Grammar: Dutch Word Order
- General word order
- More on word order
- Word order in main clauses
- Word order in subclauses
- Word order in questions
1. General word order
In a Dutch sentence, you cannot separate the subject and the conjugated verb.
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.”
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.”
Two verbs: conjugated verb + participle
subject + conjugated verb + the rest of the sentence + participle “Duo heeft een fiets gekocht.” = “Duo has bought a bike.”
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
- “Gisteren schreef ik een boek.” = “I wrote a book yesterday”.
- “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.:
- “Komt zij vandaag?” = “Is she coming today?”
- “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
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.”
An indirect object precedes a direct object.
“Ik geef Luis een schoen.” = “I give Luis a shoe.”
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.”
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.
- “Ik kijk naar de eenden en zij kijkt naar de lucht” = “I am looking at the ducks and she is looking at the sky.”
- “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:
- “Eet u vaak sla?” = “Do you eat lettuce often?”
- “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:
- “Jij hebt een mooie fiets.” = “You have a pretty bike.”
- “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.
- “Waar woont u?” = “Where do you live?”
- “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?”
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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)