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Dutch grammar versus English grammar

Dutch grammar versus English grammar: 3 tips

Studying Dutch? If you speak English, chances are that you are studying from translation. In this article, we give you 3 tips concerning the grammatical differences between Dutch and English.

Dutch grammar versus English grammar

1. Dutch isn't English

This is an obvious one, but an important one. Learning a new language is learning a new world. It's essential to not put the frame of another language, like English, on the language you want to learn. It's like using the rules of soccer for hockey. And sometimes it's like comparing soccer and karate. There are similarities, but even within the overlap, there are differences. Keep an open mind. Find out the rules of the game, enjoy the puzzle and don't discard the rules by saying that their illogical or weird.

Of course, your process will benefit from the fact that you know English. The languages are related and you will probably book quicker progress than someone who only speaks Japanese, for example. But after a few steps, you will already notice that your English can also get in the way, especially if you don't let go of the rules you are used to.

2. Dutch word order: bring it on!

Now point one is especially important when it comes to word order. Just take a look at this example:

  • I want to buy a new bike tomorrow.

  • Ik wil morgen een nieuwe fiets kopen.

Or this one:

  • I must go now, because I have an important appointment.

  • Ik moet nu gaan, omdat ik een belangrijke afspraak heb.

Sometimes you have a bit of flexibility, but often you will have to learn where the verbs go. In the last sentence for example, "heb" is at the end of the sentence because of omdat. "Omdat" introduces a subordinate clause. Verbs go to the end of the sentence in this case.

It's not only the place of the verbs, though. Also adverbs play there own game. You might already have heard of the Dutch TeMPO-rule and the OTeMP-rule. It's a rule native speakers often can't explain, because they are unaware of it: they "just feel" how a sentence should be structured.

  • Ik ben gisteren / om half zeven / vrolijk / naar mijn werk / gegaan.

According to the TeMPO rule, we put Time (from less specific (gisteren) to more specific (half zeven)), Manner (mood (vrolijk), way, duration and more) and Place (speaks for itself) in this order. If we would have an indefinite object it would follow after "place". We don't have one in our example. If an object is definite - and especially if it's a pronoun - it's place is before "time".

It's important to know that rules like the TeMPO-rule are rules of thumb. Often you have flexibility, but if you are uncertain: follow the rule.

3. The Dutch De and Het: more than De and Het

The articles "de" and "het" are often considered a nightmare, because it's not easy to know whether a word is masculine, feminine or neuter. If you already are familiar with other languages with multiple genders and articles, you might not be surprised, but it is a difference compared to English.

The deeper you dive into the Dutch language, the more you will be aware of the impact of de and het. We will explain this by looking at some examples:

  • Dit is het boek dat ik lees.

  • This is the book that I read.

  • Dit is de wijn die zo lekker is.

  • This is the wine that is so tasty.

The underlined sentences are relative clauses. One thing we notice is that the verbs go to the end. Another is that DAT is used for the first sentence, and DIE for the second. This has to do with the fact that it's "het boek" and "de wijn".

Also adjectives, object pronouns, one form of the possessive pronouns (ons/onze) and demonstrative pronouns are under the influence of de and het.

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