Dutch grammar is complicated in some aspects, but often more simple than that in neighbouring countries (think, for example, about the Nahmfallen in German which do not exist in Dutch).

In this blog, we are going to discuss four subjects with you involving the correct use of grammar in the Dutch language. These are: the use of lidwoorden (articles), combined nouns, diminutives in the Dutch language and the different time references.

There are not necessarily all complicated, but they are important to correctly speak, write and read in Dutch. As far as possible we have always attempted to bring the in relation to their English equivalents. We have attempted to bring them as simple as possible for you. We hope the explanations can be of use for you!

The use of lidwoorden (articles) in the Dutch language

Lidwoorden, or articles in English are relatively easy in Dutch. There are no naamvallen, like in German for example, that make it more complicated. Principally there are three lidwoorden in the Dutch language. These are: de, het en een.

These are separated in bepaald and onbepaald (basically, determined and undetermined). In general, the following rules apply: de is used for male and female nouns. Het is for nouns that do not have a gender. In English, this is easier, as one only uses the.

These lidwoorden are both determined. Een is the only undetermined lidwoord. It can be placed before any noun and does not appoint a specific person or other noun, but creates a general, non-distinctive group of nouns.

We can explain this using the following example. De man loopt over straat - meaning - the man is walking over the street. Een man loopt over straat - a man is walking over the street. So actually, a and an are English for een.

So, why is it so important to know if a word is a de- word or a het-word. It is important because the spelling of the adjective before the noun changes when a het-word is changed in to an een-woord.

We can show this using the following example. Het grote raam (the big window) - een groot raam. De grote stoel (the big chair - een grote stoel. This difference in spelling is the case for every het word.

Approximately 1/3 of all of the Dutch nouns are het-words.

The following words are typically het-words:

  • All dimunitives (we will discuss the Dutch version of these below)
  • All verbs that are used as a noun (for example in Dutch: het wandelen)
  • There are a number of other categories but those have so many exceptions that we won't mention them here.
Learning Dutch is fun
Learning Dutch is a big job.

Combined nouns

The Dutch language has an exceptionally high amount of combined nouns. In the English language, these words would consist of two different words. We have listed a few examples for you:

  1. account number in Dutch is rekeningnummer.
  2. computer games in Dutch is computerspelletjes.
  3. health center becomes gezondheidscentrum

There is no need denying it. This does not make the Dutch language much easier to understand or read. The only solution is to simply learn these combinations by heart. If you stumble across a long word in Dutch, make it easier for your self and try to split it into several smaller words.

Diminutives in the Dutch language

We have divided the diminutives in the Dutch language into six sections. Now, we will discuss those one-by-one.

  1. The type: gummetje, kinnetje, gangetje, balletje. The diminutive here end with -etje. This applies to all words that end with m, n, ng or a l where the last vowel before the final consonant is a short tone. Examples are: bommetje and cd-rommetjes. The regular words here would be bom and cd-rom. Or tongetje and kringetje, where the regular words would be tong and kring. If there is one consonant after one vowel before the -etje then the consonant is doubled, like in parasolletje - where the normal word is parasol.
  2. The type leerlingetje, oefeningetje. When a woord ends with -ing and the emphasis is not on the syllable before it then you als add -etje. For example: lievelingetje - where the regular word is lieveling and wandelingetje - where the regular word is wandeling.
  3. The type karretje. When a word consists of only one syllable, contains a short tone and ends with r, you also add -etje. For example: barretje (bar), porretje (por). This also applies to combined nouns like minibarretje (minibar) and filmsterretje (filmster).
  4. The type bezempje. When a word ends with m, lm or rm and when that is proceeded by a long tone, then you add -pje. For example: albumpje (album) and riempje (riem).
  5. Het type puddinkje. When a word has more than one syllable, ends with -ing and then emphasis is on the syllable before -ing, then you add -kje. The g is left out. For example: beloninkje (beloning) and bestellinkje (bestelling).
  6. Het type streepje, taartje, hoekje, eendje, baasje, boefje. Words that end with p,t,k,d,s or f you add je. For example, popje (pop) and potje (pot). This is the most basic variation.

We will be the last one to deny that this is super complicated. Again, most Dutch people do this correct automatically. For you, there is no other option but learning the rules by heart.

The Netherlands has great views
This is a typical view of the Netherlands.

The different time references in Dutch Grammar

In Dutch there are eight different time references. That are a few more then there are in the English language.  Four of these are perfect, and four are imperfect. Perfect means that the task has been completed at the time that you are writing the sentence.

The perfect tense in Dutch always has the verb hebben or zijn in the sentence. The imperfect tense applies that a certain action has not been completed. The imperfect tense also applies when it is irrelevant whether the action has been completed.

First, we will discuss the imperfect ones:

  • OTT: onvoltooid tegenwoordige tijd - loosely this translates to imperfect present tense. Our example sentence is: Jan slaat de hond. Jan is beating the dog.  He is currently beating the dog and has not completed.
  • OVT: onvoltooid verleden tijd - loosely this translates to the imperfect past tense. Jan sloeg de hond. Jan was beating the dog and this is not completed.
  • OTTT: onvoltooid tegenwoordige toekomende tijd - loosely this is translated to the imperfect present-future tense. Jan zal de hond slaan, meaning Jan will beat the dog. It is an incomplete task, that has also not started. It will be performed in the future.
  • OVTT: onvoltooid verleden toekomende tijd - loosely this is translated to the imperfect past future tense. Jan zou de hond slaan, i.e. Jan would hit the dog. This loosely translates as the imperfect past future time.

We hope you are still with us, because here come the perfect tenses:

  • VTT: voltooid tegenwoordige tijd - loosely this is translated to perfect present tense. Jan heeft de hond geslagen. Jan has beaten the dog. The action was taken in the present and has been completed.
  • VVT: voltooid verleden tijd - loosely this is translated to perfect past tense. Jan had de hond geslagen. Jan had beaten the dog. The action was taken in the past and has been completed.
  • VTTT: voltooid tegenwoordige toekomende tijd - loosely this translates to perfect future tense. Jan zal de hond hebben geslagen - Jan would have beaten the dog. The action would have been completed in the future.
  • VVTT: voltooid verleden toekomende tijd - loosely translated as the perfect past future time. Jan zou de hond hebben geslagen - this translates identically in English.

Finally, a bit more advice in this regard.

  • In one sentence always stick to the same time
  • You can recognize the time in a sentence based on the verbs it includes. As mentioned before, the perfect tense always has the word hebben en zijn in it. The future tense always has the verb zullen in it.

We have decided to keep this as simple and not to also include the alteration of verbs with the different tenses. To learn more about Dutch verb conjugation, click the link.

Dutch grammatics are confusing
The landscape of the Netherlands.

Our conclusions about this subject

We have tried to make this blog consist of a combination of complicated and less complicated subjects in Dutch grammar. The combined nouns are not that grammatically complicated, they simply make it a language difficult to read. The approach to them is fairly unique in the Dutch language. Learning them by heart and tackling them one at a time will make them easier to grasp.

Time references and diminutives are a different story as they have some many exceptions. We can only simplify that to a certain extent. The problem is that, for some reason, Dutch people automatically seem to know it all. Dutch people are generally fairly good in their own grammar.

Keep practising as much as possible, reading helps a lot to understand grammar and it really is far from impossible. Finally, there are extensive, free online tests available that you can take to practice and to establish the level of your knowledge.

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