The predicate is the main grammatical element of a clause. It provides the basic description of the state of affairs that the clause is about. A Dutch predicate always contains at least one finite verb, and may also contain other verbal elements like one or more infinitives, a past participle, or the prefix of a separable verb. The presence of such other verbal elements affects their position in the clause.
A verbal predicate consists of all the verbal elements of a clause. It always contains at least one finite verb and may also contain other verbal elements:
The following sentence is an example of a sentence with only a finite verb (kijk):
Kijk jij graag naar voetbal?
Do you like watching football?
The following sentence is an example of a sentence with a finite verb (wil) and an infinitive (voetballen):
Bart wil vanavond voetballen met zijn vrienden.
Bart wants to play football tonight with his mates.
When an infinitive occurs with a finite verb, the finite verb is usually a modal verb. After a modal verb, more than one infinitive may occur in the sentence:
Bart wil vanavond gaan voetballen met zijn vrienden.
Bart wants to go play football tonight with his mates.
It is possible to have a string of infinitives:
Zou je vanavond willen gaan voetballen?
Would you like to go play football tonight?
The following is an example of a finite verb and a past participle which together form the perfect tense:
Ik heb al jaren niet meer gevoetbald.
I haven’t played football for years.
De wedstrijd van morgen wordt afgezegd.
Tomorrow’s match is being cancelled.
Here is the same passive sentence, but now it includes the modal verb moeten. The passive auxiliary (worden) is in the infinitive:
De wedstrijd van morgen moet worden afgezegd.
Tomorrow’s match has to be cancelled.
Bel jij de trainer vanavond op?
Are you ringing the trainer tonight?
Note, however, that in a subordinate clause prefix and verb occur together:
Ik wil dat jij de trainer vananvond opbelt.
I want you to ring the trainer tonight.
In a past participle, prefix and verb also occur together, but the prefix of the separable verb precedes the perfect prefix ge-:
Heb je de trainer al opgebeld?
Have you rung the trainer yet?
As an infinitive prefix and verb also occur together. However, if the infinitive is complemented by the verbal particle te, this comes between prefix and infinitive (and all three are written separately):
Je moet de trainer nog opbellen.
You still have to ring the trainer.
Je hoeft de trainer niet meer op te bellen.
You no longer need to ring the trainer.
A nominal predicate describes a property of the subject of the sentence. Nominal predicates contain a special type of verb: one of a small group of so-called copular verbs. A copular verb may be combined with one or more auxiliaries (e.g. when the copular verb appears in the perfect tense or with a modal verb). The copular verb (together with any possible auxiliaries) is known as the verbal part of the nominal predicate. The rest of the nominal predicate does not consist of verbal elements, but of nominal elements, usually a noun or a noun group, or an adjective or an adjective group (e.g. a combination of an adverb and an adjective). This is called the nominal part of the nominal predicate.
The group of copular verbs is very small indeed. The most common ones are zijn (to be), worden (to become) and blijven (to stay, to remain). In the following examples the predicate appears in bold and the nominal part of the predicate is underlined:
Ik ben vroeger voorzitter van de roeivereniging geweest.
I used to be chairman of the rowing club.
Als ik ben afgestudeerd, wil ik leraar worden.
When I have graduated, I do want to become a teacher.
De docent bleef heel kalm toen alle studenten wegliepen.
The teacher remained very calm when all students walked away.
In the first example the copular verb (zijn) appears in the perfect tense: ben geweest. The nominal part is voorzitter van de roeivereniging (a noun group).
In the second clause of the second sentence the copular verb appears in the infinitive with a modal verb: wil worden. The nominal part is leraar (a noun).
In the first clause of the third sentence the copular verb is the finite verb and the nominal part is an adjective group: heel kalm.