at times turned into the diminutive, usually as a term of endearment:

Marietje, je bent een schat
Mary dear, you are a darling

As we saw in the conversation substantivated adjectives like een kleine (a little one) can also be used as diminutives: een kleintje. In fact. it this case een kleine would even sound odd in Dutch ears.

Even cardinal numbers are not safe:

We gaan met z'n tweetjes
We'll go the two of us

So, a variety of qualities can be expressed by a diminutive:

  1. small size
  2. modesty of the speaker
  3. of little or modest importance
  4. informality, not official
  5. 'gezelligheid' ~ being fun, sociable, non-threatening
  6. affection
  7. condescension (if attached to the wrong words)

This means some words are better left alone, e.g.:

  • de moord - the murder -> moordje
  • de begrafenis - the funeral ->begrafenisje

Putting these in the diminutive is downright disrespectful and morbid. If would indicate that the speaker is involved with such things for fun on a daily basis and thinks little of it. In other words, diminutives in Dutch express a whole lot more than just small size. They are a major mechanism of producing derived terms.


The formation of the diminutive sometimes requires the addition of -tje or -pje, the latter after m:

het eten - the food
het etentje - taking someone out for dinner
de bloem - the flower
het bloempje - the little flower

In some cases the vowel changes like it does in the plural:

het schip - the ship
het scheepje - the little ship
het pad - the path
de paden - the paths
het paadje - the little path, the trail


de schildpad - the turtle
de schildpadden - the turtles
het schildpadje - the little turtle

In other cases an extra syllable is inserted:

de kom - the bowl
het kommetje
de bloem - the flower
het bloemetje - the little flower

The suffix -je often causes consonants to be more or less pronounced as palatals. (Paadje as IPA /'pacə/ rather than /'patje/). There is considerable variation between the dialects in the formation of the diminutives. Many dialects pronounce -je as -ie /i:/. In others, the suffix tends to be -ke: meiske, blommeke.

Grammatica 7-3. WillenEdit

The verb willen means to want, to desire (not: will) and it is irregular

ik wil
jij wilt
hij wil
wij willen

As for English will the third person lacks the -t ending. In the second person it does appear for jij, u and gij alike. As usual is disappears for the jij-form in inversion:

Wat voor ijsje wil je?

There are two different past tenses:

ik wilde, ik wou
wij wilden, wij wou(d)en

Some speakers only find the weak past wilde acceptable in the written standard, but certainly in spoken Dutch wou is quite common.

The word wilden also occurs as a noun and means savages; likewise wouden can also mean forests.


The perfect participle is gewild

Woordenschat 7Edit

Dutch word audio file English translation
het ijs About this sound ijs ice
het ijsje About this sound ijsje ice cream
braaf About this sound braaf good, obedient
vooruit About this sound vooruit ahead, come on, to the front
krijgen - kreeg -gekregen s About this sound krijgen get, obtain
de appelsap About this sound appelsap apple juice
de room About this sound room cream (milk fat)
de slagroom About this sound slagroom whipped cream
de postbus About this sound postbus mail box
het molecuul About this sound molecuul molecule
de grens About this sound grens border, limit
de temperatuur About this sound temperatuur temperature
de druk About this sound druk pressure, print edition
de vaas About this sound vaas vase
het meisje About this sound meisje girl
de kaart About this sound kaart map, postcard
zacht About this sound zacht soft
zachtjes About this sound zachtjes softly
de schat About this sound schat treasure, darling
de moord About this sound moord murder
de begrafenis About this sound begrafenis funeral
de bloem About this sound bloem flower
het pad About this sound pad path
de pad About this sound pad toad
de kom About this sound kom bowl

YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Lesson 7 • fruitjes

Study the Dutch names for various fruits: Dutch/Vocabulary/Fruit
Visit the corresponding pages of WikiWoordenboek by clicking on the linked names to study the diminutives ("verkleinwoorden"). They can be found in the little table on the right of the page.
Then translate the following fruits into diminutive form:

  1. banana
  2. strawberry
  3. lemon
  4. orange
  5. almond
  6. blueberry
  7. raspberry
  8. melon
  9. blackberry
  10. apple
  11. pear
  12. walnut
  13. date
  14. fig
SOLUTION • Dutch/Lesson 7 • fruitjes
  1. banaantje
  2. aardbeitje
  3. citroentje
  4. sinaasappeltje
  5. amandeltje
  6. bosbesje
  7. framboosje
  8. meloentje
  9. braampje
  10. appeltje
  11. peertje
  12. walnootje
  13. dadeltje
  14. vijgje
  1. The Taalunie is a joint institution of the governments of Suriname, Flanders and the Netherlands that a.o. regulated the official orthography of Dutch