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Vowel length is indicated in Dutch spelling using a combination of double vowels and double consonants. Changes from single to double letters are common when discussing Dutch grammar, but they are entirely predictable once one knows how the spelling rules work. This means that the spelling alternations do not form part of the grammar, and they are not discussed here. For more information, see Dutch orthography.
Dutch word order is underlyingly SOV (subject–object–verb). There is an additional rule called V2 in main clauses, which moves the finite (inflected for subject) verb into the second position in the sentence. Because of this, sentences with only one verb appear with SVO (subject–verb–object) or VSO (verb–subject–object) order.
|"Jan helped his mother."|
|"Yesterday, Jan helped his mother."|
However, any other verbs or verbal particles are placed at the end of the clause in accordance with the underlying SOV order, giving an intermediate order of SVOV(V)(V)...
|Jan||wilde||zijn moeder||gaan helpen|
|Jan||wanted||his mother||to go help|
|"Jan wanted to go help his mother."|
In subordinate clauses, the order is exclusively SOV. In subordinate clauses two word orders are possible for the verb clusters and are referred to as the "red": omdat ik heb gewerkt, "because I have worked": like in English, where the auxiliary verb precedes the past particle, and the "green": omdat ik gewerkt heb, where the past particle precedes the auxiliary verb, "because I worked have": like in German. In Dutch, the green word order is most used in speech, and the red is the most used in writing, particularly in journalistic texts, but the "green" is also used in writing. Unlike in English, however, adjectives and adverbs must precede the verb: dat het boek groen is, "that the book is green". For an explanation of verb clusters of three or more see: V2 word order
|Jan||zei||dat||hij||zijn moeder||wilde||gaan helpen|
|Jan||said||that||he||his mother||wanted||to go help|
|"Jan said that he wanted to go help his mother."|
In yes–no questions, the verb of the main clause is usually, but not always, placed first instead of second. If the verb comes second, this often implies disbelief, like in English: "The prisoner escaped?" vs. "Did the prisoner escape?"
|"Did Jan help his mother?"|
|Wilde||Jan||zijn moeder||gaan helpen?|
|Wanted||Jan||his mother||to go help?|
|"Did Jan want to go help his mother?"|
|Zei||Jan||dat||hij||zijn moeder||wilde||gaan helpen?|
|Said||Jan||that||he||his mother||wanted||to go help?|
|"Did Jan say that he wanted to go help his mother?"|
In imperative sentences, the verb of the main clause is always placed first, although it may be preceded by a noun phrase indicating who is being addressed.
|"(Jan,) go help your mother!"|
|(Jan,)||zeg||dat||je||je moeder||wilde||gaan helpen!|
|(Jan,)||say||that||you||your mother||wanted||to go help!|
|"(Jan,) say that you wanted to go help your mother!"|
In the following example, the SOV order in the subordinate clause causes the various noun phrases to be separated from the verbs that introduce them, creating a relatively deep "nesting" structure:
|Ik zie dat||de ouders||de kinderen||Jan||het huis||hebben||laten||helpen||schilderen.|
|I see that||the parents||the children||Jan||the house||have||let||help||paint|
|"I see that the parents have let the children help Jan paint the house."|
In contrast to English, adpositional phrase come in the order time–manner–place, so that time modifiers usually come before place modifiers:
|"I have been to France this year."|
In Dutch, nouns are marked for number in singular and plural. Cases have largely fallen out of use, as have the endings that were used for them. Standard Dutch has three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. However, in large parts of the Netherlands there is no grammatical distinction between what were originally masculine and feminine genders, and there is only a distinction between common and neuter. Gender is not overtly marked on nouns either, and must be learned for each noun.
The plural is formed by addition of -en (pronounced /ən/ or /ə/) or -s, with the usual spelling changes in the case of the former. Which of the two is used is somewhat unpredictable, although some general rules can be given:
A number of common nouns inherited from Old Dutch have a short vowel in the singular but a long vowel in the plural. When short i is lengthened in this way, it becomes long e.
Other nouns with this change include: (aan)bod ‘offer’, bad ‘bath’, bedrag ‘(money) contribution’, bevel ‘command’, blad ‘sheet of paper; magazine’ (not ‘leaf’), dak ‘roof’, dal ‘valley’, gat ‘hole’, gebed ‘prayer’, gebod ‘commandment’, gen ‘gene’, glas ‘glass’, god ‘god’, hertog ‘duke’, hof ‘court’, hol ‘cave; burrow’, lid ‘member’, lot ‘lottery ticket’, oorlog ‘war’, pad ‘path’, schot ‘shot’, slag ‘strike, battle’, smid ‘smith’, spel ‘large game; spectacle’ (not in the sense of a smaller everyday game), staf ‘staff’, vat ‘vat, barrel’, verbod ‘ban, prohibition’, verdrag ‘treaty’, verlof ‘permission’, weg ‘road, way’.
The noun stad /stɑt/ ‘town, city’ has umlaut in the plural alongside lengthening: steden /ˈsteːdə(n)/ ‘towns, cities’. The plural of nouns ending in the suffix -heid /ɦɛit/ ‘-ness, -hood’ is irregular -heden /ɦeːdə(n)/.
A few neuter nouns have a plural in -eren. This ending derives from the old Germanic "z-stem" nouns, and is cognate with the English -ren (children, brethren etc.). The following nouns have this type of plural:
When used in compounds, the stem of these nouns usually includes the -er. For example: eierschaal "eggshell", kinderarbeid "child labour", klederdracht "traditional costume", rundertartaar "beef tartare", volkermoord "genocide". This is not a rule, however, and compounds with the singular form also exist: eivorm "egg-shape", rundvlees "beef", volkslied "national anthem".
For a number of nouns of Latin origin, a Latin-like plural may be used. Depending on the word and the formalness of the setting, a regular plural in -en or -s can also be used.
Some modern scientific words borrowed from Latin or Greek form their plurals with vowel lengthening, like the native words listed above. These words are primarily Latin agent nouns ending in -or and names of particles ending in -on. Alongside the change in vowel length, there is also a stress shift in the plural, patterned on the Latin third declension where this also occurs. In each case, the singular follows a Latin-like stress, while the plural stresses the -on- or -or-. Some examples:
Words borrowed from English or French will generally form their plural in -s, in imitation of the native plural of those languages. This applies especially to recent borrowings.
Many nouns have a diminutive form alongside the normal base form. This form is used to indicate small size, or emphasize a particular endearing quality. Use of diminutives is very common, so much that they could be considered part of the noun's inflectional paradigm.
There are two basic ways to form the diminutive: with -tje or with -ke(n). The former is the standard way, while the latter is found in some dialects, mostly in the south (Brabantian and Limburgish). The diminutive on -ke(n) is common in informal Belgian Dutch (due to final-n deletion in Dutch, the final -n is often not pronounced). All diminutives have neuter gender, no matter what the gender of the original noun was. The plural is always formed with -s.
The basic suffix -tje is modified in different ways depending on the final sounds of the noun it is attached to.
Note that the last two words really end in a consonant, despite not being spelled that way.
When the vowel of the last syllable is both short and stressed, and it is followed by a sonorant, an extra schwa -e- is inserted, giving -etje.
In all other cases, the basic form -tje is used. This includes:
When the final vowel is long, it is doubled accordingly. Final -i, which does not really occur in native Dutch words, is converted into -ie. Final -y gets an apostrophe.
In the case of the vowels oe and ie, there is some ambiguity. While pronounced short in many dialects, they can also be long for some speakers, so forms both with and without the extra -e- can be found.
In the south, the ending -ke(n) is often used instead. It also has different forms depending on the preceding sounds, with rules very similar to those for the -tje ending.
An older form of this ending was -ken, which is more like its German cognate -chen. This form is not used much today, due to final n-deletion which is common in Dutch, but it is still found in older texts and names. A famous example is Manneken Pis.
An extra -e- is inserted in three cases, giving -eke(n):
In all other cases, the ending is the basic -ke(n). This includes:
Standard Dutch, as well as most dialects, do not use umlaut as a grammatical marker. However, some eastern dialects (East Brabantian, Limburgish and many Low Saxon areas) have regular umlaut of the preceding vowel in diminutives. As this is not a standard feature, it is rare in the written language except when used to evoke a local feeling. It can be more common in the spoken language. Some examples:
Nouns with irregular plurals tend to have the same irregularity in the diminutive as well. This is not a rule, however, and both forms can often be found. For some nouns, the irregularity is more common in the plural of the diminutive, and only rarely appears in the singular. Some examples:
Noun cases were still prescribed in the formal written standard up until the 1940s, but were abolished then because they had long disappeared from the spoken language. Because of this, they are nowadays restricted mostly to set phrases and are archaic. The former Dutch case system resembled that of modern German, and distinguished four cases: nominative (subject), genitive (possession or relation), dative (indirect object, object of preposition) and accusative (direct object, object of preposition). Only the nominative and genitive are productive, with the genitive seldom used and only surviving in the margins of the language. Some examples of the three non-nominative cases in fixed expressions:
The role of cases has been taken over by prepositions and word order in modern Dutch. For example, the distinction between direct and indirect object is now made by placing the indirect object before the direct object, or by using the preposition aan "to" with the indirect object. The genitive is replaced with the preposition van "of". Usage of cases with prepositions has disappeared as well.
Cases are still occasionally used productively, which are often calques of existing phrases. This is particularly true of the genitive case, which is still used occasionally to evoke a formal style. Speakers' awareness of how the cases were originally used is generally low. People may confuse the old masculine/neuter genitive article des and the corresponding noun ending -s with the article der (with no ending) used for feminine or plural nouns.
|Definite singular||de man||de vrouw||het huis|
|Definite plural||de mannen||de vrouwen||de huizen|
|Indefinite singular||een man||een vrouw||een huis|
Het and een are normally pronounced /ət/ and /ən/, respectively. They may sometimes also be contracted in spelling to reflect this: 't, 'n.
There is no indefinite article in the plural, the noun is just used on its own. However, there is a negative indefinite article geen ("no, not a, not any"). Similarly to een it is invariable, showing no inflection for gender or number.
The articles formerly had forms for the different cases as well. See Archaic Dutch declension for more information.
Within the Dutch noun phrase, adjectives are placed in front of the noun and after the article (if present).
The inflection of adjectives follows the gender and number of the following noun. They also inflect for definiteness, like in many other Germanic languages. When preceded by a definite article, demonstrative determiner, possessive determiner or any other kind of word that acts to distinguish one particular thing from another, the definite form of the adjective is used. In other cases, such as with an indefinite article, indefinite determiner (like veel "many" or alle "all"), the indefinite form is used.
Despite the many different aspects that determine the inflection of an adjective, the adjective only occurs in two main forms. The uninflected form or base form is the adjective without any endings. The inflected form has the ending -e. The inflection of adjectives is as follows:
|Indefinite||een kleine man||een kleine vrouw||een klein huis||kleine mannen, vrouwen, huizen|
|Definite||de kleine man||de kleine vrouw||het kleine huis||de kleine mannen, vrouwen, huizen|
Adjectives are only inflected in this way when they are in an attributive role, where they precede a noun and modify it. Adjectives in a predicative role, which are used in predicative sentences with a copula verb, are not inflected and always use the uninflected form. Compare:
Most adjectives ending in -en have no inflected form. This includes adjectives for materials, as well as the past participles of strong verbs.
Adjectives that end in a vowel in their uninflected form are rare, and there are no fixed rules for them. Often, the uninflected and inflected forms are the same, but sometimes an extra -ë is added on anyway.
Uninflected adjectives are occasionally found in other contexts. With neuter nouns, if the adjective is inherently part of the noun as part of a set phrase, then the uninflected form is often used in the definite singular as well:
Indefinite adjectives describing people often remain uninflected, if they express a personal quality. This is not stylistically neutral, but has a formal, rhetorical or poetic ring to it, and can occasionally distinguish literal meanings of an adjective from a more figurative one. Furthermore, this is only done with some nouns, not all.
Adjectives have a special form called the partitive that is used after an indefinite pronoun such as iets ‘something’, niets ‘nothing’, veel ‘much, a lot’, weinig ‘little, a few’. The partitive form takes the ending -s.
Adjectives already ending in -s or -sch don't take this ending:
The few adjectives that end in a long vowel take instead -’s with an apostrophe like certain noun plurals.
The uninflected form of an adjective is implicitly also an adverb. This makes it hard at times to distinguish adjectives and adverbs in Dutch.
The inflected form of an adjective can also be used as a noun. Three types can be distinguished:
Adjectives have three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative. The comparative and superlative are formed synthetically, by adding endings to the adjective. The comparative and superlative can also be formed analytically by using meer "more" and meest "most", but this is much rarer than in English. The analytic forms are used only when the word would become particularly long, or when it would become hard to pronounce (particularly in the superlative).
The comparative is formed by adding -er to the base form. For adjectives that end in -r, the comparative is formed by adding -der to the base form instead. The comparative inflects as an adjective in its own right, having inflected and partitive forms. The uninflected comparative can be used as an adverb as well.
The superlative is formed by adding -st. This is equivalent to adding -t to the partitive, and the same rules apply. When an adjective ends in -s or -sch, this becomes -st and -scht, but these forms are more rarely used, and the analytic form with meest is preferred.
Because it is most often used to distinguish one particular thing from all others, the superlative is generally accompanied by a definite article. This means it is rarely found in the uninflected form. Even in predicative sentences, a definite article precedes, so it becomes more like a noun phrase with an implied noun.
When used as an adverb, the superlative is always preceded by the neuter article het, unlike in English where this is optional. Either the uninflected or the inflected form can be used, without any difference in meaning. This form can also be used as part of predicative sentences, which can lead to a mismatch of genders which may seem odd at first glance, but is correct nonetheless:
Note that the first sentence meaning "This coat is the most expensive" has the same meaning as the first sentence further above. They are interchangeable, but they would be parsed differently. With the article de, there is an implied noun, and it might better be translated as "the most expensive one". The superlative must also be in the inflected form in this case, de duurst would be incorrect. With the article het, there is no implied noun, and both the inflected (het duurste) and uninflected form (het duurst) can be used.
Some comparatives and superlatives are suppletive, and use a different root than the base form. These are irregular.
When an adjective is a compound of an adverb and a verb participle, the adverb sometimes changes rather than the whole word. A space may be added as well.
As in English, Dutch personal pronouns still retain a distinction in case. Two case forms survive: the subjective on the one hand, and the objective on the other.
Like many other European languages, Dutch has a T-V distinction in its personal pronouns. The second-person pronouns, which are used to refer to the listener, exist in informal and formal varieties. However, because of the relatively complex and dialect-specific way in which the pronouns developed, this is less straightforward than it is in for example French or German. The old Germanic/Indo-European second-person singular pronoun du / doe (English thou) fell out of use in Dutch during the Middle Ages, while it remained in use in the closely related Limburgish and in neighboring Low German, West Frisian and German languages. The role of the old singular pronoun was taken over by the old plural form, which differed slightly depending on dialect: gij in the South, jij in the North. This development also happened in English, which once had a T-V distinction but then lost it when the old informal pronoun thou was lost. In Dutch, however, further changes occurred, and the North and South developed differently:
Many pronouns can occur in a stressed form and an unstressed (clitic) form. The stressed form retains the original full vowel, and is used when particular emphasis or contrast is needed. The unstressed form normally replaces the vowel with a schwa /ə/ and is used in other cases. The unstressed forms are shown in brackets; those spelled with an apostrophe or hyphen are not used often in formal written text.
|1st person singular||ik ('k)||mij (me)|
|2nd person singular, informal||jij (je)||jou (je)|
|2nd person singular, formal||u||u|
|2nd person singular, Southern||gij (ge)||u|
|3rd person singular, masculine||hij (-ie)||hem ('m)|
|3rd person singular, feminine||zij (ze)||haar ('r, d'r)|
|3rd person singular, neuter||het ('t)||het ('t)|
|1st person plural||wij (we)||ons|
|2nd person plural, informal||jullie (je)||jullie (je)|
|2nd person plural, formal||u||u|
|2nd person plural, Southern||gij (ge)||u|
|3rd person plural, for a person||zij (ze)||hun, hen (ze)|
|3rd person plural, for an object||zij (ze)||die (ze)|
The pronouns are the only place in the standard language where the difference between masculine and feminine gender is significant. Consequently, the usage of the pronouns differs depending on how many genders are distinguished by a speaker. Speakers in the North will use feminine pronouns for female people, and the masculine pronouns for male people and for common-gender (masculine or feminine) nouns. In the South, the feminine pronouns are used for feminine nouns and the masculine pronouns are used for masculine nouns. See Gender in Dutch grammar for more details.
The standard language prescribes that in the third person plural, hen is to be used for the direct object, and hun for the indirect object. This distinction was artificially introduced in the 17th century, and is largely ignored in spoken language and not well understood by Dutch speakers. Consequently, the third person plural forms hun and hen are interchangeable in normal usage, with hun being more common. The shared unstressed form ze is also often used as both direct and indirect objects and is a useful avoidance strategy when people are unsure which form to use.
In the North, in informal spoken language, hun is also used as a subject pronoun by some speakers. This is considered heavily stigmatised and substandard.
Possessive determiners also have stressed and unstressed forms, like the pronouns.
|1st person singular||mijn (m'n)||mijne|
|2nd person singular, informal||jouw (je)||jouwe|
|2nd person singular, formal||uw||uwe|
|2nd person singular, southern||uw||uwe|
|3rd person singular, masculine||zijn (z'n)||zijne|
|3rd person singular, feminine||haar ('r, d'r)||hare|
|3rd person singular, neuter||zijn (z'n)||zijne|
|1st person plural||ons||onze|
|2nd person plural, informal||jullie (je)||—|
|2nd person plural, formal||uw||uwe|
|2nd person plural, southern||uw||uwe|
|3rd person plural||hun||hunne|
Possessive determiners are not inflected when used attributively, unlike adjectives. Thus:
An exception is ons, which inflects like an indefinite adjective, receiving -e when used with a masculine, feminine or plural noun. Possessive determiners are themselves definite in meaning, so any following adjectives will occur in the definite form even when the possessive itself does not:
The inflected form is also used when the determiner is used predicatively. It is always preceded by a definite article in this case, giving the appearance of an implied noun. For example: Dit is mijn auto. De auto is de mijne. ("This is my car. The car is mine.", more literally "The car is the my one"). Jullie has no inflected form, the sentence is usually rephrased with van instead: De auto is van jullie. ("The car is of you.")
Before the case system was abolished from written Dutch, all possessive determiners inflected as indefinite adjectives, not only ons. They also inflected for case. While this is no longer done in modern Dutch, some relics still remain in fixed expressions. See Archaic Dutch declension for more details.
Like English, Dutch has two sets of demonstrative for different degrees of distance. A third, unspecific degree also exists, which is fulfilled by the personal pronouns, but see further below on pronominal adverbs.
The demonstratives inflect like indefinite adjectives, but irregularly. They are themselves definite in meaning, so any following adjectives will occur in the definite form.
When the demonstrative pronoun is used exophorically (referring to something that has not yet been mentioned in the text), the "uninflected" forms dit and dat are always used:
Even though auto is of common gender and otherwise requires the form deze. In this sentence, the first pronoun (dit) is exophoric, while the second one (deze) refers back to auto.
The exophoric pronoun, when used in a predicative sentence, is always the complement and never the subject. The inflection of the verb follows the other argument instead, and will be plural even when the pronoun is not:
A pronominal adverb is a location adverb that corresponds in meaning to a pronoun, and takes its place. These exist in English as well, but are rare; examples are thereby ("by that"), herewith ("with this") and whereupon ("upon what" or "upon which").
Pronominal adverbs are used to replace the combination of prepositions with pronouns. They are very common in Dutch, and in some cases mandatory. The following table shows the pronouns that have adverbial forms:
|personal||hem, haar, het, hun/hen/ze||er||him, her, it, them, there (unspecific)|
|wat, welk, welke||waar||what, which, where|
Both the combination of preposition+pronoun and the pronominal adverb can often be used, although the adverbial form is more common. The pronoun is used mainly when one needs to be specific about it. The neuter pronoun het can never appear as the object of a preposition; the adverbial form is mandatory. Combinations of a preposition and a relative pronoun are also usually replaced by a pronominal adverb. E.g. de combination met dewelke (with which) is distinctly dated and usually replaced by waarmee. The masculine and feminine pronouns are used more often in the pronoun form, particularly when referring to persons, but the adverbial form may be used occasionally as well.
Pronominal adverbs are formed by replacing the pronoun by its corresponding locative adverb and the preposition by its adverbial form and putting them in reverse order. The locative adverbs overal, ergens and nergens are separated from the prepositional part by a space, while the other four are joined to it. For example:
For most prepositions the adverbial form is identical with the preposition itself, but there are two exceptions:
There are prepositions like sinds, via, vanwege that do not possess an adverbial form, which makes it difficult to use them in a relative construction, because the relative pronouns like dewelke, hetwelk are becoming obsolete.
Conversely, there are a number of prepositional adverbs like heen or af that cannot be used as prepositions, but they occur regularly as part of a pronominal adverb or of a separable verb.
The adverbial pronoun and the prepositional adverb can be separated from each other, with the prepositional part placed at the end of the clause. This is not always required, however, and some situations allow them to remain together.
Notice that in Dutch the last word op is generally analyzed as an adverb, not a preposition. Thus, the often quoted 'rule' that a sentence should not end in a preposition is strictly adhered to.
Dutch verbs inflect for person and number, and for two tenses and three moods. However, there is considerable syncretism among the forms. In modern usage only the present singular indicative has different forms for different persons, all other number, tense and mood combinations have just one form for all persons.
Dutch verbs inflect in these two main tenses:
Verbs also inflect for the following moods:
Other grammatical categories such as future tense, passive voice, progressive or perfect aspect may be expressed periphrastically. Verbs additionally have an infinitive and two participles (present and past).
Dutch conjugation resembles that of other continental West Germanic languages such as (Standard) German and Low German, and also the other Germanic languages to a lesser degree. Dutch retains the two main types of verb inherited from Proto-Germanic: weak and strong. Preterite-present verbs are also present, but can be considered irregular. All regular verbs conjugate the same in the present tense (including the infinitive and present participle), so the weak versus strong distinction only matters for the past tense.
The following is a general overview of the endings:
|Present||Weak past||Strong past|
|1st sing.||-||-de, -te||-|
|2nd sing. jij||-(t)||-de, -te||-|
|2nd sg+pl gij||-t||-de(t), -te(t)||-t|
|2nd sg+pl u||-t||-de, -te||-|
|3rd sing.||-t||-de, -te||-|
|Present||Weak past||Strong past|
|Present||Weak past||Strong past|
|-end||ge- -d, ge- -t||ge- -en|
Weak verbs are the most common type of verb in Dutch, and the only productive type (all newly created verbs are weak). They form their past tense with an ending containing a dental consonant, -d- or -t-. Which of the two is used depends on the final consonant of the verb stem. If the stem ends in a voiceless consonant, then -t- is used, otherwise -d-. It is often summarised with the mnemonic "'t kofschip": if the verb stem ends with one of the consonants of 't kofschip (t, k, f, s, ch, p), then the past tense will have -t-. However, it also applies for c, q and x and any other letter that is voiceless in pronunciation.
Strong verbs are less common in Dutch, but they include many of the most common verbs. They form their past tenses by changing the vowel of the stem (ablaut). For strong verbs one needs to learn three or four principal parts: the infinitive, the past (singular), optionally the past plural, and the past participle. However, the vowel patterns are often predictable and can be divided into seven or so classes, based on the vowels used in these three principal parts. Some verbs are a mixture of two classes.
A number of verbs mix the strong and weak types of past. They have a strong past participle but all the other past tense forms are weak, or the other way around.
Some of the most used verbs in the Dutch language have irregular conjugations which don't follow the normal rules. This includes especially the preterite-present verbs. These verbs historically had present tense forms that resembled the past tenses of strong verbs, and can be recognised in modern Dutch by the absence of the -t in the third-person singular present (the English equivalents lack the -s in the same way). Preterite-present verbs have weak past tenses, but often irregularly formed. Many of these verbs are now used as auxiliary verbs.
Dutch possesses present and past participles.
The present participle is always progressive in meaning, and indicates that something is performing the action as the subject. It is usually used as an attributive adjective, and inflects as such as well.
It can also be used as an adverb, meaning "while ...ing". Either the uninflected or inflected form can be used, although the uninflected form is more common outside set phrases.
Rarely, the present participle is used as a predicate, to indicate progressive actions as in English, such as De bal was rollende. ("The ball was rolling."). This is usually associated with a stilted or overly formal style. It is more usual to use aan het plus the infinitive.
The present participle of a transitive verb can be preceded by an object or an adverb. Often, the space between the two words is replaced with a hyphen or removed altogether, creating a compound adjective.
The past participle indicates completed actions. It is also used to form the perfect and the passive voice with a variety of auxiliary verbs. The formation of these is discussed in the section "periphrastic forms".
As an adjective, the meaning of the past participle can be either active (having performed the action) or passive (having undergone the action), depending on the type of verb:
Like present participles, past participles can be preceded by an adverb.
The infinitive also doubles as a verbal noun, corresponding to the English gerund in -ing. The infinitive, when used as a noun, is neuter and has no plural. Dutch also has a feminine gerund in -ing, but this is no longer productive and usually has a concrete, technical meaning, e.g. het lenen ‘borrowing, lending’ vs. de lening ‘loan’; het opleiden ‘educating’ vs. opleiding ‘education’.
In the past, the infinitive was inflected for the dative and genitive. There are a few remnants of the latter, e.g. in:
It also occurs in expressions involving tot ... toe (until ... resulted):
The infinitive is also commonly used as a kind of impersonal or polite imperative (infinitivus pro imperativo). This often has a meaning much like the English “one must (not)…” or “please do (not)…” and can be used to soften a direct command into more of a strong request, or to make the command more general (e.g. on signs and in written instructions) rather than directed at the listener or reader at that specific moment in time. The distinction is not always clear, and often both the infinitive and the imperative may be used without a strong difference in meaning.
The infinitive is often preceded by the preposition te, analogous to the phrase to + verb in English. It is used in combination with certain verbs like beginnen ‘to begin’.
In combination with zijn ‘to be’ it can express a potentiality.
The extended form can be used as an adjective:
But it can still carry adverbial expressions or objects:
Compound infinitives also exist for the perfect and the future, as well as for the passive voice of transitive verbs, and they can be used to form abridged dependent clauses.
Depending on meaning and use, Dutch verbs belong to one of a handful of transitivity classes:
Verbs can belong to several classes at once, depending on use. Specifically, many transitive verbs can also be used intransitively, and are thus ambitransitive. For example, ik eet een appel "I eat an apple" contains a transitive verb, while ik eet "I eat" contains an unergative intransitive verb. Most ditransitive verbs can also be used as monotransitives (with only one object, direct or indirect) or even intransitives.
Whether an intransitive use is unergative or unaccusative depends both on the verb and on the meaning in which it is used. Generally, most transitive verbs become unergatives when the object is removed; these are accusative verbs. But there is also a sizable number of so-called ergative verbs, which become unaccusative when there is no object. Consequently, these verbs switch from active to either passive or middle meaning when the object is dropped. Examples exist in both Dutch and English, such as the transitive ik breek het glas "I break the glass" versus unaccusative het glas breekt "the glass breaks". In both cases, the glass is the patient, but in the first case it's the direct object while in the second it's the subject. The auxiliary zijn of such verbs is used for both passive and intransitive use, making those uses essentially indistinguishable. The phrase het glas is gebroken can be interpreted as both "the glass has been broken" and "the glass is broken".
Alongside the normal conjugated verb forms, Dutch has a variety of verbal meanings that are expressed using auxiliary verbs or other additional words. The use of auxiliary verbs, particularly of the perfect tenses and the passive voice -if extant-, depends on the transitivity class of the verb.
The perfect indicates that an action is complete. In Dutch the completion can take place in present, past, present future or past future:
The future tenses all take the auxiliary verb zullen, cognate with English shall. The passive voice indicates that the subject undergoes the action rather than performing it itself. Both categories are formed with a variety of auxiliary verbs.
|Verb type||Present||Perfect||Passive||Perfect passive|
openen ‘to open’
|Ik open de doos.
‘I am opening the box’.
Ik heb de doos geopend.
‘I opened the box.’
De doos wordt geopend.
‘The box is (being) opened.’
De doos is geopend.
‘The box has been opened.’
breken ‘to break’
|Ik breek het glas.
‘I am breaking the glass’
Het glas breekt.
‘The glass is breaking / breaks.’
Ik heb het glas gebroken.
‘I broke the glass.’
Het glas wordt gebroken.
‘The glass is (being) broken.’
Het glas is gebroken.
‘The glass has (been) broken.’
blaffen ‘to bark’
|De hond blaft.
‘The dog is barking.’
De hond heeft geblaft.
‘The dog barked.’
Er wordt geblaft (door de hond).
≈ ‘Barking can be heard.’
Er is geblaft (door de hond).
≈ ‘Barking was heard.’
vallen ‘to fall’
|De boom valt.
‘The tree is falling’.
De boom is gevallen.
‘The tree fell.’
As can be seen in the table, in the case of unaccusative verbs, the auxiliary hebben cannot be used for the perfect, unlike in English. In general these are verbs that describe a process (e.g. to happen, melt, die) rather than an action. That means that there is no (clear) actor involved.
As in English, ergative verbs can occur both in a transitive (I break the glass) and in an unaccusative mode (the glass breaks). In Dutch the perfect of the latter takes zijn ‘to be’, so that het glas is gebroken can either be seen as a perfect passive or as a perfect unaccusative. Dutch differs from German in that the latter language would add the participle worden to the passive sentence: Das Glas is gebrochen worden.
Unergatives in general do possess passive forms, but they are impersonal. They typically take the adverb er as a dummy subject and are hard to translate directly into English. Er wordt geblaft means something like ‘There’s barking going on’ or ‘There’s some dog barking’. Impersonal constructions of this kind are quite common in the language. The passives of transitive verbs can also be given an impersonal flavor by adding the dummy adverb er, provided the subject is indefinite, e.g. Er worden dozen geopend ‘There are boxes being opened’ or ‘Boxes are being opened’.
Verbs of motion like lopen ‘to walk’, zwemmen ‘to swim’, rijden ‘to ride, drive’ typically occur as unaccusative / unergative pairs. If the motion is directional it is seen as a process and the auxiliary is zijn. If the motion is not directional it is seen as an action and the auxiliary verb is hebben, unless the verb is used in the impersonal passive in which case it can take worden and zijn.
Note also that the meanings of the formations that use zijn correspond to the meaning of the past participle when used as an adjective. Thus, unergative verbs can never use zijn as the auxiliary as their past participles cannot be used as adjectives. Furthermore, for ergative verbs, the passive does not differ significantly in meaning from the regular intransitive present tense. This is also true of English: a glass that breaks is a glass that is (being) broken.
The forms listed above can occur in both present and past tense. The table lists the present tense forms, while the past tense is formed by conjugating the auxiliary verb in the past tense. Thus, this creates Ik had de doos geopend. ‘I had opened the box.’ and so on.
When the perfect is created from a phrase that already uses an auxiliary verb, the auxiliary gets used in the infinitive form, rather than the past participle. Some auxiliary verbs even have no past participle due to this. For example:
Ditransitive verbs carry both a direct and an indirect object. In English both objects can become the subject of a passive construction and the same auxiliary is used to form it:
In Dutch a verb like schenken (to donate) follows a similar pattern but the auxiliary krijgen (to get) is used for the pseudo-passive construction that renders the indirect object into the subject, whereas worden is used for passive involving the direct object:
The following three groups of verbs only take the auxiliary hebben in the perfect tenses
Impersonal verbs have no true subject, but use a dummy subject pronoun het ("it"). These verbs often refer to conditions, such as the weather:
Reflexive verbs take a reflexive pronoun like me, je or zich as their (dummy) direct object and take hebben in the perfect. This contrasts with e.g. French, where être (to be) is used as perfect auxiliary.
Some of these occur in pairs with a transitive form, replacing the unaccusative component of an ergative.
There are no verbs that only occur in a reciprocal form, but those that can take the reciprocal pronoun elkaar (each other) also take hebben in the perfect, thus behaving like reflexive ones.
These verbs resemble the unergative ones, except that they do not possess an impersonal passive.
Some of them may carry a direct object, but they have neither a personal, nor an impersonal passive:
Similarly the past participle cannot be used as adjective:
Although the present tense can be used to indicate future events, there is also a more explicit future tense in Dutch. It is formed using the auxiliary zullen ("will, shall, be going to"), which can be conjugated in both present and past tense. The "past future" carries a sense having pledged or promised to do something, or having been expected to do it, much as "was/were going to" does in English.
An alternative future tense is formed using gaan ("to go") as the auxiliary. It is used in its literal meaning to indicate that one is moving to a place to perform an action, or is intending to do so ("be going to go"). More generally, it can indicate any kind of intention or plan to perform the action. It can also imply the start of an action in the future.
The conditional mood is formed using the past tense of zullen, which is zou in the singular and zouden in the plural. It is therefore somewhat analogous to the use of would in English, as the past tense of the future auxiliary will. The conditional is identical in form to the "past future" described above, but is always accompanied by some kind of condition that the verb depends on, usually introduced with conjunctions like als ("if").
The progressive aspect indicates that an action is ongoing and in progress. It is formed using zijn + aan het + infinitive of action verb. It is equivalent to the English ‘be …-ing’ or ‘be in the middle of …-ing’, but is not used as often.
Unlike in English, the progressive cannot be combined with the perfect to make a hypothetical "perfect progressive". Both "I have been eating" and "I had been eating" are expressed using the simple past tense form of the progressive: Ik was aan het eten.
A similar expression is bezig + zijn te + infinitive of action verb or bezig zijn met + action noun.
A different way to render progressive aspect is to use the (static) verbs zitten ‘to sit’, lopen ‘to walk’, staan ‘to stand’ and liggen ‘to lie’ with te + infinitive. These verbs, when in the perfect, all use a double infinitive.
The literal meaning of the verbs to sit or to stand etc. is often secondary to their durative aspect.
Dutch uses a decimal numeral system. Numerals are not inflected.
The numbers from 0 to 9 are:
Note that een is the same word as the indefinite article in the written language. When confusion is possible, the number is often written as één to distinguish it from the article. The pronunciation differentiates them in speech: the article is /ən/, the numeral is /eːn/.
The numbers 10, 11 and 12 are irregular. 13 to 19 are formed by adding -tien ("-teen") to the base number. Two are slightly irregular: 13 is dertien with metathesis (compare English thirteen), and 14 is veertien.
The decades 20 to 90 are formed by adding -tig ("-ty") to the base number. However, some are slightly irregular: 20 is twintig, 30 and 40 are dertig and veertig (comparable to 13 and 14 above), 80 is tachtig. The remaining decades, although spelled beginning with v and z, are often pronounced beginning with voiceless /f/ and /s/ even in dialects that do not devoice these consonants normally.
Combinations of a decade and a unit are constructed in a regular way: the unit comes first, followed by en ("and"), followed by the decade. No spaces are written between them, and a diaeresis is added when necessary. For example:
100 is honderd. Multiples of 100 are expressed by placing the multiple before honderd, without any spaces: 200 tweehonderd, 300 driehonderd and so on. Sometimes multiples higher than 10 can be used as synonyms for the thousands, such as 1100 elfhonderd, 2500 vijfentwintighonderd.
Combinations of a hundred and a lower number are expressed by just placing them together, with the hundred coming first. Sometimes, en is added in between, but this is optional and not commonly done nowadays.
1000 is duizend. Unlike in English, this is not preceded by an article. The same system used for naming the hundreds applies to the thousands as well, so multiples of 1000 are expressed by writing the multiple right before: 2000 tweeduizend, 3000 drieduizend, 20000 twintigduizend, 999000 negenhonderdnegenennegentigduizend.
Combinations of a thousand and a lower number are expressed by placing them together, with the thousand coming first. A space is written between them.
Dutch always uses the long scale system.
Multiples of any of these are similar to the thousands, but a space is written between the multiple and the "million": 2 000 000 twee miljoen, 420 000 000 000 vierhonderdtwintig miljard. If the multiple is 1, it must also be present, unlike with the thousands where it is left out: 1 000 000 een miljoen.
Combinations with lower numbers are much the same as with the thousands.
Ordinal numbers behave and inflect like superlative adjectives. They always appear in the inflected form, always ending in -e, and are usually preceded by a definite article of some kind.
The ordinal adjectives are formed by adding either -de or -ste to the base number. Which one is added depends on the word. The numbers 1 and 3 have irregular ordinals.
|10th||11th||12th||13-19th||20-90th||100th||1 000th||1 000 000th+||1 000 000 000th+|
When a number is composed of multiple parts, the ending is added only to the last part of the word, and follows the rules for that word. Thus, 21st eenentwintigste, 409th vierhonderdnegende, 9001st negenduizend eerste.
Fractional numbers are expressed using a cardinal number for the numerator, and an ordinal for the denominator, like in English.
1/2 and 1/4 are een half ("a half") and een kwart ("a quarter") respectively, although the regular een tweede and een vierde are also possible, but rarer. In 3/4, the space is often left out: driekwart.
When combined with a full cardinal, the full cardinal comes first and they are separated by en and spaces. The word en can be left out if the numerator is not 1.
The combination 1 1/2 is usually expressed irregularly as anderhalf, which literally means "other half" (ander was originally a synonym of tweede, and this combination meant "second, minus a half").
These express repetition, like "once" or "five times". They are formed with a cardinal number followed by maal or keer (both meaning "times").
The space is often left out for the combinations eenmaal ("once"), tweemaal ("twice") and driemaal ("thrice"), but not with keer.
There are also ordinal forms of these, which express an iteration within a sequence of repetitions. They are formed with an ordinal instead of a cardinal, and act as masculine nouns.
These express a multiple of something. They are formed with the suffix -voud ‘-fold’ and are neuter nouns.
For the number 1, enkelvoud ‘singular(ity), a onefold’ is used, which is derived from enkel ‘single’ rather than een. The "regular" form eenvoud instead means ‘simpleness, uncomplicatedness, ease’.
Adjectives are formed by adding -ig to this, giving the combination -voudig.
Again, enkelvoudig ‘single, simple, onefold’ is used for 1, and eenvoudig means ‘simple, uncomplicated, easy’. Alternatively, the word enkel ‘single’ can be used alone. A synonym for tweevoudig is dubbel.