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Grammar

Both Dutch and English have over the centuries thrown most of their grammatical complexities overboard. English is without doubt the simplest European language. There’s only one definite article (the), whereas in Dutch there are two (de, het). French, however, has three (le, la, les) and German has six (der, des, dem, den, die, das), due to the case-system. And if you think German, with four cases, is difficult, try Finnish with more than ten cases. This case-system has almost completely disappeared from English and Dutch. As a result English nouns and adjectives have dropped their endings, and most adjectives in Dutch only have an e-ending. German adjectives can end in -e, -er, es, and -en.

Like English, Dutch has four basic verb tenses (I work = ik werk, I worked = ik werkte, I have worked = ik heb gewerkt, I had worked = ik had gewerkt) and most of the English irregular verbs are irregular in Dutch. With auxiliary verbs like can, may, must etc., the good news is that Dutch doesn’t have the rather complex system of can/be able to and may/be allowed to etc.. And there’s more good news: we don’t use the verb to do in questions and negations (do you work? = werk je?, I do not work = ik werk niet). Nor do we use the “gerund” (I am working = ik werk).

In fact, the only real problem English speakers face when learning Dutch is word order. Like in English, the basic sentence structure is Subject – Verb – Object (I see a film = ik zie een film). But we’re in for some trouble. The first problem is that if a sentence doesn’t start with the subject, subject and verb change places (on Saturday I see a film = op zaterdag zie ik een film).

Another thing is that the Dutch like to fling their verbs to the end of the sentence. Infinitives and past participles, for instance, are always at the end, and in sub-clauses all verbs are at the end.

This “Dutch” sentence structure was still present in Shakespeare’s English: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended (past participle at the end), What said he? (no to do in questions) or Then goes he to the length of all his arm, and Long stayed he so (inversion).

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