The Dutch spelling rule explained
If you have been studying Dutch for a while, whether it has been in class or by self study, you will have come across a spelling rule that seems at first very complicated. This Dutch language rule is about forming the perfect tense and simple past and it has to do with the letters CFHKPST and, alright, X. Chances are that you are familiar with one of the “donkey bridges” below:
- ´T KoFSCHiP
- SoFT KeTCHuP
- ‘T SeXy FoKSCHaaP
- XTC CoFFeeSHoP
As you can see, the vowels are not written in capital letters, because they are not a part of the rule. They are just there so the word makes at least a little bit of sense: so you won’t forget it.
What is the rule for?
If you form the perfect tense in Dutch or the simple past in Dutch, you have two ways to write a regular verb: with a D or a T. Let’s look at some examples.
- Ik werk → Ik heb gewerkt → Ik werkte
- Ik bel → Ik heb gebeld → Ik belde
Now, why does werken get a t and bellen a d? It has to do with the last letter of the stem of the word. If the letter is in SoFT KeTCHuP, you write a T. In all other cases, you write a D.
- Stem of “werken” → -en = werk. The last letter is a K. The K is in SoFT KeTCHuP, so you write a T in perfect tense and simple past.
- Stem of “bellen” → - en = bel. The last letter is a L. The L is not in SoFT KeTCHuP, so you write a D in perfect tense and simple past.
So complicated: Why do we do this?
It all has to do with the sound of the letters. Let’s do a little exercise. Put your hand against your throat (in a gentle way ;)) and pronounce a letter that is NOT in SoFT KeTCHuP. For example, the letter A. You will feel your vocal cords vibrate. Right? Try another letter, for example the N or the V and you will feel the same.
Now do the same with the vowels that are in SoFT KeTCHuP, for example the F. You will feel absolutely nothing. And that trembleless sound combines better with a vowel that does the same. The sound of the letter T.
So, if you can’t remember one of the words in our list above, be creative and form your own donkey bridge! And in case of doubt you can always feel whether a sound causes vibration.