Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"je gaat" vs "ga je"

Conjugating a verb in Dutch is not too difficult, but you will need to understand the following principals: find the stem of the verb, that will be the first person singular, add a 't' to it to get the second and third person singular and add 'en' to the stem to get all the plural forms.

Let's take an easy one: werken (put your mouse on top of the word to see the translation)
ik werkik werk als receptionist
jij/je werktjij werkt thuis
hij/zij/het werktMark? Hij werkt vandaag niet.
wij werkenwij werken op het postkantoor
jullie werkenDag collega's, jullie werken hard!
zij werkenJan en Bart, zij werken op maandag

Now, there is one very interesting thing in Dutch, sometimes the verb and the subject change place in the word order of the sentence. Then you get sentences like this:

Ik werk vandaag alleen, morgen werk ik met mijn collega.
Hij werkt op het bureau, maar werkt hij morgen thuis?
Wij werken nu niet, maar straks werken wij wel.

So mostly everything stays the same, the conjugation doesn't change, it is just that the subject and the verb changes places. But, for the second person singular, "jij" or "je", it will loose the 't' that we had attached to the stem:

Jij werkt vandaag alleen, morgen werk je met een collega.
Je werkt op het bureau, maar werk jij morgen thuis?
Jij werkt nu niet, maar straks werk jij wel.

Keep in mind that this is only for the second person singular! A very common mistake is to talk about "your father" ("je vader") and mistake this 'je' as the subject (as it is written the same as the second person singular), while the subject is actually je vader.

Je vader werkt vandaag alleen, morgen werkt je vader met een collega. (hij werkt!)

Got it? I am sure this hasn't been too hard, so now you know how to conjugate a Dutch verb in the present form.

Once you get these rules, the only difficulty is to find the stem. In general, you take the full verb (werken) and drop the "-en" at the end: werken. Simple as that.


So here we are, only four simple verbs and we already bump on a typical Dutch particularity. Have you all seen that with "zeggen", we cross out not only the "-en" but also left only 1 'g'? So the stem is: zeggen.

The reason is actually simple, but you have to understand the Dutch pronunciation for that. The stem is "zeg", and the 'e' has a short sound. If we would just add "-en" to that stem, we would get "zegen" where the 'e' has a long sound: zeeeee-gen.
But we want the pronunciation 'zeg-en', you can hear it at Wiktionary. To guard that short sound, an extra 'g' is added to the verb and to the plural persons: zeggen. So the stem of "zeggen" is not "zegg" (because that just looks weird in Dutch), but "zeg".

When after a vowel appear two times the same consonant, then that vowel is pronounced as a short sound. If only one consonent appears after a vowel (and that consonant is not the last letter of the word!), then that vowel is pronounced as a looooong sound.

But, I hope you noticed that "worden" and "drinken" do not fall into this category as the 'o' and the 'i' sound of these verbs are short and it is not twice the same consonant following the vowel, thank you very much!

More such verbs:


We also have a similar issue, but then the other way around. Take a verb like huren. The sound of the 'u' is long "huuuu-ren" (because there is only 1 consonant 'r' after the 'u' and the word is not yet finished: 'huren', listen to the pronunciation at Wiktionary). Because we want to preserve the long sound of the 'u', we can't write the stem as 'hur', as that would imply a short 'u', but we have to write it as 'huur'.

Or another one: halen. The sound of the 'a' is long "haaaa-len" (because there is only 1 consonant 'l' after the 'a' and the word is not yet finished: 'halen'). Because we want to preserve the long sound of the 'a', we can't write the stem as 'hal', but we have to write it as 'haal'.

For example:

Wow, wait a second, what happened there to "geven" where the stem changed to "geef"? I understand the double 'e' by now, but why did the 'v' change to an 'f'?
And what about "laten", where there came no extra 't' for the second and third personal singular?
On top of that, don't get me started on "gaan"...

Hmmm, for "geven", it is about voiced and unvoiced consonants. In Dutch, a word can't end on a 'z' or a 'v', these letters will change to 's' or 'f'. So "geven" will become "ik geef". And the verb 'lezen' will become "ik lees".

When the stem of a verb ("laat" for "laten") already ends on a 't', then no extra 't' has to be added in the second or third person singular. Why? Because it else it would look funny.

I guess we can coin 'gaan' as one of the irregular verbs. And what is a (living) language without irregularity? We even got more:

jij/jebenthebtzult, zalkunt, kan

Ha, in your face, regularity! By the way, don't forget the "jij/je" rule for switching the subject and verb from place:
"Jij hebt een mooie broek, heb je die te leen?"
"Jij bent hier, of ben je daar?"

Assignment: conjugate the verbs 'lezen', 'vervelen', 'durven', 'leren' and 'liggen' and give some example sentences in which you use them.


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