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Beginner level: cycle 2

Lesson 7 ~ Lesson 7

Samenstellingen en Verkleinwoorden ~ Compounds and Diminutives |}

I want an ice cream
Grammar: Compounding
Grammar: Diminutives

Gesprek 7 ~ het grote ijsje edit

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 vanille-ijsje?
boy: Nee, ik wil een bananenframbozenmokka-ijsje met vanilleslagroom.
woman: Een kleintje?
boy: Nee, een grote!
het grote ijsje
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.

This conversation demonstrates the two most productive mechanisms that Dutch has to form novel words: compounding and the formation of diminutives.

Grammatica 7.1 Compounds edit

Base rule of compounding edit

Dutch[1] is often mocked for its tendency of creating long compound words such as randjongerenhangplekkenbeleidsambtenarensalarisbesprekingsafspraken [2]. Actually compounds are seldom so excessive and overly long compounds like this one are typically avoided. Nevertheless, it is certainly true that compounding is one of the most important ways that Dutch forms new words for new concepts. Besprekingsafspraken e.g. would certainly be an acceptable compound word; it would mean the agreements -afspraken made during the meeting - bespreking.

Compounding of words happens in English as well. However in English, compounds are typically 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. Apart from the orthography the two languages are actually quite similar on this point.

In fact 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. And English spelling is not particularly predictable on this point.

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

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

  • sciencefiction
  • businessunit


  • Linux operating system → Linuxbesturingssysteem, incorrect: *Linux besturingssysteem

Hyphenation edit

In the latter case a hyphenated spelling 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 one glance you are allowed to insert a hyphen. But these hyphens are to be used sparingly and never appear in simple two word compounds like deurbel (door bell).

On the other hand, a hyphen is required when one of the elements in a compound is an initialism:

  • 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. 'euro enthusiasm' is euro–enthousiasme, not euroenthousiasme, because oe codes for the sound [u].

The Taalunie[3] calls this phenomenon klinkerbotsing ("vowel collision")[4]

Klinkerbotsing is why bananenframbozenmokka-ijsje and vanille-ijsje must have a hyphen between the last letter of mokka and the final -e of vanille on the one hand and the first i of ijsje on the other, because the 'ai' or 'ei' combination would otherwise 'collide'. By contrast the word bananenmokkaframbozenijsje can be written without hyphens as there are no vowel collisions in it. [5]

Linking -s-, -e-, -en- edit

Recall: besturingssysteem and besprekingsafspraken. Where does the extra -s- come from?

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. Besides, the old system got corrupted beyond recognition, e.g. bespreking never had a genitive is -s at all. Until 1995 the orthography of the compounds was still the traditional one that had evolved from the case system but was otherwise rather haphazard. This led to a plethora of spelling errors. In 1995 the Taalunie 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-.

For the -s- linker there was no need to formulate a rule, but let's make it specific here:

When the word is pronounced with an -s-, write an -s-.
So, because pan only has a plural pannen, we now write pannenkoek (It used to be pannekoek, because pan was a feminine word with a genitive in -e.)
And because bende has both benden and bendes as plural, we write bendelid. (This also used to be a feminine word, its genitive was the same as the nominative: bende.)
Because we actually pronounce an -s- between bespreking and afspraken we write besprekingsafspraken.

Of course for mother tongue speakers it is usually pretty clear what plurals a certain word has and how it is pronounced. For non-native learners that is not the case. It is one of the many things they must acquire pretty much word by word. If it is any consolation: Dutch speakers will only sympathize if a non-native speaker makes an error linking compounds, because they often still do as well. Take besturingssysteem. Yes an -s- is pronounced, but systeem starts with an s! In this case the extra -s- is added by analogy: in e.g. besturingsmechanisme an -s- is pronounced that does not come from either noun in the compound. This -s- is then adopted for besturingssysteem as well. Yes, mistakes are made with such things by native speakers.

Omission of repeated parts edit

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)

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, not temperature.

Grammatica 7.2 Diminutives edit

de vaas
Een gerbera in een vaasje

Recall: een ijsje, een kleintje. These are diminutive forms.

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.

Compounding and the formation of diminutives are the two most productive ways of forming new words in Dutch. More so than in most other languages diminutives are used for a whole variety of purposes in Dutch. It is not possible to learn Dutch without a decent command of both compounds and diminutives.

Usage edit

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 other words in some cases using the diminutive is mandatory

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

het ijs - the ice, ice cream as substance
het ijsje - the ice cream (cone, cup, whatever)
de meid - the maid
het meisje - the girl
de kaart - the (geographic, road) map, the postcard
het kaartje - the ticket, the business card
het krijt - the substance chalk
het Krijt - the Cretaceous period
het krijtje - the piece of chalk to write on the board with

The connotation of being 'small' has largely been lost in a case like ijsje. This implies that a big cone of ice cream becomes: een groot ijsje (lit. a big little ice). Interestingly, there used to be a word ijsco for ice cream, but it has been supplanted entirely by its diminutive cousin. The word does live on in the compound ijscoman: vendor of ice cream, usually in a car or a road stand.

The word krijt means chalk as a substance is uncountable and has no plural, but krijtje means piece of chalk and does have a plural krijtjes. Similarly the uncountable word gebak (pastry) gave rise to the countable word gebakje: a piece of pastry.


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

Meaning edit

A variety of qualities can be expressed by a diminutive:

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

The latter 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.

Formation edit

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, a dinner party
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

Words ending on -ing can get -kje, but only if the stress of the word is on the previous syllable

de kétting - het kéttinkje

Otherwise another syllable is inserted:

verándering - veránderingetje

The latter also goes for words with the suffix -ling:

leerling - leerlingetje

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. Willen edit

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

ik wil
jij wilt
hij wil
wij willen

As in 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 wouden.[6]

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


The perfect participle is gewild

Woordenschat 7 edit

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

Quizlet edit

The vocabulary for this lesson can be practiced at Quizlet (51 terms)

Progress made edit

If you studied the above thoroughly you should

  1. know about the two most important mechanisms of forming new words: compounding and diminutives

Cumulative term count:

Cycle1: 579
Lesson 5: 87
Lesson 6: 124
Lesson 7: 51
Total number

Appendix edit

  1. like German, Norwegian and Danish
  2. The agreements from the negotiations concerning the salary of public officials who decide on the policy regarding areas where unemployed youth are allowed to hang out
  3. The Taalunie is a joint institution of the governments of Suriname, Flanders and the Netherlands that a.o. regulates the official orthography of Dutch
  4. See this table to see which vowel are considered to collide
  5. Please do not expect all Dutch speakers to always do that right. Because English is widely known amongst Dutch speakers there is a strong tendency to follow English spelling and write "bananen frambozen mokka ijsje" There is even a term for it: de Engelse ziekte "the English disease"
  6. Some speakers only find the regular weak past wilde acceptable in the written standard, but certainly in spoken Dutch wou and wouden (sometimes pronounced as wouwen) are quite common. Wou is pretty common in the written language as well, wouden much less so, although the official spelling standard of the Taalunie has no objections to it at all