GRAMMAR: An introduction to the two most crucial rules of Dutch sentence structure

In this blog post, I’ll be introducing you to the two most important rules of the Dutch sentence structure. The Dutch sentence structure is quite infamous for being so annoyingly rigid but I’m here to explain to you how you can turn this structure into an advantage. The only thing that you need to understand is that the structure of the main clause repeats itself endlessly and that there are almost no exceptions to this.

RULE NUMBER 1: VERB = SECOND POSITION

1. STATEMENTS & FULL SENTENCES

In statements or full sentences, the conjugated verb (meaning, the verb that corresponds to the subject and will change form accordingly) will always come in second position, with the subject before or after it. Let’s look at some examples.

OPTION 1: Subject first

SubjectVerbRest
Ikkomnaar huis.
Mijn vaderwoont in België.
Ikhebdrie kinderen.
Mijn broerwerktbij een bedrijf in Brussel.
Ikga‘s avonds altijd naar de gym.

OPTION 2: Time first (*)

TimeVerbSubjectRest
Morgenkomiknaar huis.
‘s Avondsgaikaltijd naar de gym.
Op dinsdagbrengik de kinderen naar school.
In het weekendmaakik een wandeling in het park.
Volgende weekhebikvakantie.

(*) We could also put other elements other than time in the beginning of the sentence. For example, it’s also very common to put the location at the beginning of the sentence.

LocationVerbSubjectRest
In het parkspelende kinderen.
In Belgiësprekende mensenveel talen.
In de supermarktishet etenheel goedkoop.

It’s even possible to put other elements like objects at the beginning of the sentence but that is much rarer. Most of the times, a time reference would be the most likely element to go in the beginning of the sentence.

2. QUESTIONS

In questions, the conjugated verb (meaning, the verb that corresponds to the subject and will change form accordingly) will always have the subject to follow. The exact position of the verb itself changes only for yes or no questions when the verb takes first position. Let’s look at some examples.

OPTION 1: OPEN QUESTIONS

Question wordVerbSubjectRest
Waarwoonjij?
Waargajijnaartoe?
Hoegajijnaar het werk?
Met wiewerkjijsamen?
Watishaar beroep?
Welke filmsvindjeleuk?
Hoe vaakgaanjullienaar de gym?

OPTION 2: YES/NO QUESTIONS => VERB TAKES 1ST POSITION!

VerbSubjectRest
Woonjijin België?
Komjijuit Brussel?
Woontjouw vaderin Brugge?
Werkjijmet kinderen?
Iszijeen tandarts?
Houjevan romantische komedies?
Gaanjullievaak naar de gym?

RULE NUMBER 2: EINDGROEP = ALWAYS AT THE END

Whatever other verbs we might want to add to the sentence, they would go into a category which we call “eindgroep”, the end group, literally the final frontier of the sentence. Let’s look at some examples.

OPTION ONE: INFINTIVE

Subject/Time (/….)Verb(Subject)RestEindgroep
Ikwil in België wonen.
Mijn vadermoetde rekeningenbetalen.
Wijgaanvanavond in een restauranteten.

OPTION TWO: SEPARABLE ELEMENT OF SEPARABLE VERBS

Subject/Time (/….)Verb(Subject)RestEindgroep
Ikstain de week altijd om zeven uurop.
Morgenkomikom zeven uur op het stationaan.
Mijn vrienddoetna het diner altijd zijn computeruit.

OPTION THREE: PARTICIPIUM IN PAST PERFECT TENSE

Subject/Time (/….) Verb(Subject) Rest Eindgroep
Wijhebbengisteren tot 9 uurgewerkt.
Ikbenin het weekend naar de zeegegaan.
Julliehebbendeze week te weinig Nederlandsgestudeerd.

AT THE END MEANS AT THE END!

I’ve constructed the following examplary, quite radical sentences for you, just to show you that the conjuction of subject and conjugated verb on the left side and the eindgroep on the right side form the absolute and final beginnings and endings of the Dutch sentence. It’s comparable to the flexibility of a pair of pasta tongs in which everything in the middle of the sentence is equivalent to the spaghetti you’re taking out of the pot and holding in between the tongs. This basically means that following sentences are grammatically correct (even though you’d be a bavoon to speak like that, Dutch is weird, but not that weird):

Ik ga morgenavond om zeven uur met de vrienden van mijn oude school in het restaurant naast het huis van mijn ouders in het centrum van de stad dineren.

Ik moet vanmiddag om twaalf uur de vergadering over de economische problemen in het zuiden van Europa organiseren.

EXERCISES

To practice Dutch verb position, check out these exercises on Taalmenu.

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