"The children play after breakfast."
Translation:De kinderen spelen na het ontbijt.
If you think about it, it's actually more regular than leaving the definite article out:
- The children are playing after breakfast.
Here it's today's breakfast, a specific breakfast, hence the breakfast in Dutch.
- Every day, the children play after breakfast.
On every single day, there is only one breakfast, and it's the one that is meant here: the [respective] breakfast.
- The children play after breakfast.
Here it's less explicit, but you can still interpret the sentence like the previous one to justify the definite article.
Exactly the same arguments apply if the children have to do a Dutch exam every morning right after breakfast, in which case even in English it is:
- The children play after the exam.
From this you can see that breakfast is actually an exception to the general rule. Dutch merely doesn't have this exception. There are also similar cases in which the definite article is optional in English: after prayer/after the prayer. By leaving out the article, you indicate that prayers are as regular and normal as breakfasts.
"na ontbijt" actually has about twice as many "real" (i.e. you have to scroll through them; not look at the huge number it first presents you with) Google results as "na het ontbijt"
Of course, that doesn't mean it's possible here, but if it's not, it would be good to have an explanation of why.
I was surprised by this and looked at some Google and Google Books hits for "na ontbijt". I got the distinct impression that these hits are primarily written in telegram style, e.g. in a diary. It appears to me that Dutch may drop the article in this situation more than German does. This may be the first step towards dropping it as in English, and it may explain how the English rule originally came about.
I understand that in the arguments for using "het ontbijt", the speakers are interpreting the English sentence to mean a specific, not a habitual action. However the English can be interpreted either way and in fact is more readily interpreted as a regular or habitual action. (Personally, I would be inclined to use the progressive, "The children are playing after breakfast" if a specific instance was meant.) I think in fact in English meals are by default habitual actions, happening every day. You would only use the article in English if a more formal instance was meant, like a state dinner or a prayer breakfast. You would not use an article in English if even if you are referring to a specific meal if that meal is an ordinary everyday occurrence... "The children play after the breakfast" would imply that the children had participated in some formal occasion, not their regular morning meal, even if you meant today's breakfast. Perhaps in Dutch there is not a similar usage, where in most cases the article would be preferred, which is something English speakers need to learn. However, in this case of a translation from the English, I think it is unfair to penalize students who did NOT include "het" in their translation because there is nothing in the English to indicate specificity.
Yes, Dutch speakers say it this way. Articles have evolved mostly after the two languages parted ways, so it's no wonder they do them slightly differently.
No, it doesn't sound formal in Dutch at all. That's the point about different languages. Things are different. In my answer to jennesy I explained why the Dutch way of dealing with articles is actually more regular in this case.