Sentence structure and word order 6
Specific types of subordinate clauses 4
Om + te + infinitive 2
Order and position of other elements in the clause 2
First and final position
The beginning and the end of a clause (first and final position) often carry the most important information.
The first position has an important highlighting function, it signals what the sentence is about, its topic. In imperatives and yes/no questions (including either/or-questions) it is taken up by the verb, and in question-word questions it is the question word itself. In subordinate clauses it is the subordinating conjunction (or a relative pronoun in the case of relative clauses).
In a declarative sentence the first position may be filled by the subject or by an adverbial adjunct that provides a context for the sentence. This may be an indication of when something happened (adverbial of time), where something happened (adverbial of place) or how something happened (adverbial of manner). The element in first position may also be an object and it can even be a subordinate clause.
In Nederlandse cafés kun je ook de hele avond thee of koffie drinken. (adverbial adjunct of place)
In Dutch cafés, you can also drink tea or coffee all night long.
Morgen gaan Alan en zijn vrienden op vakantie. (adverbial adjunct of time)
Tomorrow Alan and his friends are going on holiday.
Met de fiets ben je er snel. (adverbial adjunct of manner)
On your bike you get there quickly.
Pannenkoeken met jam lust ik ook. (direct object)
Pancakes with jam I like as well.
Toen de vakantie voorbij was, gingen de kinderen weer naar school. (temporal subordinate clause)
When the holiday had finished, the children went back to school.
In speech, the final position in a Dutch clause often carries the main stress and therefore also has a highlighting function: it signals something new or important, or it makes a contrast. This may be a (non-finite) verb, but it can also be another element. This is why we say that an inifinitive, past participle, verbal prefix or verbal cluster does not occur at the end of a clause, but towards it: something else can follow. Another way of looking at it is that a clause has a penultimate position and a final position. The penultimate position is reserved for verbal elements and the final position for important information. (It does not have to be filled: a main clause with just a finite verb does not have any other verbal elements.) Elements that typically come after the non-finite verb(s) of a clause are subordinate clauses, prepositional phrases or very long (‘heavy’) constituents.
De kinderen zijn weer naar school gegaan, toen de vakantie voorbij was.(temporal subordinate clause)
The children went back to school, when the holiday had finished.
Je kunt soep alleen eten met een lepel. (prepositional phrase)
You can only eat soup with a spoon.
Gisteren heb ik een fiets gekocht die voor alle terreinen geschikt is.
Yesterday I bought a bike that is suitable for all terrains.
Gisteren heb ik een fiets die voor alle terreinen geschikt is gekocht.