Interrogative sentence typically ask a question, although they may also present commands, and conversely, declaratives can have the force of an interrogative. Questions in Dutch can be formed in four different ways:
Question-word questions are also known as wh-questions. Wh-questions always start with the sentence with a question word, immediately followed by the finte verb. This means that they have the same word order as a declarative (often with inversion). Different types of question words, and the most common question words in Dutch, are discussed in the course on question words.
Yes/no-question are questions to which the answer can be either’yes’ or ‘no’. In this type of question the verb is placed in the first position and the subject will comes second (see also inversion):
Kan ik je helpen?
Can I help you?
Werken jullie ook?
Do you work too?
Either/or-questions provide a choice, as in the following examples:
Studeer jij Nederlands of Spaans?
Do you study Dutch or Spanish?
Regeert er in België een coalitie of zit er één partij in de regering?
Is there a coalition government or a one-party government in Belgium?
The addressee is expected to choose an answer from the options offered. So the reply to the first question is expected to be either ‘Dutch’ or ‘Spanish’, not another language. The word order in either/or-questions is the same as in yes/no-questions: the verb comes in first position.
Question tags are very common in English: they are expressions like aren’t you? or isn’t it?, which follow statements and turn them into questions. Dutch statements can also be turned into questions by attaching so-called question tags at the end. The type of statement determines the type of question tag: an affirmative statement is usually followed by a tag which prompts an affirmative answer. Likewise, a negative statement is followed by a tag which requires a negative answer (but note that the question tags following negative statements are fairly dated). However, there is also a ‘neutral’ question tag which prompts an affirmative answer when following an affirmative statement and a negative answer when following a negative statement. This is the tag hè? It is by far the most common question tag in Dutch, especially in the spoken language.
|Question tags following affirmative statements
(prompting affirmative replies)
|niet (waar)?||Jullie studeren Nederlands, nietwaar?
You study Dutch, don’t you?
|is het niet?||Jij houdt van voetbal, is het niet?
You love footbal, don’t you?
|toch?*||In België spreken ze Nederlands, Frans en Duits, toch?
In Belgium they speak Dutch, French and German, don’t they?
|Question tag following either kind of statement
|hè?||Jij houdt van voetbal, hè?
You like football, don’t you?
|Jij houdt niet van voetbal, hè?
You don’t like football, do you?
|Question tags following negative statements
(prompting negative replies)
|wel?||Jullie gaan dit jaar niet op vakantie, wel?
You are not going on holiday this year, are you?
|is het wel?||Jij houdt niet van voetbal, is het wel?
You don’t like football, do you?
* Toch usually occurs within a sentence (see also Declaratives with interrogative force).
Some sentences are not interrogative in form, but have the pragmatic effect of an interrogative: they are ‘disguised’ as declaratives, i.e. the finite verb does not occur in first but in second place. However, the (rising) intonation in speech, or the question mark in writing, always reveal these statements in form to be yes/no-questions in function.
Je vindt het leuk op de universiteit?
You like it at the University?
De post is al geweest?
The post(man) has been?
In these cases adverbs like toch and zeker are often present to reinforce the function of this sentence as a yes/no-question. With the addition of such words the question requires an affirmative answer (see the first two examples below), unless a negative word, such as niet, occurs in the sentence (as in the last two examples below):
|Jij vindt het toch leuk op de universiteit?
You do like it at the University?
|Ja, ik vind het leuk.|
|De post is zeker al geweest?
The post(man) has surely been?
|Ja, hij is al geweest.|
|Jij vindt het toch niet leuk op de universiteit?
You don’t like it at the University?
|Nee, ik vind het niet leuk.|
|De post is zeker nog niet geweest?
The post(man) has surely not been yet?
|Nee, hij is nog niet geweest.|
Yes/no-questions with the modal verbs kunnen, mogen and willen often have imperative force, i.e. they imply a command. With kunnen and willen these questions have to be in the second person, with mogen in the first. They are often accompanied by a modal particle.
Kun je misschien je mond houden?
Can you shut up perhaps?
Wil je me even helpen?
Will you just help me?
Mag ik je pen even lenen?
May I just borow you pen?