Dutch Inflection
February 15, 2017 5:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm (slowly and without a great deal of investment) learning Dutch. Could you explain to me as you would to a child how to get Inflections right? Also, whilst you're here and talking about dutch grammar, what is most likely to confuse me going forward?

At the moment I'm fairly randomly just adding an e on the end of adjectives.
I've had a quick read around the subject, but I am not a linguist and quite often forget which one is a verb and which is an adjective, let along definteness, genders and so on.

Additionally and secondarily, what do you think is the most confusing thing about going from English to Dutch? What should I look out for?
posted by Just this guy, y'know to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
As you've probably noticed, Dutch nouns come in two genders: the first is masculine/feminine, and the second is neuter. You recognise them by their article, masculine/feminine nouns get the article "de" and neuter nouns get the article "het".

Adjectives that are preceded by a definite article (de, het, deze, die, dit, dat...) always get an extra "e" at the end:
De kleine hond
Het kleine huis

Plural is always "de", never "het":
De kleine honden
De kleine huizen

Diminutives are always "het", unless they're plural:
Het kleine hondje
Het kleine huisje
De kleine hondjes
De kleine huisjes

Now you might be wondering, why did I write so much about articles? Well, here's the rub: adjectives that are preceded by no article or by the indefinite article "een" only get the extra "e" if the definite article would have been "de":
Een kleine hond
Een klein huis
Kleine huizen
Kleine honden
Een klein hondje
Een klein huisje
Kleine hondjes
Kleine huisjes

(Go ahead and compare this list with the corresponding words above.)

That's about all there is to it. I know it's pretty annoying to have to learn the gender of every noun, and I'm afraid there isn't really any trick that would make it easier. On the bright side, there isn't much of a penalty to getting it wrong, Dutch people will still understand what you mean if you mess up the articles or if you paste an extra "e" where there shouldn't be one. So don't sweat it too much.

Hope this helps!
posted by Caconym at 6:15 AM on February 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

When you learn a noun in Dutch, learn it as a set of things: the article (de or het), the singular form, and the plural form. If you memorize that, and also memorize the table that Caconym laid out, you will get more comfortable with when to use the -e.

I find that learning a new language requires memorizing a great deal at the beginning. If you're still fuzzy on the difference between adjectives and verbs, then I would work on getting that sorted out in your head first before going forward. Then I would sit down and memorize the basic conjugation of regular verbs in the present tense.
posted by colfax at 6:49 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Excellent suggestions above. The only thing I want to add is that you need to hear it in action. There's a national tv website for immigrants that subtitles daily tv shows in English and other languages. (News is NSFW if you don't live in The Netherlands at the moment as we have our little geriatric golden shower gate going on. Also we have no shame, so brace yourself.)
If you want to do this without training wheels, there's always radio. Radio 1 is our national news station, broadcasting formatted chit chat.
Also don't worry about giving or taking an extra -e. Everybody's doing it. The youngest generations in Amsterdam grew up using a street language (Arabic/Berber/Sranan/English/Dutch crossover). I teach college, all my students mix it up.
posted by ouke at 7:52 AM on February 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you're still fuzzy on the difference between adjectives and verbs, then I would work on getting that sorted out in your head first before going forward.


Basically (and this is very basic and broad):

Nouns: things (car, house, cat)
Verbs: actions (driving, running, sleeping)
Adjectives: words that describe nouns (green, big, sweet)
Adverbs: words that modify either an adjective or a verb (very, incredibly, slowly)

There are many categories, but getting the basic grammatical units straight in your head would be really helpful.

(In the sentence above, you have the following verbs: are, getting, would be and the following adjectives: many, basic, grammatical, helpful. I hope this helps you see the difference!)
posted by kariebookish at 7:54 AM on February 15, 2017

If you've never spoken German before, geen is kind of a tricky concept to understand. I also have a lot of trouble with word order in dependent clauses. The latter is probably a little ahead of where you are, but you'll get to it soon enough.

I tried learning Dutch for years on my own, getting books from my college's library, buying my own from B&N, reading websites, and nothing stuck. Finally, after I'd given up on Dutch, I traveled to Switzerland and got the urge to learn German. As I was close to beating the Duolingo German course, I saw they offered a Dutch course as well. I started that, and it was embarrassingly easy. Two lessons from that experience:

-Use Duolingo.
-Learn German first. This is kind of a joke, but German is a pretty hard language, with a lot of obscure rules. Dutch is SO MUCH easier. Dutch is like what an English speaker wishes German would be.

I've found Dover's Essential ____ Grammar series to be extremely helpful once you've built up a small vocabulary. Short and to the point, but thorough. My bookshelf tells me the Dutch version is by Henry R. Stern.

As I always recommend in language learning AskMes, I find reading American news in foreign newspapers quite helpful for language learning. In the Netherlands, you're looking for NRC Handelsblad, De Volkskrant, Trouw, and maybe De Telegraaf.

I might also suggest that, before diving too deep into other languages, that you take a quick refresher on English as well. I was lucky in that I had really outstanding grammar instruction in English growing up, which has allowed me to pick up other languages easily even in my 30s, well after language learning is supposed to stop being easy. Build your foundation in English so that you can then build on top of it in Dutch.

Now, ik eet een boterham!
posted by kevinbelt at 8:27 AM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Word order can be challenging when you're learning Dutch as an English speaker. It's not bad once you get the rhythm of it, but it takes practice. Duolingo is very helpful with this.

Saying numbers greater than 21 is also a bit tricky; for example, instead of "sixty-five", you say "vijfenzestig", which literally translates to "five and sixty".

Finally, when it comes to pronunciation, spend plenty of time learning how to say the vowel combinations. Your English-speaking instincts can lead you wrong when you see vowels.
posted by neushoorn at 8:34 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

This reddit post has some useful links. Particularly the two Learning Pack links.

Veel succes !!
posted by humboldt32 at 9:36 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Re: word order, I always learned the acronym TMP — time, manner and place. So you'd say "We go at noon by bike to the cinema." Now, my Dutch is not so great but that would be something like "Wij gaan op middag met fiets naar de bioscope."

TMP. Memorize that and you're golden.

Also, DutchGrammar.com is a helpful resource.
posted by Brittanie at 11:01 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also the same as German, and the reason I ask my English speaking Dutch friends what they *really* meant, is a difference in telling the time: 'half zes' is 'half *to* six' - 5:30 - and not, as in English, 'half *past* six'. It's gratifying to know that they make the same mistake speaking English that I do speaking Dutch.

That aside, they do what we do with things on other things: things stand on things, things sit on things, things lie on things, and there's some weird unwritten rule about which word you should use. Whatever the rule is, I can't remember it, but I do remember I was never right. People will appreciate what you mean and likely not correct you, so don't worry about it. (They rarely correct you, as you've probably worked out, they just start speaking English - or, in one particularly memorable moment in the country and in the height of tourist season, German, which confused the life out of both of us.)

As for the 'e', as above, in the special times it happens it's always with het words, and as it turns out there are few enough het words outside of the diminutives and the ones derived from verbs (things like 'het eten', 'the eating') that if you go with the extra 'e' you're right almost all of the time. It's one of those rules where I did pick it up, eventually, but not because I was thinking about it, just because it feels like the right thing to say.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 11:52 PM on February 15, 2017

Thanks for the good advice all!

Some closing thoughts:
1) I was exaggerating a little when I said I didn't know what an adjective was. I do know that, but in general grammatical terms are not forefront in my skillset.

2) I do use Duolingo. I am currently Level 11 in dutch and I set up the Mefi dutch club) . It's good advice!

3) Rather than american news I might look for British news, but I get the idea. Possibly also kinderboeken soon. I might see if I can get dutch Harry Potter.

4) I'm amused at Dutch being the super easy version of German, because my wife is learning german. This is going to just like when we decided to learn instruments and I chose guitar and she chose violin.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:05 AM on February 21, 2017

Just allow me to say that you seem to make better choices than your wife.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:21 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

things stand on things, things sit on things, things lie on things, and there's some weird unwritten rule about which word you should use.

Not even kidding. Duolingo just threw at me "ik zit te slapen", which translated literally would seem to be "I sit to sleep" but (according to the app) actually means "I am sleeping". In fact this entire practice session, which I am making so many mistakes on that I may never escape it, seems to be designed to taunt me with unfathomable uses of "sit" and "stand" and "lie".
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:18 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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