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Building a sentence

The Simplest Sentences

Declarative sentences make a statement about something. They are not questions. We will talk about the simplest sentences first.
Ik praatte met mijn vader. - I talked to my father.

The normal word order is:

  • subject - the person (or thing) that does something.
  • verb - what the person does.
  • object - a person or thing that is directly affected by his actions.
  • object - a person or thing that is involved in some way.
  • other remarks - for instance about time and place.

Note: time information is often placed right next to the verb.

Each category gets a number. We are going to build sentences according to this pattern.

12345
subject
 
verb
 
object
(direct object)
object
(indirect object)
other information
(time, place, etc.)

The following sentences contain the categories 1, 2, and 3. The verb is in bold font.
Ik praatte met mijn vader. - I talked to my father.
Ik draag mijn kleinzoon. - I carry my grandchild.
Ik ontmoet de premier. - I meet the prime minister.
Ik verfde de kruk. - I painted the stool.

The following sentences contain the categories 1, 2, 3, and 4. The fourth category is underlined.
Ik praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon. - I talked to my father by phone.
Ik verfde de kruk met een kwast. - I painted the stool with a brush.

The next two sentences contain five categories each.
Ik praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon in de woonkamer. - I talked to my father by phone in the living room.
Ik verfde de kruk met een kwast in de schuur. - I painted the stool with a brush in the shed.

If you want to add information about the time, you can. Letís call that category the time-category. The fourth category is still underlined, and the time-category is underlined too.
Ik praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon in de woonkamer deze week. - I talked to my father by phone in the living room this week.
Ik verfde de kruk met een kwast in de schuur op tien oktober. - I painted the stool with a brush in the shed on the tenth of October.

When a sentence has too many elements, start a new sentence and put an element in there. It is done like this:
Ik praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon deze week. Ik was in de woonkamer. - I talked to my father by phone this week. I was in the living room.
Ik verfde de kruk met een kwast op tien oktober. Ik werkte in de schuur. - I painted the stool with a brush on the tenth of October. I worked in the shed.

Declarative Sentence - Adapted Word Order

When you move an element to the front, the sentence gets a new pattern.

Moving an element (often a preposition phrase) to the front is done this way:

  • Move all the words of an element to the front of the sentence.
  • Then swap the subject and the verb, to make a correct sentence.

    This example shows how we can do it. The time-category is moved to the front. The subject and the verb exchange position.
    Deze week praatte ik met mijn vader door de telefoon. - This week I talked to my father by phone.
    Op tien oktober verfde ik de kruk met een kwast. - On the tenth of October I painted the stool with a brush.

    It seems best not to move more than one element to the front. In the following table, the phrases that were moved to the front are in red font.

    phrasefinite verbnoun (the subject)phrasephrasedot
    Deze weekpraatteikmet mijn vaderdoor de telefoon.
    Op tien oktoberverfdeikde krukmet een kwast.


    In the previous examples, the subject was just one word: ik. A subject can be very long. In the next example, the subject has three words. That does not change the method we use.
    Mijn oudste broer praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon deze week. - My oldest brother talked to my father by phone this week.
    Deze week praatte mijn oudste broer met mijn vader door de telefoon. - This week my oldest brother talked to my father by phone.

    Letís add this new sentence to the table we already made.

    phrasefinite verbsubject (a noun,
    or a noun phrase)
    phrasephrasedot
    Deze weekpraatteikmet mijn vaderdoor de telefoon.
    Deze weekpraattemijn oudste broermet mijn vaderdoor de telefoon.
    Op tien oktoberverfdeikde krukmet een kwast.

    There is just one category you cannot move to the front. That is the verb. When you do it, the sentence becomes a question. The sentence loses its meaning then.

    Declarative Sentence - Normal Word Order - Two Verbs

    Sometimes two or more verbs are needed to describe one action of a person. In the following examples, two verbs are used per sentence.
    Ik heb gepraat. - I have talked.
    Ik heb geverfd. - I have painted.
    Ik wil praten. - I want to talk.
    Ik wil verven. - I want to paint.

    The following sentences are in the past tense, but we need two verbs per sentence. Therefore we will adapt them.
    Ik praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon. - I talked to my father by phone.
    Ik verfde de kruk met een kwast. - I painted the stool with a brush.

    We make the present perfect tense to get two verbs in every sentence. The results are:
    Ik heb met mijn vader door de telefoon gepraat. - I have talked to my father by phone.
    Ik heb de kruk met een kwast geverfd. - I have painted the stool with a brush.

    The strange word order we see here is typical to the Dutch language. It occurs when a sentence has more than one verb. Here are some more examples. Note that the verbs stay together in the English sentences, but not in the Dutch sentences.
    Ik wil met mijn vader door de telefoon praten. - I want to talk to my father by phone.
    Ik wil de kruk met een kwast verven. - I want to paint the stool with a brush.

    Declarative Sentence - Adapted Word Order - Two Verbs

    If a sentence has more than one verb, we can still take an element of the sentence and move it to the front. Donít forget to swap the subject and the first verb, to make a correct sentence.
    Met mijn vader wil ik door de telefoon praten. - To my father I want to talk by phone.
    De kruk wil ik met een kwast verven. - The stool I want to paint with a brush.
    Met mijn vader heb ik door de telefoon gepraat. - To my father I have talked by phone.
    De kruk heb ik met een kwast geverfd. - The stool I have painted with a brush.

    It is best to move one element to the front at the most. This time we choose another preposition phrase to move to the front.
    Door de telefoon wil ik met mijn vader praten. - By phone I want to talk to my father.
    Met een kwast wil ik de kruk verven. - With a brush I want to paint the stool.
    Door de telefoon heb ik met mijn vader gepraat. - By phone I have talked to my father.
    Met een kwast heb ik de kruk geverfd. - With a brush I have painted the stool.

    There is just one element you cannot move to the front. That is the verb. When you do it, the sentence becomes a question. The sentence loses its meaning then. But when you really want to make a question, read the next paragraph.

    Questions - Normal Word Order

    Questions are made by swapping the subject of the sentence and the first verb. In Dutch this is not complicated.

    Ze praatte met mijn vader. - She talked to my father.
    Praatte ze met mijn vader? - Did she talk to my father?

    Hij verfde de kruk met een kwast. - He painted the stool with a brush.
    Verfde hij de kruk met een kwast? - Did he paint the stool with a brush?

    Ze heeft met mijn vader door de telefoon gepraat. - She has talked to my father by phone.
    Heeft ze met mijn vader door de telefoon gepraat? - Has she talked to my father by phone?

    Imagine you want to change this sentence to make a question:
    Deze week heeft hij geverfd. - This week he has painted.
    Rearrange the sentence first. That is an extra step that must be taken to make a question.
    Hij heeft deze week geverfd. - He has painted this week.
    And the question we are looking for is:
    Heeft hij deze week geverfd? - Did he paint this week?

    Overview Word Order in Simple Sentences

    The table below shows the sentence patterns we talked about. (A simple sentence means here a sentence without any subsentences.) Sometimes the word order of a sentence demands the use of a question mark. In those cases a question mark is shown. Otherwise the sentence is a normal sentence. The verbs are in bold font.

    Important: The second, fourth and eighth column contain a verb or nothing at all. Never place something else (like hier or met een kwast) in there.
    If you want to add more phrases to the sentence and there is no room in the table, just insert a new column between the 4th and the 8th column.

    Word order in Dutch sentences
      Hijverfdede kruk met een kwast .
     Verfdehij de kruk met een kwast ?
    Met een kwastverfdehij de kruk   .
      Hijheeftde kruk met een kwastgeverfd.
     Heefthij de kruk met een kwastgeverfd?
    Met een kwastheefthij de kruk  geverfd.
      Hijheeftde krukhiermet een kwastgeverfd.
    Hierheefthij de kruk met een kwastgeverfd.

    The last sentence and its translation is:
    Hier heeft hij de kruk met een kwast geverfd. - Here he has painted the stool with a brush.

    Sentence Headers

    Words like daarom (therefore) are often used as the header of a sentence. This kind of sentences are a response to something and are never the start of a conversation. Important words in this category are:
    daarom - therefore
    daarna - thereafter, since then
    daarmee - therewith
    daardoor - thereby
    daarop - thereon
    daarvoor - therefor
    daarin - therein, thereinto
    daaruit - thereout
    daartegen - thereagainst
    daaraan - thereon
    daar - there
    dan - then

    Most of them start with a word containing the syllable daar. Many of their counterparts are used in questions and start with a word containing the syllable waar, like waarom (why, for what reason), and waardoor (whereby). More about those interrogative adverbs you can read in the chapter about Questions.

    None of the following sentences are questions, but you can make questions by simply replacing the daar-word by a waar-word.

    Daaromverfdehij  de kruk met een kwast .
    Daaromheefthij  de krukhiermet een kwastgeverfd.
    Daarmeeheefthij  de kruk  geverfd.

    The translations of these sentences are:
    Therefore he painted the stool with a brush.
    Therefore he has painted the stool with a brush here.
    Therewith he has painted the stool.

    Word Order in Compound Sentences

    Compound sentences are two (or more) sentences joined together. They are often joined by a conjunction. Read more about conjunctions in the chapter Conjunctions.

    All verbs in this paragraph are in bold font. If you want to look for the pattern of a sentence, just look for the verbs. Verbs are the framework of a sentence. A pattern is a way a sentence is constructed. In this paragraph we will talk about two patterns:

  • the want-pattern
  • the omdat-pattern

    See the previous paragraph for the daarom-pattern.

    Joining two sentences by want (because) does not change the word order. Joining two sentences by omdat (because) changes the word order of the second sentence of the compound sentence. The second sentence is the sentence at the right side.

    The want-pattern

    The want-pattern provides the easiest way to construct a compound sentence. Use one of the following words to join two sentences together:
    en - and
    maar - but
    want - because
    dus - so the conclusion is
    of - or

    This is the easiest pattern, because it does not influence the word order.
    Ik kan dit artikel begrijpen, want ik heb Nederlands geleerd. - I am able to understand this article, because I have learned Dutch.
    Ik nam de fiets, want jij koos de auto. - I took the bike, because you chose the car.
    Jij koos de auto, want ik nam de fiets. - You chose the car, because I took the bike.
    Ik heb de fiets genomen, want jij hebt de auto gekozen. - I have taken the bike, because you have chosen the car.
    Jij hebt de auto gekozen, want ik heb de fiets genomen. - You have chosen the car, because I have taken the bike.
    Ik ben kort en jij bent lang. - I am short and you are tall.
    Ik ben kort, maar jij bent ook kort. - I am short, but you are short too.
    Hij fietst en hij schaatst. - He cycles and he skates.
    You can abbreviate this to:
    Hij fietst en schaatst. - He cycles and skates.

    What does it mean that the word order has not changed? It means that you can take the second subsentence, and treat it as a normal sentence. Just remove the first subsentence of the compound sentence, and remove the conjunction (want) also.
    Jij hebt de auto gekozen. - You have chosen the car.
    Ik heb de fiets genomen. - I have taken the bike.
    Jij bent lang. - You are tall.
    Hij schaatst. - He skates.

    The conjunctions of this type (called coordination conjunctions) can also join two questions together. Donít forget a sentence must be a logical expression.

    We will join the next two sentences. Both are questions.
    Fietst hij? - Does he cycle?
    Schaatst hij? - Does he skate?
    When we use of (if) we get:
    Fietst hij of schaatst hij? - Does he cycle or does he skate?
    When we use en (and) we get:
    Fietst hij en schaatst hij? - Does he cycle and does he skate?
    These two sentences can be abbreviated to:
    Fietst of schaatst hij? - Does he cycle or does he skate?
    Fietst en schaatst hij? - Does he cycle and does he skate?

    We will join the next two sentences. The second is a question.
    Hij fietst. - He cycles.
    Schaatst hij ook? - Does he also skate?
    When we use maar (but) we get:
    Hij fietst, maar schaatst hij ook? - He cycles, but does he also skate?

    We will join the next two sentences. The second is a sentence with a daarom-header. We already talked about it.
    Hij fietst snel. - He cycles fast.
    Daarom is hij op tijd. - Therefore he is on time.
    When we use en (and) we get:
    Hij fietst snel en daarom is hij op tijd. - He cycles fast and therefore he is on time.

    The omdat-pattern

    The omdat-pattern is the third pattern that is mentioned in this chapter. When a subordinating conjunction like omdat (because) joins two sentences, the word order of the second sentence is special. This happens when two sentences are joined together by one of the following conjunctions:
    omdat - because
    nadat - after
    waar - where
    waarmee - with which
    waardoor - by which
    waarop - on which
    waarvoor - for which
    waarin - in which
    waaruit - out of which
    waartegen - against which
    waaraan - on which
    als - if, when
    of - if
    wanneer - when
    toen - when
    dat - that
    die - that

    The word order in a normal sentence is: subject1st verbthe rest other verbs
    The word order in a question is:1st verbsubject the rest other verbs
    The word order in an omdat-subsentence is: subject the rest1st verbother verbs

    Look at the examples of the omdat-pattern to see if that is true. Donít mind the first subsentence, which does not change.

    1st subsentencecommaconjunction2nd subsentencedot
    Ik begrijp het,omdat ik Nederlandshebgeleerd.
    Ren als je op tijdwiltkomen.
    Hij weet dat ik Nederlandbengeweest.

    Ik begrijp het, omdat ik Nederlands heb geleerd. - I understand, because I have learned Dutch.
    Ren als je op tijd wilt komen. - Run if you want to be on time.
    Hij weet dat ik in Nederland ben geweest. - He knows that I have been in the Netherlands.
    Ik kan dit artikel begrijpen, omdat ik Nederlands heb geleerd. - I am able to understand this article, because I have learned Dutch.
    Ik ging elke dag surfen, nadat ik in de tuin had gegeten. - I went surfing every day, after I had eaten in the garden.
    Ik heb een fototoestel, waarmee ik bruggen heb gefotografeerd. - I have a camera, I have taken pictures of bridges with.
    Dit is het fototoestel dat ik in de vijver heb laten vallen. - This is the camera that I have dropped in the pond.
    Ik kom terug met de bus als het vanavond regent. - I will return by bus if it rains tonight.
    Ik heb de fiets genomen, omdat jij de auto hebt gekozen. - I have taken the bike, because you have chosen the car.
    Jij hebt de auto gekozen, omdat ik de fiets heb genomen. - You have chosen the car, because I have taken the bike.

    We will now simplify the last two sentences by switching from the present perfect tense to the simple past tense. It is still the same pattern.
    Ik nam de fiets, omdat jij de auto koos. - I took the bike, because you chose the car.
    Jij koos de auto, omdat ik de fiets nam. - You chose the car, because I took the bike.

    The verbs at the end of the sentence stay there, even if you make the second subsentence longer.
    Ik kan dit artikel begrijpen, omdat ik vorig jaar Nederlands heb geleerd. - I am able to understand this article, because I have learned Dutch last year.

    Overview Word Order in Simple and Compound Sentences


    The word order in a normal sentence is: subject1st verbthe rest other verbs
    The word order in a want-subsentence is: subject1st verbthe rest other verbs
    The word order in a question is:1st verbsubject the rest other verbs
    The word order in a daarom-subsentence is:1st verbsubject the rest other verbs
    The word order in an omdat-subsentence can be: subject the rest1st verbother verbs

    When the second verb is a past participle (like gone or been) the omdat-subsentence can also be made differently:

    The word order in an omdat-subsentence can be: subject the restpast participle1st verb


    Clauses with subordinating conjunctions like waar, als and toen have the omdat word order.
    Clauses with coordinating conjunctions like en and maar have the want word order.

    Phrases after the Last Verb

    The number of words that separate the verbs is often high, but it should not become too high. It is possible to place a part of the sentence after the last verb.
    Ik wil de kruk verven met een kwast. - I want to paint the stool with a brush.
    Ik heb in de tuin gewerkt met dure schoenen aan. - I have worked in the garden wearing expensive shoes.
    If you want to say something extra about the brush, move the brush to the end like this. Then it will be clear that the added information is about the brush. In the next sentences, this extra information is added.
    Ik wil de kruk verven met een kwast, die heel stevig is. - I want to paint the stool with a brush, that is very firm.
    Ik heb in de tuin gewerkt met dure schoenen aan, die daardoor zijn versleten. - I have worked in the garden wearing expensive shoes, that are worn out because of it.

    Clauses with Relative Pronouns

    In general, a relative pronoun points back to a noun mentioned earlier in the sentence. The last sentences of the previous paragraph each have a clause (subsentence) that begins with die (that). Read the chapter about pronouns to learn more about relative pronouns, like wat (that) and dat (that). The word order of this kind of subsentences is shown in the following table. It looks like the omdat-pattern. The omdat-pattern always has a subject. Here the subject is left out sometimes, but only when it is allowed.

    1st subsentence2nd subsentencedot or
    comma
    1st subsentence
    when continuing
     relative
    pronoun
    (optional)the restverbverb 
    Dat is een toeristdie Nederlandsheeftgeleerd. 
    Dat is de krukdie gisterenisgeverfd. 
    Dat is de krukdieikgisterenhebgeverfd. 
    De krukdieikgisterenhebgeverfd,staat nu in de keuken.
    Dat is het appartementdat te koopis . 
    Mijn oudste broer,die in Nederlandwoont ,praatte met mijn vader
    door de telefoon.

    The translations of these sentences are:
    That is a tourist who has learned Dutch.
    That is the stool that is painted yesterday.
    That is the stool that I have painted yesterday.
    The stool that I have painted yesterday, is in the kitchen now.
    That is the apartment, that is for sale.
    My oldest brother, who lives in the Netherlands, talked to my father by phone.

    Moving a subsentence to the front

    You can move a subsentence with an omdat-pattern to the front of the sentence, if the subsentence begins with one of these words:
    omdat - because
    nadat - after
    als - if, when
    wanneer - when
    toen - when

    Note: There are more words that can be used, but these are very important.

    In another paragraph was explained that a phrase can be moved to the front. An example of this is repeated here. A preposition phrase is moved to the front:
    Ik praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon deze week. - I talked to my father by phone this week.
    Deze week praatte ik met mijn vader door de telefoon. - This week I talked to my father by phone.
    In the example below a subsentence is moved to the front. The subject (Ik) and first verb (praatte) of the main sentence (Ik praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon) are swapped. The word order in subsentence (that is moved to the front) remains the same. That is important.
    Ik praatte met mijn vader door de telefoon, nadat ik gegeten had. - I talked to my father by phone, after I had eaten.
    Nadat ik gegeten had, praatte ik met mijn vader door de telefoon. - After I had eaten, I talked to my father by phone.
    This is another example of a subsentence that is moved to the front.
    Ik verfde de kruk met een kwast, omdat ik tijd had. - I painted the stool with a brush, because I had time.
    Omdat ik tijd had, verfde ik de kruk met een kwast. - Because I had time, I painted the stool with a brush.

    In this table, the part that is moved to the front is in red font.

    phrasefinite verbnoun (the subject)phrasephrasedot
    Deze weekpraatteikmet mijn vaderdoor de telefoon.
    Op tien oktoberverfdeikde krukmet een kwast.

    Look at the resemblance. Here is shown that subsentences are moved to the front the same way.

    subsentencefinite verbnoun (the subject)phrasephrasedot
    Nadat ik gegeten had,praatteikmet mijn vaderdoor de telefoon.
    Omdat ik tijd had,verfdeikde krukmet een kwast.

    Special patterns

    The "om te"-pattern

    In the following examples om te means to or in order to. The word te sticks to the infinitive, and moves to the back (along with the infinitive) when extra information is added to a sentence. This extra information is placed in the column named ďother wordsĒ.

    1st part2nd part
      other words infinitive (verb)dot
    Ik ga naar mijn kamerom teslapen.
    Ik ga naar bovenomuitterusten.
    Hij gaat naar de marktomgroententeverkopen.
    Ze gaat naar de marktomdaartewerken.
    Dat is het besteom tedoen.
    Het is het besteomdat nutedoen.
    Het is het besteommet die kwastteverven.

    The translations are:
    I go to my room to sleep.
    I go upstairs to rest.
    He goes to the market to sell vegetables.
    She goes to the market to work there.
    That is the best to do.
    It is best to do that now.
    It is best to paint with that brush.

    The verb uitrusten (to rest until you have had enough rest) is a compound verb. It is remarkable that the prefix uit is located between om and te in sentences having the om te-pattern.
    Ik rust uit. - I rest.
    Ik wil uitrusten. - I want to rest.
    Ik neem een dag vrij om uit te rusten. - I take a day off to rest.

    The following sentences do not need the word om.
    Leuk je te ontmoeten. - Nice to meet you.
    Ze vraagt hem de deur open te doen. - She asks him to open the door.
    Ze proberen te komen. - They try to come.

    The "aan het"-pattern

    The aan het-pattern is close to the English present continuous tense, but it is used only when it is important to emphasize an action is continuing. Dutch prefers the present tense. See the document about verb tenses.

    The two words aan het stay together.

    subjectverb (to be)other words infinitive (verb)dot
    Hijis aan hetslapen.
    Wezijn aan hetuitrusten.
    Hetisnu hardaan hetregenen.
    Hijisgroentenaan hetkopen.
    Zeisop de markt groentenaan hetverkopen.

    The translations are:
    He is sleeping.
    We are resting.
    It is raining hard now.
    He is buying vegetables.
    She is selling vegetables in the market place.

    You can add a clause (or a preposition phrase like op de markt) to the end of sentence.

    subjectverb (to be)the rest infinitive (verb)clause or
    preposition phrase
    dot
    Hijis aan hetanalyserenof het goedkoper kan.
    Hijis aan hetuitleggendat het goedkoper kan.
    Hijishunaan hetuitleggendat hij kwaliteit wil.
    Hetwashardaan hetregenentoen de trein stopte.
    Zeisgroentenaan hetverkopenop de markt.

    The translations are:
    He is analysing if there is a cheaper way.
    He is explaining there is a cheaper way.
    He is explaining to them he wants quality.
    It was raining hard when the train stopped.
    She is selling vegetables in the market place.



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