Dutch Grammar

Dutch Nouns

Dutch grammar is similar to German grammar and to a lesser extent English grammar. For Dutch nouns, like with German, there are different definite articles ("de" and "het" both meaning "the") for which the correct article has to be learned by experience (it is "het dorp (the village)" but "de stad (the city)"). For this, extensive reading is perfect. Words and their articles are assimilated naturally.

When you read a lot of Dutch texts you will only encounter the correct combinations of nouns and their articles, and as such it will become part of your memory. For the inflections, most usage of cases has dropped. Only some proverbs or archaic sayings make use of them (for example "De dag des Oordeels", "Judgement Day", where the word "Oordeel" gets a genitive suffix "s").

Another specific aspect of Dutch nouns is the diminutive (suffix -tje or -je):

Leg Been Little leg Beentje
Doll Pop Little doll Popje


Dutch Verbs

Strong Dutch verbs are also inflected similarly as in German or English albeit more complex than the latter (different second singular and plurals):

ik breek I break ik breek het glas I break the glass
jij/u* breekt you break jij breekt de sleur you break the monotomy
hij/zij breekt he/she breaks hij breekt met zijn ouders he breaks (splitting up) with his parents
wij breken we break wij breken met onze gewoontes we break our habits
jullie breken you break jullie breken het brood you break the bread
zij breken they break zij breken de boel af they break off (tear down) the stuff (the place)

 *see the quaint verb rule below on different conjugation for jij when changing word order for example for question

and so on with the passive tense:

ik brak I broke ik brak haar hart I broke her heart
jij/u brak you broke jij brak je hoofd erover you broke (racked) your head (brains) over it
hij/zij brak he/she broke hij brak z'n been he broke his leg
wij braken we broke wij braken net even in we just interrupted for a second (litterally, even means while)
jullie braken you broke jullie braken mij af you broke me down
zij braken they broke ze braken het verbond they broke the pact


and future tense or participle:

ik zal breken I shall break ik zal nooit de regels breken I'll never break the rules
ik heb gebroken I have broken ik heb de regels gebroken I have broken (I broke) the rules
het is brekend it is breaking het glas is brekend, het geluid van brekend glas, het brekende the glass is breaking, the sound of breaking glass, the breaking

* the latter gerundium (brekend) can be used both as a verb displaying continuous action, as an adjective, and as a noun (in Dutch as opposed to English normally the infinitive would be used for the noun form, het breken, the breaking)

Verb Difficulties - t's, dt's and t's or d's

One quaint verb rule specifies a different conjugation when the second person singular present tense is used in a question (removal of the standard -t suffix):

jij bent you are jij bent Kees! you are Kees!
ben jij are you ben jij Kees? are you Kees? (you're Kees?)
jij loopt you walk jij loopt erbij als een zwerver you walk there-with (look) like a bum
loop jij? walk you loop jij altijd? walk you always (do you always walk)? 

The Dutch form "u" which is more polite than "jij" will use the conjugation of the 3rd person singular (bent u Kees?)

Because there is no phonetic difference, a difficult aspect of Dutch verbs (even for Dutch people) is the spelling of before mentioned verbs with stem ending in "d" (ik word; become, jij wordt, you become, etc):

jij wordt you become you become pilot (you will become a pilot)
word jij become you (do/will you become) become you pilot? (will you become a pilot?)
jij brandt you burn you burn of desire (you're burning with desire)
brand jij burn you burn you of desire? (are you burning with desire?)

As you can see you can't quickly check your spelling by saying the words out loud as with lopen (loop jij, jij loopt).

Another difficult verb aspect is how to conjugate the past tense and the participles for weak verbs (verbs that don't change), with "t" or with "d":

leren, leerde learn, learned  ik leerde fietsen op een oude fiets I learned to bicycle on an old bicycle
zakken, zakte fail, failed ik zakte voor mijn examen I failed my for my exam (I failed my exam)
zakken, zakte lower, lowered de emmer zakte in de put the bucket lowered into the well
lachen, lachte laugh, laughed ik lachte me een kriek I laughed myself in a hernia
keren, keerde turn, turned ik keerde hem mijn rug toe I turned my back to him
wenden, wendde turn, turned het schip wendde de steven the ship turned the stem (the ship put about)
draaien, draaide turn, turned ik draaide de sleutel om in het slot I turned the key around in the lock
rotten, rotte rot, rotted de balken rotten weg in de natte grond the beams rotted away (rotted) in the moist earth
verkloten, verklootte screw up, screwed up ik heb mijn examen verkloot I screwed up my test
stemmen, stemde, heb gestemd vote, voted, voted ik heb gestemd voor een niet populistische partij I voted for a non-populist party

A rule for this is that if the stem of the verb ends with a letter in "fokschaap (studsheep)", it will get the "t" in the past tense and participle.


Learn Dutch Grammar by Reading

As mentioned before, don't try to understand Dutch grammar, assimilate it. Start reading texts (preferably ours) and when you're wondering about a certain noun plural or verb form just look them up on wiki or a quality online dictionary site offering inflections and conjugations.