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Grammar: Pronominal adverbs

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Pronominal adverbs also exist in English, but they are rare and you are most likely to find them in legal texts. Here are some examples:

  • Therefore = for that, because of that
  • Hereby = by this
  • Wherein = in which

While these English words might not be used very much, this same construction appears everywhere in Dutch. You cannot avoid it!


What is a pronominal adverb?

Pronominal adverbs appear whenever you have the combination of a preposition and a pronoun, as long as the pronoun does not refer to a person. The pronoun is replaced by an adverb of location (here, there, etc) and the preposition is glued behind it, sometimes changing its form slightly. See the English examples above to get a feeling for this. Dutch examples will follow.

The table below shows which pronouns turn into which locative (=showing location) adverbs. In the third column, you see an example of the corresponding pronominal adverb, formed with the preposition "in".

Pronoun Locative Adverb Pronominal Adverb with "in" Meaning
het er erin in it
dat daar daarin in that
dit hier hierin in this
wat waar waarin in what/which
alles overal overal in in everything
iets ergens ergens in in something
niets nergens nergens in not in anything

By far the most common pronominal adverbs are formed with er. In English these translate to preposition + it , referring back to some object that was already mentioned.

  • Je hebt een doos. Wat zit erin? - You have a box. What is in it?

Notice that in English you can also say "What is in there?". Replacing it by there could be a remnant from when English also used pronominal adverbs! You can also leave out the pronoun entirely in English, asking "What is inside?". That is not possible in Dutch.

If you are referring to specific things nearby or far away from you, you can use hier or daar to form the adverb. This corresponds to a preposition + this/that in English.

  • Hierna gaan we naar bed. - After this, we're going to bed.
  • Wat doe je daarmee? - What are you doing with that?

Splitting the adverb

Pronominal adverbs with 'er', 'hier', 'daar' or 'waar' are usually spelled as one word. However, in many cases they can be split up, for example by another adverb or by an indefinite object (see the Word Order 1 skill). Occasionally this is even mandatory (e.g. with an indefinite subject). Some examples:

  • Wat zit er nu in? - What is in there now?
  • Er zit niets in. - There is nothing in it.
  • Ik stop er iets in. - I put something in it.

External sources


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