Grammatica 1-1 ~ Introduction to Dutch grammar

Children learn their mother tongue without knowing the parts of speech such as verbs, nouns and phrases. However these are helpful for anyone attempting to learn a second language from a book or a website. Of course the children have it right: the best way to learn a language is to listen to a mother tongue speaker and simply repeat. But such a speaker may not always be available to you. This book will try to compensate this by addition of audio files, but that is still a cumbersome substitute. We do recommend that you use them as much as you can. Firefox seems to give easier access to them than other browsers.

The main lessons Dutch/Lesson 1, 2 etc. concentrate on introducing points of grammar, although there are exercises, sound files etc. Lessons 1A, 2A etc. concentrate more on practice, pronunciation drills, more conversation etc. As of June 30 2009 they are still in construction.

English speakers will find many strong parallels between their language and Dutch. Where possible we will try to point out the similarities and exploit them.

However, as noted in the introduction, Dutch grammar is more complex than English grammar, and identifying the meaning of words in a Dutch sentence is difficult without understanding the clues to word function that come from the grammatical rules. The basic lessons of this textbook are set up to first introduce the parts of speech, and then bring in the rules that govern these. Pay particular attention to sentence word order as you progress through the lessons.

Gesprek 1-1 ~ Vrienden: Jan en Karel

Read the following conversation. Use the hover method to see an instant translation of a certain word and try to piece together the meaning of the story. Once you have an idea of the gist of the story you can open up the drop down box and read the translation to see if you were right. When learning a new language it is very important to be able to deduce meaning from limited information, because you will often not know all the words used. Picking up their meaning from context is an important skill.

You will also see that Dutch sometimes strings words together a bit differently than English. Dutch word order is quite different and a difficult aspect of the language.

Jan komt Karel op straat tegen. Ze zijn vrienden.

Jan: Hoi, Karel! Hoe gaat het met je?
Karel: Hoi! Dank je, met mij gaat het goed. En met jou?
Jan: Dank je, met mij gaat het ook goed. Tot ziens.
Karel: Tot ziens, Jan!
Translation • Lesson 1 • Gesprek 1-1

Dutch pronunciation varies with region and speaker, but the following gives a reasonable idea:

'jɑn.kɔmt.'ka.rəl.ɔp.'stra.'te.ɣə(n) zə.zɛɪn.vrin.də(n)
ɦɔj,'ka.rəl.ɦu.'ɣat.ət.'mɛ.cə
ɦɔj,dɑŋ.kjə,mɛt.'mɛɪ.'ɣat.ət.xut.ʔɛn.'mɛ.'cɑʊ
dɑŋ.kjə,mɛt.mɛɪ.'ɣat.ət.'ok.xut. tɔ.'tsins
tɔ.'tsins.jɑn

Grammatica 1-2 ~ Forms

Clitic forms(Informal)

Notice the difference between "Hoe gaat het met je"? and "En met jou?". Both translate literally into with you, but there is a difference in emphasis. Jou carries emphasis (you might use this in a more formal setting, "jou" is also more frequently used in everyday language despite it being the more emphatic version), je does not (it may be informal - if you were talking to close friends). In Dutch, there are often two forms of the same pronoun: a strong one and a weak ('clitic') one. The clitic forms cannot have emphasis and the vowel in a clitic is often reduced to a neutral 'schwa' ə or omitted entirely. In colloquial English the same thing can be heard at times: seeya! instead of see you!.

Polite forms

The above conversation was between two good friends. It utilizes the familiar form of the personal pronoun (je, jou) where English uses you. However, Dutch also has a polite or formal form of the personal pronoun for the second person (you), u. Many languages have this distinction. It is e.g. comparable with Sie in German, vous in French, usted in Spanish, or Вы in Russian . When to use one or the other is not always easy to decide. Someone unknown, particularly if older, is generally u, an old friend typically je, jou. The latter roughly corresponds with the 'first name basis' in English. Notice the use of u in the conversation below.

Regional forms

In the South of the area where Dutch is spoken (Flanders mostly), people do not distinguish between familiar and polite forms, instead they use yet another pronoun gij (clitic: ge, object: u). It is used much like you in English for both singular and plural. In the North gij is only encountered in archaic phrases like: gij zult niet stelen - thou shalt not steal. This course is mostly based on northern usage as this is most widely accepted, including in Suriname and the Antilles, but some important differences will be pointed out.

Gesprek 1-2 ~ De handelaars

Push the button and listen to the following text. It is recommended to first just listen.

Please read the following conversation. It is a bit more formal than the one before. If you are not sure of the meaning of a word, hover your mouse over it, if it is underlined. A translation will pop up.

Meneer Jansen komt mevrouw De Vries tegen. Het zijn handelaars.

Have you figured out the gist yet? Then open the translation box to see if you were right:

Translation • Lesson 1 • Gesprek 1-2

Go back to the pronunciation, close your eyes and see how much you understand now. You may have to repeat the process a few times.

YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Lesson 1 • Waar of niet waar

Grammatica 1-3 ~ Introduction to pronouns

A pronoun is a short word that takes the place of a noun previously mentioned in the sentence, paragraph, or conversation.

Recall: Kent u meneer Standish? Bent u hem al tegengekomen?

Hem refers back to meneer Standish. It is a pronoun that stands for (pro- !) meneer Standish.

There is a variety of pronouns like personal, possessive, relative and indefinite ones. Let's look at the personal pronouns first.

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns are quite familiar in English: They are words like I,you,he,she,we,you and they.
At least this is the case for the subject (nominative case). As object (accusative) some of them are different:me,you,him,us,you,them. Compare:

I see you.
You see me.

Notice how I turns into me when used as an object. You remains the same.

Much like in English ik (subject) turns into mij as object in Dutch, whereas je remains the same in both roles:

Ik zie je.
Je ziet mij.

The system in Dutch resembles the English one quite a bit, after all the languages are close relatives:

Nevertheless the Dutch system is a little more involved, as we have seen there are:

In addition there are

In English he and she are reserved for animate nouns -usually persons- and this is increasingly the case in Dutch as well, certainly in Northern usage.

In English all inanimate objects can be referred to as it. However, in Dutch this is only true for het-words (neuter gender) and that leaves two thirds of all nouns uncovered.... We will revisit this awkward problem later.

Subject case (nominative)

Personsingular