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Dutch spelling-related questions

Hello, there!

Before I ask you guys, I would like to explain a bit how these questions came across my mind.

I'm an exchange student currently hosted in Belgium. So, here I study at a Flemish school just like other students. A few days ago, in Dutch class, we learned about spellings of a bunch of Dutch words in connection with whether they are 'samenstelling' or 'afleiding'. For example, we learned why it is 'zonnestelsel' instead of 'zonneNstelsel' since it is 'sterreNstelsel' instead of 'sterrestelsel'. In such a case, my Dutch teacher explained that normally a 'samenstelling' consists of more than one dependent word. 'Sterrenstelsel' consists of 'sterren' and 'stelsel'. 'Sterren' has its own meaning. So does 'stelsel'. That is how a 'samenstelling' normally is. Then, why isn't it 'zonneNstelsel' then? She said that it was because the word 'zonne' coming from 'zon' is unique: there's only one sun. So if it is unique, it's written without an N. Another example of a 'samenstelling' is 'spijsverteringsstelsel'. Why do you need two S's? She elaborated it was due to the fact that in Dutch you say 'spijsverteringSkanaal' and not 'spijsverteringkanaal'. So the two S's of 'spijsverteringsstelsel', one S comes from the word 'stelsel' itself and another comes from the reason of 'spijverteringskanaal'.

Then we talked about afleiding. Afleiding consists of a word with a suffix. In this case, it was the word 'vedettedom'. Why isn't it 'vedettendop'? She said it was because the word 'vedet' has two plural forms: vedetten and vedettes. That's why it's simply written vedette.

Now my questions are, if the rules are like that, why do you say 'buitenShuis' instead of 'buitenhuis'? Jullie zeggen toch 'buitenland' en niet 'buitenSland'? Again, why do you say 'rundvlees' not 'rundSvlees'? Jullie zeggen toch 'rundskop'.

P.S. I heard my teacher's explanation completely in Dutch. So, if there's something incorrect with what I explained above, it's absolutely my fault of misunderstanding her. Also, I am so sorry if my questions are confusing and poorly explained. Your responses are greatly appreciated. :)

March 26, 2015



It's a good question! Unfortunately, there is not a good answer.

As you mentioned, there are clear rules for the "tussen-N" in between compound words ("samenstellingen"). These rules were introduced in 1996 and there are still many people unhappy about them. Before then, there were no consistent rules, whether or not the "n" was inserted depended on whether it was pronounced by native speakers. For many words, like "pannenkoek" (pancake) or "paardenbloem" (dandelion), the official spelling was changed in 1996, to reflect this.

For the "tussen-S", there are still no rules. A lot of the time, words are correct both with and without the S. The official rule is: you can write the "tussen-S" if the word is pronounced with an S in there. Of course this really sucks for non-native speakers who are trying to form compound words. I'm sorry. :(

What you should take home is that it doesn't matter so much whether you include the "S", since there are no clear rules. In most cases, either spelling is acceptable. For example, "rundSvlees" doesn't sound very weird to me, even though the word is more common without the S.

March 26, 2015


this is answer seems mostly correct, but I think it needs mentioning that in the case of 'buitenhuis' it is different. 'BuitenShuis' means outside generally close to your home, whereas 'buitenhuis' means a mansionlike house generally in the countryside.

March 29, 2015


I think that the s in the middle of words like spijsverteringsstelsel comes from the proto-German heritage.

There is a Genitive Case in German which ends with -s or -es and even in English it is called Saxon Genitive (like "The dog's bowl" or "My parents' house... I don't know how it's called correctly).

I can't come up with any Dutch examples but in German there are lots of words like this: Sicherheitsdienst, Lebensaufgabe etc.

March 26, 2015


When am I supposed to know then if a samenstelling/afleiding must have an S in the middle or not? I mean, like the case of 'buitenshuis' and 'buitenland' , or the case of 'rundvlees' and 'rundskop'.

March 26, 2015


Honestly my friend, I'm Flemish but I never really took note of these 'rules' ... Most people make mistakes on it, and some just KNOW the correct form.

But not as many can explain these so called 'rules' ... Most people don't care about these words or won't even notice a mistake.

EDIT: there are some words though you need to get right, as they mean something completely different with or without the -s. For example: 'Hongersnood' (famine), if you write 'Hongernood' you're basically saying there is a need for hunger. ==> 'waternood - watersnood'

Waternood: The need for water (water famine) WaterSnood: a flood

March 28, 2015


It might be left over from a grammatical case that is no longer used, similar to how we still say 's middags from "des middags".

http://www.etymologiebank.nl/trefwoord/buitenshuis lists a form "būten hūses". Apparently there used to be an "-es" ending for "hūs"; maybe it moved to "buiten" because you don't notice it in "huis".

March 26, 2015
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