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Dutch

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Introduction

Three conjugation classes: Weak, strong and irregular.

Three persons: First, second and third.

Two numbers: Singular and plural.

Three moods: Indicative, subjunctive and imperative.

Two genera verbis: active and passive.

The conjugation of a Dutch verb is not easy at all. Sometimes it is not sufficient to know how the infinitive is written, you should also know how it is pronounced, in particular where the emphasis is.

Most infinitives end in -en, sometimes by -ën. The latter is always preceded by a vowel.

There are five exceptions are: 'staan', 'gaan', 'doen', 'zien', 'zijn'. More exceptions can be made by prepending a prefix, preposition or noun to such a verb, for example: 'verstaan', 'doorgaan', 'ontdoen', 'bezien'.

An infinitive has always at least two syllables (except the five exceptions).

Preposition or Noun

Some verbs begin with a preposition (or noun). Possible prepositions and nouns are: 'door-', 'mee-', 'onder-', 'uit-', 'aaneen-', 'televisie-' and many more. A preposition or noun is always emphasised. There is no sure way to identify a preposition or noun.

Remember: When you think there is a preposition or noun, but it is not emphasised, it is not a preposition or noun. Example: 'ondergaan' ('onder-' can be a preposition but the emphasis is on gaan'). And when the remaining verb is too short to be a verb, it isn't a preposition or noun either. Example: 'uiten' ('uit can be a preposition, but the remaining '-en' is too short).

Remove the preposition or noun, if any. All further operations are done with the stripped infinitive, that is, without the preposition or noun.

Prefix

Many verbs (without the preposition or noun, if any) begin with a prefix. Possible prefixes include: 'ge-', 'ver-', 'onder-', 'be-'.

Usually the conjugation of a verb is the same with and without the prefix. For example, 'bevriezen' is conjugated just like 'vriezen' There is one exception: when a verb has a prefix, there is no 'ge-' in the past participle.

Remember: A prefix is never emphasised. And when the remaining verb is too short to be a verb, it isn't a prefix either. Example: 'vergen' ('ver-' can be a prefix, but the remaining '-gen' is too short).

Voiced of voiceless

If the third last letter of the infinitive is -t, -k, -f, -s, -sj, -ch, -p or -x, the verb is voiceless. If the third last letter of the infinitive is any other letter, the verb is voiced.

Example: 'lezen' is voiced because of the 'z'.

Stem

The stem of a verb is formed by removing the final -en or -ën and adapting the spelling (see below).

Five verbs do not end in '-en' or -ën. (These include 'zien' and 'doen', since 'ie' and 'oe' are units.) The stems of 'gaan', 'staan', 'zien' and 'doen' are 'gaa', 'staa', 'zie' and 'doe' respectively. The verb 'zijn' does not end in '-en' either, but it is irregular.

Adapting the spelling

  1. If, after removing the suffix -en, the word ends in 'v' or 'z', change it into 'f' or 's'
  2. If, after removing the suffix -en, the word ends in two equal consonants, remove one of them.
  3. If, after removing the suffix -en, the word ends in a single vowel (a, e, o, u, or emphasised e) and a single consonant (except 'uw'), double the vowel.

Examples

  • werken -> werk
  • meten -> meet (rule 3)
  • leven -> leef (rules 1 and 3)
  • duwen -> duw (exception in rule 3)
  • zitten -> zit (rule 2)
  • kantelen -> kantel (rule 3 does not apply, because -tel- is not emphasised)
  • liften -> lift (no rule applies, there are two consonants)
  • vieren -> vier (no rule applies, the vowel is written with two letters)

If the infinitive has three or more syllables, and the second last syllable contains the vowel -e-, it may be hard to know whether the last syllable of the stem is emphasised. Sometimes two different verbs have the same spelling. This problem exists in particular when the verb ends in '-eren' or '-ëren':

  • bedelen (bedélen) -> bedeel (rule 3)
  • bedelen (bédelen) -> bedel
  • programmeren (programméren) -> programmeer (rule 3)
  • donderen (dónderen) -> donder

Conjugation of weak verbs (no vowel-change in past tense)

personpresentpast (voiced)past (voiceless)
First person sing. ('ik')stem (5)stem + -destem + -te
Second person sing. (with 'jij' or 'je')stem + -t (1)(2)(4)stem + -destem + -te
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')stem + -t (2)(4)stem + -detstem + -tet
Third person sing. ('hij', 'zij', 'het', 'u')stem + -t (2)(4)stem + -destem + -te
First person plural ('wij')infinitivestem + -denstem + -ten
Second person plural ('jullie')infinitive (3)stem + -denstem + -ten
Third person plural ('zij')infinitivestem + -denstem + -ten
  • (1) No 't' is added when the personal pronoun 'jij' or 'je' comes after the verb. See also (5)
  • (2) No additional 't' is added when the stem already ends in 't'
  • (3) Obsolete: stem+t
  • (4) The 'a' is doubled before 't' in the verbs 'gaan' and 'staan': 'gaat', 'staat'
  • (5) When the word ends in '-aa', drop one a. This occurs in the verbs 'gaan' and 'staan': ik ga, jij gaat, ga jij.
  • All these forms should be followed by the prepostion or noun, if any. For example, the first person singular of 'doorwerken' is 'ik werk door'.

Present participle: For all verbs, weak strong or irregular, the present participle is: infinitive + -d. The only exception is 'wezen', its present participle is 'zijnd'. The preposition or noun is prepended, so the present participle of 'doorwerken' is 'doorwerkend'.

Past participle of weak verbs:

  • for voiced verbs: preposition/noun + ge- + stem + -d
  • for voiceless verbs: preposition/noun + ge- + stem + -t.

Note: when the verb has a prefix, there is no 'ge-' in the past participle.

Conjugation of strong verbs (vowel-change in past tense)

There is no simple rule for the past tense of strong verbs. There is no straight rule for the vowel-change. One has to learn these verbs by heart to find the right conjugation.

personpresentpast
Singularsame as weak verbspast tense
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')same as weak verbspast tense + -t (2)
Pluralinfinitivepast tense + -en (1)
  • (1) When the past tense ends in a single vowel and a single consonant the consonant is doubled in the plural (for example 'begon', 'begonnen').
  • (2) if the past tense ends in -t, add -et, for example 'kocht' 'kochtet'
  • All these forms should be followed by the prepostion or noun, if any. For example, the first person singular of 'doorgaan' is 'ik ging door'.

Exception, if the vowel is 'a', the consonant is not doubled ('mat', 'maten'), and if the consonant is 'f' or 's', it is changed into 'v' or 'z' ('las', 'lazen').

Exception to the exception: 'had', 'hadden'.

If the past tense ends in -e, the plural past tense adds only -n: 'zeide', 'zeiden'

The past plurals of 'kon', 'zou', 'zei', 'lei' are: 'konden', 'zouden' 'leiden' 'zeiden'

Irregular verbs

There is also a category of irregular verbs. These are strong. Some of them will show a combination of characteristics from both categories, others have a conjugation which is strictly their own. These verbs must also be learned by heart.

The tables below mention the irregularities only

 infinitivepast participlepresent participleimperative
 zijn, wezengeweestzijndwees!
personpresentpast
First person sing.benwas
Second person sing. (with 'jij' or 'je')bent (1)was
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')zijtwaart
Third person sing.iswas
First person pluralzijnwaren
Second person plural (with 'jullie')zijn (obs. bent)waren (obs. waart)
Third person pluralzijnwaren
 infinitivepast participlepresent participleimperative
 hebbengehadhebbendheb!
personpresentpast
First person sing. had
Second person sing. (with 'jij' or 'je') 
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')heefthadt
Third person sing.heeft
First person plural hadden
Second person plural (with 'jullie') 
Third person plural 
 infinitivepast participle
 zullen(none)
personpresentpast
First person sing.zalzou
Second person sing. (with 'jij' or 'je')zult (1)zou
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')zultzoudt
Third person sing.zalzou
First person plural zouden
Second person plural (with 'jullie')(obs.zult)zouden, (obs. zoudt)
Third person plural zouden
 infinitivepast participle
 kunnengekund
personpresentpast
First person sing.kankon
Second person sing. (with 'jij' or 'je')kunt (1)kon
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')kuntkondet
Third person sing.kankon
First person plural konden
Second person plural (with 'jullie')(obs.kunt)konden
Third person plural konden
 infinitivepast participle
 willengewild
personpresentpast
First person sing.wilwou, wilde
Second person sing. (with 'jij' or 'je')wilt (1)wou, wilde
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')wiltwildet
Third person sing.wilwou, wilde
First person plural wouden, wilden
Second person plural (with 'jullie')(obs.wilt)
Third person plural 
 infinitivepast participlepresent participle
 mogengemogen (also gemoogd, gemocht)mogend
personpresentpast
First person sing.magmocht
Second person sing. (with 'jij' or 'je')magmocht
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')moogtmochtet
Third person sing.magmocht
First person plural 
Second person plural (with 'jullie')(obs. moogt)
Third person plural 
 infinitivepast participlepresent participleimperative
 komengekomenkomendkom!
personpresentpast
First person sing.komkwam
Second person sing. (with 'jij' or 'je')komt (1)kwam
Second person sing. (with 'gij' or 'ge')koomtkwaamt
Third person sing.magkwam
First person pluralkomenkwamen
Second person plural (with 'jullie')(obs. koomt)
Third person plural 
  • (1) the 't' is dropped when the personal pronoun 'jij' or 'je' comes after the verb.

Verbs with a prefix

Some verbs have a prefix without emphasis.

Common prefixes are: ver- be- ge- ont- onder- voor-

Examples are: ervaren, verspreken, ontstaan.

These verbs are conjugated in the same way as the one without prefix (if it exists), with one exception: there is no prefix ge- in the past participle.

Infinitivepast participle
staangestaan
ontstaanontstaan
verstaanverstaan
kopengekocht
verkopenverkocht
bekopenbekocht

It is not always easy to see whether a verb has a prefix. For example, 'verbaliseren' is not prefixed and its past participle is 'geverbaliseerd'.

Verbs with a noun or a preposition

Some verbs are preceded by a separate word, usually a noun or preposition. This separate word has emphasis, unlike the prefix mentioned above. Things are complicated because that separate word is not always separate, which makes it hard to recognise it.

Infinitivepresent indicativepast participle
pianospelenspeel pianopianogespeeld
doorlopenloop doordoorgelopen
koffiedrinkendrink koffiekoffiegedronken

It is even possible that there is no spelling difference between a prefixed verb and a verb with a preposition:

Infinitivepresent indicativepast participle
vóórkomenkom voorvoorgekomen
voorkómenvoorkomvoorkomen
óverwerkenwerk overovergewerkt
overwérkenoverwerkoverwerkt

Imperative

The imperative mood has only one form in singular an one in plural. The singular form is the same as the first person present singular, the plural form is the third person. The plural is not often used.

 There is no object in the imperative. 
         Example: Loop! (walk! singular)
                  Loopt! (walk! plural)

The imperatives of 'zijn' and 'wezen' are: 'wees!', 'weest!'

Subjunctive

The verb does not change in the subjunctive mood, the conjugation is like the indicative. The word order in the sentence does change.

                         Indicative: Object-Predicate-Subject etc.
                         Subjunctive: Predicate-Object-Subject etc.?

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