Last modified on 11 April 2015, at 02:05

Dutch/Lesson 7

Les 7 ~ Lesson 7

Samenstellingen en Verkleinwoorden ~ Compounds and Diminutives

I want an ice cream
Grammar: compound nouns

<< Les 6 | Les 7 | Les 8 >>

Gesprek 7Edit

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

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 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, wrong: appel sap
  • mail box → postbus, wrong: post bus
  • Linux operating system → Linuxbesturingssysteem, wrong: Linux besturingssysteem

Should a word get unreadable by writing it together, you can use a dash to make it more readable. In the latter case Linux-besturingssysteem is more usual because Linux is a brand name. Dashes are used sparingly and never in simple compounds like deurbel (door bell).

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

  • sciencefiction
  • businessunit

This dash is required when one of the elements in a compound is an acronym:

  • DNA molecule → DNA-molecuul, wrong: DNA molecuul

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)

Remember that you can do this 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

Spelling revisionsEdit

Dutch orthography -in contrast to the English one- used to be changed every half century or so, but recently we have seen revisions every decade. It is fair to say that there is a government (i.e. tax payer) sponsored craze for change and not always for the better. The question whether something is written separately, together, with a diaeresis (trema in Dutch) or with a hyphen seems to be a favorite playground for this kind of activity. A good example can be found here. This is a comparison of the changes between 1995 and 2005. Many of these words had already changed in 1995. The result of this kind of changing is that most speakers and writers of the language do not know what to do anymore. The Genootschap Onze Taal (Society 'Our Language') has even published an alternative spelling guide (the little white book) in opposition to the governmental one (the little green book). Many publishers and media representatives have joined the revolt.

Obviously, no Dutch speaker will dare to fault a non-native for doing such things wrong.

One aspect of the new spelling is that in compounds a "collision of vowels" in not resolved with a diaeresis anymore but with a dash. There is a verb for "to imitate" that literally means "to ape after" someone. It used to be written as naäpen, now it is na-apen.

Grammatica 7.2 DiminutivesEdit

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 in Dutch is quite pervasive. One reason is that turning a word into a diminutive is another way of avoiding the m/f gender problem. Often the diminutive is as frequently or even more frequently used than the noun itself.

A handsize vase will generally be called vaasje. The word 'vaas' is more reserved for something that needs to be carried with both hands.

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

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

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

Even cardinal numbers are not safe:

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

Some words are better left alone, e.g.:

  • de moord - the murder
  • de begrafenis - the funeral

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. 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 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

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.

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