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Dutch Grammar

Like all other continental West Germanic languages, Dutch has a word order that is markedly different from English, which presents a problem for some Anglophones learning Dutch. A simple example often used in Dutch language classes and text books is "Ik kan mijn pen niet vinden omdat het veel te donker is" which word-for-word translates to "I can my pen not find because it much too dark is" but actually translates to "I can't find my pen because it's much too dark". This can be explained by saying that the first (main) verb goes at the beginning of the sentence while all the remaining verbs go to the end. It must also be noted that Dutch (like German) often splits larger sentences into smaller ones, each of which can have distinctly different grammatical rules depending on what is actually being said and where the emphasis is placed.

The Dutch written grammar has simplified over the past 100 years: cases are now mainly used for the pronouns, such as ik (I), mij, me (me), mijn (my), wie (who), wiens (whose: masculine or feminine singular), wier (whose: masculine or feminine plural). Nouns and adjectives are not case inflected (except for the genitive of proper nouns (names): -s, -'s or -'). In the spoken language cases and case inflections had already gradually disappeared from a much earlier date on (probably the 15th century) as in all continental West Germanic dialects.

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Inflection of adjectives is a little more complicated: nothing with indefinite neuter nouns in singular and -e in all other cases:

een mooi huis (a beautiful house)
het mooie huis (the beautiful house)
mooie huizen (beautiful houses)
de mooie huizen (the beautiful houses)
een mooie vrouw (a beautiful woman)
More complex inflection is still found in certain lexicalized expressions like de heer des huizes (literally, the man of the house), etc. These are usually remnants of cases (in this instance, the genitive case which is still used in German, cf. Der Herr des Hauses) and other inflections no longer in general use today. In such lexicalized expressions remnants of strong and weak nouns can be found too, e.g. in het jaar des Heren (Anno Domini), where “-en” is actually the genitive ending of the weak noun. Also in this case, German retains this feature.

Dutch nouns can take endings for size: -je for singular diminutive and -jes for plural diminutive. Between these suffixes and the radical can come extra letters depending on the ending of the word:

boom (tree) - boompje
ring (ring) - ringetje
koning (king) - koninkje
tien (ten) - tientje (a ten euro note)
Like most Germanic languages, Dutch forms noun compounds, where the first noun modifies the category given by the second, for example: hondenhok (doghouse). Unlike English, where newer compounds or combinations of longer nouns are often written in open form with separating spaces, Dutch (like the other Germanic languages) either uses the closed form without spaces, for example: boomhuis (Eng. tree house) or hyphenated: VVD-coryfee (outstanding member of the VVD, a political party). Like German, Dutch allows arbitrarily long compounds, but the longer they get, the less frequent they tend to be. The longest serious entry in the Van Dale dictionary is wapenstilstandsonderhandeling (ceasefire negotiation). Sometimes hottentottensoldatententententoonstellingsterreinen (hottentot soldiers tents exhibition terrains) is jocularly quoted as the longest Dutch word (note the four times consecutive ten), but outside this usage it actually never occurs. Notwithstanding official spelling rules, many Dutch people nowadays tend to write the parts of a compound separately, which is sometimes dubbed “the English disease” or "de Engelse ziekte".

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