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
Sentence structure in main clauses
In a Dutch main clause there are different positions for the finite verb and any other possible verbal element, i.e. an inifinitive, past participle or verbal prefix of a separarble verb. It is also possible to have more than one verbal element in addition to the finite verb. There are also rules for the order of such elements.
In main clauses the finite verb occurs in first or second position, depending on the sentence type. In imperatives and yes/no questions (including either/or-questions) it occurs in first position, in declarative sentences and question-word questions in second position.
Neem de eerste straat rechts. (informal imperative)
Take the first street on your right.
Doet u uw jas uit. (formal imperative)
Take off your coat.
Studeer je in Sheffield? (yes/no question)
Do you study in Sheffield?
Studeer je Nederlands of Spaans? (either/or-question)
Do you study Dutch or Spanish?
Wat studeer je? (question-word question)
What do you study?
Ik studeer Nederlands. (declarative)
I study Dutch.
In declarative sentences the subject tends to precede the finite verb, as in the example above where ik is the subject. However, it is not uncommon to find another element before the finite verb. In that case the subject immediately follows the verb. This phenomenon is called inversion.
If a sentence contains a finite verb and an infinitive, the infinitive (bold in the examples; finite verb underlined) appears towards the end of the sentence:
Ik ga weer studeren.
I am going to study again.
We gaan iets drinken in het café.
We are going to drink something in the bar.
This pattern also applies to sentences with a past participle (bold in the examples):
Ik ben naar Antwerpen geweest met Marina.
I have been to Antwerp with Marina.
Eerst zijn we naar het museum gegaan.
First we have been to the museum.
Vanaf de boot hebben we de havens bezichtigd.
From the boat we have viewed the port.
The same thing happens with separable prefixes (separable prefixes in bold):
Je steekt hier het kruispunt over.
You cross the crossroads here.
Hanna stelt Karin voor aan Alan.
Hanna introduces Karin to Alan.
If a main clause contains more than one infinitive, or a past participle and one or more infinitives, these elements occur together in a so-called verbal cluster towards the end of the clause. In these cases, the following word order arrangements apply:
1. One auxiliary, one past participle
If the cluster consists of an auxiliary for the perfect tense or the passive (i.e. forms of hebben or zijn) plus a past participle, the order is free. In the example below, the modal verb moet is the finite verb, hebben is the perfect tense auxiliary and gegeten the past participle. The order of hebben and gegeten is free and there is no difference in meaning between the two sentences.
Voor de training moet je hebben gegeten.
Voor de training moet je gegeten hebben.
Before the training you must have eaten.
2. One modal verb, one infinitive
If the cluster consists of a modal verb plus an infinitive, the modal verb usually precedes the infinitive. Note, however, that for some speakers of Dutch the reverse is also acceptable. This often depends on regional variation. There is no difference in meaning.
Als student Nederlands moet je woordjes kunnen leren.
As a student of Dutch you must be able to learn words.
3. One modal verb, more infinitives
If the cluster consists of a modal verb plus more infinitives, the main verb (i.e. the verb carrying most meaning) comes last. The order of the (modal) auxiliaries depends on the intended meaning. The two sentences below have different meanings.
Als student Nederlands zou je woordjes moeten kunnen leren.
As a student of Dutch you should be able to learn words.
Als student Nederlands zou je woordjes kunnen moeten leren.
As a student of Dutch you might have to learn words.
4. Two auxiliaries, one past participle
If the cluster consists of a past participle and two auxiliaries, there are three possible variations in their order, depending on regional variation and/or style, but without a difference in meaning. In the following examples the first variant is typical of standard spoken Dutch in the Netherlands, and the second one of standard spoken Dutch in Belgium. The third variant is more typical of a written style.
Als student Nederlands zal je veel woordjes geleerd moeten hebben.
Als student Nederlands zal je veel woordjes moeten geleerd hebben.
Als student Nederlands zal je veel woordjes moeten hebben geleerd.
As a student of Dutch you will have had to learn many words.