I'm really enjoying learning Dutch, but the separable verbs (verbs formed by attaching a preposition to a verb, like voorlezen) are really challenging me and I'm having a tough time understanding them. Can anybody help me?
I've been working on a skill for the Dutch Tree 2.0 that focuses on separable verbs. I can copy-paste the tips + notes for you, as an exclusive preview:
Separable verbs consist of two parts: a prefix and a base verb. As the name implies, these can split up and move to different parts of the sentence. Whether this happens depends on the conjugation and on the word order, as explained below.
While English doesn't have separable verbs, they are somewhat similar to so-called phrasal verbs, such as: stand up, write down, fill in or hang out. Often but not nearly always, a Dutch separable verb can be translated to an English phrasal verb. Using combinations of prepositions and existing verbs, there are an almost unlimited number of separable verbs in Dutch, each with a subtle difference in meaning or connotation.
A finite verb is a verb that is conjugated to match the subject. I am happy, because I have seen a beautiful duck. In this sentence, am and have are finite verbs (they match the subject I), but seen is not (it is a past participle). If a Dutch separable verb is finite, then the prefix is split off and moves to the back of the sentence. For example, the verb "aanraken" (to touch) becomes:
- Jij raakt me aan. - You touch me.
Note that while the word "aan" can also be a preposition, in this case it's not. It is a part of the verb!
An exception to the above rule occurs in subordinate clauses. There, the finite verb is always moved to the end of the clause, so there is no need to split up the separable verb:
- Ik word boos, als jij me aanraakt. - I get angry, if you touch me.
The infinite form of a seperable verb is usually written as one word:
- Jij wil me aanraken. - You want to touch me.
In some cases, the infinitive will also be separated. For example, this happens when it is accompanied by "te", which always comes between the prefix and the base verb. When there are multiple infinitives in the sentence, or when the infinitive is part of a subclause, you can often choose whether to split the separable verb or not.
The past participle of a verb is mostly used in the present perfect. In Dutch, this form is constructed with the prefix "ge-". For separable verbs, this prefix comes in between the original prefix and the base verb. It is written as one word:
- Jij hebt me aangeraakt. - You have touched me.
Wow, thanks! The example of the phrasal verbs really helps me understand this better. Dankuwel!
I wouldn't try to analyze how these verbs work.
The best approach is to just learn the meaning of the words, and use the preposition as a mnemonic.
Oftentimes the meaning of the preposition on its own has changed over time, making it difficult to understand the compound word if you try and approach it like that.
Ik lees voor. Jij leest voor. Hij leest voor. wij lezen voor. Jullie lezen voor. Zij lezen voor. Ik las voor. Wij lazen voor. Ik heb voorgelezen. Hij heeft voorgelezen. Wij hebben voorgelezen.
Not sure what the problem is, but I hope this helps.
My difficulty isn't really how the Dutch word is used, but more of how the preposition changes the meaning of the verb and retaining the meaning, but thanks anyway!
That really depends on the word... Voorlezen=read to someone (voor iemand). Weggeven= to give away.
It would be easier if you could tell me which verbs you have encountered that you have trouble with.
Most verbs. I'm mostly confused on what the difference the preposition makes
The preposition makes the verb more specific in most cases. In the example of "voorlezen" it means the person is not simply reading a book somewhere by hemself, but that he is reading to someone, for example his kids. (Ik lees mijn kinderen een boek voor.) I think it is not that different from English, except that we put the preposition inside of the verb.
Thanks for this.
Is it true that Dutch has pairs of verbs that share the same infinitive form in which one is separable and the other non-separable, with different meanings? If so, I assume the only way to tell such verbs apart in their infinitive form is by context?
As a rule, no. There might be some verbs like that, but then it is pure coincidence.
Do you have an example?
Ha, yes. It can also be a noun, meaning 'appearance'.
In its separatable form, it means 'to exist' or 'to appear'. The stress is on the first syllable, that's why it is sometimes written as "vóórkomen".
When it is non-separatable ('to prevent'), the stress is on the second syllable.
So, in spoken language the two are very well distinguishable. Less so in written language, that is why the accents sometimes are used when there could be doubt.
How does a separable verb work with an "om ... te" construction?
I am not sure what you mean. "Om te" means "to": "Een bril om te lezen" = "Glasses to read".
Or do you mean: "Een boek om voor te lezen" = "A book to read (to someone)".
The second one. Thanks. I thought I had picked up somewhere that the separable prefix is placed between the OM and the TE, but I wasn't sure and I couldn't find where I had read about it.