The order of the sentence

[Leggi in italiano] One of the most difficult aspects of learning Dutch has been for me managing the order of the sentence. That’s something new, since I had not found it in other languages (I have never studied German, for example), and my brain was not trained yet.
One needs to find the rule applying to the specific case, where the verb should be placed, what’s its proper form (maybe even with some modals), and then add up what’s left of the sentence.
How did this work in practice? By all this thinking, in the middle of the sentence I was lost: I did not know anymore what I wanted to say🤨
But once you know the rules, with much exercise, you can (exercising both by speaking and writing! Maybe it does not look that important, but writing you train a lot your brain to the structure, and that comes then naturally when you get to speak).
Here below I summarize schematically the main rules. The rest is up to you 😉

1. Main clause (hoofdzin)

  1. Normal order: verb = 2nd position
    subject + verb + …
    Hij eet een appel – he eats an apple
    Hij heeft een appel gegeten ** – he has eaten an apple
    Wij wonen in Eindhoven – we live in Eindhoven
    Wij willen in Eindhoven wonen ** – we live in Eindhoven
    Ze komt uit Italië – she comes from Italy
    Ze was in Italië geboren – she was born in Italy
  2. Inversion: verb = 2nd position
    … + verb + subject + …
    Morgen is het weer mooi – tomorrow the weather will be good
    Morgen gaat het weer mooi zijn ** – tomorrow the weather will be good
    Op de tafel liggen jouw boeken – on the table there are your books
    Op zaterdag heb ik mijn vriendinnen ontmoet **- Saturday I have met my friends
  3. Imperative: verb = 1st position
    Let op de auto’s! – pay attention to the cars!
    Doen we dat – let’s do that

2. Interrogative clause (vraagzin)

  1. With inversion: verb = 1st position
    Eet hij een appel? – does he eat an apple?
    Wil hij een appel eten? ** – does he eat an apple?
    Wonen wij in Eindhoven? – do we live in Eindhoven?
    Hebben jullie in Eindhoven gewoond? **- have you lived in Eindhoven?
    Komt ze uit Italië? – does she come from Italy?
    Was ze in Italië geboren? ** – was she born in Italy?
  2. With vraagwoord* : verb = 2nd position
    Waarom eet je geen appel? – why don’t you eat an apple?
    Waarom heb je geen appel gegeten? ** – why have you eaten no apple?
    Waar wonen jullie? – Where do you live?
    Waar willen jullie wonen? **- Where do you want to live?
    Wat wil je studeren? **- What do you want to study?
    * e.g. waar (where), wat (what), hoe (how), wie (who), waarom (why)

3. Subordinate clause (bijzin). Verb = last position

  1. With conjunction*
    Ik hoop dat morgen het weer mooi isI hope that tomorrow the weather will be good
    Ik hoop dat morgen het weer mooi zal zijn ** – I hope that tomorrow the weather will be good
    Ze is niet aanwezig omdat ze ziek is
    – she’s absent because she is sick
    Ze is niet aanwezig omdat ze ziek is geweest– she’s absent because she has been sick
    (the subclause is in bold)
    * e.g. omdat (because), als (if), wanneer (when), toen (when – in the past)
    NB. en (and), of (or), maar (but), want (because), dus (thus) they do not hold a subclause, but rather a main clause (hoofdzin). They thus follow the rules at point 1.

4. More complex sentences

In everyday conversations and in texts you normally find sentences with more levels of subclauses, combining the rules above. It is thus important to learn well the main structures and understand which role each word/sentence has. Here below some commented examples.

  • Als het weer mooi is, gaan we naar de strand – if the weather is good, we’ll go the beach
    NB: the first sentence, starting with als, is the subclause. Thus therein the order follows the rules at point 3. The second one is the main clause with inversion (and it does thus follow the rule at point 1.2). Here the inversion is caused by the subclause, that coming first forces the main clause to place first the verb, then the subject and then all the rest. In fact, it is … (bijzin) + verbo (hoofdzin) + soggetto + …
    NB. Don’t be misled by the order: the main clause does not necessarily comes at first. The same sentence could also be rewritten as
    We gaan naar de strand als het weer mooi is.
  • Wanneer ik klaar ben, ga ik naar huis – when I’m done, I go home
    Here it is an example analogous to the previous one, and could be rewritten as
    Ik ga naar huis wanneer ik klaar ben.
  • Toen ik jong was, wilde ik altijd tekenen
    Again, the explanation above holds, plus the separation of the verb due to the modal.

** When a modal is present, or the verb is conjugated at the present or past participle, then the two parts of the verb are separated, and the second goes at the end of the sentence.

This exercise is for students of the basis school (and thus they are completely written in Dutch), and make you recognize the verbs of the two clauses and the conjunction between the two. Also this one is for students from the basischool, and makes you say which one is the hoofdzin/bijzin (Welk deel van de zin is de hoofdzin/bijzin?). Or this other website with games.
Besides these interactive tools, you can always play with sentences (even very simple ones) and make them interrogative or impose the inversion.
Or take some pieces of text, find complex structures and break them into pieces finding the parts, and finally rewriting them in a simpler form.

That’s all. Have a nice Sunday! 🙂

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