Glossary of grammar terms

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This glossary gives a short explanation of various terms you might comes across in the Dutch Grammar posts and in the course's Tips & Notes. They are grouped thematically, not alphabetically. Use your browser’s search function if you are looking for a specific word. The Dutch terminology is included between brackets.

Disclaimer: this was not written by a linguist. There may be some errors or imprecise terminology. Feel free to correct me in the comments, or to suggest other terms to add to the list.

Types of words

  • Noun (”zelfstandig naamwoord”): a word that describes a thing. Examples: snail, trombone, discomfort, earlobe. Can be singular or plural.
  • Determiner (”determinator”): something that comes before a noun, telling you which [noun] it refers to. They can be definite (pointing to a specific thing) or indefinite. A noun usually has only one determiner. There are various types:
    - Article (”lidwoord”): comes before a noun. Can be definite (the) or indefinite (a). Plural nouns or mass nouns don’t get an indefinite article in Dutch or English.
    - Demonstrative: this, that, these, those. All definite.
    - Possessive: my, your, their, etc. All definite.
    - Quantifier: all, some, many, a lot, no, etc. Mostly indefinite.
  • Pronoun (”voornaamwoord”): a word that refers to another thing, which might or might not be in the same sentence. There are many kinds of pronouns:
    - Personal pronoun (”persoonlijk vnw.”): takes the place of a noun. There can be a difference between subject pronouns (I, she, they, etc.) and object pronouns (me, her, them, etc). Furthermore, Dutch makes a difference between stressed (or marked) pronouns and unstressed (unmarked) pronouns: “je” vs. “jij”, etc.
    - Possessive pronoun (”bezittelijk vnw.”): mine, yours, theirs.
    - Indefinite pronoun (”onbepaald vnw.”): doesn’t refer to a specific thing. Examples: someone, nobody, anything, some, none, both.
    - Reflexive pronoun (”wederkerend vnw.”): used with reflexive verbs, refers back to the subject. Examples: myself, yourself, themselves.
    - Demonstrative pronoun (”aanwijzend vnw.”): this, that, these, those
    - Interrogative pronoun (”vraagwoord”): who, what, which, how?
    - Relative pronoun (”betrekkelijk vnw.”): refers to another part of the sentence and starts a relative clause. Example: the problem, which I solved, was simple.
  • Verb (“werkwoord”): describes the action. Examples: run, sneeze, love, sleep.
  • Adjective (“bijvoeglijk naamwoord”): describes some attributes of a noun. Examples: good, fast, gross, scary. Can be turned into a comparative (“vergrotende trap”): better, faster, etc; or into a superlative (”overtreffende trap”): the best, the fastest, etc.
  • Adverb (”bijwoord”): describes the time or manner in which a verb was performed. Examples: well, slowly, already, soon. Mostly unrelated, apart from the name: pronominal adverbs.
  • Preposition (”voorzetsel”): describes a connection to the noun (or pronoun) that comes after it. Examples: in, on, before, without.
  • Conjunction (”voegwoord”): for hooking up words and phrases and clauses. Examples: and, but, while, because. Dutch separates coordinating (”nevenschikkende”) and subordinating (”onderschikkende”) conjunctions, which use a different word order.
  • Particle (”partikel”): a word that linguists are unable to put in any other category. You've got to call them something, right?

Parts of a sentence

  • Subject (”onderwerp”): the thing that acts out the verb. The one doing stuff. Answer to the question “who or what is [verb]ing?”. Example: I see you.
  • Direct object (”lijdend voorwerp”): the thing that the subject acts on. Answer to the question “who or what is being [verb]ed?”. Example: I see you.
  • Indirect object (”meewerkend voorwerp”): some third party that is involved in [subject] [verb]ing the [object]. Example: You give me the money.
  • Main verb (”hoofdwerkwoord”): the verb that describes the main action of the sentence or clause. Example: You can’t see me.
  • Auxiliary verb (”hulpwerkwoord”): another verb, which specifies the time (like in the present perfect or the future tense) or the context (e.g. modal verbs) in which the main verb is performed. Example: You can’t see me. I have seen you.
  • Finite verb (”persoonsvorm”): the verb (can be auxiliary or the main verb) that is conjugated to match the subject. Not an infinitive. In the indicative mood, every sentence has a finite verb.
  • Adverbial (”bijwoordelijke bepaling”): any word or group of words that describes the time, manner or place of the sentence. In Dutch, they generally come in that order.
  • Clause (”bijzin”): a part of a sentence with its own main verb. Clauses are linked by conjunctions. Example: I will drink some water, because I’m thirsty. There can be no more than one finite verb per clause, but you can have a clause without one (sometimes called a short clause). Dutch separates coordinate (”nevengeschikte”) and subordinate (”ondergeschikte”) clauses, which use a different word order.

Forms of verbs

  • Conjugation (”vervoeging”): the thing where a finite verb gets a different form, depending on what the subject is, whether it happened in the past, present or future, etc. Example: I sleep. He sleeps.
  • Infinitive (”heel werkwoord”): the basic, unconjugated form of a verb. In Dutch, this normally ends on -en. In English, it’s the same as the conjugation for I (first person singular, simple present). Sometimes, we include the word “to” in English: to sleep.
  • Participle (”deelwoord”): a special form of a verb. There are two participles:
    - Past participle (”voltooid dw.”): mostly used for the perfect aspect. Also used for the passive voice or as an adjective. Examples: I have seen you. I am surprised.
    - Present participle (”onvoltooid dw.”): formed in English with -ing. Used in the continuous aspect and many other constructions. In Dutch, it’s only used as adjective or adverb. Example: I was watching TV.
  • Tense (”tijd”): together with the aspect, tells you when something happened.
    - Present (”tegenwoordige tijd”): I sleep, I am sleeping.
    - Past (”verleden tijd”): I slept, I was sleeping.
    - Future (”toekomende tijd”): formed with a modal auxiliary verb in both Dutch (“zullen”) and English (will). I will sleep, I will be sleeping.
  • Aspect (”aspect”): tells you how the speaker relates to the time when something happened. It gets pretty messy here. Note that Dutch and English have the same grammatical structures, but they are often used to mean different things!
    - Simple: like in the Present Simple (”onvoltooid tegenwoordige tijd” or OTT) or the Simple Past (”onvoltooid verleden tijd” or OVT). Examples: I sleep. I slept. I will sleep.
    - Continuous or progressive (“progressief aspect”): for ongoing actions. Used far more in English than in Dutch. Examples: I am sleeping. I was sleeping. I will be sleeping.
    - Perfect (”perfectief aspect”): describes the result of something that happened in the past. The Present Perfect (”voltooid tegenwoordige tijd” or VTT) is very common in Dutch. Examples: I have slept. I had slept. I will have slept.
  • Mood (”wijs”): expresses the speaker’s attitude toward what they’re saying.
    - Indicative (”aantonende wijs”): simply describes an action. By far the most common mood.
    - Imperative (”gebiedende wijs”): used for commands. Go home! Dance with me!
    - Conditional (”voorwaardelijke wijs”): used to describe actions that depend on something else, or hypothetical situations. Formed with an auxiliary verb in English (“would”) and in Dutch (“zouden”). Example: If X happened, then I would do Y.
  • Passive voice (”passief”): a construction without a subject, usually formed with the past participle. For example: I have been seen. Note that “I” is the object of “to see”, even though it is a subject pronoun. Confusing!
  • Gerund: a form of a verb that can be used as a noun. In English, it’s formed with -ing. In Dutch, it’s the same as the infinitive of a verb. Examples: Biking is fun.

Miscellaneous terminology (A-Z)

  • Compound (”samenstelling”): a word that is formed by combining two or more other words. Very common in Dutch. In some cases, a compound may be separable.
  • Diminutive (”verkleinwoord”): a form of a noun that indicates its small size or the speaker’s affection to the noun. Not used much in English, but used extensively in Dutch. In many cases, the diminutive has an entirely different meaning, or has even replaced the original noun in standard language.
  • Grammatical gender (“geslacht”): property of a noun, which might affect the grammar of the sentence. In English, the grammatical gender is unimportant. Dutch nouns can be either gendered or neuter, which affects the article and the form of the adjectives.
  • Separable (”scheidbaar”): a word that can split up in two parts, which are separated within the sentence. Examples are separable verbs, but also pronominal adverbs and certain prepositions.
  • Stress (”klemtoon”) and emphasis (”nadruk”): emphasis tells you which parts of a sentence are most important. In English, this is typically achieved through (prosodic) stress. In Dutch, it is more common to adjust the word order and to use marked or unmarked pronouns.
  • Transitive verb ("overgankelijk werkwoord"): a verb that needs a direct object, like to need. As opposed to an intransitive verb, which cannot have a direct object (e.g. to sleep). In English, many verbs and be used both with and without an object (they are ambitransitive, to be precise). This is not the case in Dutch! Therefore you sometimes have to add an object (such as "het") where it's not needed in English.

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1 year ago


Thanks for this - I find it very helpful

1 year ago
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thanks a lot

1 year ago
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