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?”
47 Comments This discussion is locked.
What happens with "dus". I have seen two possibilities in the tree:
Ik ben vegetariër, dus ik eet geen vlees. AND
Ik ben vegetariër, dus eet ik geen vlees.
Are both options equally acceptable? Is there a difference in frequency or register?
Note that "dus" is also not mentioned in the "Tips and Notes" session for Conjunctions...
I know you left this comment years ago, so probably aren't still following it, but just in case -- this came up in another discussion I was reading a couple of days ago, and one of the moderators said that the word order varies with 'dus' because it can act as a conjunction or a conjunctive adverb.
So, as a coordinating conjunction: Het hemd is blauw, dus ik draag het niet.
As a conjunctive adverb: Het hemd is blauw, dus draag ik het niet.
There wasn't any discussion about frequency.
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.
If Dutch aligns with German you can add Reason: TRMP. Just think of a certain unreasonable character and U will remember.
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 :-)
I decided to study Dutch first so I would find German easier. I think I will do vice versa.
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 just makes me happy, knowing that I don't have to learn this all over again because it's almost identical!
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?
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..."
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'm a native speaker and I just used this to improve my writing skills. Thanks for teaching me my own language!
I will try this. Any other structured examples or resources people can recommend? I've read this Dutch Word Order post over and over, and I've been trying for weeks to get better by practice, and it seems like I'm getting worse and more wildly guessing instead of better and more systematic.
I've stopped at Adverbs because they make even more word order complications. I'm waiting there, just maintaining until I can understand this, because I still can't get through a Conjunctions practice (or any later vocab drills that rely on multiple sentence clauses or questions) without errors. It is literally driving me to tears. It's very discouraging.
So, in summary and with less drama, other systematic resources I could study would be appreciated.
I know you wrote this more than a year ago, but I am having the same problem as you. Granted, I've only started Duolingo a little over a week ago, but I have stopped at Dates/Time because I also find myself randomly guessing. And it's simply impossible to learn by blind luck.
The exercises in which I am given multiple choices, or need to either type in or put English word tiles in the correct order, I can work through by myself. (Native English speaker) It takes me a little while, because I have to read the entire sentence in Dutch sometimes before I know the subject of the sentence, but generally speaking, those exercises aren't giving me too many issues.
On the other hand, and in stark contrast to the previous paragraph, the exercises where I need to type in or put Dutch word tiles in the correct order, are literally destroying my will to continue my study. This is the first major roadblock I've come into and it is mind numbingly frustrating so far. Normal word order, Inversion, you name it.
I'm wondering, Gement, how over the past year your word ordering has gotten better. I keep trying to tell myself that one day everything will just "click." Has that happened for you?
Thank you for asking! What happened was I gave myself permission to be bad at that section, and many later sections don't rely on it. So I vary between opening up a new section (if I'm feeling ambitious) or doing practice on sections that aren't gold (much more frequent). I only did review practice for something like two months with no new progress, because any practice is still practice.
I don't know if I fundamentally learned all the ideas behind word order, but eventually through sheer repetition I at least memorized those sentences, and I guess the pattern correctly more often than not on new ones. Dates and times is a particularly weird section and doesn't come up a lot in other material, so just skip on, I'd say.
I'm having the same problem as you, but I saw that you wrote this three months ago. How has your word order progressed?
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! :)
BEDANKEN I have been very very confused on the sentance structures of Dutch and this has answered all my questions exactly!
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".
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"
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)
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.
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!
Bedankt! I was getting a little confused and just needed some clarification. Very helpful
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?
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.)
"Maar" is definitely a coordinating conjunction. "Misschien" is an adverb rather than a conjunction.
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!
I am a beginner in dutch and I would like to know the position of 'niet' in a sentence. Bedankt!