|Part of a series on|
- 1 Preliminary considerations
- 2 Word order
- 3 Nouns
- 4 Articles
- 5 Adjectives and adverbs
- 6 Pronouns and determiners
- 7 Verbs
- 8 Numerals
- 9 Notes
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
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 hielp zijn moeder Jan helped his mother "Jan helped his mother."
Gisteren hielp Jan zijn moeder Yesterday helped Jan 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."
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?"
Hielp Jan zijn moeder? Helped Jan his mother? "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 being addressed.
(Jan,) ga je moeder helpen! (Jan,) go your mother help! "(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."
- rode appels – red apples
Time modifiers usually come before place modifiers:
Ik ben dit jaar naar Frankrijk geweest I am this year to France been "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:
- Single-syllable words, which are common in Dutch, normally use -en:
- deur "door" → deuren
- boot "boat" → boten
- huis "house" → huizen
- dief "thief" → dieven
- Words ending in a schwa /ə/ often use -s, but a sizable number uses -n, particularly if they are older. Some nouns may allow either ending. Nouns that are substantivised forms of adjectives always use -n.
- tante "aunt" → tantes
- chocolade "chocolate" → chocolades
- bode "messenger" → boden or bodes
- oxide "oxide" → oxiden
- grote "great one" → groten
- Relatively modern words ending in a long vowel use -'s (with an apostrophe), but if they end in -ee or -é then no apostrophe is used. Older ones generally use -en or -ën (with diaeresis).
- baby "baby" → baby's
- café "café, bar, pub" → cafés
- pizza "pizza" → pizza's
- radio "radio" → radio's
- ree "roe" → reeën
- la (also lade) "drawer" → laden (but in colloquial usage sometimes also la's)
- Words ending in unstressed -el or -er usually use -s. If -en is allowed it tends to be more archaic or poetic.
- akker "agricultural field" → akkers
- appel "apple" → appels or (archaic) appelen (note: for the derived noun aardappel "potato", the plural aardappelen is still common, alongside aardappels)
- lepel "spoon" → lepels
- sleutel "key" → sleutels
- vader "father" → vaders or (archaic) vaderen
- Initialisms (words pronounced as letters) follow the rules for whatever the final syllable suggests, usually by adding -s but occasionally -en:
- APK "vehicle inspection" → APK's
- cd "CD" → cd's
Plurals with vowel change
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.
- dag (/dɑx/ "day") → dagen (/ˈdaːɣə(n)/ "days")
- gebrek (/ɣəˈbrɛk/ "deficiency") → gebreken (/ɣəˈbreːkə(n)/ "deficiencies")
- schip (/sxɪp/ "ship") → schepen (/ˈsxeːpə(n)/ "ships")
- slot (/slɔt/ "lock") → sloten (/ˈsloːtə(n)/ "locks"; this is also the plural of sloot "ditch")
Other nouns with this change include: bad ("bath"), bedrag ("amount of money"), bevel ("command"), blad ("sheet of paper, magazine", not the sense "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 ("prohibition"), verdrag ("treaty"), verlof ("permission, leave"), weg ("road, way").
The noun stad (/stɑt/ "town, city") has umlaut in the plural alongside lengthening: steden (/ˈsteːdə(n)/ "cities"). The plural of nouns ending in the suffix -heid (/ɦɛit/ "-ness, -hood") is irregular -heden (/ɦeːdə(n)/).
Plurals in -eren
A few 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:
- been "bone" → beenderen (when used in the sense "leg", the plural is the regular benen)
- blad "leaf" → bladeren (when used in the sense "sheet, magazine", the plural is bladen)
- ei "egg" → eieren
- gelid "rank, file" → gelederen
- gemoed "mood, emotion" → gemoederen
- goed "good" → goederen
- hoen "fowl" → hoenderen
- kalf "calf" → kalveren
- kind "child" → kinderen
- kleed "cloth" → (archaic) klederen or kleren "clothes" (nowadays a plurale tantum like in English)
- lam "lamb" → lammeren
- lied "song" → liederen (somewhat archaic; in modern usage the plural of the diminutive is preferred instead: liedjes)
- rad "wheel" → raderen
- rund "cattle" → runderen
- volk "people, nation" → volkeren (somewhat archaic; the regular volken is more frequent)
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.
- museum "museum" → musea or museums
- politicus "politician" → politici or politicussen
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:
- elektron (/eːˈlɛktrɔn/ "electron") → elektronen (/eːlɛkˈtroːnə(n)/ "electrons")
- doctor (/ˈdɔktɔr/ "doctor (holder of a doctorate)") → doctoren (/dɔkˈtoːrə(n)/ "doctors")
- graviton (/ˈɣraːvitɔn/ "graviton") → gravitonen (/ɣraːviˈtoːnə(n)/ "gravitons")
- reactor (/reːˈɑktɔr/ "reactor") → reactoren (/reːɑkˈtoːrə(n)/ "reactors")
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.
- harddisk → harddisks
- bonbon → bonbons
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. The former is the standard way, while the latter is found in some dialects, mostly in the south (Brabantian and Limburgish). All diminutives have neuter gender, no matter what the gender of the original noun was. The plural is always formed with -s.
Diminutive in -tje
The basic suffix -tje is modified in different ways depending on the final sounds of the noun it is attached to.
- hond → hondje
- brief → briefje
- hok → hokje
- vis → visje
- douche → doucheje (/duʃ/ → /ˈduʃ(j)ə/)
- race → raceje (/reːs/ → /ˈreːsjə/ ~ /ˈreːʃə/)
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.
- kom → kommetje
- pil → pilletje
- lam → lammetje
- ding → dingetje
- vriendin → vriendinnetje
- baron → baronnetje
In all other cases, the basic form -tje is used. This includes:
- Words ending in a stressed tense/long vowel or diphthong.
- Words ending in any unstressed vowel.
- Words ending in one of the above types of vowel, followed by -l, -n, -r.
- Words ending in one of the above types of vowel, followed by -m. The resulting combination -mtje is assimilated to -mpje.
- Words ending in one of the above types of vowel, followed by -ng. The resulting combination -ngtje is assimilated to -nkje.
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.
- koe → koetje
- auto → autootje
- mama → mamaatje
- vrouw → vrouwtje
- taxi → taxietje
- baby → baby'tje
- school → schooltje
- kuil → kuiltje
- maan → maantje
- muur → muurtje
- appel → appeltje
- boom → boompje
- duim → duimpje
- bodem → bodempje
- koning → koninkje
- houding → houdinkje
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.
- bloem → bloemetje or bloempje
- wiel → wieltje or wieletje
Diminutive in -ke
In the south, the ending -ke 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, but it is still found in older texts and names. A famous example is Manneken Pis.
- dag → dagske
- lach → lachske
- stok → stokske
- ding → dingske
- koning → koningske
An extra -e- is inserted in three cases, giving -eke:
- Words ending in a non-velar plosive (-p, -b, -t, -d).
- Words ending in -n, which is not a velar itself but would assimilate to one before the following -k-.
- Words ending in -m, -l or -r preceded by a stressed short vowel.
- hond → hondeke
- voet → voeteke
- map → mappeke
- boon → boneke
- bon → bonneke
- kom → kommeke
- hol → holleke
- bar → barreke
In all other cases, the ending is the basic -ke. This includes:
- Words ending in a vowel.
- Words ending in a non-velar fricative (-f, -v, -s, -z).
- Words ending in -m, -l, -r preceded by a long vowel, diphthong, or unstressed vowel.
- mama → mamake
- koe → koeke
- slof → slofke
- doos → dooske
- school → schoolke
- muur → muurke
- boom → boomke
- bodem → bodemke
Umlaut in diminutives
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-influenced 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:
- man → menneke
- boom → beumke
- pop → pupke
Diminutives of nouns with irregular plurals
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:
- blad → blaadje, in plural also bladertjes
- dag → dagje, in plural also daagjes
- glas → glaasje
- kind → kindje, in plural also kindertjes
- pad → paadje
- rad → radje or radertje
- schip → schipje or scheepje
- spel → speeltje
- vat → vaatje
Noun cases are no longer used productively in modern Dutch. They were still present in the formal written standard up until the 1940s, but were abolished then as they had long disappeared from the spoken language. Because of this, they are nowadays restricted mostly to set phrases and are distinctly 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 now survives. Some examples of the other three cases in fixed expressions:
- Genitive: de dag des oordeels "judgement day", Koninkrijk der Nederlanden "Kingdom of the Nederlands"
- Dative: in feite "in fact", heden ten dage "nowadays"
- Accusative: op den duur "eventually", goedenavond "good evening"
The role of cases has been taken over by word order in modern Dutch and, to a lesser extent, by prepositions. For example, the distinction between direct and indirect object is now made by placing the indirect object before the direct, 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 as deliberate archaisms, which are often calques of existing phrases. This is particularly true of the genitive case, which is still used occasionally to evoke a formal or archaic style. However, speakers' awareness of how the cases were originally used is generally low, and because the masculine and feminine genders merged in many areas, their old case forms are often confused as well. Thus, 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.
For example, one might see a title such as:
- De geschiedenis der Nederlandse film ("The history of the Dutch film")
where film is treated as a feminine gender noun, and Nederlandse and the article der inflected likewise. However, film was a masculine noun, so historically it should read:
- De geschiedenis des Nederlandsen films
In normal modern Dutch, the distinction isn't relevant, as a preposition is used instead:
- De geschiedenis van de Nederlandse film
Notwithstanding however, this formal use of the genitive case, associated with bookishness and higher learning, probably persists as one tends to encounter it in institutions of higher learning. For example, all the faculties of the University of Leiden have names which are declined in the genitive case , as well as in religious usage where use of the genitive can play a somewhat similar function in making language sound more formal and respectful like the English use of the archaic pronoun "thou".
|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"). It declines the same as een and has no distinctions for gender or number.
- Dat is geen man ("That is not a man")
- Dat is geen vrouw ("That is not a woman")
- Dat is geen huis ("That is not a house")
- Dat zijn geen mannen ("Those aren't men")
- Ik heb geen water ("I have no water", "I don't have any water")
The articles formerly had forms for the different cases as well. See Archaic Dutch declension for more information.
Adjectives and adverbs
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 singular||een kleine man||een kleine vrouw||een klein huis|
|Indefinite plural||kleine mannen||kleine vrouwen||kleine huizen|
|Definite singular||de kleine man||de kleine vrouw||het kleine huis|
|Definite plural||de kleine mannen||de kleine vrouwen||de kleine kinderen|
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:
- de kleine man ("the small man") — de man is klein ("the man is small")
- kleine huizen ("small houses") — huizen zijn klein ("houses are small")
Most adjectives ending in -en have no inflected form. This includes adjectives for materials, as well as the past participles of strong verbs.
- de houten stoel ("the wooden chair")
- het stenen huis ("the brick house")
- de gebroken lampen ("the broken lamps")
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.
Additional uses of the uninflected form
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:
- het openbaar vervoer ("the public transport", as a specific entity)
- het openbare vervoer ("the public transport", meaning the transport that is public, it could be any transport)
- het groot woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal ("the big dictionary of the Dutch language", as a proper title)
- het grote woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal ("the big dictionary of the Dutch language", a dictionary that happens to be big)
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.
- een talentvol schrijver ("a talented writer") — een talentvolle schrijver (the same)
- een groot man ("a great man"; figurative meaning) — een grote man ("a big/tall man"; literal meaning) — een grote vrouw ("a great/big/tall woman"; -e is always used with vrouw)
Adjectives have a special form called the partitive, which is used after an indefinite pronoun such as iets "something", niets "nothing", veel "much", weinig "little". The partitive form has the ending -s.
- Vertel me iets interessants. ("Tell me something interesting.")
- Ik heb iemand nieuws leren kennen. ("I have got to know somebody new.")
Adjectives that already end in -s or -sch don't receive this ending:
- Ik heb iets paars aangetrokken. ("I've put on something purple.", the base form is already paars)
- Er is niet veel fantastisch aan. ("There isn't much fantastic about it.")
The rare few adjectives that end in a long vowel get -'s instead, with an apostrophe like noun plurals do.
- Ik vond paars niet zo mooi, dus heb ik nu iets lila's. ("I didn't like purple so much, so now I have something lilac.")
Adjectives used as adverbs
The uninflected form of an adjective is implicitly also an adverb. This makes it hard at times to distinguish adjectives and adverbs in Dutch.
- Dat is een snelle auto. De auto rijdt snel. ("That is a fast car. The car drives fast.")
- Wij werden vriendelijk begroet door die vriendelijke mensen. ("We were kindly welcomed by those kind people.")
Adjectives used as nouns
The inflected form of an adjective can also be used as a noun. Three types can be distinguished:
- The noun that the adjective refers to is omitted but implied. The adjective will then be inflected as if the noun had been present, although the inflected form is normally used even in the indefinite neuter singular.
- Je kunt deze auto kopen in verschillende kleuren. Wil je de groene, de blauwe of de gele? ("You can buy this car in various colours. Do you want the green, the blue or the yellow one?")
- Wij hebben drie kinderen, twee grote en een kleine. ("We have three children, two big ones and a small one.", alternatively Wij hebben drie kinderen, twee grote en een klein.)
- The adjective is used as a masculine/feminine noun in its own right, usually referring to a person. The -e will always be added, even to adjectives that already end in -en. The plural is formed with -n.
- Je rijdt als een blinde! ("You drive like a blind person!")
- Waar ben je, mijn geliefde? ("Were are you, my loved one?")
- Laat de gevangene vrij! ("Release the prisoner!", from the past participle gevangen "captured, imprisoned")
- De rijken moeten de armen helpen. ("The rich should help the poor.")
- The adjective is used as a neuter mass noun describing a concept.
- Ik kan geen antwoord geven, omdat ik het gevraagde niet begrijp. ("I can't answer, because I don't understand what was asked.")
- Angst voor het onbekende is heel gewoon. ("Fear of the unknown is very normal.")
Comparative and superlative
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.
- Ik ben groot, maar jij bent groter. ("I'm big, but you're bigger.")
- Dit speelgoed kan gevaarlijk zijn voor kleinere kinderen. ("This toy can be dangerous for smaller children.")
- Deze jas is duurder. ("This coat is more expensive.")
- Heb je niets goedkopers? ("Do you have nothing cheaper?")
- Dat heb je nog fantastischer gedaan dan de vorige keer! ("You did it even more fantastically than last time!")
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.
- De Mont Blanc is de hoogste berg van de Alpen. ("Mont Blanc is the highest mountain of the Alps.")
- Dit is het vieste toilet dat ik ooit heb gezien. ("This is the dirtiest toilet I've ever seen.", alternatively Dit is het meest vieze toilet...)
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.
- Deze jas is de duurste. ("This coat is the most expensive.")
- Dit huis is het grootste. ("This house is the biggest.")
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:
- Deze jas is het duurst(e). ("This coat is (the) most expensive")
- Dit huis is het grootst(e). ("This house is (the) biggest.")
- Onze auto rijdt het hardst(e) van allemaal. ("Our car drives (the) fastest of all.")
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.
- goed, beter, best ("good, better, best")
- veel, meer, meest ("much/many, more, most")
- weinig, minder, minst ("little/few, less/fewer, least/fewest")
- graag, liever, liefst ("willingly/gladly, rather/more preferably, most preferably")
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.
- dichtbevolkt, dichter bevolkt, dichtstbevolkt ("densely populated, more densely populated, most densely populated")
Pronouns and determiners
As in English, Dutch personal pronouns still retain a distinction in case. Two case forms survive: the nominative (subject) on one hand, and the accusative/dative (object) on the other.
Like many other European languages, Dutch has a T-V distinction in its 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 in the Middle Ages, while it remained in use in the closely related Limburgish, Dutch Low Saxon and West Frisian 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:
- In the north and in the standard language, a new formal pronoun u was introduced, which made jij distinctly informal. A new second-person plural pronoun was created by adding lie(den) "people" to the old singular (compare English y'all). This created jullie, an informal pronoun when speaking to many people. The formal pronoun u is used for both singular and plural.
- In many southern dialects, the older situation remained, and gij is still a neutral way to speak to a person in those dialects. However, informal jij and formal u are commonly used in the standard language of the south, like in the north.
- Many dialects created their own plural forms of pronouns, such as gijlie or similar in the south for the second person plural, and also hullie for the third person plural ("they"). These forms are not part of standard Dutch.
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 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 a useful avoidance strategy when people are unsure which form to use.
In informal spoken language, hun is also used as a subject pronoun by some speakers. This is considered 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:
- Hij is mijn man. ("He is my husband.")
- Dat is mijn huis. ("That is my house.")
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:
- ons grote huis ("our big house")
- onze grote huizen ("our big houses").
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:
- Dit is mijn nieuwe auto. Ik heb deze gisteren gekocht. ("This is my new car. I bought this one yesterday.")
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:
- Dat is een nieuw huis. ("That is a new house")
- Dit is mijn boek. ("This is my book")
- Dat zijn nieuwe huizen. ("Those are new houses", notice singular dat, with plural verb zijn agreeing with plural noun huizen)
- Dit zijn mijn boeken. ("These are my books", same with dit)
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 in combination with prepositions. They are very common in Dutch, and in some cases mandatory. The following table shows the pronouns that have adverbial forms:
|hem, haar, het, hun/hen/ze||er||him, her, it, them, there (unspecific)|
Both the pronoun and the adverb can be used as the object of a preposition, although the adverbial form is more common. The pronoun is used mainly when one needs to be specific about it. The neuter pronoun het is an exception, and can never appear as the object of a preposition; the adverbial form is mandatory. The masculine and feminine pronouns are used more often in the pronoun form, but the adverbial form may be used occasionally as well.
When used with a preposition, the adverbial forms do not appear after the preposition, but before it. Overal, ergens and nergens are separated from the preposition by a space, while the other four are joined to it. For example:
- Ik reken op je steun. ("I'm counting on your support.")
- Ik reken erop. ("I'm counting on it.")
- Ik reken nergens op. ("I'm counting on nothing.", more freely "I'm not counting on anything.")
Two prepositions change their form when combined in a pronominal adverb:
- met "with" → mee
- Hij stemt met alle voorstellen in. ("He agrees with all proposals.")
- Hij stemt ermee in. ("He agrees with it.")
- Hij stemt overal mee in. ("He agrees with everything.")
- tot "(up) to" → toe
- Ik kan me niet brengen tot deze wandaden. ("I can't bring myself to (commit) these atrocities.")
- Ik kan me hiertoe niet brengen. ("I can't bring myself to this.")
The adverbial pronoun and the preposition can be separated from each other, with the preposition placed at the end of the clause. This is not always required, however, and some situations allow them to remain together.
- Daar reken ik op. ("That, I am counting on."), they can be combined too: Daarop reken ik. or Ik reken daarop.
- Ik reken er niet op. ("I am not counting on it."), here they must be separated.
Dutch verbs inflect for person and number, and for two tenses (present and past) and three moods (indicative, subjunctive and imperative). However, all plural forms of a verb are identical, and in modern usage only the present singular indicative has different forms for different persons. Verbs additionally have an infinitive and two participles (present and past). Other grammatical categories such as future tense or perfect aspect may be expressed through analytical forms, using one or more auxiliary verbs along with an infinitive or a participle.
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|
- When the stem of a verb ends in -t already, the ending -t is not added on as a word cannot end in -tt. Similarly, when the stem ends in -d the additional -d in the weak past participle is not added.
- When the informal second-person jij-form is followed immediately by the subject pronoun itself (jij or je), it loses its -t: Jij werkt → Werk jij? ("You work" → "Do you work?"). The -t is present in all other cases.
- The -t of the southern second-person gij-form is optional in the past tense. It is usually considered archaic.
- The subjunctive is only slightly productive in modern Dutch, and is mainly restricted to set phrases otherwise.
- The plural imperative has fallen out of use as well and was made optional in standard Dutch in the 1940s.
The participles can generally be used as adjectives, and inflect as such as well. When the present participle is used as an adverb or in a predicate (which is rare), either the uninflected or inflected form can be used. Examples:
- Ik heb een vallende ster gezien. ("I saw a falling star.")
- Het nieuws verspreidt zich als een lopend vuurtje. ("The news spreads like wildfire.")
- De gemaakte keuze bleek niet zo geweldig. ("The made choice (the choice that had been made) turned out to be not so great.")
- Gebroken glas is gevaarlijk. ("Broken glass is dangerous.")
- Al doende leert men. ("One learns while doing.")
The infinitive can be used in larger verb phrases, much as in English. But it also doubles as a verbal noun (gerund), corresponding to the English verbal noun in -ing. The Dutch verbal noun is neuter and has no plural form.
- Het doden van mensen is verboden. ("The killing of people is forbidden.", more freely "Killing people is forbidden.")
- Ik heb een hekel aan wachten. ("I hate waiting.")
|For a list of words relating to Dutch weak verbs, see the Dutch weak verbs category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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.
- werken, werkte ("to work, worked")
- leren, leerde ("to learn/teach, learned/taught")
- razen, raasde ("to rage, raged")
- lossen, loste ("to lose/get rid of, lost")
The full conjugations of the verbs werken and leren are shown here:
A few weak verbs are irregular. These have past tenses ending in -cht, with a change in the final consonant of the stem and the preceding vowel. For example:
- denken, dacht ("think, thought")
- brengen, bracht ("bring, brought")
|For a list of words relating to Dutch strong verbs, see the Dutch strong verbs category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
Strong verbs form their past tenses by changing the vowel of the stem (ablaut). For strong verbs one needs to learn three principal parts: the infinitive, the past (singular), 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.
Strong verbs are less common in Dutch, but they include many of the most common verbs. There are about 150 strong roots giving rise to about 800 strong verbs in total if all derived verbs with separable and inseparable prefixes are included.
- rijden, reed, gereden ("ride, rode, ridden", class 1)
- binden, bond, gebonden ("bind, bound, bound", class 3a)
- geven, gaf, gegeven ("give, gave, given", class 5)
- lopen, liep, gelopen ("walk/run, walked, walked", class 7b)
Conjugations of rijden and geven:
|For a list of words relating to Dutch mixed verbs, see the Dutch mixed verbs category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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.
- lachen, lachte, gelachen ("laugh, laughed, laughed", weak past, strong past participle)
- zouten, zoutte, gezouten ("salt, salted, salted", weak past, strong past participle)
- vragen, vroeg, gevraagd ("ask, asked, asked", strong past, weak past participle)
Preterite-presents and other irregular verbs
|For a list of words relating to Dutch preterite-present verbs, see the Dutch preterite-present verbs category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|For a list of words relating to Dutch irregular verbs, see the Dutch irregular verbs category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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. For example, the verbs zullen ("shall, be going to") and mogen "may, to be allowed":
Several other verbs have irregularities, ranging from minor to severe. The verbs zijn ("to be") and hebben ("to have") are frequently used and very irregular.
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:
- 28 achtentwintig ("eight and twenty")
- 83 drieëntachtig ("three and eighty")
- 99 negenennegentig ("nine and ninety")
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.
- 112 honderdtwaalf or honderdentwaalf
- 698 zeshonderdachtennegentig
- 1258 twaalfhonderdachtenvijftig
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.
- 1 258 duizend tweehonderdachtenvijftig
- 9 001 negenduizend een
- 32 348 tweeëndertigduizend driehonderdachtenveertig
- 123 456 honderddrieëntwintigduizend vierhonderdzesenvijftig
Millions and above
Dutch always uses the long scale system.
- 1 000 000 miljoen
- 1 000 000 000 miljard
- 1 000 000 000 000 biljoen
- 1 000 000 000 000 000 biljard
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's left out: 1 000 000 een miljoen.
Combinations with lower numbers are much the same as with the thousands.
- 117 401 067 honderdzeventien miljoen vierhonderdeenduizend zevenenzestig
- 10 987 654 321 tien miljard negenhonderdzevenentachtig miljoen zeshonderdvierenvijftigduizend driehonderdeenentwintig
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.
- 1/5 een vijfde
- 3/8 drie achtste
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.
- 9 3/4 negen (en) driekwart
- 5 1/6 vijf en een zesde
- 3 1/2 drie en een half
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").
- twee maal/keer ("two times, twice")
- negen maal/keer ("nine times")
- honderd maal/keer ("a hundred 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.
- de eerste keer/maal ("the first time")
- de dertigste keer/maal ("the thirtieth time")
These express a multiple of something. They are formed with the suffix -voud ("-fold"), and are neuter nouns.
- tweevoud ("a twofold, multiple of two")
- drievoud ("a threefold, multiple of three")
- honderdvoud ("a hundredfold, multiple of hundred")
For the number 1, enkelvoud ("singularity, simplicity, 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.
- tweevoudig ("double, twofold")
- drievoudig ("triple, threefold")
- honderdvoudig ("hundredfold")
Again, enkelvoudig ("single, simple, onefold") is used for 1, and eenvoudig means "simple, uncomplicated, easy". Alternatively, the word enkel ("single") can be used alone. An alternative for tweevoudig is dubbel.
- Jan Koster: "Dutch as an SOV Language", Linguistic analysis 1 (1975), p. 111-136.
- "Hun of hen?". Onze Taal Taaladviesdienst. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
- "Hun hebben?". Onze Taal Taaladviesdienst. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
- Audring, Jenny. (2006) Pronominal Gender in Spoken Dutch. Amsterdam: Journal of Germanic Linguistics 18.2 (2006):85-116
- Donaldson, Bruce. (1997) Dutch: A Comprehensive Grammar. Oxford: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-15419-7.
- van Riemsdijk, Henk (ed). (1999) Clitics in the Languages of Europe. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-015751-9
- van Riemsdijk, Henk. (1978) A Case Study in Syntactic Markedness: The Binding Nature of Prepositional Phrases. Dordrecht: Foris.
- Algemene Nederlandse Spraakkunst, a comprehensive grammar of Dutch which is viewable online (in Dutch)
- E-ANS: de elektronische ANS: electronic version of the second, revised edition of the Algemene Nederlandse Spraakkunst (ANS) from 1997.
- Beginning Learner's Grammar of Dutch (UCL)
- Advanced Learner's Grammar of Dutch (UCL)
- Dutch Flashcards