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Dutch sentence structure

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In this chapter you will learn the basic Dutch sentence structure. You can find the explanation of the Dutch main clauses, negations and interrogatives.  

Elements in Dutch sentences 

The Dutch sentences contains various elements; the most important are subject, verb, the direct object and the indirect object: 

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1) The subject (onderwerp)  

The subject is the person, or object that performs the action in a sentence. The subject can be one or more words.  

To find the subject in de sentence, you can ask the question: 'Who or what does something in the sentence?' 

Hij gaat morgen naar school.He is going to school tomorrow.Hij (he)
Paula eet veel kaas.Paula eats a lot of cheese.Paula

enlightenedNot all sentences have a subject, for example sentences with an imperative have no subject.  

2) The finite verb (persoonsvorm)

The finite verb tells you what something or someone is doing. A sentence can contain multiple verbs, but only one is the finite verb.  

To determine what verb of the sentence is the finite one, you can change the tense of the sentence. The verb that changes when doing this, is the finite verb.  

ExampleTranslationFinite verb
Zij kookt eten vanavond.She cooks dinner tonight.Kookt (cooks)
Herman en Helma zijn tien jaar getrouwd.Herman and Helma have been married for ten years.Zijn (have)

3) The direct object (lijdend voorwerp)

The direct objects undergo the actions of the sentence.  

ExampleTranslationDirect object
Ik eet een banaan.I eat a banana.Banaan (banana)
Zij zoeken een boek.They are looking for a book.Boek (book)

enlightenedNot all sentences have direct objects.  

4) The indirect object (meewerkend voorwerp)

The indirect object is the one which receives the direct object of the sentence.  

ExampleTranslationIndirect object
Ik ga naar het strand met mijn moeder.I go to the beach with my mum.Mijn moeder (my mum)
Hij geeft de rozen aan haar.He gives her roses.Haar (her)

enlightenedNot all sentences have direct objects.  

5) The prepositional object (voorzetselvoorwerp)

The prepositional object is a part of the sentence with a fixed preposition. The prepositional object always starts with a preposition that belongs to the main verb in the sentence. 
To find the prepositional object the following three aspects are important:

1. The part of the sentence starts with a preposition. 
2. The preposition can not be replaced by another preposition without changing the meaning of the sentence. 
3. The preposition forms a fixed combination with the predicate. 

ExampleTranslationPrepositional object
Ik wacht op de bus. I wait for the bus. Op de bus (for the bus)
Hij lijkt op zijn moeder. He looks like his mum.Op zijn moeder (like his mum)

6) Adverbial clause

In Dutch the adverbial clause gives more information about what is expressed in the predicate. The adverbial clause can consist of:

  • An adverb 
  • A noun 
  • A part of the sentence with a preposition 
  • A subclause 

You can find the adverbial clause by asking one of the following questions:

  • Where?
  • When?
  • How?
  • How many?
  • How often?
  • Where to?
  • Why?
  • With what? 
ExampleTranslationAdverbial clause
 Gisteren ging hij zwemmen.Yesterday he went swimming.Gisteren (yesterday)
Ik heb vijftig kilometer gefietst.I biked fifity kilometers. Vijftig kilometer (fifty kilometers)

Types of Dutch sentences

1) Dutch main clauses

The Dutch main clauses are independent sentences.

  • Ik blijf thuis. = I stay home.
  • Mijn ouders zijn oud. = My parents are old.

2) Dutch negative clauses

The Dutch negation is indicated by 'niet' or 'geen'.

  • Sara heeft geen broer. = Sara has no brother.
  • Het eten is nog niet klaar. = The meal is not ready yet.

3) Dutch interrogatives

The Dutch interrogatives are formed by having the verb and the subject switch places.  

  • Hoe is het weer? = How is the weather?
  • Hebben jullie al een tafel gereserveerd? = Have you already booked a table?

4) Dutch conditionals 

A conditional is used to describe a certain proviso and the result if the condition is fulfilled.

  • Als het regent, neemt zij een paraplu. = When it rains, she takes an umbrella. 
  • Als hij meer had gestudeerd, zou hij al afgestudeerd zijn. = If he had studied more, he would have graduated already.

5) Dutch relatives

The relative clauses are used to refer to something in the main clause. The clauses begin with a relative pronoun or adverb.

  • Ik hoop dat ze niet te laat aankomen. = I hope they do not arrive too late.
  • Wij hebben jouw zus ontmoet met wie Jan nu danst. = We have met your sister with whom Jan is dancing now.

6) Dutch conjunctions

A conjunction usually connects sentences (or sentence parts). The Dutch language knows two kinds of conjunctions:

  1. Nevenschikkende voegwoorden (coordinating conjunctions)
  2. Onderschikkende voegwoorden (subordinating conjunctions)


  • Ze eten bananen en peren. = They eat bananas and pears. 
  • Ik zou graag Nederlands leren omdat een belangrijk taal is. = I would like to learn Dutch because it is an important language.

And now train your skills with the exercices below!

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