Here is the technical explanation: The Germanic languages used to have the verb at the end. For some reason this changed, and most Germanic languages other than English (which only has some vestiges) are now V2 languages. This means that a sentence starts with whatever you want to stress or the subject if there is nothing you want to stress in particular, followed by the verb (without most of the stuff that may depend on it), followed by objects etc. Any remaining material depending on the verb comes last where the verb also used to be.
Here the verb is separated, and aan depends on the verb raaken. So we have:
- subject: We
- verb: raaken
- object: het eten
- negation of the verb: niet
- preposition separated from the verb: aan.
No. Aanraken is a separable verb. Every single instance of the use of a separable verb looks familiar to English speakers, but the entire pattern doesn't exist in English.
Some English verbs (phrasal verbs) change their meaning when they are followed by a specific preposition: E.g., do over means the same as beat up (another such combination, though a more straightforward one). Grammatically, this is hard to distinguish from just using a preposition after a verb in a straightforward way.
Some English verbs have fused with a preposition that precedes them. E.g. overdo.
In English, the two constructions are kept completely separate, so it's always clear which is which: "Do him over, but don't overdo it!"
Both constructions also exist in Dutch, though sometimes the correspondence is not straightforward:
- onderlijnen = underline, ondernemen = undertake
- doorzien = see through, omhullen = wrap around
- zoeken naar = search for, dwingen tot = force to
But in addition, Dutch shares with German, Afrikaans and Hungarian separable verbs, a weird construction that is intermediate between the two. You might invent separable verbs yourself if you think about the adjective outstanding. Doesn't it look like the gerund of a verb? Wouldn't that verb have to be "outstand"? Well, in English it isn't. Outstanding is derived from the phrasal verb stand out.
If a Dutch phrasal verb is used very frequently, the preposition is prefixed to the infinitive:
- ondersneeuwen ("undersnow", get covered in snow)
- onderlijnen (underline)
The preposition and the verb always stay together also in present and past participles:
- ondersneeuwend, ondergesneeuwd (getting covered in snow, covered in snow)
- onderlijnend, ondergelijnd (underlining, underlined)
But for all(?) other uses, separable verbs suddenly behave like phrasal verbs. Whether the combination of preposition and basic verb that you find in a dictionary is a prefix verb or a separable verb has to be learned, but there is a rule of thumb: If the preposition preserves its literal meaning (e.g. ondersneeuwen), it's a separable verb, otherwise it's an inseparable prefix verb (e.g. onderlijnen).
- Het huis sneeuwt onder. (The house is getting covered by snow.)
- De spreker onderlijnt het belangrijke feit. (The speaker underlines the important fact.)
Separable verbs are called separable because it's not always just that the order of verb and preposition is switched. As in the case of phrasal verbs, they can actually be separated by other parts of speech:
- Het schip ging jammer genoeg onder. - The ship sadly went under. (Literally: The ship went sadly under.)
- Het schip gelukkig onderging een reparatie. - The ship fortunately underwent a repair.
This last example also shows that the same verb can be separable or not depending on whether the meaning of the preposition is literal or not. The correspondence is roughly the same as that between English prefix verbs (undergo) and English phrasal verbs (go under). So you can think of separable verbs as a variant of phrasal verbs which in some cases (infinitive and participles) look like prefix verbs.
Wij hebben het eten niet aangeraakt. -- "We have not touched the food."
Wij raakten het eten niet aan. -- "We did not touch the food."
Wij zullen het eten niet aangeraakt hebben. -- "We will not have touched the food."
Wij zouden het eten niet aangeraakt hebben. -- "We would not have touched the food."
No. It's perhaps best to think of Dutch word order as derived from an original one that can still be observed in subordinate clauses and infinitives. Just like in English, the verb is negated by adding niet/not before the verb, not after it:
- niet eten = not eating / not to eat / to not eat
- eten doen = do eat (not really equivalent: in Dutch this is colloquial, in English it is emphatic)
- het niet aanraken = not touching it / not to touch it / to not touch it
- het niet aanraken doen = not to do touch it (obviously makes little sense in either language, just for illustration because English happens to negate ordinary sentences in a similar way)
When using a negated verb in a main clause, the entire verb phrase including negation comes at the very end of the main clause. Only the finite verb (the one with person and number endings) and nothing else jumps to second position in the sentence, which usually means right after the subject. (In the simplest case the verb phrase consists only of the finite verb, so there is nothing left of it at the end of the main clause.) This is the process in which separable verbs get separated:
- Ik eet niet. = I eat not. (as Shakespeare would still have said)
- Ik doe niet eten. = I do not eat. (again, not really equivalent)
- Ik raak het niet an. = I touch it not. (again valid Early Modern English)
- Ik doe het niet aanraken. = I do not touch it.
Only the last two examples demonstrate genuine differences in word order between Dutch and English. In "Ik raak het niet aan", aan is separated from the finite verb and stays at the end of the main clause. This phenomenon does not exist in English at all. In "Ik doe het niet aanraken", niet aanraken (the remainder of the verb phrase niet aanraken doen is at the very end of the main clause and therefore after the object pronoun het. English has lost the entire "verb phrase last [except sometimes for the finite verb]" phenomenon altogether.