Grammar: Word Order (Big Jumps)
So, you’ve conquered the basics of Dutch word order and you are looking for more? Then this is the right place to be! If you are just starting with the Dutch course, it might be useful to read Grammar: Word Order (First Steps) first. This post is built on the previous Word Order post.
In the previous post, we have told you how the most basic Dutch word order looks like: subject - finite verb - object - manner - time - place - other verbs. But, you have seen that the subject does not have to be in the first spot, you can place any other part from the middle (object - manner - time - place) at the front. That causes inversion: the subject moves to the third spot, right after the finite verb (which remains at the second spot: V2).
Inversion is also used in questions. In closed questions, the verb and subject are switched: the verb is at the front of the sentence. In open questions, the verb remains at the second spot, and an interrogative pronoun is added.
If inversion takes place, and the subject is either jij or je, the finite verb loses its -t ending. This does not happen with any other pronoun, so keep an eye out for inversion + jij/je!
In this post, we will take a closer look at other types of clauses, like the subordinate clauses (a clause that provides a main clause with additional information, but which cannot stand alone as a sentence). We will also explain what happens when you add a third (or even a fourth) verb to a sentence.
Conjunctions and the subordinate clause
Conjunctions link sentences together and describe some relationship between them. Dutch knows two different types of conjunctions, each with their own grammar rules: coordinating conjunctions (which link two sentences or words that are roughly of equal importance) and subordinating conjunctions (introduce a subordinate clause and link it with the main part of the sentence).
The common Dutch coordinating conjunctions are: en, of, maar, want, and dus.
There are only five of them, so learn these by heart! Coordinating conjunctions do not change the word order of the individual sentences that they link. In that regard they are very simple and used in the exact same way as their English equivalents. Aren’t you lucky?
Subordinating conjunctions introduce a subordinate clause and link it with the main part of the sentence. They have various functions:
- contrast: hoewel
- cause: omdat, doordat
- consequence: zodat
- condition: als, tenzij
- time: terwijl, zodra, wanneer, totdat, voordat
- providing a subordinate clause as an object: dat, of*
*Of is coordinating when it means "or", but subordinating when it means "whether/if".
A subordinate clause uses a special word order, something that most learners really struggle with. Instead of using V2 ("verb second") word order, all the verbs in a subordinate clause always come at the end.
- Het boek is duur, omdat het oud is. - “The book is expensive, because it is old.”
- We gaan eten zodra papa klaar is met koken. - “We are going to eat as soon as dad has finished cooking.”
- Zij draagt een jas, hoewel het niet koud is. - “She is wearing a coat, even though it is not cold.”
If the subordinate clause is placed before the main clause (for emphasis), then the main clause will be inverted; that is, the subject and the verb will switch places. The subordinate clause takes the first spot, the verb comes at the second spot (V2), and then the rest of the sentence follows.
- Omdat het oud is, is het boek duur. - “Because it is old, the book is expensive.”
- Zodra papa klaar is met koken, gaan we eten. - “As soons as dad has finished cooking, we are going to eat.”
- Hoewel het niet koud is, draagt zij een jas. - “Even though it is not cold, she is wearing a coat.”
Note that clauses which follow a coordinating conjunction (like want, of or dus) can never be moved to the beginning of the sentence.
Dus is a special case. It can be a coordinating conjunction, which means the word order does not change, but it can also be an adverb. If dus is used as an adverb, the word order does change! Inversion takes place, because this adverb comes before the verb. Both possibilities are correct and there is no difference in meaning. And lucky you, this only happens with dus.
The relative clause
A relative clause starts with a relative pronoun or adverb that refers to someone or something in the main clause. A relative pronoun refers back to a person or object that already appears elsewhere in the sentence: “The man who is walking his dog.”; “The hat that the man is wearing.”. In English, you can often drop the relative pronoun, but in Dutch this is not possible.
The word order in a relative clause differs from the word order in a main clause. But don’t worry, you have just learnt the word order! The word order is exactly the same as the word order in a subordinate clause! All verbs go at the end. However, there is a difference with the subordinate clause. In a subordinate clause, the conjunction glues the clauses together but we can see it as a separate part that does not belong to either clause. But in a relative clause, the 'conjunction' is an integral part of the clause. It can serve, for example, as a subject, a direct object, or an indication of time. Let’s take a look.
Normal main clause: Hij heeft in Nederland gewoond. - “He has lived in the Netherlands.”
The relative clause can also be placed in the middle of a sentence, but it recommended to only do this with short relative clauses. The sentence might be difficult to read if you put a long relative clause in the middle. The long relative clauses should be placed after the main clause, at the end of the sentence.
Short subordinate clauses
There are different types of short subclauses, but they all have two things in common:
1 A short subordinate clause does not have a subject (this also happens in English)
2 A short subordinate clause always contains a 'te + infinitive'
Like in ‘complete’ subordinate clauses, all the verbs come last in a short subordinate clause.
Last, but not least, we will talk about adding even more verbs to a sentence. It’s not uncommon to see three verbs in a Dutch sentence. There are cases, when you can see four verbs in a sentence! Don’t worry, it is easier than you initially think.
In the previous word order post, you have seen that Dutch follows a SOV order, but the finite verb comes second. So it basically looks like SVOV (subject - (finite) verb - object - verb). As you can see, all other verbs come at the end of a sentence! Just one pile of verbs. In what order do those verbs go?
Well, that’s simple. For the most part, it’s completely up to you! However, you cannot randomly decide the order in which the verbs occur either. This is the case for both main and subordinate/relative clauses. But rules do not necessarily mean that there are few choices either! Do not be scared to try to add some extra verbs in your sentences! Dutch speaking people will understand you, even if you make a mistake in the word order. Note that some word orders are more common in the Netherlands and others more in Belgium.
The order of the verbs in main clauses is fairly easy. The more verbs you add, the more possibilities you have.
Three versions are possible in these sentences. The participle (gezegd and benoemd) can be placed in front of the two auxiliary verbs (a), in between the auxiliary verbs (b), or after the auxiliary verbs (c). Note that the two auxiliary verbs do not change their order.
As said above, some word orders are more common than others. The a-versions are the most common in spoken language in the Netherlands, whilst the b-versions is barely used in the Netherlands, but most common in spoken language in Belgium. The c-versions are mostly used in written language, in both the Netherlands and Belgium.
Four verbs mean four possibilities. And like the sentences with three verbs, some word orders are more common than others. The a-version is most common in spoken language in the Netherlands and the c-version in spoken language in Belgium. The d-version is mostly used in written language.The b-version is not very common, and rarely used.
The verb order in subordinate and relative clauses does not differ that much from the order in main clauses. The only thing is that you have to add the finite verb to the other verbs as well.
Placement of the finite verb
You place the finite verb either before or after the other verbs. For example, you cannot place the finite verb between two infinitives. You are usually free to decide whether to place the finite verb before or after the other verbs but there are two limitations:
1) If you have three or more verbs in a row (including the finite verb), you have to place the finite verb at the beginning. The same happens if the sentence contains a te verb.
2) If the verb contains an aan het verb, you place the finite verb at the end.
- Wist u dat u uw auto kan laten wassen? - “Did you know that you can have your car washed?”
- Ik doe niet mee omdat ik zit te lezen. - “I am not joining because I am reading.”
- De honden blaffen terwijl we de tekst aan het bestuderen zijn. - “The dogs are barking while we are studying the text.”
Unlike in German, in Dutch you can choose whether you place the auxiliary verb first or the participle. Both are equally correct and there is no difference in meaning.
- Dat is de stad waar hij heeft gewoond. - “That is the city where he has lived.”
- Dat is de stad waar hij gewoond heeft. - “That is the city where he has lived.”
- Ik ga niet naar buiten omdat het heeft geregend. - “I am not going outside, because it has rained.”
- Ik ga niet naar buiten omdat het geregend heeft. - “I am not going outside, because it has rained.”
The same rules from three verbs in the main clause apply to the subordinate clause:
The rules for four verbs are the same as well:
Practice makes perfect!
That is even more to take in, isn’t it? Please do not be discouraged! It is okay to mess up, practice makes perfect, after all. We know you can do it!
- Dutch Grammar - Word Order
- Making sense of Dutch Word Order
- Taaladvies - Werkwoordvolgorde in werkwoordgroepen: groepen van drie of meer werkwoorden (algemeen) (in Dutch)