Grammar or no grammar?

The best way to learn to speak a new language is to listen to chunks of language and to repeat what you hear in order to make it your own. This is how you learn as a child. A child instinctively learns grammar. When making a past tense in English the child soon finds out that you add an [ed]-ending at the end of the word. "Today I play", "Yesterday I played" . "I cycle" becomes "I cycled", it is not strange that a lot of young children would say " Yesterday,I goed to the park". The child's parent might say something like: "Yes, you went to the park". Gradually the child learns that there are exceptions to the "ed"-ending rule without ever having to consult a grammar book. When you learn a new language as an adult you do not always have the benefit of a native Dutch speaker modelling the language in nice little chunks for you like that. You might try to listen to Dutch radio or watch Dutch TV but often find that you end up not having a clue what has been said. This is why some adults find it helpful to learn a bit more about the difference between the English and the Dutch language. In this blog post I will try to address two grammar points that will help you to construct proper Dutch sentences. But before we start with these I must stress that you must never translate English into Dutch word for word. As a test I typed the next sentence in Google translate "I have been watching TV" to my surprise it came up with "Ik heb het kijken naar TV" which makes absolutely no sense in Dutch. Then I translated the sentence word by word and it said "Ik heb geweest gekeken TV" which might be understood but sounds like gobbledygook for a speaker of Dutch.

The first difference between English and Dutch is that Dutch people hardly use the equivalent of the "ing" ending so often used in English. Although you might have never been aware of the rule you instinctively know when to say "I am eating an apple" (when you are doing it at this moment in time) or "I eat an apple everyday". Dutch people do not use "are + -ing" but would say "Ik eet een appel" in both cases. Going back to the sentence starting with "I have been watching" the Dutch drop the "been + ing-ending" and say "Ik heb gekeken".

Unfortunately the differences between Dutch and English do not stop here. The English sentence: "I have been watching TV" translates into "Ik heb TV gekeken".

"I have been watching TV this morning" translates into " Ik heb vanmorgen TV gekeken"

"I have been watching TV in the living room this morning" translates as

"Ik heb vanmorgen TV in de woonkamer gekeken."

Secondly, there are lots of word order rules in Dutch. The most important Dutch word order rule is that if there is more than 1 verb in a sentence, the first verb (heb) comes in the second position in the sentence and all the others go at the end of the sentence. The rest of the sentence is sandwiched between the verb forms.

"Ik¹ heb² (rest of the sentence) gekeken.

There are word order rules for the "rest of the sentence", but they are not as important as you will still be understood if you get this bit wrong. I will address these in a later blog post.