Compounding matters (Or: B2 Dutch course #18)

One of the things that was mentioned in last night’s class was the subject of compound nouns. Dutch, like German, has some pretty long words because it is in the habit of sticking words together more often than not.

The subject came about because of a dictee that we were asked to write (dictees are when a teacher recites a sentence and you have to write it a they say it out loud). Here was our dictee:

Er wordt vermoedt dat het taal- en rekenniveau in het basisonderwijs de internationale concurrentiepositie van een land bepaalt. It is suspected that the language and math level in elementary education determines the international competitiveness of a country. What a mouthful.

(If you’re keeping track at home, I misspelled vermoedt as vermoet because I had never heard of the verb before. I should have realized worden + verb would require the use of the present perfect after. I also misspelled rekenniveau as rekenenniveau – that was just a mistake of not listening carefully and thinking there was an extra syllable. I didn’t realize concurrentiepositie was a compound noun, and thus one word, though I correctly knew basisonderwijs was. I also originally wrote bepaalt as bepaald, getting the tense wrong until I realized it was simply present tense. I figured that one out though myself.)

But I digress… basisonderwijs is elementary education, but it’s actually made up of two words smushed together. basis onderwijs. The Dutch like to do that a lot, though you’ll usually see an s in between. When I go home from work I frequently see a sign “waarschuwingslichten buiten gebruik”, or warning lights are out of order. waarschuwing (warning) lichten (lights) with an s in between to help the pronunciation transition between words.

The main rule about compound words is that the last word determines the gender of the entire word. 

de taalhet niveauhet taalniveau

You can create compound nouns in Dutch using four methods:

1) two nouns: het theekopje (de thee + het kopje = cup of tea)

2) adjective + noun: de groothandel (groot + de handel = wholesale)

3) preposition + noun: de tegenspeller (tegen + de speller = opponent)

4) stem form of verb + noun: de eetkamer (eet [stem form of eten] + de kamer = dining room)

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