Correct word order in Dutch sentences
The structure of Dutch sentences is something that many people who learn Dutch struggle with. That is not surprising. While many languages have a fixed sentence structure, Dutch has three! In this article, we look at the general rules concerning Dutch sentence structures.
There are three sentence structures in Dutch:
Sequence: Subject (onderwerp) – main verb or auxiliary (persoonsvorm) – the rest of the sentence – the infinitive or the past participle (infinitief/perfectum)
Examples: Ik fiets naar huis. (I am cycling/cycle home.) / Ik wil naar huis fietsen. (Literally: I want home to cycle.) / Ik ben naar huis gefietst. (Literally: I home cycled.)
What is striking about this is that the verbs are not all together, as is the case in English and French, for example.
Sequence: Persoonsvorm – onderwerp – the rest of the sentence – infinitief/perfectum
Examples: Fiets ik naar huis? (Literally: Cycle I home?) / Morgen fiets ik naar huis. (Literally: Tomorrow am cycling I home.) / Morgen wil ik naar huis fietsen. (Literally: Tomorrow want I home to cycle.)
In some situations, the subject and main verb or the auxiliary change places (this is called an inversion), namely:
- In questions
- If a phrase is placed at the front of the sentence, such as the word ‘tomorrow’ in the example.
Sequence: onderwerp – the rest of the sentence – all verbs
Examples: Ik neem mijn regenjas mee, omdat ik naar huis wil fietsen. (Literally: I am taking my raincoat with me because I home want to cycle.) / Ik kom te laat, tenzij ik nu naar huis fiets. (Literally: I will be late unless I now home cycle.)
In the case of a compound sentence, the clause has a different structure. The full verb form is placed in its entirety at the end of the sentence.
The ‘rest’ of the sentence
Above, we talked about ‘the rest of the sentence’ a number of times. By this, we mean all the information that further rounds out the sentence, such as information on place, time and capacity. For that part, there is an important order which is generally followed in Dutch:
time is important in the Netherlands and that is what we usually point out first in a sentence. Time can also be put at the beginning of a sentence, which always results in an inversion.
explains how something happens
the place is usually mentioned last
Look at these examples:
- Ik fiets nu snel naar huis. (Literally: I am now cycling/going to cycle quickly home.)
- Ik ga morgen op de fiets naar het werk. (Literally: I'm going tomorrow by bike to work.)
- Vandaag ga ik op de fiets naar het werk. (Literally: Today I am going by bike to work.)
Practise, practise, practise
The structure of Dutch sentences is best learned by practicing. If you want to practice properly, make sure someone corrects you when you make mistakes. Ask someone you know to help you, or come and practice at Regina Coeli. Our language trainers will discuss with you what else you can work on to bring your Dutch to the next level. And besides being corrected, you can also expect loads of compliments. That is a bit more motivating!