• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all
1.3.Inflection
quickinfo

Verbs can often be recognized by their inflection. This certainly holds for the finite forms and to a certain extent also for the non-finite forms. In the latter case, however, various complications may arise: infinitives, for example, can also be used as nouns, and participles can also be used as adjectives. This section provides an overview of the various forms of inflection and will briefly discuss the syntactic uses of these forms. The discussion in Subsections II and III will mainly focus on the regular paradigms of inflection; the irregular paradigms will be discussed separately in Subsection IV. However, before we can start discussing inflection, we first have to introduce the more abstract notion of verbal stem.

readmore
[+]  I.  Verbal stem

The term verbal stem is a theoretical construct that refers to the underlying phonological form of the verb, as listed in the mental lexicon. For example, the stems of the verbs schoppen'to kick' and schrobben'to scrub' have the phonemic representations /sxɔp/ and /sxrɔb/, with respectively a voiceless and a voiced final plosive, despite the fact that, when no morphological material is attached to the stem, these strings would both be phonetically realized with a voiceless plosive as result of the Dutch rule that word-final consonants be devoiced; see Booij (1995) for details. Table (111) shows this for all Dutch obstruents, which, with the exception of the velar plosive /k/, all form systematic phonemic oppositions with respect to voice. The table also provides the orthographic representations that can be found; we will return to these in what follows.

111
Verbal stems ending in an obstruent
verbal stem phonemic representation phonetic realization orthographic
representation
schop-'kick' /sxɔp/ [sxɔp] schop-
schrob-'scrub' /sxrɔb/ [sxrɔp] schrob-
groet-'greet' /ɣrut/ [ɣrut] groet-
baad-'bathe' /bad/ [bat] baad-
lok-'entice' /lɔk/ [lɔk] lok-
no stem ending in /ɡ/
straf-'to punish' /strɑf/ [strɑf] straf-
kliev-'cleave' /kliv/ [klif] klief- or kliev-
kus-'kiss' /kœs/ [kœs] kus
looz-'drain away' /loz/ [los] loos- or looz-
juich-'cheer' /jœyx/ [jœyx] juich-
zaag-'saw' /zaɣ/ [zax] zaag-

The postulation of the phonemic representations in the second column of Table (111) is motivated by the fact that these play an important role in the pronunciation (as well as the spelling) of plural present-tense forms, regular past-tense forms, infinitives and participles. Table (112) illustrates this for infinitives, which are homonymous to plural present-tense forms, but we will postpone discussion of the other cases to the relevant sections below.

112
Phonetic realization of infinitival forms
infinitive phonetic representation infinitive phonetic representation
schoppen'to kick' [sxɔpə] straffen'to punish' [strɑfə]
schrobben'to scrub' [sxrɔbə] klieven'to cleave' [klivə]
groeten 'to greet' [ɣrutə] kussen'to kiss' [kœsə]
baden'to bathe' [badə] lozen'to drain away' [lozə]
lokken'attract' [lɔkə] juichen'to cheer' [jœyxə]
no stem ending in /ɡ/ zagen'to saw' [zaɣə]

      The final column in Table (111) shows that in the case of plosives, the spelling is fully determined by the postulated phonemic representations; the underlying voiced /b/ and /d/ are represented by the letters "b" and "d", even if they are devoiced in speech, as in the (a)-, (b)- and (e)-examples in (113).

113
a. schrob [sxrɔp]
a'. baad [bat]
1sg
b. schrobt [sxrɔpt]
b'. baadt [bat]
2/3sg
c. schrobde(n) [sxrɔbdə]
c'. baadde(n) [bade]
past
d. schrobben [sxrɔbə]
d'. baden [badə]
infinitive
e. geschrobd [ɣəsxrɔpt]
e'. gebaad [ɣəbat]
past participle
f. schrobbend [sxrɔbənt]
f'. badend [badənt]
present participle

This does not hold for the fricatives /v/ and /z/, which are only represented by the letters "v" and "z" if they are in intervocalic position, that is, followed by the suffix -en (in infinitives and present plural forms) or -end (in present participles), as in the (d)- and (f)-examples in (114). In all other cases they are represented by the letters "f" and "s"; this includes cases in which they are voiced in speech, such as the past tenses kliefde'cleaved' and loosde'drained away' in the (c)-examples, which are pronounced as, respectively, [klivdə] and [lozdə].

114
a. klief [klif]
a'. loos [los]
1sg
b. klieft [klift]
b'. loost [lost]
2/3sg
c. kliefde(n)[klivdə]
c'. loosde(n)[lozdə]
past
d. klieven [klivə]
d'. lozen [lozə]
infinitive
e. heb gekliefd [ɣəklift]
e'. geloosd [ɣəlost]
past participle
f. klievend [klivənt]
f'. lozend [lozənt]
present participle

      Verbal stems, of course, need not end in an obstruent but can also end in a nasal (/n/, /m/ and /ŋ/), a liquid (/l/ and /r/) or a glide (/ʋ/ and /j/).

115
a. Nasals: ren-'run' (/rεn/), neem-'take' (/nem/), breng-'bring' (/brεŋ/)
b. Liquids: til-'lift' (/tIl/), hoor-'hear' (/hor/)
c. Glides: geeuw-'yawn' (/ɣeʋ/), aai-'stroke' (/aj/)

Verbs that end in a short vowel do not occur, which need not surprise us because Dutch has a general ban on short vowels in open syllables. Stems that end in a long vowel do occur but are relatively rare; there is a small number of commonly used verbs like gaan'to go', staan'to stand', slaan'to hit', zien'to see', and doen'to do' (and other formations like verslaan'to beat' that seem to be morphologically derived from these simple verbs). In addition to these simple verbs, the Van Dale dictionary gives an extremely small number of other cases like sleeën'to sledge', spieën'to fix with a pin', shampooën'to clean with shampoo', fonduen'to eat fondue', boeën'to yell boo', heuen'to rush', and keuen'to play billiards', which all seem to be denominal. The first set of verbs we will call contraction verbs, given that they form their infinitive/plural present-tense form by means of a reduced version of the suffix -en: -n. The denominal verbs differ from the simple verbs that end in a vowel in that they take the full form -en.

116
Stems ending in a long vowel
end
vowel
contraction verb denominal verb
stem phonetic realization stem phonetic realization
/a/ ga-'go'
sta-'stand'
sla-'hit'
[ɣa]
[sta]
[sla]
/e/ slee-'sledge' [sle]
/i/ zie-'see' [zi] spie-'fix with a pin' [spi]
/o/ shampoo-'shampoo' [sjɑmpo]
/y/ fondu-'eat fondue' [fɔndy]
/u/ doe-'do' [du] boe-'boo' [bu]
/ø/ heu-'rush'
keu-'play billiards'
[hø]
[kø]

      The discussion above has shown that, apart from the small set of contraction verbs, simple verbs never end in a short or long vowel. There are however, many cases in which the stem ends in a diphthong; some examples are given in (117). That diphthongs are easily possible need not surprise us because (115c) has shown that stems may also end in a glide.

117
a. /εi/: vlei-'flatter' (/vlεi/); vrij-'snog' (/vrεi/)
b. /œy/: krui-'push' (/krœy/); spui-'spout' (/spœy/)
c. /ɔʋ/: rouw-'mourn' (/rɔʋ/), kauw-'chew' (/kɔʋ/)
[+]  II.  Inflection of finite verbs

Finite verbs are characterized by the fact that they agree in person and number with the subject of their clause and can be marked for past tense. Table 7 provides the finite inflection of the so-called regular (or weak) verbs. The final column shows that the past tense morpheme precedes the plural marker.

Table 7: Regular finite inflection
present past
singular plural singular plural
1st
person
Ik huil-Ø
'I am crying'
Wij huil-en
'We are crying'
Ik huil-de
'I was crying'
Wij huil-de-n
'We were crying'
2nd
person
Jij huil-t
'You are crying'
Jullie huil-en
'You are crying'
Jij huil-de
'You were crying'
Jullie huil-de-n
'You were crying'
3rd
person
Hij huil-t
'He is crying'
Zij huil-en
'They are crying'
Hij huil-de
'He was crying'
Zij huil-de-n
'They were crying'

The second person honorific pronoun u is special in that it has the -t ending both in the singular and the plural: U huiltsg/pl'you are crying'. Note that non-pronominal noun phrases are always third person, even if they refer to the speaker or the addressee; Haeseryn et al. (1997:62).

118
a. Ondergetekende verklaart dat ...
formulaic language
  undersigned  declares  that
  'The undersigned declares that ...'
b. Mijnheer heeft zich zeker weer verslapen?
ironic address
  mister  has  refl.  there  again  overslept
  'Did you oversleep again, mister?'

The subsections below will discuss the present and past-tense forms in more detail while focusing on the regular paradigm; the irregular paradigms will be discussed separately in Subsection IV. Although the imperative and subjunctive forms of the verbs can also be considered finite forms, we will postpone discussion of these forms to Section 1.4.

[+]  A.  Present tense

The paradigm for the present tense involves two morphologically realized affixes: the invariant plural affix -en(which is pronounced as schwa), and the affix -t, which is used to mark the second and third person singular; the first person singular is not morphologically marked, which is indicated in Table 7 by means of the zero marking -Ø. Dutch does not exhibit gender agreement. The relevant examples are repeated here in a slightly different form as (119).

119
a. Ik huil-Ø
  cry-1sg
a'. Wij huil-en
  we cry-pl
b. Jij huil-t
  you  cry-2sg
b'. Jullie huil-en
  you cry-pl
c. Hij huil-t
  he  cry-3sg
c'. Zij huil-en
  they cry-pl

Compared to languages like Italian, the present tense inflection in (119) is relatively poor. This fact is often taken to be related to the fact that, whereas in Italian the subject can be dropped if it refers to shared information of the speaker and the addressee, this is normally not possible in Dutch; argument drop only arises with first person subject pronouns in so-called diary contexts such as (120a), and with third person pronouns if they refer to the discourse topic in contexts such as (120b).

120
a. Lief dagboek, (ik) ben weer erg dom geweest.
  dear diary   I  am  again  very stupid  been
  'Dear diary, Iʼve been very stupid again.'
b. Q: Is Peter hier? A: Nee, (hem) heb ik nog niet gezien.
  Is Peter here no   him  have  yet  not  seen
  'Is Peter around? No, I havenʼt seen him yet.'

      The (a)-examples in (121) show that the agreement marker -t in (119b) can only be used to express second person, singular agreement if the colloquial subject pronoun je/jij precedes the verb; if it follows the verb the agreement marker must be dropped. The (b)-examples show that this does not hold for the politeness (honorific) form u'you'. The difference between the regular and politeness form may be due to the fact that, synchronically, the politeness form behaves as a third person pronoun, given that it can be the antecedent of the reflexive pronoun zich(zelf) which normally takes a third person antecedent; see Section N5.2.1.5 for examples.

121
a. Straks huil/*huilt je.
  later  cry  you
  'Youʼll cry later.'
a'. Huil/*Huilt je?
  cry  you
  'Are you crying?'
b. Straks huilt/*huil u.
  later  cry  you
  'Youʼll cry later.'
b'. Huilt/*Huil u?
  cry  you
  'Are you crying?'

Note in passing that more elaborate double agreement systems comparable to the Standard Dutch one for the pronoun je/jij can be found in various West-Germanic languages including some Dutch dialects; See Zwart (1997:136ff.), Postma (2011) and Barbiers (2013) for relevant discussion and references.
      The examples in (122) show the spelling of plosives in the coda of the stem. We see here again that the spelling is fully determined by the underlying form: /p/, /t/, and /k/ are represented by "p", "t", and "k", respectively; similarly, /b/ and /d/ are always represented by "b" and "d", even if they occur word-finally and are thus devoiced.

122
a. schop, schopt, schoppen
stem: schop- /sxɔp/
b. schrob, schrobt, schrobben
stem: schrob- /sxrɔb/
c. groet, groet, groeten
stem: groet- /ɣrut/
d. baad, baadt, baden
stem: baad- /bad/
e. lok, lokt, lokken
stem: lok- /lɔk/

Observe also that the -t ending is not expressed in the spelling if the stem ends in a -t; this is not due to the fact that the phoneme sequence /tt/ will be reduced to [t] in speech, since the same thing holds for the phoneme sequence /dt/; it is simply that Dutch orthography does not allow two identical letters adjacent at the end of a word. For completeness' sake, note that the use of a single letter "a" in baden is due to the general orthographic rule that long vowels are represented by a single letter in open syllables: pra-ten versus praat; ba-den versus baad.
      The examples in (123) show the spelling of fricatives in the coda of the stem. In this case, the spelling is not fully determined by the underlying form. Although voiceless /f/, /s/, and /x/ and voiced /ɣ/ are always represented by, respectively, "f", "s", "ch" and "g", the realization of the phonemes /v/ and /z/ depends on the morphological context; they are represented by "v" and "z" in the plural present-tense form marked by -en, where they are also pronounced with voice, but by "f" and "s" in the singular forms, where they are devoiced. Note that the use of a single "o" and "a" in lozen and zagen is again due to the general orthographic rule that long vowels are represented by a single letter in open syllables.

123
a. straf, straft, straffen
stem: straf- /strɑf/
b. klief, klieft, klieven
stem: kliev- /kliv/
c. kus, kust, kussen
stem: kus- /kœs/
d. loos, loost, lozen
stem: looz- /loz/
e. juichen, juicht, juichen
stem: juich- /jœyx/
f. zaag, zaagt, zagen
stem: zaag- /zaɣ/

      For completeness' sake, it can be noted that the stems of verbs like rijden'to drive' and houden'to keep', in which the diphthongs /εi/ and /ɔʋ/ are followed by an underlying /d/, are often pronounced without the [d] if they surface with the first person singular zero marking -Ø or the plural marker -en. First and second person singular forms without "d" are also frequently found in written language; the spelling with and without "d" in the primeless and singly-primed examples in (124) seem to alternate freely. Spellings of the plural forms without "d", on the other hand, are far less common: the spellings rijen and houen in the doubly-primed examples do occur, but are not accepted in formal writing. If the stem is followed by the person marker -t, the stem is always written with "d": the spellings Hij rijt and Hij hout are normally not accepted.

124
a. Ik rij(d) straks.
  drive  later
  'Iʼll drive later.'
b. Ik hou(d) het boek.
  I keep  the book
  'Iʼll keep the book.'
a'. Straks rij(d) jij.
  later drive you
  'Youʼll drive later.'
b'. Hou(d) je het boek?
  Keep  you  the book
  'Will you keep the book?'
a''. Straks rij(d)en wij.
  later  drive  we
  'Weʼll drive later.'
b''. We hou(d)en het boek.
  we  keep the  book
  'We'll keep the book.'
[+]  B.  Past tense

Past tense is normally expressed by means of the affix -de, which must be directly adjacent to the verbal stem. This marker has the allomorph -te, which appears if the verb stem ends in a voiceless consonant. It is interesting to note that the final consonant of the stems kliev- and looz- are written with, respectively, an "f" and an "s", despite the fact that they are not word-final and thus pronounced as [v] and [z].

125
Past tense
stem past stem past
singular plural singular plural
schop- schopte schopten straf- strafte straften
schrob- schrobde schrobden kliev- kliefde kliefden
groet- groette groetten kus- kuste kusten
baad- baadde baadden looz- loosde loosden
lok- lokte lokten juich- juichte juichten
no stem ending in /ɡ/ zaag- zaagde zaagden

Table (125) shows that subject-verb agreement is even more limited in the past than in the present tense, given that there is no person agreement at all; there is just number agreement marked by the plural marker -en. In fact, this plural marker is observable in the spelling only, since the plural marker -en is pronounced as schwa, and therefore elided under identity with the schwa in the past suffix. Consequently, the forms schopte and schopten, strafte and straften, etc. are phonetically indistinguishable; the first two are both pronounced as [sxɔptə] and the latter as [strɑftə]. That past forms are marked for number can therefore only be established by appealing to irregular verbs like lopen'to walk', which do not express past tense by means of the suffix -te, but by means of vowel change; Ik loop'I walk' versus Ik liep'I walked'. An example such as Wij liepen'We walked', which is pronounced with a schwa ending, thus shows that past-tense forms are indeed marked for plural.

[+]  III.  Inflection of non-finite verbs

Dutch has three non-finite forms, illustrated in (126): infinitives, past/passive participles and present participles. These will be discussed in the given order in the following subsections. We will focus on the regular paradigms; the irregular paradigms will be discussed separately in Subsection IV.

126
a. Peter wil Jan kussen.
infinitive
  Peter wants.to  Jan kiss
  'Peter wants to kiss Jan.'
b. Peter heeft Jan gekust.
past participle
  Peter has  Jan kissed
  'Peter has kissed Jan.'
b'. Jan werd door Peter gekust.
passive participle
  Jan  was  by Peter  kissed
  'Jan was kissed by Peter.'
c. Peter en Jan liepen kussend over straat.
present participle
  Peter and Jan  walked  kissing  in the.streets
  'Peter and Jan walked in the streets kissing.'
[+]  A.  Infinitives

Table (127) show that infinitives are derived from the verbal stem by addition of the suffix -en (which is pronounced as schwa). The left-hand side of the table also shows that, as in the case of the plural marker -en, the spelling of obstruents in the coda of the stem is fully determined by the underlying form, and thus corresponds with the actual pronunciation of the infinitive.

127
Infinitives
stem infinitive pronunciation stem infinitive pronunciation
schop- schoppen [sxɔpə] straf- straffen [strɑfə]
schrob- schrobben [sxrɔbə] kliev- klieven [klivə]
groet- groeten [ɣrutə] kus- kussen [kœsə]
baad- baden [badə] looz- lozen [lozə]
lok- lokken