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Grammar: Dutch Word Order

Content

  1. General word order
  2. Inversion
  3. More on word order
  4. Word order in main clauses
  5. Word order in subclauses
  6. Word order in questions

1. General word order

In a Dutch sentence, you cannot separate the subject and the conjugated verb.

  1. Normal word order with one verb

    subject + conjugated verb + the rest of the sentence “Ik ga vandaag Nederlands leren.” = “I am going to learn Dutch today.”

  2. Two verbs: conjugated verb + infinitive

    subject + conjugated verb + the rest of the sentence + infinitive
    “Hij moet nu de was doen.” = “He has to do the laundry now.”

  3. Two verbs: conjugated verb + participle

    subject + conjugated verb + the rest of the sentence + participle “Duo heeft een fiets gekocht.” = “Duo has bought a bike.”


2. Inversion

In Dutch, a sentence may also start with something other than the subject. It may start with an adverb of time or a conjugated verb, for example. In these cases, the subject is placed after the conjugated verb. This is what we call ‘inversion’ and this is the word order we’re speaking of:

(other part of the sentence, f.i. the adverb of time) + conjugated verb + subject + the rest of the sentence

Examples:

  1. “Gisteren schreef ik een boek.” = “I wrote a book yesterday”.
  2. “Vaak ga ik zwemmen.” = “Ik go swimming often”.

We often use inversion. When we want to emphasize a certain element, we will place that element at the beginning of the sentence. We also use inversion in questions, f.i.:

  1. “Komt zij vandaag?” = “Is she coming today?”
  2. “Slaap jij nu?” = “Are you sleeping now?”

The word order in these questions with inversion is: conjugated verb + subject + the rest of the sentence.


3. More on word order

  1. In Dutch, time always comes before place. This is not the case in English.

    “Duo gaat morgen naar de stad Groningen.” = “Duo is going to the city of Groningen tomorrow.”

  2. An indirect object precedes a direct object.

    “Ik geef Luis een schoen.” = “I give Luis a shoe.”

  3. However, when the indirect object is preceded by a preposition, the direct object will come first.

    “Ik heb de sokken aan mijn vriendin gegeven.” = “I have given the socks to my girlfriend.”

  4. The Dutch word for also, ‘ook’, comes after the conjugated verb. There can also be other words in between the conjugated verb and ‘ook’. ‘Ook’ can even come first in a sentence.

    “Wij komen ook!” = “We are coming also!” “Ook zij zingen!” = “They are singing as well!”


4. Word order in main clauses

Two main clauses are to be joined together by means of a coordinating conjunction, such as ’en’ ( = and). In these cases there is no inversion.

For example:

  1. “Ik kijk naar de eenden en zij kijkt naar de lucht” = “I am looking at the ducks and she is looking at the sky.”
  2. “Hij zingt en ik lach.” = “He sings and I laugh.”

5. Word order in subclauses

A main clause and a subclause are to be joined together by a subordinating conjunction. Examples of such conjunctions are ’omdat’ (= because) and dat (= that). In these cases the verb is put at the end of the subclause.

Examples: 1. “Ik zwem vandaag niet omdat ik mijn badpak niet heb.” = “I am not swimming today because I do not have my bathing suit”. 2. “Hij lacht niet omdat hij pijn heeft.” = “He does not laugh because he is in pain.”

If the subclause precedes the main clause, inversion takes place in the main clause. For example: “Omdat ik niet mee wil, ga ik niet.” ( = “Because I do not want to go along, I am not going.”).

If a subclause has more verbs, then they are all placed at the end of the clause. For instance: “Hij vertelt dat hij altijd goed geluisterd heeft.” (= “He says that he has always listened well.”). It is important to realize that the order of the auxiliary verb and the participle at the end of the sentence is interchangeable. Thus, the following sentence is correct as well: “Hij vertelt dat hij altijd goed heeft geluisterd.”

When there are more verbs in the subclause, the main verb gets put at the very end. Thus, you’ll get the following sentences:

“De vrouw vraagt of je morgen haar broer kunt bellen.” = “The woman asks if you can call her brother tomorrow.” “Zij weet niet of de vrouw morgen wel kan komen.” = “She does not know whether the woman can really come tomorrow.”


6. Word order in questions

When it comes to questions, inversion always occurs. In a closed question, a question that can be answered with either yes or no, the sentence begins with the conjugated verb. For example:

  1. “Eet u vaak sla?” = “Do you eat lettuce often?”
  2. “Gaan jullie naar de bioscoop?” = “Are you going to the cinema?”

Beware: In questions, if there’s a conjugated verb in the second person singular, the verb does not receive a -t, though this is the case in regular verb conjugations. See, for example:

  1. “Jij hebt een mooie fiets.” = “You have a pretty bike.”
  2. Heb jij een mooie fiets?” = “Do you have a pretty bike?”

In open questions, which require more than a yes or no answer, the question will start with a question word.

Examples:

  1. “Waar woont u?” = “Where do you live?”
  2. “Wat doe jij?” = “What are you doing?”

Beware: at times, the question word is the subject of the clause instead. In these cases, no inversion takes place and you may find a sentence like this: “Wie doet dat?”: “Who is doing that?”


Return to Grammar Overview!

July 16, 2014

38 Comments
This discussion is locked.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Naylor1993

Thank you, this is very, very helpful!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/lostneedle

Geez louise, I am going to learn more of the English language to understand this and English is my first language lol Conjunctions, clauses and inversion. My grammar word memory is not the best.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Guy_Bailey

TMP - Time Manner Place :)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/esha9751

If Dutch aligns with German you can add Reason: TRMP. Just think of a certain unreasonable character and U will remember.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JC_El_Mejor

For the benefit of Spanish learners, an easy mnemonic is "Te camelo" (Temporal - Causal - Modal - Local). That's how I learned it for German, and It has stuck since :-)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/summ1t

Nice memory tool


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/samulili

I would also recommend the Word order part of "Dutch Grammar". It's only 69 pages long, you know ;) http://www.dutchgrammar.com/en/?n=WordOrder.00


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/npmauad

I decided to study Dutch first so I would find German easier. I think I will do vice versa.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/kangaroopouch

The rules for German are very similar. Apart from

1) the order of verbs and particles at the end of subordinate clauses (which are the other way around in German: "She does not know whether the woman can really come tomorrow" becomes "Sie weiß nicht, ob die Frau morgen wirklich kommen kann")

2) the insistence to have the subject right after the verb if you put something else in front of it (in German there can sometimes be other words, e.g. objects, in between; however even in German this only works in a few sentences and you're generally advised to follow the verb with the subject) and

3) the rule that the second person -t gets dropped in questions

they seem to be identical.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Monkeylabs

This just makes me happy, knowing that I don't have to learn this all over again because it's almost identical!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/israellai

I just came across the exercise "echter, de nummers zijn niet goed". As a German speaker, I am very confused why inversion doesn't happen. Can anyone explain?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/442doBeograda

Why should there be inversion in this sentence?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/israellai

In German word order 'zijn' would be in second position after echter. In fact I think I did an exercise that went something like "echter is hij..."


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/442doBeograda

This is what I found in my grammar book:

The conjunctional adverbs echter and evenwel are identical in meaning. Their position in the sentence is not very flexible. They usually follow the verb. If placed at the beginning of the sentence, they have to be separated by a comma. Examples:

Erik heeft de trein gemist. Dat is echter (evenwel) geen probleem.

Erik missed the train. That is, however, no problem.

A less preferable alternative: Echter, dat is geen probleem.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Westermann15

Actually, in Dutch both orders of verbs and particles are possible.
''Sie weiß nicht, ob die Frau morgen wirklich kommen kann"
''Zij weet niet of de vrouw morgen werkelijk kan komen''
BUT, also possible:''Zij weet niet of de vrouw morgen werkelijk komen kan''.
The latter is more poetic and used a lot less.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Piepongwong

I'm a native speaker and I just used this to improve my writing skills. Thanks for teaching me my own language!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/septiandara

Oh my God, why didn't I find this earlier?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PowerBoyAakash

Amazingly crisp, short and to the point!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/genebot

This clarified a lot! Bedankt!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LGFreeRock0828

I should have read AND drilled this into my head a few weeks back. Ah, just think of all the XPs I've lost. The horror! :)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Indigo-Wire

BEDANKEN I have been very very confused on the sentance structures of Dutch and this has answered all my questions exactly!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Lenkvist

Excellent explanation! Helping others is a lot easier when you can rely on solid supporting material. Just a few comments about the sentences:

  • “Ik go swimming often”. - I'd say "I often go swimming".
  • “We are coming also!” - I'd say "We are also coming".

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JPS_Originals

Yes in English the word order is much more interchangeable than in Dutch. As a native English speaker I use both combinations, with also an addition in that you could say "often I go swimming"


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Westermann15

I think it's just that adverbs can be moved around more freely than in Dutch.

  • Really, he would not like to do it.
  • He really would not like to do it.
  • He would really not like to do it.
  • He would not really like to do it.
  • He would not like to really do it.
  • He would not like to do it, really. (it's like a staircase of reallys :-))

However Dutch also has its fair share of flexibility:

  • Daar ga ik morgen heen met mijn zus. I'm going there with my sister, tomorrow.

  • Ik ga daar morgen met mijn zus heen. I'm going there with my sister, tomorrow.

  • Morgen ga ik daar met mijn zus heen. Tomorrow, I'm going there with my sister.

  • Met mijn zus ga ik daar morgen heen. I'm going there with my sister, tomorrow.

''There I'm going with my sister/ With my sister I'm going there'' would sound odd to a native ear, well not odd, just a little unusual.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CJ.Dennis

Moving the adverb around usually changes the meaning of the English sentence:

  • Really, he would not like to do it (truthfully)
  • He really would not like to do it (intense dislike)
  • He would really not like to do it (dislike)
  • He would not really like to do it (mild dislike)
  • He would not like to really do it (pretend, but not for real)
  • He would not like to do it, really (truthfully)

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JustinSergio

Would saying, "Ik zie dat ben jij goed" (I see that you are good), still be grammatically correc? For example, an inversion if the subject and verb after the presence of a conjunction.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SebastianChw

I believe the correct construction would be "Ik zie dat je goed bent".

I suggest reading the part about subordinate clauses in the post above. Indeed, an inversion is necessary, but the verb goes to the end of the subclause instead of the beginning. Hope this helps!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JustinSergio

Bedankt! I was getting a little confused and just needed some clarification. Very helpful


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/aanaaaa

And if there are more than 2 verbs in a main clause? :/ "Ik zou niet betaald moeten hebben" ( It is a sentence from "the conditional present & perfect ") , can I write this sentence in another way?

Can you give me some more examples?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Eric_Van_Gucht

Which ones would "maar" and "misschien" fall under, coordinating or subordinating?

(BTW, I was born and raised in the U.S. but my dad is from Belgium; we just never spoke Flemish or Dutch around the house, and I figure better late than never. Forgive me, everybody.)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bluthbanana87

"Maar" is definitely a coordinating conjunction. "Misschien" is an adverb rather than a conjunction.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Eric_Van_Gucht

Would you still use inversion for "misschien," though?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bluthbanana87

No, I don't think so.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Eric_Van_Gucht

But the verb does get switched around?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Xeridox

I noticed a typo in the "Inversion" section above: 2. “Vaak ga ik zwemmen.” = “Ik go swimming often”. should be "I go swimming often."

Great explanation of word order! Dank u wel!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/aerospaz04

I am a beginner in dutch and I would like to know the position of 'niet' in a sentence. Bedankt!

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