Grammar: Present perfect

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  1. Introduction
  2. Past participle: regular verbs
  3. Past participle: irregular verbs
  4. Hebben or zijn?

Don’t let the name fool you: the “present perfect” tense is all about the past. In English, the present perfect tense is formed using the auxiliary verb “to have” and a past participle.

For example:

  • I have eaten.

In Dutch, this tense is also formed using the Dutch counterpart of the verb “to have”, namely hebben, but you also use the verb zijn (to be). You then use the past participle of the verb having the action that is being done in the past.

Past participle: regular verbs

As with the simple past tense, the past participle of regular verbs is formed using the stem as a base (infinitive without -en).

If one of the voiceless consonants -t, -k, -f, -s, -ch, or -p (helpful mnemonic: ’t kofschip) is at the end of the stem, the prefix ge- is added to the front, and -t is added to the end.

To simplify things, you can think of the “stem” as the “ik-form”. (i.e. ik werk, ik speel, etc.)

If “ik-form” ends in a voiceless consonant: ge- + “ik-form” + -t = past participle

In all other cases, the participle ends in -d:

If “ik-form ends in anything elsege- + “ik-form” + -d = past participle

  • wonen - Waar heb jij gewoond? (Where did you live?)
  • leren - Wij hebben veel geleerd. (We have learned a lot.)

NOTE: If the “ik-form” already ends in -d or -t, no additional d/t is added!

  • ik zet - ik heb gezet
  • ik antwoord - ik heb geantwoord

ANOTHER NOTE: Verbs having stems ending in -v or -z get a -d ending for the past participle!

  • leven -> ik leef -> ik heb geleefd
  • verhuizen -> ik verhuis -> ik ben verhuisd

The participle does not get the ge- prefix if it begins with any of the following unstressed prefixes:

Achtung German learners/speakers - unlike in German, the end of a verb does not determine whether the prefix ge- is added:

  • studeren - ik heb gestudeerd (ich habe studiert - I have studied)
  • proberen - ik heb geprobeerd (ich habe probiert - I have tried)

Past participle: irregular verbs

Some past participles are formed irregularly.

They often undergo a vowel change:

You can find a list of irregular Dutch verbs here.

Hebben or zijn?

As stated at the beginning, both hebben and zijn are used for the perfect tense. However, hebben is used in most cases.

  • Zij heeft niet geluisterd. (She did not listen.)
  • Ik heb het mes gebruikt. (I have used the knife.)

A certain number of verbs are always conjugated using zijn:

  • Some irregular verbs such as blijven and zijn:
    • Ik ben thuis gebleven. (I have stayed home.)
    • Ik ben ziek geweest. (I have been sick.)
  • Verbs that do not involve an object and indicate a change in condition:
    • worden (to become) - Ik ben oud geworden. (I have become old.)
    • komen (to come) - Ik ben niet gekomen.

NOTE: There are some exceptions where verbs that do involve an object still use "zijn".

These are: beginnen, kwijtraken, naderen and tegenkomen

Verbs of motion can use either hebben or zijn depending on the situation. If the emphasis is on the action, then the verb hebben is used. If the destination or direction should be emphasized, then the verb zijn is used.

Achtung German learners/speakers - in contrast to German, the following Dutch verbs use zijn (bold: Dutch; italics: German; plain: English):

  • afnemen - abnehmen - to decrease
  • beginnen - beginnen - to begin
  • bevallen - gefallen - to be pleasing
  • eindigen - enden - to end
  • ophouden - aufhören - to stop
  • stoppen - aufhören, anhalten - to stop
  • toenemen - zunehmen - to increase
  • trouwen - heiraten - to marry

Return to grammar overview!

7/25/2014, 6:17:08 PM

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To remember the voiceless consonants that are followed by -t I use mnemonics 'soft ketchup'. It is much easier to remember for me :)

2/25/2016, 8:47:40 AM
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For me it's pocket fish mnemo :)

1/31/2017, 10:07:09 PM
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Love how you include warnings for German speakers, probably the most helpful part here for me :P

In Dutch, are the past simple and the present perfect identical like in German, or have a difference like in English or the Romance languages?

7/26/2014, 1:51:31 PM
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(In case anyone wants to know, they are identical like in Geman! ^^)

11/25/2017, 7:50:42 PM
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